§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
, in rising to move for leave to introduce a Bill to enable the Boards of Guardians in certain Unions in England to obtain temporary Aid to meet the extraordinary demands for Relief therein, said, that the purposes of the Bill were sufficiently indicated by its title, and the House had probably been prepared for its introduction by the short discussion which had taken place a few evenings since. He then stated, that if he should collect from the sources of information to which his Department had access that the distress which then prevailed in the cotton districts was likely to be- 683 come more intense, and to extend itself still further during the recess, and that if he thought that there was any defect in the powers possessed by those intrusted with the local administration of the law, he should then be prepared to state to the House in what respects he thought the law should be amended. It was simply with that view that he made his present application to the House. It was not with a view to any immediate action that he asked the House to legislate on the subject; neither did he mean by taking that course to imply that the law as it existed was not adequate for its purpose, and had not hitherto been found equal to the emergency that had arisen in the manufacturing districts; nor could he predict with confidence that any further powers which might be conferred on the guardians of the poor in those districts would be used or enforced when granted. But although this should be the case, it appeared to him that it was a matter in which it was wiser rather to err upon the side of excessive caution than to run the risk of inconvenience, and perhaps disorder, merely to spare the time and trouble of the House. To justify the course which he was about to take, it would be necessary for him only to be very brief, for he knew how much the subject of his Motion had already occupied the thoughts of those within the House and throughout the country, and the facts connected with it were perfectly notorious. It was, he believed, beyond all doubt, that there had been a large mass of operatives connected with the manufacture of cotton thrown out of employment and become destitute owing to the dearth in the supply of the raw-material. The same cause, it was equally well known, was still exercising its influence and even with more intensity at the present moment than before. Nay, more—he would venture to say that every week and every day the pressure must be still more felt, inasmuch as we were not receiving further supplies of cotton, and we were drawing only upon a given stock to furnish the employment, such as it was, which was now afforded. The result would naturally be that as the stock became diminished the price of cotton would become enhanced, and just in that proportion the manufacturers would find it more difficult to employ their mills, inasmuch as they would be obliged to work it at a loss, the price which they obtained for goods not corresponding with the cost of their pro- 684 duction. Such would be the obvious effect of the diminution of the stock of cotton; which was gradually decreasing, not only owing to internal consumption, but, he regretted to say, on account of the continual exportation of the material to other countries—and there were daily reports of large sales for that purpose—the dearth of cotton in those other countries being fell as it was here. The stock, therefore, which we held, and which was calculated at the best for giving employment for a limited time, was day by day diminishing. It was difficult, then, to come to any other conclusion than that there must be a further closing of mills, and that the manufacture of cotton must almost cease, unless, from a cessation of hostilities in America, we were enabled to obtain fresh supplies from that country, or from some other sources. That matters were proceeding certainly and rapidly in this direction he thought he should be able to show the House from Returns which he held in his hand. Taking five of the principal towns in the manufacturing districts, he found from these Returns, which were made from week to week, that while in the last week of May there were in Ashton-under-Lyne 8,400 living on the rates, there were in the last week of June 9,600. In Blackburn, the numbers were—last week in May, 10,600; last week in June, 11,500. In Manchester—lastweek in May, 12,700; last week in June, 14,200. In Preston 11,800 in the last week of May, as against 12,100 in the corresponding week in June, and in Stockport 5,400, as against 6,000. To show that the increase in expenditure corresponded with the number of persons who were destitute, he would refer to the expenditure for the relief of the poor in Blackburn. That expenditure was, he found, £14,475 in 1861, while the rate of expenditure now going on was £37,507 per annum, showing an excess over last year of £23,032. In Preston, he might add, the expenditure for the poor in 1861 was £16,651, while the rate of expenditure now going on was £66,612, showing an excess of £49,961. In Stockport the expenditure was £11,204 in 1861, as against £27,300, the rate of expenditure in the present year, giving an excess of £16,096 on a comparison of the two years. It must, however, be observed that the number of persons reported as depending on the rates afforded no measure of the number of those who were out of employment. In the case of Burnley, for in- 685 stance, where there were 13,000 operatives, there were 10,000 out of employment who were not receiving parish relief. The returns of the number of paupers, therefore, furnished no adequate measure of the amount of distress which prevailed. In endeavouring to ascertain how those who were out of employment, and who yet did not obtain parish relief, were enabled to live, he found that the monies drawn by operatives from the savings banks amounted to £4,507, those from building societies to £3,700, while they received from voluntary contributions £458; all that they received from the rates during the time to which he referred—that was to say, between Lady Day and the 1st of July—being £728. So far, indeed, it was satisfactory to observe the strong desire on the part of the operatives to preserve their independence. He regretted, however, to be obliged to state that he learnt from inquiries which he had instituted on the subject, that the deposits in the savings banks, which had hitherto enabled them to do so, were nearly exhausted. All these circumstances being taken into consideration, it was, he thought, impossible to come to any other conclusion than that distress in the manufacturing districts was rapidly on the increase, and that there was no immediate prospect of its cessation. The reason why he had directed the attention of the House to the facts which he had stated was to show, that notwithstanding the noble contributions which had been voluntarily given by individuals for the relief of that distress, yet that in future it must be on the legal liability which attaches to property to support those who are unable to maintain themselves that they must mainly rely. It became, then, of importance to know whether the property in these suffering districts was equal to meet the emergency which had arisen. On that point, from all the information he had been able to procure, he did not hesitate to say that the property of the locality in question was equal not only to the emergency which had arisen, but to any which it was probable would arise. However, though it was true that the property of the whole districts was equal to the emergency, and on that score we had nothing to apprehend, still the matter was not so satisfactory as it would appear to be; because, from the peculiar manner in which property is made liable for the support of the poor, there was no assurance that the whole of the property of any particular dis- 686 trict would be rated for the maintenance of the poor, though it might be in the very neighbourhood of the greatest distress. He alluded to the parochial liability of supporting the poor. The liability of a parish was not adjusted to the burden which it might have to bear. It was quite possible that a parish might be crushed by the rates which were levied within it, and that the poor might be unable to obtain the maintenance which the law undertook to afford, though that parish might be surrounded by others who had either few or no poor at all to maintain, and whose affluence might be in contrast with that other one so burthened—the poor having settlements in that parish, and not in the parishes adjoining. Such was the result of the manner in which the charge for the poor had been cast upon the property of the country; and our ancestors, when they passed the Act of Elizabeth, saw that such a state of things might happen. The parochial division of the country had, in fact, nothing to do with the support of the poor; it was originally a division solely for ecclesiastical purposes, and it could be no wonder that it should be found inapplicable to circumstances of a totally different character. The persons who framed the Act of Elizabeth, however, foresaw that such a case as that to which he had referred might arise. It was on that account, he presumed, that in the same enactment which cast upon every parish the burden of supporting its poor, a provision was made which enacted, that if any parish should be unable to maintain its own poor, the magistrates of the county should order some neighbouring parish or parishes, or the neighbouring hundred, or the county at large, to come to the assistance of the distressed parish; thereby recognising the great principle, which no one had undertaken to question, that the whole property of the country was liable for the maintenance of the poor. The circumstances which should give effect to that provision would no doubt be extreme, but they had arisen at different times; and although it was said that it was difficult to carry the law into effect, and that it had not always been successful when attempted to be enforced, still the law existed, and it might, if all the requirements of the statute were complied with, give effect to what was intended—namely, that if the property of any particular parish should be insufficient to support the poor, 687 the liability should be shared by the neighbouring property, or, at all events, by some property in the county. Present circumstances in the North seemed to justify the conclusion that something of the kind might arise there—that some parishes might become so distressed as to warrant the greatest doubts of their ability to support their own poor. If any parish were to find itself in such a position now, and were to attempt to enforce the law, the justices, when appealed to, would doubt less order a contribution in aid from the other parishes of the union; but it seemed to be necessary to give vitality to this principle which was found in the Act of Elizabeth, inasmuch as there appeared to be some difficulty in applying it. At such a time as the present the Government could not incur the risk of some parishes becoming perfectly insolvent and unable to support their poor with the chance of the most extreme consequences befalling those who have innocently become destitute—for, as he had said, it might at any time be possible by some legal ingenuity to prevent this provision of the law, as he had described it, from being carried into effect. Orders were constantly made under the rate in aid clause, but they were very commonly quashed in the higher Courts, and hence the necessity for some new legislation. The Bill which he proposed to introduce would, among other things, carry into effect that which was provided by the law as it now existed—namely, that when any parish or parishes should be overburdened with poor, and the charge should be in excess of the ability to meet it, such parish or parishes should be entitled to claim assistance from the common fund of the union. He proposed, that when the charge upon any parish should exceed by two-thirds the average expenditure which during the three preceding years had been incurred for the support of the poor, such parish should have a claim upon the common fund of the union, and the guardians should order provision to be made for a contribution from the neighbouring parishes. There were at present in every union two classes of poor, and two sources from which the funds for their support were derived. One fund was drawn from the parishes belonging to the union; in other words, where the poor having a settlement in any parish were chargeable upon it they were supported out of the property of that parish. In every union, however, there was a large class of poor who were supported 688 out of the common fund, inasmuch as they had no settlement, though they could not be removed. They were supported by a rate upon all the property throughout the union according to its value. It would therefore be a considerable relief to any parish, supposing there was an excess of charge for the poor in consequence of an increase in the number of those who were settled in the parish, to have assistance from the common fund of the union. The distress would not be so severely felt by the whole union, but the liability of the parish would be limited. No difficulty could be experienced in carrying out the provision to which he asked the assent of the House. There was a machinery available for the purpose, in the fact that there was already a union as well as a parish rate. An application would be made to the guardians, who would satisfy themselves that the parish requiring aid was entitled to it as provided by the Act, and as they had in their own hands the funds for supporting the two classes of poor to which he had referred, they would have no difficulty in transferring the excess of charge in the parish to the common fund of the union. He believed, having carefully examined the returns of the value of the property in the different unions in the North, that the provision he proposed would prove quite sufficient to meet all the necessities of the case. It was little likely that any union should be seriously distressed in consequence of the relief so provided to be given to particular parishes; but it might be well to contemplate things in their worst aspect, and to provide for the most extreme case, such as that of a union itself becoming distressed from the fresh burthens cast upon it. Some difference of opinion might exist as to the source from which funds should be drawn in order to relieve a union in distress. Pursuing the analogy of the old statute, which extended the charge from a smaller to a greater area, one would naturally conclude that a distressed union should at once seek relief from the county. No simpler remedy could be found than to charge the excessive expenditure of the union upon the county rate, just as other items of expenditure—such as those for the prosecution of prisoners and for lunatic asylums—were now charged upon that fund. In Lancashire, however, there were peculiar objections to that plan, for a considerable number of the most important places in the county were not subject to the county rate 689 at all. Under these circumstances, it was fortunate, that assuming the principle of the old statute to be right, there was a machinery which would enable the property of the whole county to be reached without making the burden felt to any undue extent. That mode would be to charge the excess on all the other Unions in the county, which Unions now nearly include the whole property of the county. There was such a complete organization for the management of these unions, and the connection with the Central Board was so immediate, that no more difficulty existed in calling for contributions from every union in a county in order to assist any distressed union than there was in calling upon one parish to assist another parish. The principle was right; no one even attempted to deny it, and the machinery was perfectly ready. It was therefore provided in the Bill he proposed to introduce, that should the expenditure of the union exceed a certain amount, it should have the power of calling upon the other unions for contributions in aid. Of course, safeguards would be provided, and it should be made to appear, in the first place, to the Poor Law Board that such a case had arrived to justify the application of the Act; and if the Poor Law Board were satisfied that such a case had arisen, the Queen in Council was authorized by the Act, upon the recommendation of the Poor Law Board, to issue an order sanctioning the application of that principle. He did not think it likely that any union would be reduced to such circumstances as would render such relief necessary; but if it should, this would probably be the fairest way of calling for contributions in aid; and there would be nothing invidious in such a step, as there naturally would be in selecting for the additional charge some particular parish or union. The burden to be thus imposed upon the whole county would be trivial in amount, and could not be considered unfair in principle. Another scheme had been mentioned—namely, that if the guardians found themselves embarrassed from the excess of expenditure in a union, they should have the power of borrowing money on the security of the rates. He was not alarmed at any such proposition, because he knew that guardians were extremely reluctant to raise money in this way. There were certain purposes for which they had the power of raising money, and the difficulty was to induce them to do so, because they 690 did not like the charge of repaying it by annual instalments. He did not dispute that this would be a simple and ready way of relieving distress—namely, to borrow money, the rates being a perfectly good security. But he thought there was no precedent for money being so raised and spent in the daily relief of the poor. They had never come to that as yet. It had always been avoided. The principle of the poor rate was directly opposed to it, and inasmuch as the mode he had proposed appeared the more legitimate and constitutional way of obtaining relief, he certainly preferred it. However, he did not deny that the circumstances with which they had to deal were quite exceptional, and such as might, perhaps, justify a deviation from the usual course of proceeding; but he believed that the fairest mode of meeting the evil was to impose the increased charge upon the parishes, first upon the union, and then upon the county at large. He did believe that what was proposed in this Bill for this purpose would not be attended with any difficulty; and it was only fair, when a disaster like the present fell upon the great industry of the country, that the rate for the poor should be distributed over the whole of its property which had derived such advantage from contiguity to the manufactures and all the industry, ingenuity, and enterprise connected with them. He ventured to say, from his acquaintance with the practical working and the local administration of the Poor Law, that there would be no difficulty in carrying out this part of the Bill. He had then stated the substantial provisions of the Bill he asked leave to introduce. There was only one other provision he would mention—namely, that the Bill should be operative only till the 1st of March next, leaving it to Parliament then either to re-enact the law or to allow it to expire, and deal with the subject afresh as it might think fit. His object in proposing this particular measure was, that Parliament should not separate without making every requisite provision to meet the extraordinary difficulties in which the cotton districts might be placed. He did not believe that the House could wisely interfere farther with this sad local calamity. When disasters of this character befell the country, sacrifices must be submitted to; and he could only say, that when they considered the great patience, calmness, and loyalty with which the poorer 691 classes in these districts had already borne their privations, that they offered an example to all other classes in future. For the present state of things, unfortunately there was no panacea but the revival of the trade from which employment could be derived. He ventured now to ask leave to introduce this Bill, and he hoped hon. Members would consent to wait till they saw its provisions before they expressed any opinion in regard to them.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he was sure the House would readily assent to the suggestion of his right hon. Friend, that they should not then enter into any discussion of the measure. He only rose for the purpose of stating that he was so convinced of the urgency of the case—he was so well aware that his right hon. Friend had not exaggerated the gloomy prospects of the operatives in the cotton districts—that he was prepared to receive with the utmost favour any proposal made by the Government for the relief of their distress. He would go so far as to say that he was so sensible of the absolute necessity that Parliament should not separate for the recess without providing for that calamity, that he was prepared to sacrifice many opinions of his own, and to support any measure which the Government might bring forward on their responsibility, rather than run the risk of their doing nothing in such an emergency. But he also hoped that the Government would be prepared to accept in a spirit of similar liberality any suggestions that might be made by Members who were unable to approve of all the provisions of the Bill. He did not say he should himself disapprove of the measure; but considerable discussion might arise as to the best mode of attaining the object which they all had in view. His right hon. Friend proposed two provisions for meeting the evil, which merely embodied the principle of the rate in aid. But the proposal for allowing the guardians to borrow money on the security of the rates might find more favour in those districts for which the Bill was specially intended. He did not say it would be so. He was himself prepared, so far as he saw the Bill, to support the second reading—but he hoped that the Government would give Members as much time as the advanced period of the Session would allow for the purpose of ascertaining what were the opinions of their constituents upon that point. He had, of course, no opposition to offer to 692 the Motion for the introduction of the measure, and as far as he could then form any opinion, he believed he should be prepared to support it on the second reading. He wished to add that he thanked the Government for promptly taking up the question.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
said, he had no idea of taking any other course than that suggested by his right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board—namely, to wait and see the Bill itself before they attempted minutely to criticise the provisions of the measure proposed to be introduced. At the same time it was not to be concealed from the House, and could not be concealed from the country at large, that the change now sought to be made in our system of administering the Poor Law was one of the most portentous description. His right hon. Friend had recommended to the House a variation of the old law relating to rates in aid; but, judging from the sketch he had given of his measure, it seemed much more nearly to approach to that system of national rates which had been viewed with dread and alarm by all who had contemplated with any care the consequences of such a proposal. He should also observe that his right hon. Friend did not appear to have laid any ground whatever for the great change which he was about to introduce into the law. He had made no statement that in the different parishes the poor rates had been excessive. He had, indeed, stated what they must all admit and all deplore—namely, the existence of great distress in Lancashire owing to the failure of the supply of cotton. All must also join in the admiration which his right hon. Friend and others had expressed, there and elsewhere, of the attitude of patient endurance under suffering which had been assumed by the working classes who had been so deeply affected by that calamity. He had been much struck with a sentence in the letter of the vice-chairman of the Preston board of guardians, which had been printed in the Correspondence on this subject lately laid upon the table. That gentleman said—I have been acquainted with the recurring seasons of depressions, the panics and turn-outs, and all the public subscriptions for relief on such occasions in our borough for upwards of forty years, and I can say that I never remember so much resignation, so little desire to blame the employers, or so few symptoms of disaffection to Government. Indeed, there is not the slightest symptom of cherishing any hope of relief from agitation or violence.693 That seemed to be the testimony unanimously borne by all who had the best means of knowing the spirit and temper of the working classes in this trying emergency. But, starting with that fact, he must repeat that his right hon. Friend had not laid any ground whatever for the extraordinary departure from the recognised law which he now proposed. He had made no statement that the pressure of the poor rates in these districts was excessive—he had adduced no facts to show that the burden thrown upon the rateable property in these parishes and unions had attained proportions which could no longer be tolerated, or that it was likely to do so. He had not even asserted that there had been applications from the districts to which he had referred in favour of some such change as this. He was very desirous to know whether or not it was true that those who had the best means of knowledge—those who were engaged in administering the Poor Law in these particular districts—had appealed either to that House or to his right hon. Friend, urging the necessity of adopting some extraordinary measures to enable them to meet the pressure upon the rates in any other way than that sanctioned by the existing law. The principle of the Poor Law, embodied in the statute of Elizabeth, under which we had lived for 300 years, was that the whole of the local means of the district or parish must be exhausted before it could apply for rates in aid. Now, was there any evidence whatever, not merely of such exhaustion having been actually arrived at, but of there having been anything like an approach to that state of things? His right hon. Friend had not laid before them one single fact to justify them in drawing such a conclusion. He would undertake to show by figures that the present rates in those districts where the pressure was so great were nothing like the amount of the rates in many districts in the south of England, where high rates were the usual condition of things. His right hon. Friend had referred to three places—Blackburn, Preston, and Stockport. There was no doubt that the rates in those districts had largely increased; but it must be borne in mind that the normal state of those parishes was one of almost complete absence of pauperism, trade having been so flourishing and employment so abundant that the poor rates had been but very trifling. With respect to Blackburn, he found that 694 if the expenditure went on for a year at the present maximum, the rates would reach 3s. 7d. in the pound, while at Preston it would be 4s. 7d., and at Stockport 2s. 2½d. These might appear heavy rates, but for the sake of comparison he would refer to the state of affairs in other districts. In the Newbury Union, in Berkshire, the poor rate was now 3s. 6¾d.; in Colchester Union it was 4s. 2½d., in the Risbridge Union, in Suffolk, it was 3s. 4½d.; and in Petworth Union, in Sussex, it was 4s. 10½d. in the pound. He might adduce other instances of a high rate of expenditure for the poor in southern counties, but he only wished to show that the case contemplated as justifying the introduction of the Bill could hardly be said to exist yet. He rather thought his right hon. Friend admitted that there was no case now, but believed that possibly something might arise during the recess which might render necessary a recourse to a rate in aid; but no ground had been laid for that statement, nor any probability shown of the exhaustion of the ordinary resources of the poor rate or the inability of the property of the district to bear the burden that would be cast upon it. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that any parish whose expenditure should exceed by two-thirds the amount of its ordinary expenditure should have the assistance of the whole union. He (Mr. Bouverie) had always been rather favourable to a union rate; but this was not the time, nor was this the occasion, to make the change. The next proposal, however, he was still more surprised at, and he expected that it would meet with general hostility. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that where the expenditure of the Union should exceed by more than a certain proportion the average of three years, he proposed the whole county should be rated in aid of the Union. That meant that those who had the administration of the poor rates in a particular district, upon whom there was a pressure for increased expenditure, should put their hands, not into their own pockets, for the relief of distress, which was the principle of the Poor Law, but into the pockets of others resident in all the parishes of the enormously wealthy county of Lancashire. No proposal could be more likely to encourage profusion and extravagance than that. If there was to be a county rate, the funds should be distributed by the county representatives; but, according to the plan suggested, the guardians of 695 the distressed union, when they had lost nearly all interest in restricting expenditure, were to come upon all the other parishes of the county; and the inevitable results of such an arrangement must be profusion and extravagance, which would not only be injurious to the ratepayers, but against the real interests and well-being of the poor themselves. It was for the interest of the working classes that no encouragement should be held out to them to come upon the poor rates, except in cases of absolute necessity. The law provided that the poor rate should stand between the labouring man and absolute destitution; and any attempt to keep those suffering people in the same position which they had hitherto occupied, and to encourage them to look to the public funds for their maintenance, could end but in one catastrophe, producing an amount of misery and discontent far exceeding anything that could arise under the wise and prudent administration of the ordinary law. There was but one proposal that could be more objectionable than that of his right hon. Friend, and that was the suggestion of a loan. Upon that subject they had experience to guide them. During the Irish famine in 1847 recourse was had to loans, and the experience of that time was not such as to encourage them to support the doctrine of the hon. Member for Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten). The best thing to be done was to stand upon the ancient law, which was better calculated to meet a great emergency than any proposals such as that of his right hon. Friend; and he hoped that in the future discussions upon the Bill it would be found that the best mode of meeting the present difficulties would be to rely upon the humane principles and the sound administration of the existing law.
§ MR. HIBBERT
thanked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board for having paid attention to the subject of the existing distress; but he could not as sincerely thank him for the Bill which he had described. He would not then revert to the suggestion he had made on a former evening, that the guardians should be enabled to borrow money for the purposes of relief, except to observe that he thought some such arrangement would enable them to meet any difficulties that might arise. Those who were interested in Lancashire did not ask for new powers to be employed immediately, but they asked that Parlia- 696 ment should not separate without giving additional powers to be employed in case of need. Whatever those powers might be, it was certain that Lancashire had no desire to call upon the national purse, the men of that county wishing to preserve in this time of trial the independence which had been so long their pride and boast. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) said that no case had been made out for such a Bill, and that the rates were higher in some places in the south. Now, if the normal state of the rates in Lancashire was what they were at present rents would be adjusted accordingly; but the increase in the rates had been very great, and the ratepayers therefore felt the pressure, although the rates might not be so high as they were in other parts of the country. Already there was a difficulty in raising the rates from the smaller shopkeepers and the better class of operatives; and if the tradespeople had nothing coming in, and were giving credit to their customers, the plan of borrowing money upon the rates would have been a more effectual one than that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. To show that a case had been made out for legislation, he would quote Mr. Farnall's statement respecting Stockport, where that Gentleman said that 50 per cent must be deducted from the estimated rates because the shopkeepers were unable to pay, and from this cause it was probable that as much as 7s. in the pound, or even more, would be required from the richer ratepayers. The Blackburn board of guardians on Saturday resolved unanimously that the clerk be instructed to prepare a memorial to the Poor Law Board, setting forth the distress that existed, and praying them to take steps not by a rate in aid, but by "granting powers to borrow money" to alleviate the distress. It was further stated that the rate of 3s. made in February last was nearly exhausted, and that another such rate made now would, instead of producing £18,000, realize only £12,000, so great was the difficulty in collecting it. He had received a letter from Preston that evening which stated the Board had on the previous day considered the plan of borrowing, and no doubt his right hon. Friend had received a memorial from them. He trusted that the House would not think that the people of Lancashire were coming to ask national aid, for he could assure them that they wished to meet the distress manfully and fairly from their own re- 697 sources. He must express his thanks on behalf of the operatives of his own district to the House and to the public generally for the great sympathy which had been shown during this distress. He was proud of the operatives of Lancashire, having seen them increasing in prudence, foresight and education, and, indeed, in everything that fitted them to be citizens of their country; but he was still prouder when he felt that they had deserved the sympathy which they had received during this time of distress.
§ MR. A. F. EGERTON
did not rise to discuss the Bill upon the present occasion, but he wished to refer to an observation that had been made, to the effect that the emergency was not so great as it was thought. He could assure the House that in Lancashire they had a different opinion, where it was thought the emergency could hardly be greater, because it was feared that during the few ensuing months there would be an absolute dearth of employment in that county. Of course they could not know what Providence had in store for them, but it was to be earnestly hoped that some better day would dawn upon them. It was certain, however, that at the present the horizon was very dark, and he thought it absolutely necessary that the Poor Law authorities should, under these circumstances, be armed with greater powers. Reserving to himself the right of considering the details of the Bill, he thanked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board and the Government for introducing a measure to provide against any probable emergency.
said, that if the subject were entirely new, and the distress in Lancashire were not, in fact, so plain that any one who ran might read it, there might be some force in the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. E. P. Bouverie), who now spoke without the responsibility of office. He could assure him and the House that the prospect of distress in the manufacturing districts was something appalling. He did not wish to paint too black a picture of the present state of things, but he was convinced that the Government had not taken this step one hour too early, in order to secure efficient relief being afforded during the recess. They had all heard of the manner in which the distress had been borne by the Lancashire operatives, and how their property was being dispersed little 698 by little; and the facts brought before the Poor Law Board left no doubt whatever, that severe as their sufferings had hitherto been, they were light compared with what might probably have to be endured, unless something unforeseen happened in the next few months. The Government were desirous to be prepared to meet the emergency, and if it did not arise no harm would be done. At the same time, they would have failed in their duty if they had not asked the consent of the House to some measure which would give effectual relief to the distress, which, unfortunately, was too probable. He was sure the public as well as the House desired that the sufferings of thousands and tens of thousands should be relieved at any price, and as far as possible without compromising that independence of which the recipients and their fellow-countrymnwereequally proud.
thought that scant justice had been done to the admirable remarks of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) when it was said that he did not appreciate the emergency. The right hon. Gentleman, as he understood, had no desire to deny the existence of distress and the probability that it would increase in the winter, and he was anxious that the sufferings of the operatives and their families should be relieved; but what he contended was that those sufferings might be relieved without taking the burden off the shoulders of the ratepayers. No evidence had been adduced to show that the pressure upon the ratepayers was now, or would be during the winter, so great that any rash or hasty measures should be taken to transfer the burden upon the property of the district to other shoulders. Those who during the last few years had benefited so largely from the manufacture, and whose property had been so largely increased in value, ought to bear their fair share of the burden, and Parliament ought not to let its sympathies for the operatives be the means of transferring the burden of meeting this distress from those to whom it legitimately belonged.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I think the House has done very properly in abstaining from any very minute discussion on the details of the Bill; but I think, also, that some mistake has arisen as to the nature of the plan which my right hon. Friend has shadowed forth. It is not intended to transfer the burden from the ratepayers to other quarters; on the con- 699 trary, the Bill of my right hon. Friend is of this nature—where the burden may become so great upon a narrow circle of ratepayers as to exhaust their means, then it is proposed that its incidence should be distributed over a wider range. But, in any event, the operation of the Bill is to be confined to the two counties, Lancashire and Cheshire, which have chiefly benefited by the manufacturing prosperity which has now, for the moment, unhappily been checked. Nothing, I am sure, can be more sincere than the feeling which prevails in this House and the country of admiration for the manly fortitude which has been displayed by the labouring classes in those districts. I think, then, it would have been a great neglect of duty on the part of Her Majesty's Government if, seeing the great amount of distress that exists at present, and forseeing that the course of events may, in the progress of the autumn, not only continue that distress, but aggravate it to a considerabe degree, we allowed Parliament to separate without providing some means and establishing some machinery by which the aggravated distress and decreasing local means might be relieved and assisted. If we allowed Parliament to separate, and called it together suddenly in the autumn for the purpose of doing that which we ought to have done before, I think we should be justly liable to censure. Now, with respect to what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten), we are quite willing to hear everything that those who are acquainted with the local details of the case may suggest, either for or against the particular measure we propose. We are not wedded to its provisions. Our anxiety is to do that which, upon full consideration, may appear best calculated to meet the evil, and therefore we shall be happy to hear the opinions of those who from local knowledge are qualified to make suggestions. Our wish is that the Bill should be read a second time on Thursday—it will be printed to-morrow morning—and then we can fix such a day for Committee as may afford ample time for information to reach us from the districts particularly interested. We have no wish to hurry the Bill; and even if it be necessary to prolong our sittings for a few days, I am sure the House would not grudge the time which would be given to the subject.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, as the measure proceeded on a percentage of increase in the rates, and not on any fixed amount of 700 charge, he wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would lay before the House a tabular statement with regard to the rates in Lancashire and Cheshire, to enable the House to judge of the probable effect of the scheme in those counties.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, a Return had been made to the House in 1856 of the rateable value of every district in the country. With respect to the rate of expenditure, which he presumed was what the hon. Gentleman wished for, no Returns on that subject had been moved for. If they should be moved for, he should be happy to give them.
§ Leave given.
§ Bill to enable Boards of Guardians of certain Unions to obtain temporary Aid to meet the extraordinary demands for Relief therein, ordered to be brought in by Mr. VILLIERS, Sir GEORGE GREY, and Mr. GILPIN.
§ Bill presented, and read 1°; to be read 2° on Thursday, and to be printed [Bill 224].