§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. POTTER
remarked, that as the Bill was confessedly of an exceptional character, he was desirous of drawing the attention of the House to a few startling facts connected with the existing distress in the manufacturing districts, in order that hon. Members might be fully acquainted with the real state of the crisis with which it was proposed to deal. The number of hands employed in trades com- 740 ing under the Cotton Factory Act, in Great Britain, was 451,000. Of these 315,000 were employed in Lancashire, 27,800 in Yorkshire, 40,000 in Cheshire, 12,965 in Derbyshire, 3,281 in Cumberland, 41,000 in Scotland; in Ireland 2,744. The entire population in the cotton districts in Lancashire might be taken at 2,000,000. There were 315,000 workers in those districts; in the Cheshire district the population was 200,000, the workers 40,860; in Derbyshire there was a population of 60,000, with 12,965 workers. He had not similar numbers for either Yorkshire or Cumberland. Taking the wages of these 450,000 workers at 10s. 6d. a week, it would give a total amount of £250,000 paid as weekly wages last year. There were now 80,000 totally unemployed, showing a loss of weekly wages to the extent of £42,000. 370,000 were only half employed, and the loss of their wages might be taken at £97,125; or, in all, a total loss in weekly wages of £139,000. The total sum paid in weekly wages might be taken at £110,000 as against £250,000 at that time in the last year. The average of weekly wages per head in the previous year was 10s. 6d.; now it was only 4s. 10d. for those in work. There were 200,000 persons connected with the cotton trade to be supported. But in addition there were persons usually employed in other trades, such as bleaching, dyeing, and others, dependent on the cotton trade, who might be estimated at about one-third more, or another 100,000. The entire number of cotton mills was 2,715 in England, 153 in Scotland, and 9 in Ireland; total 2,887. The average number of workers in each cotton mill was 156; but, inasmuch as some of the mills employed thousands of hands, the average number of workers in the remainder must be very small indeed. It would thus be seen that the masters were not so wealthy a class as was supposed. He would now state the case of his own parish—one of the best ordered, and hitherto one of the most prosperous, districts in the trade. The population of that union—Glossop—was 21,198. There were 23 mills, with 8,000 workers. In 1861 the wages amounted to £4,800 a week, or an average of 12s. per head. The wages at present were £1,200 a week, showing a loss of £3,600. It might be said that those 8,000 workers had at least 8,000 more depending upon them, making a total of 16,000 persons. Last year the 741 average means of existence for these 16,000 amounted to 6s. per week per head; they were now 1s. 6d. The rateable property of the parish was £50,000 per annum, and hitherto the poor rates had not exceeded 2s. in the pound. Looking at the class of the population, any considerable increase of the rates would be very serious. Of the 8,000 hands no fewer than 6,800 were employed in three mills, so that the other factories were obviously very small, and from them the great pressure would come. What he had just stated might be taken as a sample of the state of the operative classes in all the cotton districts. He regretted that the Government had not sooner grappled with the question. They ought long ago to have sent out commissioners to make inquiries in the manufacturing districts, and to have proposed some exceptional measure beyond the present to meet the emergency. No alteration of the Poor Law would serve the purpose, and he had no hesitation in saying that in his own parish a rate of 20s. in the pound would be insufficient during the next six months, while it would fall very heavily upon the landowners and upon the few manufacturers who were keeping their mills open short time, solely for the purpose of giving some employment to their hands. It was the duty of the Government to do all they could to prevent 300,000 of the best artisans in Great Britain from sinking into pauperism. On more than one occasion they had suspended the Bank Charter Act for the benefit of the capitalist class, and he thought they could not do less than propose an ample grant for the support of the destitute operatives of Lancashire. He believed that to do so would require £100,000 a month for the next six or seven months; and he would in conclusion most earnestly urge upon the Government a fuller consideration of the whole question.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, so very short a time had elapsed since the introduction of the Bill that there had been no opportunity of giving it any great consideration, much less of consulting the constituencies in the north as to their opinions and wishes respecting it. He did not rise, therefore, to discuss the merits of the Bill, but he hoped that in Committee he would be able to show good grounds for any alterations which he might venture to propose. The first impression made upon him by the Bill was not altogether fa- 742 vourable. The circumstances under which the Bill was brought before them were those of great pressure in the cotton districts, arising from the horrid civil war in America, which might or might not come to an end soon. The pressure differed from an ordinary pressure in this respect, that it might soon cease, or it might take another turn, and come upon them with an intensity of which there was no example. Parliament was about to separate, and those who were connected with the distressed districts were anxious that provision should be made, not for the immediate pressure, because they were altogether prepared for the present pressure if it went no further. They had that on the authority of a most intelligent gentleman connected with the Poor Law Department, who had given universal satisfaction in every part of the cotton manufacturing districts where he had gone. That gentleman reported that in all parts of the district he had visited he found a determination on the part of those charged with the administration of the Poor Law to do their duty, and they had expressed to him not only their readiness to meet the present pressure, but their conviction that it could be sustained under the present law. They wanted a Bill, therefore, not for the immediate pressure, but to meet an emergency which he dreaded, but which he hoped in God would not be realized. Although he intended to support the Government, yet he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock, that it was a most dangerous thing, under a great emergency, to interfere with the laws established for the relief of the poor. The first impression that was made on his mind was, that the Bill would fail in that particular. It was founded upon so very small an alteration of the present Poor Law that its operation would not be reserved for an emergency, but be brought into requisition whenever Her Majesty ratified it. In some of the districts the emergency contemplated by the Bill had already arisen; and his right hon. Friend, in proposing an alteration of the Poor Law, was going in opposition to the opinion of his own Commissioner, who said no such alteration was required. The Bill was also liable to this objection—that if an emergency should arise, the whole weight would fall on the occupying tenant rather than on property. The manufacturing districts differed materially from the agricultural districts in that particular. The 743 average rates of different counties in England being much higher than in the manufacturing districts, surprise was expressed when the rates in the latter only equalled the former that extraordinary relief should be required. But when a person took a house or farm in the agricultural districts, the rate of 4s. or 5s. in the pound was calculated when he undertook the tenancy, so that it really fell upon the proprietor, and not upon the occupier. In the manufacturing districts, however, the usual rate being 1s. 6d. in the pound, when a pressure came the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary rate fell on the occupier. The Bill would rather continue the pressure in the same direction. There were two principles upon which they could meet the present emergency. The one was that which he had sketched on a former evening, and the more he considered it, the more did he believe it to be the most direct and efficacious remedy—to fix the point from which they should start on a higher basis, thus making the measure much more exceptional, for the present Bill was scarcely exceptional at all; and, when the proper level was reached, giving the ratepapers of the different unions a mode of obtaining the speediest and most effectual relief by means of a loan on the security of the rates. He had referred to one difference which existed between the manufacturing and agricultural districts. There was another difference—that a very large proportion of the rates in Lancashire was payable by parties who were very little above the line of demarcation between the ratepayers and the rate-receivers. That large class of ratepayers was, perhaps, even more seriously affected at the present moment than the rate-receivers themselves. They had suddenly and unexpectedly had their whole resources taken away from them. They depended on the custom of the operatives in the neighbourhood in which they lived; and that being taken away, they were not only deprived of their usual means of existence, but they were also called on to pay increased rates without any other means. There was another class of ratepayers, equally important, that would be greatly relieved by a loan—he meant the occupiers of the mills. An hon. Member had expressed great sympathy for the rate-receivers, but he said he had no such sympathy for the rich ratepayers of the rich county of Lancaster, who were able to meet any demands which might be made 744 upon them. There never was a greater mistake. In all large commercial counties the manufacturing concerns were carried on by means of borrowed capital. Many of the persons had risen by their own exertions, and by means of their own hard sense, and their chief assistance was received from banks and other sources. He had been told upon good authority that about two-thirds of the mills that had been recently built in Lancashire were worked with borrowed capital. Well, the pressure came upon them, and what was the consequence? They were obliged either to turn out their hands, or work a fewer number of days, while those who had lent the money on which they were trading were not to be kept off, and they had still to contribute to the rates on an assessment of £10,000, £15,000, or £20,000 on the mills. The increase in the rates came upon these parties like a double blow, at a time when they were wholly unable to meet it. Many of these mills, if the pressure continued, would be reduced to a state that the House would much lament to see. A loan of money on the security of the rates would, he thought, effectually meet the emergency in such cases. It was almost certain that the war now raging in America could not continue any great length of time; and when it did cease, prosperity would return almost as suddenly as it had left us. "[No, no!"] At all events, a great deal sooner than when the pressure arose from ordinary commercial depression. In the mean time the great object was immediate relief, and that, he repeated, could better be had from a loan on the rates than by the mode propounded in the Bill. He would therefore venture to suggest to his right hon. Friend that he should well consider the subject before the Bill went into Committee, and that he should be prepared, at all events, to alter the point from which the Bill proposed to start. After the statement of the noble Lord at the head of the Government that they would listen attentively and considerately to any recommendations that might be made, he felt bound to say that the emergency which appeared to be coming on us was quite equal to what had been stated by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Villiers); he believed it did require the greatest foresight and energy to prevent a state of things which would be truly deplorable; and he was prepared to support Her Majesty's Government in any measure which they, on their responsi- 745 bility, thought most likely to meet that emergency.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, that if the understanding was that the second reading should be assented to, and the discussion upon the Bill deferred till another stage, he would not then trouble the House with any remarks.
said, he took it for granted that there was no intention in any quarter to oppose the second reading of the Bill. It had been introduced only about forty-eight hours previously, and it was quite obvious, therefore, that they had not had an opportunity of consulting with those whose interests were principally and primarily affected—the people of Lancashire themselves. There was another reason why they could more conveniently consider the Bill in Committee. The points on which it was probable that any difference of opinion would arise were, he thought, altogether questions of detail; and he assumed, therefore, that if they then allowed the measure to be read the second time, they would go into Committee pledged to nothing but the general principle of acceding to a rate in aid. Whatever objections might be taken to a rate in aid, and no doubt there were many such objections, both theoretical and practical, still he supposed they all felt that the present state of the manufacturing districts was so exceptional that they could not hesitate for a moment to apply an exceptional arrangement to it. His chief objection to the Bill, like that stated against it by his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel W. Patten), related, not to what was in the measure, but to what was not in it. He thought it unfortunate that it contained no provision to enable parishes or unions to do that which he believed in many instances they would be willing and able to do—namely, when their immediate resources were exhausted, to draw upon their own future resources, instead of throwing themselves upon the help and charity of others. He knew of only two objections that could be made to giving parishes or unions the power of borrowing. The one was that the power might be prematurely exercised—that they might borrow before they had sufficiently drawn upon their present resources, and that the money so raised might be recklessly and lavishly expended. The Poor Law Board, however, would have the remedy for that in its own hands, because nothing could be easier than to provide in the case 746 of the borrowing power, as in the case of the rate in aid, that it should not come into operation until the rates had reached a certain amount. The second objection was, that if they gave a parish a power of obtaining assistance from the neighbouring parishes, then the borrowing power would be useless, because the parish would prefer coming upon its neighbours to mortgaging its own future resources. Now, for his own part, he believed the parishes of Lancashire would much rather run into debt, with the certainty of paying it off in a few years, than go to their neighbours for assistance. But that objection, whatever its value might be, might easily be met by combining a borrowing power and a rate in aid in one Bill, in this way—they might enact that the borrowing power should not come into operation till the rates had reached a certain sum in the pound, and then they might enact that the rate in aid should not come into operation till the borrowing power had also been exercised to a certain extent; subject always to this qualification—that if from some unforeseen or exceptional circumstance a particular parish was not able to avail itself of the borrowing power, then the Poor Law Board should be authorized to dispense with that condition. As to mortgaging the resources of the parishes, he did not think any apprehension need be entertained on that score. Everybody knew that the distress in Lancashire, singularly severe as it was, owed its severity in great measure to the uncertain duration of the present dearth of the raw material, because one great difficulty that was felt in obtaining a supply of cotton from other parts of the world than America arose from this, that there was no guarantee for the continuance of the present prices, and no security for the continuance of the present demand. Therefore the very fact that at any moment, even within the next three or four months, the American supply might be restored, made it more difficult to replace that supply from any other quarter. The distress was in its nature temporary, and unlikely to recur on so large a scale. There was one reason especially why he would prefer in some modified degree resorting to the plan of loans. It was this—that whether the rates were laid on the parish or union, or extended to other districts, they fell for the moment exclusively on the occupier; whereas if they had recourse to a loan—that was to say, if they spread the payment over a 747 period of seven, ten, or fifteen years, although in form it would still fall on the occupier, it would yet fall on the owner also, because a greater time would elapse, which would give an opportunity for the relations between the owner and the occupier to re-adjust themselves with reference to this charge. That was all he wished to say at that stage of the Bill on the subject of loans. He did not exactly understand why, in the first clause, the point at which the rate in aid was to come into play was to be determined by a fluctuating and not by a fixed test. He did not see why the rate in aid should come into play when the expenditure exceeded by two-thirds the average cost of the relief of the poor for the three preceding years. He should have thought it a simpler and better plan to say it should come into play when the charge had reached a certain fixed percentage, because a fluctuating test would make the coming of the rate in aid into play to depend on what might be the accidental circumstance whether a parish had more or less prospered in previous years. That, however, would be a matter for consideration in Committee. By the plan as it stood in the Bill, the parish was in the first instance to be assisted by the union; and if the union also was pauperized to a certain extent, then the union was to be assisted by the entire county. There was great apparent fairness in that; but he believed it would be found in practice that a great many of the Lancashire unions included a large tract of country with manufacturing and agricultural districts which had little to do the one with the other. No doubt the agricultural districts ought to pay, and would be willing to pay, their full share towards the relief of the towns, as they shared in their prosperity; still an agricultural district in the vicinity of a large town might say, "We are willing to contribute for the help of the town, but we object to be made to contribute exclusively while a district in the immediate neighourhood of us, merely because it is in a different union, is to be altogether exempt." He meant to say, that if they applied the rate in aid at all, might it not be better to extend it at once from the limit of the parish to the limit of the entire county? He suggested that point, however, rather as a matter for inquiry than as expressing a decided opinion himself upon it.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
thought it 748 probable that the amount of money which would be required to meet the prospective distress would be half a million sterling, and it was not creditable to the country to leave the respectable artisan population to the eleemosynary aid of private individuals. He was also of opinion that the future ratepayers ought to be protected from the present emergency, and that it would be novel and wrong in principle to allow the guardians of the poor by borrowing money to meet the pressure upon them to burden posterity. It would be disgraceful to the Legislature to admit the principle that the poor were dependent upon private benevolence. The sum of money required to tide over the emergency during the period prescribed for by the present Bill was between a quarter and half a million sterling. The county of Lancashire was assessable in a sum of not less than eight millions, and the assessment of 1s. 3d. in the pound would raise £500,000, which was the extreme calculation of what would be sufficient to carry the working classes through the emergency. There was a great anomaly in the discrepancy which existed in the rating for the different parishes in the same unions in Lancashire. In the Blackburn Union the average rate in 1856 was 1s. 2d. in the pound, but the highest parish in that union paid no less than 4s. 7½d., whilst the lowest-rated parish paid only 4¼d. In the Bolton Union the highest paid 2s. 10½d., and the lowest 6d. In the Burleigh Union the highest paid 3s. 0½d., and the lowest 6d. In the Chorlton Union the highest paid 1s. 10½d., and the lowest ½d. In the Preston Union the highest paid 3s. 8¾d., and the lowest ¼d. Under these circumstances he thought that the Government should go further than they did in the present Bill, and declare the principle that the property of the county, in such an emergency as this, should be liable to pay a fair quota towards the relief of the poor in the cotton districts. He should support the second reading of the Bill, but he trusted that in Committee some of its provisions would be materially altered.
said, his hon. and gallant Friend near him had stated truly that the present crisis had arisen from what was justly described as the horrid war in America; but they must not shut their eyes to the fact that a similar crisis might arise from a horrid war with America. The present state of things in our vast 749 manufacturing districts showed how easily events over which we could exercise no control might plunge us from the height of prosperity into an abyss of distress, which could not be regarded without pain and dismay. But, in attempting to provide what had been called temporary plans of relief, care must be taken not to make a false step, nor to lay down false principles. He entirely agreed with his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) in thinking that assenting to the second reading of the Bill did no more than pledge them to a rate in aid in some shape. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had said truly the other night that the safest course to pursue would be to adhere as closely as possible to the principles of the law that had been in existence in this country during the last 300 years. He believed that there were great difficulties in carrying out that law, and therefore the Government had acted wisely in coming forward to give facilities for enforcing and to make clear that which from disuse had become obscure and impossible to put in force. He would consider the Bill, having regard to the principles of the old law; and how far it went to carry out those principles? What, then, was the provision in the statute of Elizabeth for relieving parishes reduced to a state of extreme and exceptional distress? It was that they should receive the assistance of a rate in aid for the maintenance of their poor "where the parish was not able" to bear the burden. But when he saw such a definition of inability to pay as an excess of two-thirds over the average amount of rates he was astonished. Did the Government mean that in a parish where the poor rates had only been 1s., in one particular week when the rate rose to 1s. 8d., then the principle of a rate in aid was to come into operation? He agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) that it would be better to measure the test of industry in that case by the fact that the rate had reached some definite sum—such as 5s., or 7s., or any other amount. He believed that such a provision in the Bill would naturally open the door to great abuse, and would hold out to the guardians of particular parishes an irresistible temptation to raise the rate to the required two-thirds beyond the usual amount, so that they might at once be enabled to claim the assistance of their neighbours. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board would consider that point before 750 the Bill went into Committee, and would endeavour to guard the power in accordance with the principle of the law of Elizabeth. There was another point in the machinery of the Bill to which he would call attention. Under the clause extending relief from the parish to the union it was quite possible that additional burdens would be thrown upon parishes which might at that same moment be paying higher rates than the parish they were going to relieve. On the face of the Bill that might easily happen. Some parishes, it had been stated, now paid 4s. in the pound; and as the Bill was drawn those places might be called on to contribute towards the relief of a parish where the rate, having been 1s., was increased to 1s. 8d. It had been suggested that the difficulty should be dealt with by borrowing. Now, it was always very easy to shove the burden from off one's own shoulders to the shoulders of other people, but, as a general principle, he was not fond of borrowing. The statement he had just heard from his hon. Friend near him (Colonel W. Patten) rendered him still less disposed to adopt it as a remedy in that case. His hon. Friend said—and no one, perhaps, was more capable of speaking authoritatively upon such a subject—that two-thirds of some portions of the mill property was borrowed money; and then to relieve that particular description of property his hon. Friend would borrow more. He (Mr. Henley) did not think that was a sound or a safe principle of Legislation to follow. He believed that the best course they could adopt would be to enforce the principles of the law of Elizabeth, and to define what was to be regarded as the inability of a parish to maintain its own poor. When that inability was thus ascertained, let the neighbouring parishes be compelled to come to its aid; and, if the burden thus imposed upon them should reach a certain amount, to be also fixed, then let them go to a larger area, and tax the whole country. But let them not, for the purpose of meeting what, he hoped, was but a temporary emergency, part with those principles which had for ages regulated our system of poor relief. If they were to adopt any change of principle in the matter, it would be better that that should be done in a future Session of Parliament, when they would have time calmly and carefully to consider the course which they were pursuing. The hon. 751 Member for Stafford (Mr. Alderman Sidney) had laid down doctrines which, carried to their legitimate conclusion, would lead to the establishment of a national rate. If they were to abandon the parochial system, and establish a regular county rate, they could not stop there, and they must levy a uniform tax upon the whole country. He did not want at that time, however, to be dragged into a discussion of that question. Let them adhere to the old law of Elizabeth—let them define what "not able" in that law meant, and their legislation would have a useful practical result. His hon. Friend near him (Colonel W. Patten) said that the manufacturing districts in Lancashire were capable of bearing the burden to which they had as yet been exposed, and the papers which had been laid before the House established the same conclusion; and he did not think, under those circumstances, that there was any reason why they should go further than to adopt the principle of a rate in aid.
§ MR. COBDEN
I am afraid that, however well suited the statute of Elizabeth may be to the present state of Oxfordshire, it will be found at this moment very ill-adapted to the condition of Rochdale; and I may at once say that I deprecate altogether the views of the right hon. Gentleman when he encourages the Government to allow this Session to pass before we touch any of those ancient principles of the statute of Elizabeth, in amending the Poor Law so as to meet the present state of the north of England. The right hon. Gentleman has convinced me by his speech that the present state of things, and the impending state of things, are not sufficiently understood in this House. The fallacy which runs through his remarks is this—that you are dealing with a community who are competent to pay rates, provided you will levy them. But in order that rates may be paid, you must have production going on, whereas the district which I represent is rapidly approaching the state which an agricultural parish in Oxfordshire would be in if it were struck with sterility. The large capital invested in the cotton trade is becoming not simply unproductive, but burdensome, and mills can only be kept open by the waste of the floating capital of those who, at the present moment, have the misfortune to own them. That being the case, the analogy drawn between a parish which ordinarily 752 pays a rate of 1s. and another in a rural district which pays 2s. or 3s. falls altogether to the ground. The parish which has been accustomed to pay 1s. in the pound, and contains a large amount of capital invested in cotton mills, has hitherto been thus lightly taxed, because it has had full and profitable employment for the operatives. But let those manufactories be closed, and your attempt to equalize the rate of the parish which had paid 1s. and, perhaps, paid it very easily, with the rate of 4s. which has been paid in another parish where employment is still afforded to its population—such an attempt, before you allow any aid to be brought to the parish which is in a state of collapse and paralysis, is out of the question. It is like going to a person who has been struck with paralysis and cannot stir, and saying to him, "My good fellow, there is another man near you who can walk half a mile; try and walk a few yards and do something for yourself." That is the state to which the cotton districts are rapidly coming, and that through no fault of their own. We have heard ridiculous stories told about its being the duty of the cotton spinners to supply themselves with cotton. Why, it is no more their duty to supply themselves with cotton than it is the duty of flour millers to grow their own wheat or of shipbuilders to grow their own timber. The cotton spinners of this country have made admirable cotton spinners, but probably they would have made clumsy cotton planters Their own proper occupation has needed all the capital and skill of these men, who have contributed so largely to make England what she is. The very first principle of political economy is that you should have that division of labour by which men grow cotton in one place or in one country and spin it in another. It is no part of the business of our citizens to go abroad and plant their own cotton, or see that it is grown. With regard to the present deficiency, the right hon. Gentleman says that it has arisen out of war, and that we may have another war, and he seems to suppose that it is not a very exceptional state of things after all. I hope it is, for there is a great deal more at stake than a few towns in Lancashire. This great industry is after all the fly-wheel of our national prosperity; and if it is deranged, you will find the whole industry of the country very soon out of gear. I say that I hope the present state of things 753 is very exceptional. The present dearth of cotton and paralysis of industry have not arisen from any natural causes, and this is the reason why you have so much difficulty in dealing with them. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) clearly showed that if the want of cotton were occasioned by the fact that the Southern States of America had been suddenly visited by a blight like that, for instance, which destroyed the vines in Madeira, then other countries, seeing that no more cotton was to be expected from that district, would be immediately tempted by the promise of high prices to supply the demand. If, again, there had been a servile war in America— an insurrection of the negroes—which threatened to put an end to that social state which in that country has been associated with the cultivation of cotton, that would have insured its own remedy according to the ordinary principles of political economy, for cotton would immediately have been grown in other parts of the world. But this calamity has befallen us from a totally different cause. Two countries are at war. I call them two countries, because as belligerents they are so; and one of these belligerents has imposed a commercial blockade upon the other. Such a system of warfare may have been very well suited to the middle ages, but it is totally unsuited to an age which is governed by the principles of political economy, and it is England more than any other country in the world which has perpetuated that absurd system of warfare. However, the discussion of that question is useless at this moment, except to enable us fully to understand the position in which we are placed. At this moment you have in America, subjected to blockade, from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 bales of cotton, because I hold that very little of it has been absolutely destroyed. This was intended for last year's supply; and besides this you have 1,000,000 or 1,500,000 bales now growing, the greater part of which was intended for this country. Now, that quantity of cotton hanging over the market paralyses all operations, and prevents any natural remedy being applied to cure this state of things. If it were anything but an extraordinary and unnatural cause which had produced this collapse in Lancashire—if, for instance, there were a failure in the coal or iron of this country, so that the manufacture were likely to cease to be carried on, then you might look for a natural remedy, 754 and might apply the principle of the Poor Law in its greatest rigour, even with charity and mercy to the people concerned. You might tell them, as they had no employment, to disperse over the land and find occupation elsewhere, because it was evident they could no longer find employment where they were. But that is not the case in the present instance. There is all the necessary fixed capital—the machinery—in the cotton-manufacturing districts, and there exists also a body of manufacturers who will employ the population when they get the raw material, and I believe that the raw material will come, but whether in six months or twelve months it is impossible to say. I do not believe that the cotton in America is destroyed; nay, it is very likely to find its way to England; and it is because other people think this probable that the trade is in a state of paralysis. Then, the practical question for the Government and for Parliament is, how to treat the population under these circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley), possessing extensive knowledge in reference to agricultural districts, does not fully comprehend the state of things in Lancashire and Cheshire. He says, "Go back to the 43rd of Elizabeth," and I say you might as well go back to the legislation of the Romans, which would be just as applicable to the present case. The principle to be adopted should be to add as little as possible to the necessary evil, or, indeed, ruin, which must fall on that manufacturing district. You cannot avert the calamities which must befall the population there, but do everything you can to give them the chance of tiding over the immense destitution certain to prevail for the next six or twelve months. In the first place, do not do anything possible to be avoided that might bring ruin to the people possessing cotton mills. It has been truly said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel W. Patten) that the great bulk of the mills in Lancashire are not owned by millionaires; though an idea has been propagated, from very questionable motives, that the cotton spinners are men of enormous wealth. The large proportion of the profits in the cotton trade are laid out in buildings and machinery and made reproductive in Lancashire and Cheshire, and the great bulk of the cotton mills and factories belong to persons who have, comparatively, very little floating capital. The names of the great 755 cotton spinners—generally men belonging to families who have been two or three generations in the business—may be counted by scores, but the number of those struggling up, and who by thrift and ingenuity, by the discovery of new machinery and the productiveness of their factories, augment the power and greatness of this country, may be counted by thousands. These latter are the men described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, who, possessing a certain, amount of money, they build mills with it, get credit from their bankers and agents in Manchester, and in that way the great industry and prosperity of Lancashire and Cheshire are produced. Unfortunately, this dearth of cotton came suddenly on us, just in the midst of the great and rapid extension of this manufacturing prosperity. Probably there never was before so much capital invested in buildings and machinery as during the two or three years preceding the crisis in America. This was done legitimately and with a sound discretion, as, except for the present unnatural events, they who so acted would have been prosperous men at this moment. Then I again say that what you should do in your legislation is to avoid as much as possible bringing these men to ruin, because it is on their ability to employ the population that we must mainly depend to restore the community around them to a state of prosperity. But what could be more calculated utterly to exterminate such a body of men than to pursue the course recommended by the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire? I believe he said that in the first place he would wait till next spring.
§ MR. COBDEN
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, that he would have no innovations on the principle of the Poor Law till next spring, and that he would stand on the ancient ways. Now, I tell the Government and the House that I do not think that it would be safe for this House to separate, unless the Government are prepared to take on itself the means of meeting this evil in a different spirit from that which the right hon. Gentleman has indicated. What is the condition of even the richest manufacturer in Lancashire at the present moment? The great bulk of the cotton mills and manufactories, the number of which has been stated at 2,800, are working short time, for three 756 or four days, or for, perhaps, not more than two days and a half in the week. It is notorious to all persons connected with trade and commerce, that every one of these establishments is working at an immense sacrifice to the owner or owners. If working three days in the week, nearly the whole amount of wages paid is lost to the capitalist. I have a communication bearing on this point in my pocket. It is a passage in a letter, dated July 16, written by a gentleman with whom I am not personally acquainted, but whose letter has been handed to me. It is written by a large spinner to a friend in London, and I will read an extract from it—I have cotton purchased which will enable me to run my mill four days a week till near the end of the year; to-day I could sell it off and clear £20,000 profit; by working my mill I shall, at the very least, lose that sum; and I run the risk of a settlement with America and other contingencies, by which I may lose much more; and to only lose this, I assume the present serious margin of loss will in some way diminish, so as not to exceed wages paid, which it now far exceeds.There are but few owners of these mills in the north of England who can afford to go on in this way for many weeks or months, because they have but little floating capital in ordinary times beyond that which is necessary for the conduct of their business; and when the mills entirely cease to work, what becomes of the district or the population? According to the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire, if a parish requiring aid has only been paying 1s. in the pound, he would call on the people of that parish, utterly crushed and ruined as they are, to pay another rate merely for the sake of symmetry, in order that it might approximate to the rate of some other agricultural parish situated in another part of the country, and paying 3s. or 4s. in the pound. Such a system would only accelerate the ruin and prostration which it is the interest and policy of the Government plan to prevent. It must be borne in mind, too, that in such an impoverished parish as I have described, every new additional rate throws out of the list a very large proportion of rate-paying assessments. Taking the assessment for the present in respect to Blackburn at £18,000 a year, it is obvious, that if you lay on another rate, you impoverish a large class of ratepayers, and the rate would, perhaps, only produce £12,000. If you laid on a third rate in addition, you would probably only get £6,000; and the effect of these additional rates would be to multiply the 757 number of paupers, and at the same time diminish the means for their support. It is not merely the millowner in these districts who is absolutely dependent on the prosperity of the cotton manufacture; for the small shopkeeper, who is dependent on the workpeople for his profits, finds himself reduced almost to the level of the labourer by the same process that ruins the manufacturer; so that you have all the large numbers that subsist on the cotton trade brought down to one common state of stagnation and almost ruin. Look at the vast number of operatives in the cotton district who, during the last few years, have been building their own cottages. It is the pride of the district that the ingenious and very intelligent population there live, to a considerable extent, in their own houses, built through the means of benefit societies and other ways which are known to the Legislating, and which this House has promoted and fostered. We know that these cottages have been very largely built with borrowed money. Well, if the owners, at the very time when they lose their income from wages, should be called on to pay an extra poor rate on their houses, in addition to interest on the mortgages, the whole of the property must be transferred from these poor people to other individuals. This is a state of things you would like to avert if you could; and if you believe that the present unnatural paralysis is more likely to be temporary than permanent, and if you hope that in six or twelve months it must be put an end to, would it not be better, acknowledging that the existing state of things is exceptional, to tide over that period, and to trench on the old principles of the law of Elizabeth, either by borrowing money on future rates or by getting a rate in aid more promptly extended than the law now allows of? I am as much opposed as the right hon. Gentleman opposite to borrowing money on the security of rates in ordinary circumstances; but no person who realizes the condition of affairs in the cotton district could object to the population taking the course they think most advantageous to themselves. The Government and the House ought, I think, to be prepared to act in this case mainly on the advice of those whose interests are especially at stake. The population of the cotton districts of Lancashire and Cheshire have never hitherto been found deficient in that sagacity and prudence necessary 758 for the proper management of their own affairs. I think, therefore, that if it could be shown to be the general wish in those districts that they should be invested with the power of borrowing money for eight or ten years to meet the existing distress, it would be very unwise to interfere with that wish. The Government, in the face of the winter which is before the north of England, would, in my opinion, incur a grave responsibility if they declined to allow the manufacturing districts to carry out that policy, if they themselves deemed it desirable that the course I have indicated should be adopted. I am, of course, aware that such a power as that of which I am speaking would require to be guarded with certain provisions which cannot be now discussed; but I repeat, that if the manufacturing population make their views on the subject known, unitedly and unanimously, the House and the Government ought not to deny those facilities for meeting a great emergency like that which has come upon them for which they may deem it right to ask. I will go a step further. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle spoke of the high character of the working-classes in Lancashire, and how undesirable it would be to allow such men to become paupers. Now, for my own part, I will never call any man a pauper who is obliged to seek public relief in consequence of this blockade in the Southern States of America. I invite, then, the operatives of Lancashire, so far as my voice can be heard by them, not to stint their children, as I have been informed they do; not to subject their wives and those who are dependent on them to privations from a repugnance— which does them honour, because it has its foundation in a feeling of self-respect—to apply for parish relief. Let them, I would say, go and get that assistance to which they are entitled, without thinking for a moment that they are degrading themselves by so doing, for no man has a right to say that such would be the case. There is scarcely one of those men who have been engaged in working in the cotton mills who would not, I feel assured, rather be the payer of poor rates than the recipient of aid from that source. I would meet their wants, then, in the manner which I have suggested, and I would do still more. You cannot prevent the working men in Lancashire from selling off everything they have, even the blankets which are to 759 shelter them from the inclemency of winter, rather than go through the ordeal of being classed with other paupers, and the humiliating details into which it is necessary to enter before they can obtain relief at the parish pay-table. If therefore you can relieve their distress while you at the same time, as far as possible, take care to preserve their self-respect and dignity, you will be taking a most desirable course. I would, with that view, suggest to the Government that they should give effect to some provision by which it would be competent for the guardians of the poor to lend money to those men. There are operatives connected with the cotton mills, whose families have, until very recently, been in the receipt of 40s. or 50s. a week, and who are certain, the moment the tall chimneys begin to smoke and the machinery to revolve again, to earn a similar amount. There are thousands and tens of thousands of those men who would take money from the parish officer to be repaid again when days of prosperity returned to them, whom you could not persuade to take it in the shape in which relief is now administered. It may be said that that which I propose might be done under the law as it stands; and if that is the case, I should like the fact to be made generally known. I should also like to see the Poor Law Board dispensing, as far as possible, with the system of formalities which are now in force as preliminary conditions of obtaining out-door relief. If the mills throughout the North stop working, you cannot want any further proof that in that part of the country there are numbers out of employment who are willing to labour. You must know at once that you have not to deal with the case of the sturdy beggar who has no objection to live in idleness. With such evidence before you, it would be pedantic and absurd to adhere to the letter of those formalities to which I have adverted. I would, therefore, advise my right hon. Friend at the head of the Poor Law Department to take this matter into his serious consideration, and to absolve himself as much as possible from needless responsibility by acting, as far as he can, in accordance with the well-understood opinion of the manufacturing districts in dealing with this important subject. To my right hon. Friend's humanity I need not appeal, and I will simply add that I think it fortunate he happens to be at the head of the Department over which he now presides, for he cannot be regarded 760 by the working classes as wanting in feeling and sympathy for them, inasmuch as his name is, and always will be, associated with a measure which has done more than any other to promote their independence and prosperity.
said, the existing evil had been so long impending that he thought the House was entitled to ask Her Majesty's Government why a measure of that importance and difficulty had been postponed till so late a period of the Session. It was all very well for the hon. Member for Rochdale to say that he would throw over the principles of political economy, and that he would give his constituents a measure which he would not extend to any agricultural district; but the subject was one that ought to have been much more carefully discussed. He did not wish to go at length into the question of a rate in aid, but he believed that its practical working would be attended with many difficulties. He must add that he had listened with great astonishment to the statement made by the hon. Member for Rochdale to the effect that the great bulk of the manufacturing interest in Lancashire depended on credit; and if that were so, it was quite clear that the Bill would throw the burden of maintaining those who had been so trading upon those who had been trading on capital. For his own part, he had the strongest sympathy with the labouring classes, while he admired the fortitude with which they bore the distress which had fallen upon them; but he would ask, were the descriptions which had been drawn of their necessities any reason why the House should transfer to other shoulders the burdens of the ratepayers who were not shown to be distressed at all? No doubt, relief must be administered, but it ought to be wisely and justly administered; and those who had so largely benefited by the former state of things ought to pay their fair contributions towards that relief. It was all very well to say that parishes in Lancashire had been rated lightly because of the abundance of the employment afforded there; but when he found that the average rate in twenty-nine unions in that county amounted in 1856 to only 13d. in the pound, he thought there was some reason for looking with jealousy on the proposal before the House. He must also complain that the Government had furnished the House with no adequate materials on 761 which to come to a conclusion on the subject; so that there was no means of knowing how far their scheme was borne out by statistics giving a just view of the actual state of things which prevailed in the manufacturing districts. If it was difficult in one manufacturing parish or district for the ratepayers to pay the rates, how could matters be mended by transferring the burden to a neighbouring parish or district which was in similar circumstances. He doubted if the circumstances of the case were as bad as had been represented. Those circumstances were exceptional, it was said, but that was no reason why rash measures should be resorted to, which might entail future mischief. It was a dangerous principle to lay down, that when a particular district which had been largely benefited by its manufactures felt the pressure of distress, it should be relieved of the responsibility which attached to it. The principle of the Poor Law was, that the localities which had been enriched by the labouring classes should bear the burden of the exceptional distress of those classes; and it was unfair to call on parishes which had not been so enriched to come to their assistance. He confessed that the observation of the hon. Member for Rochdale had somewhat alarmed him, when he said that he would not apply the same rule to agricultural as to manufacturing districts. That observation really meant, that the political economy which was good for one's neighbours was not good for oneself. If it was right that the agricultural districts should bear, as they had borne in many cases and for many years, the pressure of high rates, surely the manufacturing districts, when called upon by exceptional circumstances to bear high rates, should not transfer the burden to other portions of the county. But if the present distress arose from exceptional causes, it behoved the Government to take care that those causes remained no longer than could possibly be avoided. Those exceptional causes were well known to be the want of cotton from America—a want that could only be supplied on the termination of the war in America; and every hour the blockade of the Southern ports was allowed to continue, and every hour we refrained from recognising the Confederate States, beyond the time dictated by international law, must inflict incalculable suffering upon thousands of our fellow-subjects.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
said, he wished to remind the House and the hon. Member for Rochdale that there was no present emergency to deal with. That fact had been distinctly stated by the President of the Poor Law Board when he introduced the measure. The existing means were, as the right hon. Gentleman had assured the House, perfectly adequate to meet the existing distress, and in all probability the measure which he was introducing would never come into practical operation. The same representation was made in the only document relative to the subject which had been laid before Parliament. Mr. Farnall, in his report on Preston, one of those towns where the pressure was understood to be greatest, stated that—The board of guardians, the local committee, and every magistrate, clergyman, and ratepayer with whom I have conferred, have expressed their determination and their ability to meet all the requirements of the poor of the township of Preston, through the medium of their own funds.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
said, that the report he had quoted was all the Parliamentary information that they had to guide them. He repeated, however, that not more than forty-eight hours ago the President of the Poor Law Board stated that the existing means, administered in the ordinary way, were perfectly adequate to the present emergency. There was therefore no immediate pressure; but he understood the reason for the introduction of the Bill to be, that in the course of the vacation the pressure might become so great that the ordinary means of relieving the poor would be exhausted, and therefore it behoved Parliament, in prudence, before separating, to avoid the necessity of meeting again in the autumn by making some provision for the possible emergency. The distress of the manufacturing districts was not denied as a matter of fact, and it appeared to him to be the unavoidable and the necessary consequence of the present war in America, and the position of our cotton manufacture. The practical question now was, how were they to meet this distress? Three distinct proposals had been laid before the House. One was the proposal suggested by the hon. 763 Member for Rochdale, and which had come before the country from various quarters, namely, that they should enable guardians to raise money by loan to meet the extraordinary demand upon the parish funds. It appeared to him (Mr. Bouverie) that a loan was the last measure to which recourse should be had on such an occasion. They were told that the circumstances were exceptional, but that was always the excuse of the spendthrift when he wanted to raise money to meet a present emergency. It was true that the particular occasion which had originated the distress was exceptional, but manufacturing distress from time to time was not exceptional, and his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale must well remember the distress of 1842, which was much more general than the distress which now existed in the manufacturing districts. Let his hon. Friend read the accounts of the distress of that period, and say whether Lancashire had arrived, or was likely within any reasonable time to arrive, at the state of misery which then prevailed. Yet that distress was met, not without pressure and suffering it was true, but by the existing machinery of the law, and was tided over without having recourse to the spendthrift machinery of a loan. Let him ask his hon. Friend where the money for the loan was to be raised? Did he propose that Parliament should make a grant of money as an advance? In the case of the distress in Ireland the public advanced the money; but he (Mr. Bouverie), on the part of the taxpayers of this country, protested against their having recourse in the present case to any such expedient. Then the hon. Member for Carlisle suggested that £100,000 a month would be sufficient to meet the emergency, and that Parliament should make a grant to that extent. Let him remind his hon. Friend that in Scotland there was no poor rate at all, that there was no provision for any but the sick, the infirm, and the disabled. It was the glory of England that she was the only country in the world were by law there was a provision for the able-bodied poor, who had the right in their necessity to come upon the property of the country to maintain them. That right, however, was so hostile to the maintenance of property, that unless it was guarded with the greatest care and rigour, it was not impossible that the poverty of the country would swallow up altogether the property of the 764 country. There was but one security against such a result, and that was that those whose property was called upon to support the poor were those who administered the relief. Let it not be imagined that there was any fixed quantity of paupers who would come upon the rates; for any one who knew anything about these matters, knew that if there was a lavish expenditure, pauperism would grow by what it fed on, till it would swallow up all that was destined to maintain it. Therefore it was that a public grant, to be administered by the guardians of the poor in these districts, was not to be entertained for a moment; and they were reduced, then, to the third proposal, of a rate in aid, which had been adopted by his right hon. Friend in the Bill. He fully agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), that if they were to have a rate in aid, they should keep as near as they could, having regard to the altered circumstances of the time, to the ancient statute of Elizabeth. They ought, in the first instance, to require proof of the incompetency of a district to maintain its poor before permitting the Act to come into operation. He saw no provision made for such proof in the Bill of his right hon. Friend, and in that respect he thought some Amendment would have to be made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire had pointed out another blot in the Bill— namely, that on the face of the clause as it stood the parishes relieved might in a great many cases be better off than those who were subjected to the additional burden. The Return upon the subject of the poor rates which was laid before Parliament last year showed that in Cheshire principally, and also in Lancashire to a considerable extent, in a great number of parishes the rates were ridiculously low, according to Southern notions—that something like 20 per cent of the Cheshire parishes were rated at under 6d. in the pound, and something like one-half at less than 1s. Would any one tell him, then, with regard to those parishes, that if their rates were raised from 1s. to 1s. 8d., and from 6d. to 10d., so that the provisions of this Bill would come into operation, they would of necessity reach such a point as to entitle them to come upon their neighbours for assistance. The matter did not bear argument, and it was absolutely necessary to introduce into the 765 Bill a clause fixing some minimum rate which should give to a parish the title to call upon its neighbours to assist it. These were matters of detail which would have to be considered when they got into Committee on the Bill. Of the three proposals before the House—and there were only three—no one who fully, fairly, and impartially considered the subject could doubt that a rate in aid was the proper measure to be adopted, and that loans and advances were not to be thought of. Suggestions had been made which appeared to him to indicate an amount of alarm which was not justified by the state of the case. No doubt the distress and suffering were great—present suffering was always felt most intensely; but would any one say that after another period of prosperity some great national calamity might not occur, producing not only equal, but far greater suffering than was now felt in the manufacturing districts, and less confined to one particular locality? He therefore hoped the House would accede to the proposal of his right hon. Friend, properly modified, rather than grasp at the suggestions of those hon. Gentlemen who came from the manufacturing districts; for sure he was that if their proposals were adopted—if recourse were had to any of these extraordinary methods they recommended, they would themselves be among the first to lament and deplore that their advice had been taken, and that a departure had been made for that course which experience in the past, here and in other countries, proved to be the best mode of dealing with such an emergency.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he had received a communication from the board of guardians of Oldham, who had met to discuss the provisions of the Bill. Their opinion was that the powers to be given by the Bill should be limited to union rating, while, at the same time, it ought to sanction loans, for a limited number of years, to be resorted to at the discretion of the guardians. They had no desire to obtain assistance from any other union in the county. He had no doubt that similar communications would be received from other unions. He believed that a loan would throw the burden of relief upon the districts that ought to bear it; and therefore he preferred a loan to the plan proposed by the Bill. The principle of borrowing money was not quite unknown to the Poor Law. It was already appli- 766 cable for building workhouses, enabling persons to emigrate, and making a valuation of a parish. There were, therefore, three precedents, while a loan would meet the necessities of the case much quicker and much better than the proposed plan. As to the distress, every one connected with Lancashire admitted that there was a gloomy prospect, and that Parliament should not separate without providing for the worst. He had a Return from several unions coming down to the 17th and 18th inst. It showed that since the 1st of January the numbers of paupers had increased: at Ashton, from 1,814 to 9,739; at Blackburn, from 3,357 to 10,935; at Preston, from 3,383 to 11,407. He had also received statements pointing to the probability of greater distress. At Wigan it was probable that in a few weeks scarcely a single mill would be working either full or short time. Only one mill was running six days a week, and the number employed three days a week was gradually decreasing. At a meeting of the board of guardians at Preston two days ago the chairman stated that 11,000 or 12,000 were receiving soup and bread who were not yet chargeable upon the poor rates; and that if other mills were closed, the distress would be greater than ever, and it would be difficult to collect the rates, which were now 3s. in the pound for the half-year. A letter from Rochdale stated that out of eighty-five cotton mills, within a short radius from the centre of the borough, thirty-six were at a stand, and that in a week or two probably sixty would be closed altogether, and the remainder would be working only about two days a week. He repeated that in such a state of things the House ought certainly not to separate without arming the boards of guardians with some extraordinary powers to enable them to cope with the emergency which might arise. He entirely approved of the suggestion which had been made by the hon. Member for Rochdale, that the labour test should be relaxed. It was said, that as the rates were not very high, no case for a Bill like this had been made out; but the reason why the rates were so low was because the operatives, by means of their saving and provident habits, had remained as long as they could without asking aid from the parish. That circumstance alone gave them an additional claim to succour in their emergency; and he trusted that the relief afforded them would 767 be administered in as rapid, as easy, and as little harassing a manner as possible.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. E. P. Bouverie) had complained of the want of evidence of the necessity of that exceptional legislation. Now, nobody had asserted that the state of things in Lancashire was already such that the ratepayers were unable to meet it. It was, however, perfectly well known how many cotton mills there were, what was the number of hands employed in them, and what was the present and also the prospective stock of cotton. It therefore required no great amount of foresight to see that within the next few months matters were likely to grow worse and worse. The stock of cotton in the country would not be sufficient to satisfy the demand for exportation and for home consumption much beyond Christmas; and then it was easy to perceive, even without any returns from Poor Law guardians, that the whole population dependent on the cotton manufacture would be out of work and in the greatest distress. It had been said that the Lancashire manufacturers carried on their business upon borrowed capital; but, whether that were the fact or not, it had no connection whatever with the present distress, which had entirely arisen from exceptional and political causes. The local ratepayers had no desire to shift their own proper burdens to other shoulders. The general expression of a wish for a loan proved that, because if money was found, the people of the distressed districts alone would have to refund it. To a rate in aid there was the objection that it would fall upon agricultural districts as well as upon the towns. The question to be answered was, whether it was better to meet the distress by a continually-increasing rate, or by raising the amount required upon the prospects of prosperity, which it was almost certain would, at no great distance of time, follow upon the present depression? His own opinion was very strongly in favour of a loan, and he trusted that a power to raise it would take the place of the second clause of the Bill.
§ MR. BOVILL
said, he thought it was a most remarkable feature in the discussion, that although this Bill, the most important measure introduced by the Government, had reached its second reading, not a single hon. Member who had spoken had approved of it. Nor was that surprising, 768 because the Bill had been prepared with much haste, as was obvious to anybody who glanced at its provisions. The first clause was perfectly absurd as it stood. It provided, that if there was an excess of expenditure of two-thirds in any one week, the guardians might raise such excess until the 1st of March next. The construction that might be put upon that was, that until the first of March they might raise the deficiency of one week. Suppose, however, it meant that such excess was to be raised in each week, and then in the very next week the excess was doubled, were the guardians to be enabled to raise that increased excess, or only the excess as it stood before? The clause ought surely to provide for the excess as it went on from week to week; but nobody on earth could tell what its present language meant. Again, the next clause gave the guardians power to raise money from the parishes without any limitation or qualification whatever. In the latter part of the Bill words were introduced to the effect, that no order should be carried to the Queen's Bench by certiorari; but the writ of certiorari was not the only way in which an order or rate could be disputed, as any one affected by a rate could dispute it by an action in the courts of law. There was no provision to meet the varying circumstances of different parishes, and upon that point amendment was required. He had been surprised to hear the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) attack the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) for recommending an adherence to the principle of the statute of Elizabeth, because the Bill of the Government was founded upon that law. Every word spoken by the hon. Member for Rochdale was a condemnation of the principle and details of the Government Bill, and yet the hon. Member for Rochdale made it the subject of a eulogium upon the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it, and attacked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire for supporting it. There was one very serious point to be considered. It was admitted that the burden of the poor rate should be ultimately borne by land and property. At present it was so; but by introducing a temporary measure the Government would throw the charge upon those who were incapable to bear it—namely, the occupiers alone, and something should be done to remedy that evil. He thought the best plan would 769 be for the Government to strike out all the clauses of the Bill, and to propose other clauses in Committee which would be free from the objections that had been made.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he did not intend to prolong a discussion which it had been the general desire of the House to defer until a future stage. When the proposition was made by the hon. Member for North Lancashire (Colonel W. Patten) that there should be no discussion taken on the second reading, because the Bill had only been delivered that morning and there had not been time to obtain information, it was generally accepted by the House as the proper course to pursue. From what had since taken place, the propriety of that view had become only more apparent. A number of general observations had been made not exactly bearing upon the Bill, but dealing rather with other matters. They had had, what the House generally had when it was asked to do nothing more than assert a principle—a legal authority rising and analysing the whole of the clauses. He (Mr. Villiers), however, would forbear to discuss the clauses of the Bill until the fitting time. He would remark, however, that upon one point the hon. and learned Gentleman who had preceded him was not to be implicitly relied upon, even upon a matter on which he ought to be professionally informed. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to the 7th clause, and remarking that by it the orders of the Poor Law Board were excepted from being taken before the Court of Queen's Bench by certiorari, went on to say that the validity of rates could be disputed in other courts. The hon. and learned Gentleman had made a confusion between orders and rates; and although what he said was true as to rates, it was not true as to orders. The hon. Gentleman again was wrong in saying that every speaker had condemned the Bill, for his (Mr. Villiers's) impression was exactly the contrary. As far as he could judge, every one seemed disposed to accept the Bill as framed to meet a particular end of which they approved, and that although some Amendments might be required, yet it was only on details that suggestions had been made. He was justified in thinking that there was a general approval of the Bill by the fact that the second reading was assented to. He was grateful for the favour the Bill had met with, be- 770 cause it was not easy to devise a measure proper for the occasion, which it was almost necessary to prepare in something like haste, owing to the approaching termination of the Session. He thanked the House for its reception of the Bill, and would attentively consider every suggestion that had been made to amend it. He had himself discovered mistakes which needed correction, and particularly in the 1st clause, without offering the smallest pretence to the hon. and learned Member for calling it a sheer absurdity. He thought there might be a difficulty, looking at the circumstances of Lancashire, in taking the amount of expenditure at any time, instead of a certain rate in the pound. The question what should be the limitation would be a fair question for the Committee, and he would be quite prepared to consider carefully any suggestions upon that point. Then there was the proposal to provide, perhaps in the alternative or in substitution, that parishes should raise the money on the mortgage of the rates. He certainly had regarded that proposal as an objectionable one, but throughout Lancashire a great difference of opinion prevailed respecting it. For instance, at Preston, the vice-chairman of the board and the chairman—they were both remarkable men—who both lived on the spot, knew the district perfectly well, and had well considered the whole consequences of these different measures, and yet they had come to different conclusions. One of the objections to raising money in that way was the great burden thereby cast upon the distressed district; so that it the distress continued for any long time the district would be very much encumbered by the amount of debt and interest. At the same time, the proposal was not to be spoken of confidently or to be denounced. It was not, as his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) had said, an ordinary, but an extraordinary case of manufacturing distress. It was exceptional in every way. As his hon. Friend (Mr. Cobden) said, it was like a country district the soil of which had been struck with sterility; masses of men who had been in the habit of deriving their means of livelihood from the cotton manufacture were now suddenly deprived of employment. Under these circumstances, it was ridiculous to say that it was only an ordinary depression of trade or an ordinary crisis; and in considering how they should mitigate the sufferings of the people they ought not to 771 be too strict and too rigid in their plans of relief so long as they were careful not to aggravate the evil. Looking at the condition of the district, he thought that the plan he had proposed would be a more suitable one than a resort to loans, and that in order to relieve the distress of a particular district they should call in the aid of those who were more fortunately placed, and should thus obtain relief which the distressed district would be under no obligation to repay. It would be for those interested in Lancashire to consider whether they would prefer to raise the money at once, and repay it annually; or whether they would, in accordance with the principle recognised by our ancient law, obtain aid from neighbouring districts well able and, from what he had heard, very willing to afford relief, just as throughout the whole country people were most anxious to contribute and to do all in their power for the relief of the distress. His right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. E. P. Bouverie) was not altogether candid in his reference to the subject. He seemed to think that it was a gratuitous piece of legislation, and that if there were any exceptional circumstances, they were not of the magnitude to justify such legislation; and he rather implied that there was a degree of wantonness about the proposal, and that the Government were doing something to excite needless alarm. He was sorry that his right hon. Friend was not now in the Department which he once filled, for then he would have been better informed. He believed that he did occasionally pay visits there and obtain information, which he used with great advantage in that House; but had he made further inquiry, he would have found that the measure was called for, and that with the information supplied to the Department no one in office could have justified himself if he had proposed nothing to meet the prospect of further suffering among the operatives, or had not, at least, informed the House of what he knew, and left it to provide for the evil. Neither in referring to his statement the other night, nor to that of Mr. Farnall, had his right hon. Friend shown his usual candour. He (Mr. Villiers) had certainly said that up to the present moment the existing law was sufficient; but his case was that the distress would soon be greatly aggravated, and that some further legislation might be needed. The poor operatives 772 had struggled to the last moment to retain their independence. They had drawn out from the savings banks almost every sixpence that they had saved; and as they had been sparing the rates hitherto by their providence, so the pressure upon the rates would be fearfully increased when those resourses were exhausted. His right hon. Friend said that the rates were very low in some of those parishes. But in that he overlooked altogether the circumstances of the district. The rates were paid very largely by the working men themselves. Perhaps his right hon. Friend would be surprised to hear that in Oldham two-thirds of the ratepayers were operatives, and that in other places the proportion was one-fourth and one-third. Where were those people to find the means of paying the rates? Then there were the small shopkeepers. What were they to do when their customers no longer received wages? The operatives even then were very much in debt to the shopkeepers, who had been giving them credit for the last two months. The total suspension of the cotton trade stopped the whole machinery by which rates were raised, because it was the very source of the rates in those districts. The mistake into which people fell was as to the rateable value of property there. If the inhabitants had no means of paying rates, they must evidently make a great reduction in the rateable value, and hon. Members would, therefore, not be surprised to hear that in Stockport the estimate was that 50 per cent must be deducted on account of non-collection. That was the present state of things. Everywhere there was an apprehension that the rates would not be collected, and in particular places that might even lead to a more serious state of things than he had mentioned. As he had stated on a former occasion, the policy of the Bill was that there were particular townships where the rates might increase so largely that they might be unable to maintain their poor. Hon. Members might talk of the great value of the property there, but the remedy was to meet a state of things that might arise. What was proposed, then, was to fix a limit at which it might be assumed that a township would find it difficult to support its poor, and then to charge the excess on the union fund. There was nothing new in that proposal; it followed the principle recognised by the old law, and it would be found effective for the object in view. 773 The pressure was gradually increasing, the rateable value of property was diminishing, and the total stoppage of the mills was everywhere apprehended. He believed that what he had proposed would afford relief in many cases, and he did not think it was for hon. Gentlemen connected with town interests to complain of it. He had expected opposition from another quarter, and was glad therefore to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) approve the principle of the Bill. He would instance the case of Preston Union. That included thirty-two townships, out of which not more than two were very much distressed, the rest being agricultural or comparatively well off. A large portion of Lancashire was not immediately connected with manufactures, and some unions were as purely agricultural as any in the country; yet, according to the plan proposed, they would all be liable for the relief of one manufacturing union in distress. Hitherto there had not been any complaints in that quarter, and he hoped that there would be none. He was perfectly ready to reconsider the basis on which it was proposed to proceed in levying contributions on the other unions. In drawing the Bill, there had, he thought, been an error in the rate at which the excess had been fixed. The union funds, which heretofore had been very slightly charged, had lately become subject to very considerable charges. The Bill which passed last year fixed several fresh charges on the union fund, to which must be added the cases of persons who had lived in the union for three years, who were now irremovable. He might observe, in passing, that those who opposed that Bill had no reason to feel satisfied with themselves—assuming that they represented the agricultural districts—as the information he had received enabled him to say that not only hundreds and thousands, but tens of thousands, would be returned on the agricultural districts but for that Bill. Many of the persons who would thus have become chargeable on the agricultural districts were discovered to have lived for three years in some part of the union. On inquiry he had been surprised at the number of persons falling under that class who could not now be removed in the manner that was formerly done in times of commercial depression, and which used to be felt by the agricultural districts as a great infliction. His hon. Friend the Member for 774 Rochdale had asked him for information on the subject of loans. It was quite true that they might be made, but they were not frequent, because the conditions on which they were made hardly offered an inducement to the poor to prefer them to the relief given freely. With respect to these matters it was the rule with the Poor Law Board to interfere as little as possible with the guardians in their actual distribution of relief. General rules and orders had been drawn up by the Board, and were enforced as far as possible; but they were not conclusive in all cases, for the views of the guardians were at times consulted, and though no leading principle of the law was disregarded, the administration was chiefly local, and was thereby rendered satisfactory. It only remained for him to state that he proposed to go into Committee on the Bill on the following Monday, and in the interval he would collect as much information as possible for the guidance of the House. He feared, however, that the information asked for by the hon. Member for Evesham could hardly be obtained.
asked whether the proportion of the excess could not be ascertained by reference to the corresponding period of last year.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, the amount in former years could be ascertained readily enough, but no present data could be obtained with which to compare it, as the accounts were only made up periodically. With respect to the objections taken by an hon. and learned Member to what he called "giving a week's relief," the phraseology of the clause might be capable of amendment, and the period of one week might be too short; but the meaning of the clause was sufficiently clear. The intention was that the guardians of a particular parish should be repaid from the common fund any excess which was paid above their legitimate proportion. He did not think there was any precedent to justify loans of the nature contemplated by his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham; but, though the borrowing powers were very much restricted, the security had always been found good, and in case of necessity he did not think there would be any difficulty in obtaining money.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
inquired if he understood that the right hon. Gentleman gave up the fluctuating principle named in the Bill as the starting point when aid was to be given.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
observed, that the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, had both declared their opinion that by assenting to the second reading of the Bill they were pledged to the principle of a rate in aid. If he thought so, he would not support the Motion, because it would be found exceedingly difficult to carry out in practice any such proposal. He had a very great respect for the Act of Queen Elizabeth, but he believed that it must have been very raw legislation by which justices were enabled to tax any parish which they pleased for the expenses which another parish was not able to bear. In what had been well described as an exceptional case, he did not think the House ought to go back for a precedent to the year 1601. Many persons connected with the administration of the Poor Law were of opinion that nothing but a public loan would meet the exigencies of the case, and, however disagreeable such a course might be, he believed that it must ultimately be adopted. The knowledge that money borrowed would be a mortgage on the rates would make the districts exceedingly careful. He wished that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board had stated the principle which would be acted upon in affording outdoor relief in the distressed districts. Was it intended that a test of any kind should be employed? He thought that was a question of too much importance to be slurred over. He remembered, when the change in the Poor Law was made, putting a question to Lord Althorp, whether, supposing there was very great distress in the manufacturing districts, they would carry out the principle of indoor relief in them. It was obviously impossible to put all the operatives in a manufacturing town into the workhouse. When the new Poor Law was introduced, outdoor relief was to be abolished, and relief was to be given only in the workhouses. That system had broken down of itself. Some hundreds of large union-houses had been built, but they had never been filled, and they stood monuments of the folly of the law which had called them into existence. He thought that they should, as much as possible, avoid all great changes, and that they should limit all their efforts to enabling 776 parishes to raise loans on a safe footing in cases of great necessity. He would also call attention to the fact that the fourth clause of the Bill provided that the unions should be taxed according to their expenditure.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that as he had been engaged for two winters in endeavouring to mitigate the great suffering which had prevailed in the ribbon trade of the district in which he lived and in the city of Coventry, he hoped he might be allowed to address a few observations to the House upon that occasion. He regretted to hear the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board the other night speak lightly of the parochial system; and he would give the right hon. Gentleman a practical illustration of its value, in disposing of the £40,000 which the public, with Her Most Gracious Majesty at their head, not long since contributed for the relief of the distress in North Warwickshire. The distribution had, by the observance of strict economy, been made to extend over two winters. The General Relief Committee came to the conclusion that they could not administer that fund with anything like efficiency or with anything like economy without breaking it up and appropriating to each of the several district committees, under whose superintendence the system of relief was to be locally conducted, the share of the fund, to which the destitution, as ascertained by a regular census, entitled each such district. That was a piece of practical experience, which had been brought home to his knowledge, and he thought it would be impossible to have a more powerful illustration of the necessity for local agency guided by personal and local knowledge, such as the parochial system afforded, in carrying on operations of that description. He was glad to hear the speeches of the hon. Member for Evesham (Sir Henry Willoughby), and of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had previously addressed the House, because he believed that by that Bill they were about to establish a vague discretionary power in a case in which his experience taught him that they wanted definite rules, and something approaching to personal responsibility. He was strongly in favour of the proposal for raising loans on the rates, because the local knowledge and the good feeling of the residents in each particular 777 district would then be brought to operate in ensuring the best system of administering relief, actuated by a sense of personal and local interest. He was not at all averse to the principle of a rate in aid, but he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, that if he wished to avoid an amount of difficulty which even the great powers vested in the Poor Law Board would not enable him to overcome, he must secure the establishment of strict rules and local responsibility in relieving that distress. The rules which were adopted by the gentlemen with whom he co-operated were—that they should give a small maximum sum for absolute subsistence; that relief should next be given by work; and that when medical assistance and extra diet were required, they should be separately afforded, under the attestation of medical men, and of other persons competent to decide upon such cases. There was another subject on which he wished to touch for a moment. The whole of the existing distress arose from a failure of the supply of cotton, and it was with the deepest regret he saw in the newspapers certain resolutions which had been passed by the Chamber of Commerce in Manchester, which appeared to him calculated to discourage any attempt to procure that staple for a large branch of our national industry from any other quarter than the States of America. That was not the spirit in which they had acted in the district in which he lived: they had cast about in all directions for the means of affording employment, whether by the establishment of new trades or otherwise; and he hoped that those who were interested in the cotton manufacture would endeavour to procure their supplies from some safer source than the single one of the United States in their present condition of lamentable disorganization. It had been truly said that the more numerous the sources of our supply the safer would be that supply, and the greater would be the probability of our seeing a termination of that lamentable state of things in Lancashire which must grieve every well-wisher of his country, and must excite the sympathy of every one who was accessible to the feelings of humanity. He would only say, in conclusion, that although they must regret the misappropriation of the loan advanced for the relief of distress in Ireland, still that loan was to a certain degree effectual for 778 its purpose; and he believed that through the distribution of the burden which loans would create, the House would mitigate the pressure upon the poorer ratepayers, and would best elicit that local co-operation and personal knowledge without which no system of relief could be effectually administered to a vast population.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
said, that his right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board had complained that he had misrepresented his remarks the other evening, and that in doing so he was wilfully in error. [MR. C. P. VILLIERS: No.] The observations which he attributed to his right hon. Friend were that there was just then no actual pressure, and that the existing law was adequate to meet the present emergency. The words which he heard his right hon. Friend say were as follows:—It was not with a view to any immediate action that he asked the House to legislate on the subject. He did not mean by taking that course to imply that the law as it at present stood was not perfectly adequate, and had not hitherto been found to be adequate to meet 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 enforced when granted.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he never charged his right hon. Friend with misrepresentation at all. He only said that he had shown a want of candour in quoting a portion of his remarks, so as to lead the House to believe that he was introducing a measure which was inconsistent with his own estimate of the emergency. He had brought forward the measure with a view not to an existing emergency, but to one which might arise.
§ Bill read 2º, and committed for Monday next.