§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
said, he rose to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the effect of the 36th section of the Reform Act on the franchise of working men in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Cheshire who might be in the receipt of parochial relief; and in so doing he wished to make a few observations. The Bill, though coming before them under very disadvantageous circumstances, and being discussed in a very thin House at that late period of the Session, was, in reality, a most momentous one in its bearing and consequences. Although it pro- 932 fessed merely to apply to Lancashire and Cheshire, it was no mere local measure, and should be viewed with reference to its action on the entire country. Giving every credit to the good intentions of the Government, and particularly to his right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board, he regretted that a Bill of such importance had been brought forward somewhat in haste, as the drawing of the Bill showed, and at the termination of the Session, when the whole House and country were exhausted. It was the most important Bill of the Session, which had been so signally barren of measures of any mark or note. This most momentous measure made its appearance in the humble shape of a Union Rate in Aid Bill. The House was about to separate under the most gloomy anticipations. What was the prospect in the cotton districts? The operatives in those districts, they were told, had drawn nearly all their money from the savings banks, and the ratepayers who were small shopkeepers were also on the verge of pauperism. The House should not be led away by the statement which had been made, that if peace were made, trade would immediately revive; for although a certain quantity of cotton would be released from the Southern ports, the breadth of cotton sown at that moment was materially diminished, and there must therefore be a continuance of distress in the cotton districts, and to a large extent in other parts of the country. In the cotton districts the line of demarcation between the ratepayer and rate-receiver was so narrow that one additional turn of the screw would be enough to reduce the former to the position of the latter; there was no analogy therefore between the ratepayers in those districts and in Berkshire, for instance. Under such circumstances what ought Government to do? In such a matter no party feeling was involved, and every one was bound to offer what suggestions he could to render the measure as little objectionable as possible. It appeared that in Stockport 50 per cent of the rates remained uncollected, and as time were on that portion of the country would be plunged into hopeless pauperism, and the ratepayer must follow the operative into the workhouse. The mischief had not been occasioned either by the millowners or the operatives. The calamity was purely exceptional, and the legislation should also be exceptional. It was through no fault of those operatives that 933 Her Majesty's Government had thought proper to recognize the blockade of the Southern ports, by which from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 bales of cotton had been locked up. He expressed no opinion now on that step, which involved a question of high policy, with which however, neither the millowners nor their workpeople had anything to do. But if Lancashire and Cheshire were invaded by a foreign enemy, all the resources and energies of the country would be bound to assist them; and, although he knew the delicate ground on which he was treading, he did think that after a certain time it would be true wisdom for the Government and the House to consider whether the country ought not to look upon this as no merely local question, but as a case in which there should be something like a tax on income and available property to assist our brethren in distress. The cotton industry was the flywheel of nearly all the other industries. He differed from his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale in the matter, because he did not think it would be a prudent thing to swamp these districts with debt incurred by raising loans. However questionable it might be to levy a rate in aid on the whole country, it would be still more questionable to advance loans on the security of the local rates. He ventured to offer a suggestion to the Home Secretary which he trusted would be received in the spirit in which it was made. Charity was an excellent thing, but if administered without system it might become very mischievous. The winter before last there was great local distress in the metropolis, and large sums were raised by voluntary efforts for the relief of the poor. But no organization existed for its distribution; the police courts were inundated with applicants; and the magistrates, who were obliged to dispense the funds, had no other test at last to guide them than that of looking to see whether a man's hands were hard or soft. His suggestion, therefore, was that the right hon. Baronet should select some competent persons, thoroughly understanding these districts, but unconnected with the Poor Law administration, and send them down to advice and assist the local committees in organizing the distribution of the money voluntarily subscribed for the benefit of the operatives. At present, those relief committees were floundering in a sea of suggestions, and would with gratitude accept advice and assistance of a competent 934 gentleman representing the Home Office. He would next come to the more immediate question which he had put upon the notice paper. Many deserved compliments had been paid to the starving operatives for the exemplary manner in which they had borne their sufferings; and he thought they had proved by their conduct that they were eminently fit for the trust reposed in them, regarding the franchise as a trust. It would be most hard if their misfortune should have the effect of depriving them of their civil rights. There was no doubt, however, that the 36th section of the Reform Act would have that result, for it made the receipt of parochial relief by any elector a disqualification from voting. Previously to the Reform Act, as in the case of Cricklade and Cirencester, the right was not taken away when the cholera broke out and people were in receipt of parochial aid; but after the Reform Act the votes of those who had received parochial relief were invalid. It would, therefore, in his opinion, only be a gracious thing, after all the compliments which had been bestowed upon these men, if the House were to devise some mode of allowing their names to be retained on the electoral register. With regard to the number of poor voters who would be disfranchised under the present state of things, he might mention that in the borough of Oldham there were 2,275 voters, two-thirds of whom were operatives; and if the receipt of parochial relief was to disqualify any elector, the constituency would be reduced to ridiculous limits. At Ashton-under-Lyne the population was 29,791, the constituency 1,062, and the persons receiving relief 9,600, with the prospect of being rapidly increased to 15,000. At Blackburn there were 1,017 voters, and 11,500 already on the rates. That number was on the increase, and the constituency was likely to be largely disfranchised. Manchester, with a population of 316,213, and 19,410 voters, from peculiar circumstances did not fare so badly as other towns in its neighborhood. Preston had a population of 69,542, and 2,731 voters. Of the latter 608 were scot and lot voters; while the number of persons already on the rates was 12,100. Stockport had a population of 53,835, a constituency of 1,473, with at that moment 6,000 persons on the rates. The private benevolence there was something remarkable, but it could not last for ever; and he was informed that at least 600 voters 935 out of the whole 1,473 were likely to be disqualified by the receipt of parish relief. He hoped some means would be adopted to respect the independence and political rights of men who were suffering from evils which they had in no way contributed to bring about.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that he did not complain of the course pursued by the hon. Member (Mr. B. Osborne) in bringing the subject before the House on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the chair; but as he believed there was a very general acquiescence in the principle of the Bill and the amendments of which his right hon. Friend had given notice, and as the object of the hon. Member was simply to extend the provisions of the Bill to the whole kingdom and not to prevent its passing into law, he would not detain the House by entering at any length into the subject. He would simply say that such a course as that suggested by the hon. Member was, he thought, open to strong objection, at any rate for the present. The Bill was only to continue in operation until the following March, and it would be quite open for Parliament at the commencement of the Session, if the distress should continue, to come to a determination upon the subject with a full knowledge of the circumstances and the advantages of experience. His hon. Friend (Mr. B. Osborne) appeared to take some exception to the course pursued by the Government in recognizing the blockade of the Southern ports; but it must be borne in mind, that if the Government had not taken the course they did, they might have involved this country in a war with the United States, which might have been more disastrous and expensive even than the present calamity. With respect to the suggestion that the Government should appoint some officers to distribute the funds contributed by private benevolence, he thought there was no necessity for such appointments, as efficient organizations already extensively existed, and he thought that the interference of the Government would not be productive of any good result, especially as he believed those who were engaged in the work of distributing private contributions were acting in cordial co-operation with the Poor Law Officers. With regard to the franchise, it was impossible to deny that it would be an additional cause of regret that in some instances, owing to causes over which they could have 936 no control, the operative classes in Cheshire and Lancashire should not only lose their ordinary means of subsistence, but should suffer also the loss of the elective franchise. He thought, however, that his hon. Friend had rather overrated the number of ratepayers having the franchise, as it must be remembered that by the present law persons must not only pay rates but occupy houses of the value of £10, in order to be on the register. The difficulty suggested by the hon. Member was not created by the Reform Act, but existed long previously. It was held by the Common Law from the earliest times that the receipt of parochial relief or alms of a certain character disqualified a person from voting. All that the Reform Act did was to provide that where by the law as then established a person was disqualified from voting by reason of being in receipt of parochial relief he should not be entitled to be placed on the register. The law was therefore relaxed in some cases, as the person who had received parochial relief would not be struck off the register unless he was objected to after full notice given previous to the annual registration, whereas before the Reform Act his vote might be refused at the poll. He (Sir G. Grey) thought that under these circumstances it was very unlikely that objection would be taken to persons who had been in receipt of parochial relief. Persons objecting to voters under such circumstances would obviously be acting in a most unworthy manner. Without such objection those who were then on the register would remain so, notwithstanding that they might have received relief. He thought, therefore, that it would be unwise to alter a long-established law in order to meet what would, he trusted, be only a temporary difficulty. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that in 1842 and in 1847—periods of general and widespread distress—as well as more recently in the case of Coventry—the Legislature had had recourse to no such plan as that proposed by the hon. Member. He thought, however, that the hon. Member's having called attention to the subject might have the effect of preventing objections being taken to voters on the ground specified during the continuance of the present exceptional period.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, that he had not the least doubt of the bona fides of the right hon. Gentleman in the answer which he had just given to the hon. Member for Liskeard, but he must say that he hardly 937 agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that the operatives could entirely depend upon the exercise by Parliamentary agents and political partisans of the benevolent forbearance which had been referred to. Without pursuing the subject farther, especially as they were all in the dark as to the extent of the calamity overhanging the country, he wished it to be distinctly understood that the subject stood over, and that it would be quite competent to deal with it next Session on its own merits.
§ MR. WARNER
said, he wished to ask the President of the Poor Law Board whether, in his opinion, it would not be just and expedient to insert in the Bill a clause authorizing an occupying tenant who might have paid the additional rate levied under the intended Act to deduct from his rent in the next settlement with his landlord, the whole or some fixed proportion of such additional rate so paid? In the adjustment of rent between the owner and the occupier, the former was the person who virtually paid the rates; but in the present exceptional period the burden would fall wholly upon the occupier, as there would be no time to adjust the matter in accordance with the ordinary incidence of the poor rate. His own view was that a deduction to the full amount as in the Income Tax Act should be allowed in this Act, but that might be considered going too far; and he should therefore suggest that as in the Irish Poor Law a provision would be introduced into the Bill by which the occupier would be at liberty to deduct from the rent. He hoped the President of the Poor Law Board would take the subject into consideration.
said, he had presented a petition from the Wigan board of guardians against the Bill, and praying for its rejection. He could not go that extent, although he regretted that it had not been earlier introduced, so that hon. Members might have had longer opportunities of ascertaining the views of their constituents. The state of things in Wigan was remarkable and exceptional. In that borough upwards of £70,000 had been raised by private subscription for the purpose of keeping the people off the rates. In consequence of this the rates of Wigan were apparently low as compared with other places. In Blackburn the rates last year were 1s. 4½d. in the pound; the estimated rate for the current year was 4s. 1d. In Preston last year it was 1s. 1¾d.; 938 this year it was estimated at 4s. 10⅙d. In Wigan last year it was 1s. 4¾d.; this year it would be 1s. 10d. That showed that the amount of the rates where there was extensive private benevolence was no guide to the actual extent of the distress. The effect of the Bill would be that other places, where private charity had not been so active, would be able to come upon Wigan for a rate in aid, though in point of fact the distress might be no worse in the one place than in the other. It was of this that his constituents complained. The whole county of Lancashire had been enriched by the cotton manufacture, and he suggested that the better plan would be to enlarge the area of relief, and make it include either the whole county or one-half Liverpool had been enriched enormously by the trade, for all the cotton came in through that port before it was manufactured, while afterwards all the cotton went out through Liverpool. Then the price of land had greatly increased throughout the county, and all these were reasons why the area should be enlarged. He could not take upon himself the responsibility of opposing the Bill, but some provision ought to be made by which a town where the rates had been kept low by local contributions, and where great efforts had been made to keep the people from the degradation which they felt in coming upon the rates, should not be liable to help another place where the same amount of private charity had not been shown.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he could understand the hardship pointed out by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Warner) in cases where, owing to the operation of the Bill, a tenant might be made liable to pay a larger rate than he had expected under an arrangement with his landlord, an average of rates having been taken. He was afraid, however, that that was not a subject which could be legislated for in the present Bill. In reply to the hon. Member for Liskeard who had spoken with reference to the franchise, he might mention that he had a Return which showed that out of 390,000 occupiers of tenements in Lancashire, 294,000 were rated under £10. He hoped, therefore, that the consequences apprehended by the hon. Member would not ensue,
§ Bill considered in Committee:—
§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, it was only right that he should inform the Committee of the Amendments he intended to introduce into the Bill. In Clause 1 reference was made to the test of the excess upon which it was proposed to give the parish a claim for relief out of the common fund, the present proposal being that such a claim should arise upon an excess of two-thirds on an average of the expenditure of the three previous years. That proposal seemed to excite some little difference of opinion, and therefore he would substitute a fixed rate in the pound. Upon a consideration of all the information which it was possible to collect bearing upon this case, as to what would be a fair limit, he proposed to fix the sum at 5s. in the pound. In Clause 3, which dealt with unions instead of parishes, the same Amendment would be proposed, and the amount of rate then would also be fixed at 5s. in the pound. Then, in order to prevent any accident or delay which might occur in issuing an Order in Council, he proposed to substitute a special order of the Poor Law Board, which, as the Committee might be aware, was signed, not only by the two principal Secretaries of State, but by three other Members of the Cabinet. Such an order would have the same effect and would be received with the same consideration as the Order in Council. The objection had been taken that it was possible, as the Bill was framed, that a parish might come for aid upon another parish where the poor-rate was greater in amount. That anomaly, however, would cease to exist if the limit were fixed at 5s. in the pound.
§ MR. E. C. EGERTON
said, he was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he had consented to make these changes. He was sorry to say that there were districts in Lancashire and Cheshire in which there was great distress, not arising from the cotton manufacture, but from depression in the silk manufacture. There was great distress from that source in parts of Manchester and in Macclesfield and Leeds. In Macclesfield the rates for the last five years had been nearly 5s. in the pound; and in the neighborhood of the town there was a place called Bollington, which was principally engaged in the cotton trade. By the Bill as it originally stood the town of Macclesfield would have had to contribute to Wellington, which 940 would have been injustice. There were many difficulties in the question, looking at it in every way, but he must say that his opinion was against attempting to relieve the distress by loans.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, that though he had first been in favor of the principle of a multiple rate of excess, subsequent reflection had induced him to support the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman in that respect.
§ MR. POTTER
said, he should move, that after the word "Chester," in the third line of the clause, there should be added the words, "Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Cumberland," There were districts in each of those counties which were most injuriously affected by the present depressed state of the manufacturing industry, and he wished to extend to them the benefit of that measure. For instance, in Derbyshire there were no less than 12,965 persons employed in cotton mills, with two or three times that number dependent upon them. In one particular district the average number of paupers on the books was 202, but it had now risen to 1,895. In Cumberland there were 3,281 persons employed in factories, and a good many handloom weavers, and the destitution in Carlisle was very great.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, that the cotton manufacture had been carried on to a considerable extent in some districts in Derbyshire, and in one place—Glossop—there was every prospect that a rate of 10s. in the pound would be soon required. He had therefore no objection to extend the operation of the Bill to that county. But there was no such reason for including Yorkshire and Cumberland within its provisions; and as for Nottinghamshire, no application had come from that county for any such measure.
§ LORD GEORGE CAVENDISH
said, he was glad to hear that Derbyshire was to be comprised within the operation of the Bill, at the same time he trusted that some means would be proposed by which unions might be allowed to raise loans on the security of the rates.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
said, there were districts in Leicestershire which would be affected by the dearth of cotton, and they ought to have the benefits of this Bill.
§ MR. COBBETT
observed that there were a great many persons employed in the cotton trade in Yorkshire, and he trusted that when the right hon. Gentleman was 941 informed that they were all comprised in the West Riding, he would review his determination with regard to that Riding of Yorkshire at least.
§ MR. POTTER
said, he stood alone he believed he was the only Member from Cumberland present otherwise he should divide the House against that county being excluded.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he would consider that point, and if he should find, on inquiry, that there were good reasons for extending the operation of the Bill to the West Riding of Yorkshire, he would introduce a provision to that effect on the bringing up of the Report.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, that the great mass of the population of the West Riding of Yorkshire had no connection whatever with the cotton manufacture; and he did not see why they should be brought within the operation of the measure.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
said, the district between Halifax and Rochdale in Yorkshire was largely employed in the cotton trade, and he thought it would be unjust to exclude them from the operation of the Bill.
§ MR. PULLER
said, he was of opinion that the best way to prevent total ruin overwhelming the ratepayers in the distressed parishes was to enable the boards of guardians, with the assent of the Poor Law Board, to borrow—wherever, owing to the amount of the distress prevailing, or the inability of persons to pay the rates levied, they deem it necessary to take that course—money on the security of the rates, which could be repaid with comparatively little difficulty when a period of prosperity returned. The measure ought to be made applicable to every county in which there were any distressed unions.
§ MR. GARNETT
said, about ten per cent of the population of the Lancaster Union were engaged in the cotton trade, but that union embraced a large area, and included agricultural parishes, which, in ordinary times, were much poorer than the manufacturing districts. The principle of taxation and representation going together would be set at naught by a rate in aid. He thought, too, that it would be only fair to throw upon the owners of property some of the burden; and by adopting the system of loans that would be done. He must confess, however, that his own board of guardians was strongly opposed to the plan of loans; but, after the best consideration he could give the subject, he 942 had come to the conclusion, that if they had a rate in aid, they must also have loans.
said, he doubted whether a loan could be worked in the borough which he had the honor to represent. Wigan for borough purposes had already borrowed to the utmost extent to which Parliament permitted money to be borrowed upon the security of rates; and therefore if it were to be relieved by means of a loan, it would be unable to pay any portion of the interest, the whole of which would consequently fall upon the part of the union outside the borough. Besides, he preferred a rate in aid, because there would be a better chance of the money being judiciously administered.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he proposed to substitute the following clause for Clause 1:—Clause (A.) (Guardians may charge cost of Relief in Parishes in excess of 5s. in the Pound on the other Parishes in Union.)I. If the guardians of any union situate wholly or in part within any of the counties of Lancaster, Chester, or Derby, shall find that the expenditure of any parish comprised within such union in and about the relief of the poor for the quarter ending at Michaelmas or Christmas shall have exceeded the rate of 5s. in the pound per annum on the annual rateable value of the property of such parish, the excess shall be charged to the other parishes in the union in proportion to the amount of the annual rateable value of the property comprised in such parishes: Provided that if the expenditure of any parish for the quarter ending at any of the periods aforesaid, including its proportion of any excess charged upon it under this Act, shall exceed the said rate of 5s. in the pound per annum on its annual rateable value, all expenditure of suck parish in and about the relief of the poor for that quarter in excess of such limit shall be charged in like manner upon the remaining parishes, the expenditure of which, including their proportion of any excess charged upon them under this Act, shall not have exceeded the limit aforesaid, and so on, toties quoties, until the sum charged upon each parish shall amount to the limit aforesaid, and then all expenditure over and above that limit shall be charged to the common fund of the union.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, that there being a great difference of opinion with respect to the propriety of a loan or a rate in aid, he had prepared certain words in order to test the opinion of the Committee with reference to which of the two principles they would adopt, He was about to propose to insert words in the clause which had been withdrawn, to this effect— 943That the guardians may, with the sanction of the Poor Law Board, borrow any overplus required beyond the rate raised in a particular parish, and apply the amount to the payment of any charges imposed under the Act.Such a proposition as that submitted to the Committee and a division taken upon it would at once decide the question whether they should adopt the principle of a loan or not. He was, however, debarred from bringing forward his Amendment, as he did not know at what part of the substituted clause it ought to be inserted. He would therefore suggest that time should be given for consideration of the new clause.
said, he wished to ask the Committee to consider the position they were in. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board had proposed a long clause, which nobody had seen, of a most important character; and immediately on that, his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel W. Patten) made another proposition, quite different in principle, of which no notice had been given. The effect of his hon. Friend's Amendment would do away altogether with the principle of the rate in aid, and bring forward the principle of a loan; whereas the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets did nothing of the kind, but proceeded to supplement in some way or other the rate in aid. They knew not at all whether the system of loans was to be on the parish or on the union. His hon. Friend said that he would make that clear afterwards. He knew very well that it was most inconvenient to have any delay at that period of the Session, but he really thought they would save time if they passed it through Committee pro formâ, in order to have the Bill reprinted with the new clause and the Amendments proposed, for the difficulties came so thick upon every side that he defied any Member in the House thoroughly to understand how the Bill stood. For his own part he felt quite unable to come to any conclusion on what had been proposed. If it was to be a loan to the union, it was a rate in aid thrown over a number of years during which the interest was to be paid. That admitted the rate-in-aid principle, but only borrowing to carry it out. Was it to be a loan to the parish? His hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Puller) said that half the people in the parish would not be able to pay. How, then, could it be an advantage to them to borrow money on interest for ten or fifteen years instead of having a larger area? He confessed it 944 did not appear at all clear to him that they would benefit the ratepayer in that way. He implored the Government not to drive them to take all the steps in the dark, but to have that long clause printed before it was discussed, and let them know what they were about.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that it was thought premature to discuss the question of the borrowing powers. The new clause did not go beyond the scope of the old one. It was confined to the aiding of the parish in distress by other parishes in the union, and did not extend to the relief of the union by borrowing money. So far as he understood the general purport of the new clause, he thought it satisfactory; but he had failed to catch its language. It appeared to dispose of many of the difficulties which had presented themselves to his mind as well as the minds of other hon. Members, while at the same time it preserved that invaluable test—the workhouse test. He considered that the question of proportionate increase had been quite set at rest by the Return moved for, which showed that proportionate increase of the rates would be impossible. He presumed that the proposed charge of 5s. in the pound would include both the parochial assessment and the contribution to the common fund, so that all they had now to dispose of was simply the question whether it would be preferable to supplement a rate in aid by a loan or not.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he would withdraw the proposition he had ventured to offer, in order that the new clause proposed by the President of the Poor Law Board might be discussed. Having had an opportunity of looking at the new clause, he thought it a great improvement on the former one, and should give it his support.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, the intention of the clause was to lay down a fixed rate of 5s. in the pound as the measure of the distress when a parish should be relieved from the common fund. It also provided that the other parishes in the union should contribute till they all had to pay 5s. in the pound, and after that the union might come upon the other unions for aid.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, he wished to call the attention of the Committee to the position of the borough he had the honor to represent, where there were 8,500 assessments, of which 6,000 were at or under £6, about 500 from £6 to £10. Of these more than 6,000 had ceased to 945 be ratepayers, and therefore the assessment would fall upon about 2,000, The available assessment at present was only 40 per cent in value of the whole. A rate of 5s. in the pound would, with respect to those who would have to pay, amount to 12s. Besides that, there was a borough rate of 2s. 6d., which would become equal to a rate of 6s. Of the 40 per cent in value, 15 per cent were manufacturers, and they were in this position, that they had no income either from their trade or the rents of their cottages, and therefore their assessments must be paid out of capital. Every one of them was losing money; they were either working at a loss or working short time in order to keep their hands from starving. Many of the shopkeepers were so much reduced that they were unable to subscribe any longer to the relief of the distressed. From this statement the House would see that the pressure of a 5s. rate was more severe than many persons had imagined. It would be most injudicious to adopt the hint thrown out by the hon. Member for North Lancashire that the parishes should be allowed to borrow money. The parishes would, if that were done, instead of being relieved by a return of better times, find themselves embarrassed with the payment of the interest and principal of borrowed money
said, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board had been kind enough to let him see the amended clause, and all he could state was that if there should be any difficulty as to the meaning of the Bill, perhaps the Government would not object to recommit it, so that the House might have an opportunity of properly considering it. But he hoped that that would not be necessary. He had no wish to throw any impediment in the way of the measure. His only doubt was lest the clause would not enable the aid required by distressed parishes to come in quickly enough. The manner in which the rates would run up had been pointed out. But it ought also to have been shown that the remedy would come in not on the whole year, but after the quarter, and therefore it would come in quicker than if it had gone on for the whole year. The doubt he felt with respect to the clause was this—the getting in of the money as quick as the parishes might want it. Supposing parish A up to Michaelmas to have spent 5s., and there was an excess of expenditure of 3s., was 946 parish A to raise that 3s. in the first instance to relieve the poor, and then get it back again? What was wanted was immediate relief. He thought there was some difficulty in the clause in this respect, and therefore had called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to it.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, on the part of the Government, that there would be no objection to what the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire proposed if anything should make the recommittal of the Bill really necessary. As to the facilities for getting money, supposing there was anything urgent in the case, there never was any difficulty in that matter, because the guardians would make an order on their treasurer, who generally had the means. There were several cases in Lancashire where they had overdrawn the treasurer.
said, he was glad they had such wealthy treasurers in Lancashire, which was not the case in his part of the country.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, that the alteration proposed by his right hon. Friend appeared to be so important that not only would it be necessary to have it postponed to give time for the Committee to look at it carefully, but he thought it would be of vital importance that the House should not proceed to legislate until the districts concerned themselves should have had an opportunity of expressing their views upon the clause. The change proposed was one of considerable magnitude. The Bill, as it originally stood, seemed to give a ready access to the necessary relief; and, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite had said, it was of the utmost importance that the relief should be available at once when required. When it was proposed in the original Bill to give access from the parish to the union, and from the union to the county, after the rates had risen by two-thirds of the previous averages, a ready possession was obtained of the means of assistance. But the change, as he understood it, was this:—That there should be an invariable cast-iron rule, that until a parish or a union was rated at 5s., there should be no relief at all. Was he right in that interpretation? [Mr. C. P. VILLIERS assented.] Then he had no hesitation in saying that that was a most injudicious alteration considered in relation to the exigencies of the case in the north of England. For ex- 947 ample, take the union of Rochdale. In 1861 the borough rate of that union was 1s. 1d. in the pound, and it was estimated that in the present year it would be 1s. 8¾d. Now, Rochdale union could have no assistance from the county until that rate had risen to 5s. Just see what a process Rochdale would have to go through. Calculated by the rateable value of the property, it would have to raise £37,000 by additional rates before it could have any relief from the county. But what was the state of Rochdale at that moment? He would read an extract from a gentleman of the first respectability, the treasurer of the Relief Fund, and whose services had been of immense value to the borough and district. That gentleman said—Taking a radius of one mile from the centre of the borough, we have about eighty-five mills engaged in the cotton trade; of these thirty-six are closed now, fourteen to sixteen more are to be closed in a week or ten days, and the remainder are not averaging above two days per week, and many of them will close. I am of opinion that in another month out of the whole eighty-five mills at least sixty will be obliged to stop. If I were to extend the area, I should then most seriously add to the number. Private charity cannot grapple with the crisis. Our first subscriptions are exhausted, and we are this week commencing a second effort, about £1,300 having been promised. How the winter is to be got through I dare not attempt to say. The prospect is appalling in the highest degree; and yet in the face of this the Poor Law Board obstinately refuse all real and substantial aid. At their door must lie the responsibility. What difficulties we who live on the spot have yet to encounter are unknown.The Board of Guardians of Rochdale had unanimously petitioned the House for power to borrow on the security of their rates for tea years, and other boards similarly placed believed that such was the best course to pursue. He had been frequently referred to as an advocate for borrowing; but, in fact, he only went to those who were placed in the midst of the distress, and asked them what were their wishes and anticipations in reference to the coming winter; and when he found that these individuals, who were in the first instance responsible, were unanimously of opinion—and this opinion founded on a desire to be self-sustaining — that the best thing the House could do for them was to give them power to borrow now upon the security of the rates for ten years — he at once gave his assent to their proposition. Who were better able to judge than those parties what was best to be done? And who had any interest in preventing these powers being con- 948 ferred? Certainly not his right hon. Friend at the head of the Poor Law Board. But it was well known that the permanent officials in these departments exercised much influence in matters of this sort. But why should the House be tied up to any rules or precedents that had no applicability to the terrible state of things that had arisen? A right hon. Gentleman who spoke on a former occasion intimated that in the event of war the same calamity might occur again. But war had never produced such a calamity to our industry. Our wars had never prevented our getting raw materials to a greater or less degree. But the American cotton was hermetically sealed up, and would not be released so long as the war continued; and he did not believe that any one could realize the extent of the disaster that would be suffered if the war continued for another twelve months. An hon. Gentleman talked about their going and getting the cotton. He (Mr. Cobden) had not a word to say against friendly mediation, but he believed that any attempt to obtain the cotton by force, or by any violation of international law, would bring upon them greater calamities than even those which they were suffering from. He could not see any present remedy for the evil; and coming to the House without any plan or predilection at all, he wanted to know why the inhabitants of Rochdale should not be allowed to borrow money in the way that they proposed? He could not see why the Bill might not give borrowing powers, and provide a rate in aid also. Seeing the important change that had been made by his right hon. Friend in the first clause, he thought they should not then decide upon it. The clause should be printed, and before they proceeded to legislate, all the districts of the country that were interested should have an opportunity of considering it. He sincerely regretted that the matter had been left to the end of the Session. He did not approve of the way in which much of their time had been spent, but he would rather remain longer than have precipitate legislation on the subject. They must be called together in October or November, unless they now gave the widest latitude to those who were intrusted with authority to act in the mutter.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he was glad for once to be able to agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale. [Mr. COBDEN: For the first time in our lives.] The 949 workhouse test would be completely unavailing in the exceptional condition of the cotton districts, and would break down as it had done in Coventry. That test could only be relied upon in order to secure the due administration of the Poor Law under ordinary circumstances. What would be the result of a rate in aid without the power of borrowing on the rate? The expenditure would have to be regulated almost solely upon official cognizance, without the assistance of that local or personal knowledge which might be obtained by employing the parochial system. A temporary emergency could not be met by adhering rigidly to the ordinary rules of the new Poor Law. The object could only be accomplished by giving a borrowing power to the parishes on security of the rates, and thus eliciting the aid of local co-operation and personal knowledge. He agreed with the hon. Member for Rochdale, that the people of the cotton districts ought not to be deprived of the means of helping themselves. If the rates were only 1s. 8d., there must be much available capital; and he thought that the inhabitants ought to be allowed to borrow money, and to avail themselves of the credit afforded by the existence of that large capital.
said, that the practice of borrowing on the security of the rates had hitherto only been resorted to for the purpose of emigration or for building new workhouses. In one case, the money secured a permanent provision for the recipient; in the other, it provided a permanent building for the union or parish. He was aware of the exceptional character of the present crisis, and deplored it as much as any man could; but it was a new idea to propose to borrow money on the security of the rates to pay for the bread consumed at the present time. The consequence would be that the ratepayers, twenty years hence, would have to pay for the bread consumed by the poor of the present day. That was a proposition that did not appear to him sound in principle. As a rule they all knew that borrowed money was not so carefully spent as money that was not borrowed. Suppose an agricultural district was struck with sterility, as was suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale, would it be wiser, he asked, to fix upon that stricken parish a charge for twenty years to come, or to go for help to parishes in the immediate neighbourhood 950 that were not so impoverished? He denied that the Poor Law Board had exhibited any remissness in the matter. Upon the contrary, they had endeavoured throughout the crisis to meet every application in a spirit of liberality, at the same time taking care to carry out the law, which, he agreed with the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, was fundamentally a humane law. If they had proposed exceptional legislation some time ago, and the anticipated necessity for it had not arisen, hon. Members who now complained, would, probably, have been the first to find fault with the Government for ever having introduced such legislation. Even now he admitted, that if they had a guarantee that things in Lancashire would not get worse than they now were, no legislation of this kind would have been wanted. But the belief of the Poor Law Board was that we had not seen the worst, or anything like the worst, and that there should be a power somewhere to relieve effectually that distress which was likely to prevail during the next six months.
asked how it was intended that the borrowing powers should be used? Was it proposed that the borrowing should be effected by the whole union, or by each parish?
§ MR. COBDEN
said, that the union of Rochdale embraced a manufacturing community, and the rates were therefore uniform. The guardians of the whole union were unanimous in their opinion with regard to borrowing; but it might happen that a great difference would exist between different parishes, and that showed the necessity for deliberation on the matter. The hon. and gallant Member for North Lancashire had introduced a clause which should have been included in the Bill and proposed on the responsibility of the Government. What gave rise to the severe reflections upon the Poor Law Board made by his friend in Rochdale was this:—He was exceedingly indignant that after petitioning to have the right to borrow conferred on them, no mention of it was made in the Bill. He (Mr. Cobden) believed the parishes might borrow on their own security. A precedent with regard to borrowing was furnished by the destruction of Nottingham Castle during the Reform Bill riots, when an Act of Parliament was passed empowering the hundred to borrow the £20,000 or £30,000, which they had to raise, the repayment of this sum being spread over a period of 951 years. That rule might be applied to a parish, but it was a matter of detail which should be dealt with by the Government, and introduced into the Bill.
said, that the Committee were discussing several questions at the same time. The only question before them was whether Clause 1 should be postponed, and all that had passed in debate convinced him that the Bill was one which the House ought to have had an opportunity of discussing at least three weeks ago. However, it was too late now to consider that point. As to the proposed postponement of the clause, he feared that the present scanty attendance would become still more scanty by the time the subject was next discussed, and, on the whole, therefore, it would be better to come to a decision then. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was justified in proposing the substituted clause; for the fluctuating test of distress, pointed out in the original Bill, would never have stood discussion and inquiry, and a fixed test, although no doubt open to objection, would be the fairest arrangement. As to the borrowing powers, they were not materially involved in this clause. The question was whether the parishes or the unions should have the power to borrow. He understood that his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment, that the parishes should have the power to borrow, but that left untouched the question whether the unions, which could give better security and raise money on better terms, should be intrusted with such a power. That was a question which was open to discussion at a future time, but all the Committee had then to consider was whether, before the powers granted by the Bill came into play, they would insist that a parish should tax itself to a certain fixed amount. He should feel bound to support the new clause to that effect, which was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he was of opinion that the limit of 5s. was too small a one to found upon it a claim for aid.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, the only question before the Committee was that the clause should be struck out for the purpose of substituting another in its place. The new clause could not be brought up until the remaining clauses had been disposed of, and then would be the time for hon. Members to propose Amendments.
§ Clause struck out.952
§ Clause 2 (Guardians may make extraordinary Calls) agreed to.
§ Clause 3 (Guardians of distressed Unions may apply for aid to the Poor Law Board, who may make a Representation to the Queen in Council, who may issue an Order for the Adoption of this Act) struck out.
§ Clause 4 (Poor Law Board shall apportion the Sum over the Unions in the County.)
§ MR. AYRTON
suggested that the clause should be postponed until it was seen what Clause 3 proposed to do.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, that the chief alterations in Clause 3 were to fix a maximum of 5s. in the pound, instead of an excess of two-thirds over the average rate of the last three years, and the substitution of a special order of the Poor Law Board for an Order in Council.
§ Clause struck out.
§ Clause 5 (The Poor Law Board to exclude the Poorer Unions) struck out.
§ Clause 6 (Provision for the cases of Unions in two Counties) agreed to.
§ Clause 7 (No Order of the Board to be issued after the First of March) amended, and agreed to.
§ Clause 8 (Orders in Council to be laid before Parliament) struck out.
§ Clause 9 (Interpretation Clause) agreed to.
§ Clause (A.) (Guardians may charge Cost of Relief of Parishes in Excess of 5s. in the Pound on the other Parishes in Union) brought up in lieu of Clause 1, and read 1°; 2°; and added to the Bill.
The following Clause, in lieu of Clause 3:—
Clause (B.) (Guardians of distressed Unions, when the Expenditure shall have exceeded 5s. in the Pound, may apply to the Poor Law Board, who may apportion such excess of Expenditure over the Unions in the County.)
If the guardians of any such union shall find that the aggregate expenditure in and about the relief of the poor of the whole union for the quarter ending at Michaelmas or Christmas next shall have exceeded the rate of 5s. in the pound per annum on the annual rateable value of the property comprised within such union, such guardians may apply to the Poor Law Board, and there upon the Poor law Board may, if they think proper, upon being satisfied that there has been such excess of expenditure as aforesaid, make a
general order upon the several unions and parishes under a separate board of guardians or select vestry in the county wherein such union shall be situated to contribute a sum of money to meet the excess, in proportion to the annual rateable value of the property comprised within such unions and parishes respectively; and the several sums so apportioned shall be paid by the guardians and select vestries of the said unions and parishes respectively out of the respective common funds of the said unions, and from the funds of the guardians and vestries of the said parishes respectively, to the treasurer of the union on whose behalf the said order shall have been issued.
—brought up, and read 1°.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he would move the omission of all the words after the words "such guardians," in order to insert the words—may, with the sanction of the Poor Law Board, borrow any sum not exceeding half the amount of such rateable annual value, and apply the money so borrowed in payment of any charges imposed under this Act on the common fund of such union.No doubt there was an obscure clause in the statute of Elizabeth which gave the quarter sessions power to rate one part of a county to meet the distress in another part; but when they came to examine the statute of Elizabeth, they would find that it did not apply to the present case. In the first place, the statute of Elizabeth never gave the power of rating for the assistance of able-bodied poor. What it did was to enable a rate to be levied for the purpose of buying wool to set the people at work; and to apply that to the present state of things the rate be levied under that statute ought to be applied in the purchase of cotton, to set the people to work in the manufacturing districts; but it was the inability to procure cotton that had produced their distress. In reality the statute of Elizabeth had nothing to do with the subject, and it was the statute of William IV. that applied to the present state of things. The distress which existed in the north could not, properly speaking, be attributed to any neglect or overtrading on the part of the cotton manufacturers; it resulted rather from the course pursued by the nation at large in adopting a particular line of policy, and the proposition made by the Government was to get out of the difficulty by giving an arbitrary and summary power to the Poor Law Board to levy a tax upon other unions, the reason given for such a proposal being that it would be inconvenient to call Parliament together before Christmas. Parliament, however, would, he contended, be guilty of 954 a gross dereliction of duty if they conferred the absolute power in question upon so light a ground. It was very true, no doubt, that when a parish was in distress increased rates would make it bankrupt. The only alternative was to adopt the commercial practice of enabling people to tide over difficulties which they could not immediately meet by borrowing money on permanent resources. Half of the annual rateable value of a parish would be a proper limit to such borrowing powers; but that, as well as the duration of the loan, was a question of detail.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, he did not regard the Amendment unfavourably, because he believed it was better to leave the people to deal in their own way with distress in their own district. He had, however, the strongest objection to the arguments which the hon. Member used. The hon. Gentleman said, that as we did not interfere to prevent the American blockade, and as that had led to a cotton famine, we were bound to make good the losses of the cotton manufacturers. That doctrine ought not to pass without a protest. He would not inquire whether or not we were right in not interfering, although he thought we were wrong. But he could not conceive that the hon. Member was prepared to accept the logical consequences of that theory. Suppose that the States, instead of a blockade, had imposed a prohibitory export duty on cotton. A famine would equally have been produced. In such a case we surely would not resort to arms to get rid of the duty, and yet, according to the hon. Member, we should be bound to repair the losses of Lancashire. Such a proposition was quite untenable. The hon. Member also said that the Lancashire manufacturers were not to blame for their present critical position. Of course, no human being could have foreseen the extraordinary civil war which was raging; but if there had been a war between this country and America, that would have had precisely the same effect with regard to Lancashire. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) said that the trade in cotton during war time would be carried on just the same as in peace; but unless the Americans sent their cotton into the seas with the intention of being captured, he (Lord R. Cecil) could not see how that could be. At all events, the trade would be reduced to a mere smuggling trade. Now, what he wished the Committee to remember was 955 this, that the manufacturers, as tradesmen, were bound to look forward to the fact that war between this country and the United States was a possible contingency. That was an event that had been constantly contemplated, and against which we had made provision. It was therefore not fair to say that the distress was purely accidental, and that the manufacturers had nothing to do with it. The hon. Member cast discredit on the honour of the House by suggesting that they were hurrying the measure through, merely to avoid the inconvenience of a winter Session. The House would never degrade itself by such conduct. There was good reason why the people of Lancashire should contribute for the relief of the present distress. They had eaten the banquet, and ought to pay their share of the bill. They had enjoyed the profits, and ought to bear their proportion of the losses.
§ MR. J. C. EWART
said, the noble Lord seemed to forget that in war time the trade would be carried on by means of neutrals.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, the noble Lord imputed some blame to the cotton manufacturers, because they had not taken precautions to insure a supply of raw material. That was a common complaint, but was it well grounded? He supposed no man in his senses would say that the same labour, skill, and capital which had been devoted to the development of the cotton industry of Lancashire could at the same time have been applied to the cultivation of cotton in America or elsewhere. The same labour, skill, and capital could not be employed in two places at once. This country had produced men of the greatest ingenuity in inventing and working machinery, and the most enterprising and energetic cotton spinners and manufacturers. He thought, therefore, that the British capitalists had performed their part. In offering the best possible market for cotton wherever it could be got, they had done all that, as individuals, they could be asked to do to stimulate the growth of cotton. He did not mean to say that the spinners and manufacturers might not, as capitalists, invest their surplus means in growing cotton in various parts of the world, but it was not their duty to do so. What the noble Lord meant was this—that, as a community, Lancashire had taken no part in trying to devise means by which cotton might be produced in other countries. He (Mr. Cobden) contended that as a commu- 956 nity Lancashire had done all that they could to promote the growth of cotton in India. All that they could do was to memorialize and urge the Government, by making roads and improving the tenure of land, to remove the obstacles in the way of growing cotton in India. Did the noble Lord know how much Lancashire had done in that respect? He remembered that, as long ago as 1848, his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham made a speech urging the Government to send out a commission to report on the capabilities of growing cotton in India, and pointing out the imprudence of being solely dependent upon one market. The late Sir Robert Peel and the late Sir James Graham complimented his hon. Friend upon that speech, and his hon. Friend made another speech in favour of a Committee of Inquiry upon the same subject. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce had repeatedly discussed the question, and Manchester had twice sent out deputations to India on the subject. Not a Governor General had been allowed to go to India, or a finance Minister suffered to depart for the East, without the Manchester Chamber of Commerce inviting them to Manchester, or coming to London, to impress upon them the importance of removing the obstacles to a supply of cotton from India; until an outcry was raised that Manchester men looked upon India merely as a cotton farm, and made all the politics of India revolve round their own selfish interests. He declared that he had almost felt inclined to share that sentiment upon seeing Manchester persevering so pertinaciously in the matter. Indisputable as were these facts, how could any one impute blame to Manchester. The Manchester cotton-spinners were not a majority in the Cabinet. They did not appoint the President of the Indian Board. But all that they could do they had done in stimulating the Government to remove obstacles which the Government might have removed, so far as to enable cotton to be brought to the sea-coast by road or river, instead of on the backs of bullocks. All had been urged in vain; and when this crisis came, it was not becoming to cast blame on this great industry for a calamity which had fallen unexpectedly, and which it was the duty of Parliament to remedy by the best means within their power.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
said, he doubted the soundness of the principle involved in the Amendment, which would enable the distressed unions to borrow 957 money for the payment of ordinary relief. It was very proper to distribute the burden over neighbouring localities by a rate in aid, but it could not be right to encumber with debt parishes which were sure to be exhausted by unusual claims upon their funds. He should therefore vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. PULLER
said, it would be more convenient to have the clauses and the Amendments printed and the Bill re-committed, in order that they might fully understand what they were discussing, it was admitted that the manufacturers, tradesmen, and operatives were not in the least degree to be blamed for a crisis which was unprecedented in the whole history of the Poor Law. The only question was, how the difficulty could be best met; and, while he did not object to the principle of borrowing, he did not think that that mode would be altogether successful. He understood that the power to borrow was not to be exercised until the expenditure of the whole union amounted to 5s. in the pound upon the average annual value of the property in the union; but it must not be forgotten that in some parishes, like Stockport, the rates could only be collected upon 40 per cent of the annual value, and therefore the rates would have risen to a much higher sum than 5s. before the remedy could be applied.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, he was decidedly opposed to the principle of a loan. Some hon. Members seemed to think that if the war in America were settled to-morrow, the distress in Lancashire would at once cease. But he could not share that opinion. We had been dependent on America for 85 per cent of the cotton we used. There remained in America some three or four millions of bales, but there was none elsewhere in the world. Therefore, as soon as that cotton was obtainable, a scramble for it would ensue, not only by England, but by France and Germany, and by America; for at that moment cotton was worth 2s. a pound in New York which was only worth 1s. 5d. in England. But the estimate that he had made was that in America not more than one-fourth of the usual quantity had been sown this year. Where were we to get our supplies from? India was our only resource. And what was the state of things in India? Last year we received 1,000,000 bales. His hon. Friend the Member for London (Mr. Crawford) once thought this year we should receive 1,250,000 to 1,500,000 bales, but he 958 believed he was not of that opinion now. From all accounts the cultivation had not increased there, except to a small extent. The expectation of obtaining Indian cotton was really very slight; and it was not likely, with the loss of capital and the disorganized state of the Southern States, that if they could settle their disputes to-morrow, they would be able at once to resume their old supply. The war appeared to be drifting into an anti-slavery contest, the issue of which no man could foresee, and it was obvious that America could not for many years to come, if ever again, produce so large a supply of cotton. With such a prospect before them, it would therefore be folly for the guardians of unions to burden themselves with the yearly payment of interest and sinking funds on loans. He must candidly confess that he did not know what the result of the present crisis would be. The manufacturers had kept their mills at work at a loss—in fact, the manufactured article had actually in some cases been sold at 3d. per lb. less than the raw cotton. He could not allow that the manufacturers had reaped the whole benefit of the trade's past prosperity. In his opinion, the landowners of the cotton districts had equally shared in the prosperity; for there had been instances in which the rents of land had been increased seven-fold; but whilst the cotton manufacturers were called upon to pay rates for the relief of the present distress out of their capital, the landowners did not pay one farthing out of their enormously increased rents. It would only be just and equitable therefore if they were called upon to sustain their share of the present burden.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, the question raised by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets was the principle upon which the unions should obtain aid in case of need. That question was a very difficult one to decide, and there could be no doubt that many hon. Members had changed their opinions upon the point since the Bill had been introduced. After a most careful consideration, he could only repeat the reasons which he stated the other night which induced him to prefer the mode which was recommended in the Bill, that mode being that relief to a union overburdened with the charge for the poor should be by a rate in aid rather than by a loan. It seemed to him that the proposal harmonized with the prevailing system—that it was consistent with 959 the mode in which the funds for the relief of the poor were always raised—namely, of rating local visible property to meet the current expenditure of the year. It was likewise considered to be a wholesome check on extravagance and careless expenditure. He thought, also, there was something equitable and appropriate in calling upon the counties to contribute to the distressed manufacturing districts, seeing, as was generally admitted, how much they had benefited from their neighbourhood with all the commercial wealth and capital which the cotton business brought into their districts. On the other hand, looking to the state of the country, it was utterly impossible to doubt that the prosperity of the district would, sooner or later, revive, and those who raised the money now would be sure to be able to repay it. There was this advantage in raising the money by loan—it would prevent a great deal of disorganization of labour and capital which must follow from the continuance of this distress and consequent pressure on the ratepayers; at the same time, it was open to the remark that people were not careful in administering money raised in that way, and unless the administration were very careful indeed, the most enormous mischief would be inflicted on those districts. He did not wish to say more against the proposition for raising the money by way of loan, but he thought the argument prevailed in favour of the plan proposed in the Bill. The opinion gained ground, that the more equitable way of raising the money would be by contributions in aid. There seemed to be a general assent to that on the part of the districts, and he hoped the House, by a division on his hon. Friend's Amendment, would maintain this portion of the Bill.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, the diversity of opinion in the House very closely represented the divided state of opinion amongst his constituents. He thought they ought to make the owners of property in some sort contribute to the burden; but he was satisfied that that could not be done directly, otherwise it would become necessary to include stock in trade. On the other hand, if the plan of loans were adopted, the owner of property would be made to pay his proper share as well as the occupier.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
My right hon. Friend stated with great fairness the arguments in favour of these two modes of raising money—by rate in aid, and by 960 way of loan. No doubt raising money by loan would, on the first blush of it, recommend itself to most people. It is the easiest way. It postpones till a future time the pressure of the moment. Those who borrow the money will probably not have to pay it; and it is in all things and on all occasions the safe outlet from immediate difficulties. But there is an after-clap even to raising money by loan; the difficulty is not diminished by postponement; and I do not think that those parishes or unions which raise the rate would find, when the time came to pay interest and capital, that they were benefited by having the burden thrown on them, instead of having contributions from other parts of the county. I must say I think that the raising by loan would be the establishment of a new and a very dangerous precedent. For certain permanent purposes, which have been mentioned in the course of the debate—the erection of union-houses, the getting rid of a part of the pauper population by emigration — Parliament has sanctioned the principle of raising loans by a mortgage of the rates; but never yet, I believe, has a loan been raised for the purpose of the daily, weekly, and monthly wants of parishes or unions. Never yet have loans been raised to pay for the bread, linen, and daily expenses incident to the relief of the poor. Now, if you raise a loan for this occasion, other occasions would present themselves equally calling for it. Other parts of the country would call upon you equally to raise a loan; and then my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have an appeal made to him probably, as was made in the case of loans for Irish purposes, that the parishes or unions were oppressed by calamity — that it was impossible for them ever to repay; and then, according to the argument used, that the pressure arose from national policy, and the nation ought therefore to pay, we should be called to transfer the payments from parishes or unions to the Consolidated Fund. Now, I should hope the Committee will not take any step in that direction. The question has been asked, would these two counties be able to give the rate in aid? There can be no question about that. Those who are best acquainted with the resources of Lancashire and Cheshire assure me, that if the whole working population — man, wife, and children—were thrown entirely out of work, the rateable property of those 961 two counties would be perfectly able, without undue pressure, to supply the funds for aiding the whole. I think that is perfectly just; because no man can shut his eyes to the fact that there is not an acre of ground in these two counties which has not derived an infinitely enhanced value from the prosperity of their manufacturing industry. The owners and occupiers of land there may not share the profits arising from the capital of the manufacturers, who have amassed great fortunes, but the produce of the soil has been sold for a greater amount — those who have disposed of properties there have obtained for them a fabulous price, in consequence of the demand arising from the manufacturing industry of those counties. Therefore it is really very just that the proprietors there, even those who are not engaged in manufactures, and have not accumulated enormous capitals, as many of the manufacturers have done, should contribute on this occasion for the relief of the suffering working classes. It seems to me, then, that a rate in aid is fair in principle, that it will be sufficient for its purposes and in its application. I therefore trust that the Committee will not be led away by the plausibility of a temporary loan, that it will adhere to sound principles of legislation, that it will adopt in this case that system of a rate in aid which belongs to our old established law, and not now set a precedent which is not only vicious in itself, but dangerous in the consequences to which it might lead.
§ MR. COBDEN
I would beg to suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets that he will not press his Amendment to a division. This is a question on which the Government has not yet expressed its opinion. ["Oh, oh!"] Although clauses have been omitted from the Bill, yet we have never heard distinctly that the Government would oppose my hon. Friend's proposition. I think it would be much better that the districts concerned should have an opportunity of considering the Bill in its amended shape before a division is taken upon the question whether borrowing powers should be granted to them. There can be no doubt that the Bill has been completely changed. At first it was proposed that a rate in aid should be given where the rates in any parish amounted to two-thirds more than the previous average, but now it is proposed to give no extraneous assistance until after the rate has risen to 5s. Those 962 parishes which had been expecting that this Bill would bring them aid from other parishes by means of a rate in aid, in the event first contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, ought therefore to have an opportunity of considering the change now introduced in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport would seem to have forgotten that his own constituents have presented a memorial strongly urging that they should be allowed to borrow money on the security of the rates, in order that they may set people to work. My hon. Friend has had a deputation from them in London, and perhaps his eloquence convinced them that they are wrong, but he has not convinced the board of guardians at Stockport. I hold that it is the interest of the country, as well as of Lancashire and Cheshire, that they should know what we are doing before we finally decide this question. I hope my hon. Friend will not press his proposition to a division, especially as he has mentioned the maximum. He has proposed that the parishes or unions should be allowed to borrow to the extent of one-half their rental. Now, I do not think that it is necessary in the case of Rochdale that they should have the power of borrowing more than one-fourth between this time and next March. If the Government will take upon themselves the responsibility of this question, I hope my hon. Friend will not press his proposition to a division.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, it was quite true that the board of guardians for Stockport did desire to have power to raise a loan, but it was under a misapprehension which he had explained. The mayor of Stockport and the chairman of the board of guardians were satisfied that it would be best to adopt the Bill of the Government.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
said, he must protest against the question being treated as one affecting Lancashire and Cheshire only. It was a national question, which concerned all the ratepayers of the country. The arguments of the noble Lord at the head of the Government and those of the hon. Member for Stockport against a loan were conclusive. Borrowing was a very tempting and easy means of getting rid of a difficulty; but after the indulgence in that luxury came the terrible ogre called "interest," which grew larger day by day, and was often followed by the process of re-borrowing, which they all knew to be 963 the certain road to ruin. If the hon. Member for Rochdale would examine the matter broadly and impartially, he would see the dangerous nature of that course.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he had fulfilled his duty in bringing this matter before the Committee, with whom it rested to express its opinion upon it then, or adjourn it to a more convenient time. At the same time, he would beg to disclaim the ulterior views which the noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) had ascribed to him.
§ MR. COBBETT
said, he should be sorry if they came to a division at that stage of their proceedings. His constituents had scarcely had time to consider the measure. He had received a short letter from the clerk to the Oldham board of guardians, stating that they were not disinclined towards the Bill before the House, but desired that a borrowing power should also be conferred. He was, himself, much inclined towards a rate in aid, but at the same time was not opposed to any other course which the Government might propose to avert the danger of the people of the manufacturing districts being left to starve. It had been said that they had been much pressed on this matter. Now he had heard that the rates paid by his constituents were 2s. in the pound, but great apprehensions existed, and he could not help feeling that there would be great distress before that time twelve months.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he would then propose the following new clause:—Clause (C.) (How Annual Rateable value of Property to be Estimated.)For the purposes of this Act the annual rateable value of the property within the several parishes and unions hereinbefore referred to, shall be estimated in the manner in which the same is required to be taken in computing the amount of contributions to the common fund by the law in force for the time being.
§ Clause agreed to.
MR. LYGON moved a new Clause:—
(Chairman and Vice Chairman of Unions contributing may vote at Meetings of Guardians of the Union aided.)
The chairman and vice chairman of the board of guardians of any union, parish, township, or incorporation, any part whereof is called upon to contribute in aid to another union, parish, township, or incorporation, shall be entitled to take part in the proceedings of the board of guardians administering the relief so contributed, and to vote thereupon, in like manner as if they were guardians of the poor within the union, parish, township, or incorporation receiving the contribution in aid.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he thought the admission of such a large number of persons to the board aided would be productive of considerable confusion, and that the object of the hon. Member might be attained by the appointment of auditors to examine the accounts.
said, that he would withdraw the clause; but, at the same time, he wished to intimate an intention of bringing forward the subject again, should the Ministry take no step in the same direction.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he thought that sufficient time ought to be allowed in order that hon. Members representing the districts affected might learn something more of the opinion of their constituents.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered on Wednesday, and to be printed. [Bill 240.]