HC Deb 09 May 1862 vol 166 cc1490-522

said, he had given notice of his intention to put some questions to the President of the Poor Law Board respecting the working of the Poor Law in the cotton manufacturing districts, Both inside and outside of the House he had heard it stated privately that it was premature to bring the question of the distress in Lancashire before the House on that occasion. To a certain extent he agreed with those who held that opinion. The matter was a very delicate one, requiring careful handling, lest false hopes should be raised; but he ventured to think, that as the subject had already been discussed in the newspapers, both in Lancashire and in London, and among all classes of the population, it, in his judgment, was well that some ventilation should be given to it in that House. No one could doubt that distress was very prevalent in the cotton manufacturing districts. According to the last reliable return, there were 58,000 operatives entirely out of work in Lancashire, and, of course, a much larger number were working short time. For some time past a weekly statement of the state of trade in Lancashire had been issued in Manchester on the authority of the Mayor. The last return, which arrived in London on the previous day, gave the number of people working short time in Manchester as 15,133, while the number of those who were out of work altogether was stated at 7,567. A similar return for Preston stated that 7,700 were Working short time, and that 12,105—a very large number—were out of work altogether. In Wigan, as he was informed, no fewer than 4,600 were out of work. Those figures implied a vast amount of distress. There were other towns in the north, the inhabitants of which, he was happy to say, were much better off, principally owing, he believed, to the operation of the French treaty. Among those towns the most remarkable were Bolton and Bury. There was some doubt about the condition of Ashton, but he believed it was badly off, though not so much so as Manchester, Preston, and Wigan. He had no doubt that elsewhere in Lancashire, as well as in some parts of Yorkshire, there was a large amount of destitution—that a great number of operatives were working short time, while many were out of work altogether. Before leaving this subject he might be allowed to pay his tribute of admiration to the manner in which both operatives and millowners had hitherto met the emergency. Perhaps the House was not aware that for a long time the owners had kept their mills open when they could neither sell their products nor have any expectation of selling them at a profit. He believed that many millowners had subscribed from £5,000 to £6,000 in this way. If such, had been the conduct of the owners, what could he say about the operatives? Their behaviour had been applauded by all who took an interest in the subject, and he had no hesitation in saying, that they had displayed a spirit of endurance and a patient constancy under considerable suffering that had never been surpassed in the annals of any nation. He had now briefly touched upon the present state of affairs. He wished he could say that their future prospects in Lancashire were more cheering, but he was afraid that relief was still somewhat distant. He had received that day an account from Liverpool of the state of the cotton imports there. It appeared that the stock in Liverpool of American cotton at present amounted to 120,830 bales, whereas at the same date last year the stock was 679,730 bales. The total stock at present in Liverpool was 370,000 bales, as compared with 990,000 bales last year. Of Indian cotton there were now at sea 200,000 bales, whereas last year the quantity at sea was 270,000 bales. He believed that that falling-off might be explained by the fact that the shipping of cotton to this country had been checked by the uncertain state of trade in India, caused by the news of the Trent affair. The usual consumption of Great Britain was about 45,000 bales a week. Now, the total stock of the whole of Europe did not exceed 725,000 bales, an amount equal to about seventeen weeks' consumption at half-time. These facts held out no very cheering prospect, and he was afraid that little more cotton was coming. They could only hope that measures would be taken to develop the production of cotton in India. Since the state of things in the north was such as he had described it, the House would see that it was important that the legal means for the relief of distress were properly administered, and it was with that view that he was going to put a few questions to the President of the Poor Law Board. The question had already been discussed at meetings of the local representatives, and a deputation of the Lancashire and Cheshire Members had waited upon the right hon. Gentleman at the Poor Law Office. The proceedings of that deputation had been misrepresented, and he desired, on the part of his hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel W. Patten), who, he was sorry to say, was unable to make his Motion that night, to correct a misapprehension which had received great currency through the leading columns of The Times. That paper had thought proper to state that in its opinion the real object of the hon. Member for North Lancashire and those who acted with him was to appeal to the Government for help from the Consolidated Fund. Now, nothing could be further from the intention of his hon. Friend or of any of the speakers on the occasion in question than to claim Government aid or relief from the Consolidated Fund. He was speaking in the presence of hon. Gentlemen who had been present at the reception and who would fully bear him out in what he said. What they really wanted to know from the President of the Poor Law Board was, whether the Poor Law was well administered in the distressed districts—whether all was being done that could be done by legal means. On the present occasion he wished to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman a public assurance that such was the case, for he thought that a statement to that effect would be satisfactory to the country. There was a general feeling among the operatives—he hoped and believed an erroneous one—that the Poor Law was rather harshly administered, that labour tests were imposed in cases where they ought not to be imposed, and that the rigid rules laid down by the Board should be relaxed. He had no doubt that the President of the Board could give the House some information upon all these points. No one could be better informed than the right hon. Gentleman of the state of affairs throughout the country, and he was sure the House would be glad to hear his opinion upon the whole question of the distress and the mode of alleviating it The question had been mooted in the public papers, whether it was necessary that a large scheme of national charity should be started. In his opinion the time had not arrived for that, but he should be glad to hear the President of the Poor Law Board upon the point. As at present advised, he believed that the means of relief in the cotton manufacturing districts were not yet exhausted, and that the time had not arrived for considering whether appeal should be made to the public at large. He had given notice of his intention to ask the Secretary for India whether any reduction had been decided on in the Indian tariff; and, if so, when they would come into operation? The information contained in the public papers was to the effect that five per cent would be taken off cloth, and three and a half per cent off yarns. Nothing could be better than that reduction, except an entire repeal of the duties. He would not go into the subject of India, which was a large one; but the opinion was generally entertained in the district he represented that India should produce cotton for them, and that they should produce manufactured goods for India. That was, no doubt, a selfish opinion, but he believed it was the sound one, and that India would be better employed in the cultivation of cotton than in its manufacture. The questions he wished to put to the President of the Poor Law Board were—whether, in his opinion, the rules of the Poor Law Board ought to be relaxed; whether he thought the labour test was enforced in cases where it ought not to enforced; and whether generally the board of guardians were administering the Poor Law with due regard to the pockets of the ratepayers as well as to the relief of the existing distress?


said, it would perhaps be well for him to answer at once the question put to him by the hon. Gentleman as to the import duties levied in India, before the discussion on the distress in Lancashire was entered upon. He had not the slightest doubt that the reduction of duty to which the hon. Gentleman had referred as having been announced in the newspapers had taken place, although he had not as yet received a despatch from India announcing the fact. He knew it was the intention of the Indian Government to reduce the duty as soon as the state of that country permitted them to do so.


said, he desired, with the permission of the House, to give briefly his opinion as to the extent of the trade of the cotton districts and of the distress now prevailing in those districts. There were no less than 600,000 persons employed in the cotton manufacture, who received between £15,000,000 and £16,000,000 a year in wages when they were in full work, but who at this moment were receiving not more than half that amount. The hon. Member had stated the number of persons who were receiving no wages at all at 58,000; but he believed, if the facts were known, that the number would be found to be something like 100,000. These facts must carry conviction to the minds of all as to the amazing amount of distress that existed. But it was not only the operatives employed in the cotton trade who suffered from the present condition of that trade, but, from the large amount of money that was thrown out of circulation, the distress was much wider spread. The shopkeepers in those districts were, he thought, even more to be pitied than the working classes themselves, because the moment the working classes got into employment they started again immediately, while the small shopkeeper, who had been carrying on his business with the savings of a life, had no capital to start when better prospects opened. He believed that the extent of the cotton trade had been calculated at something like £80,000,000. They had no prospect for the next six months of carrying on more than half that trade. There were no means of doing it, for half the cotton would not be in their possession, and he had no doubt that at the end of the year the return of the cotton trade, instead of being £80,000,000) a year, would not have exceeded some £50,000,000 or £60,000,000. He had no doubt that the working classes of Lancashire had the sympathies of that House as much as of those who resided amongst them; and no man, he was convinced, had a sounder knowledge of the economical question than the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Poor Law Board, to whom the working classes generally felt themselves indebted for his exertions in their behalf. He did not think that public charity or the Poor Law itself could cope with the present difficulty. He believed, that unless there was some change in the relative positions of this country and America, that unless they got cotton from America, the Poor Law would not be adequate to the occasion. He would not carry that argument further; but what he desired was that the Government should, by means of a Committee or Commission, ascertain the facts of the case, which they could not ascertain from the reports to the Poor Law Board, and then consider what means might be taken to relieve the distress found to exist. In the district where he had resided for a number of years, in a population of 100,000 there were 8,000 or 9,000 persons connected with the cotton trade. They were not, he believed, so destitute as the operatives in other districts, but they were suffering severely, and yet there was hardly one per cent, of that number who ever went into a poor house. He had been an employer of labour himself for many years, and he never remembered one of his own hands or one of his workmen wanting to obtain parochial relief. He believed that that was a character that would apply to the class generally throughout England. The operatives employed in the cotton trade had been growing in intelligence, and had made wonderful progress, more, perhaps, than any other class in the country, during the last thirty years; and when this character of them was borne in mind, the repugnance that they felt to go into the workhouses would be readily understood. The class was not a small one—one-seventh of the whole working population of England was dependent upon cotton. The case was not one which could be adequately met by any system of charity. Indeed, his great anxiety was to spare that class on whose behalf he was speaking the pain of sinking from their high position, and its members would, he felt assured, be prepared to undergo any amount of privation rather than urge upon Her Majesty's Government the adoption of any steps which would have that result. Their present condition was entirely exceptional, and it wanted an exceptional remedy, which would be better able to be suggested after inquiry by a Committee or Commission. The only remedy for the existing state of things in Lancashire would be a large supply of cotton from the United States; but no one in this country, he was sure, would urge the Government to break the blockade of the Southern ports in order to obtain that supply. But he earnestly hoped that the Government would carefully watch the dark cloud which hung over the cotton, districts of this country, and which he feared would break upon them and involve them in ruin such as no man could estimate.

MR. C. P. VILLIERS (who was very indistinctly heard)

said, he hoped neither the hon. Member for South Lancashire nor the hon. Member for Carlisle imagined that the extent of the suffering which was now being endured in the manufacturing districts in the north had escaped his attention, or that he had neglected to inform himself on the subject. Nobody, he could assure the House, could be more painfully alive than he was to the extent of that suffering, nor was he without daily evidence of its magnitude. There was hardly a circumstance mentioned by the hon. Gentleman which he could not confirm by his own experience, both as to the extent of the suffering and the generous and noble manner in which it was borne. Not only had he given his attention to the distress as it had arisen, but he had anticipated the occurrence of that distress; for, so far back as the latter end of last November, having regard to the unfortunate conflict which had broken out in America, and the results to which that conflict was likely to lead in this country, he had deemed it to be his duty to provide, as far as possible, against the destitution which he knew must ensue, and had issued a circular to every union, not only in the cotton districts, but in all those localities connected with American trade, expressing his apprehension of the suffering to which the population would be subjected if the war were to continue, and exhorting the proper officers to make early provision for an unusual amount of distress. He was happy to receive from all those unions replies which indicated a very great confidence in themselves, and a knowledge and experience of the working of the system of public aid in this country which relieved him very much from some apprehensions he had previously felt that they would be taken by surprise, and that their means would prove inadequate to cope with the emergency. There was throughout those answers an expression of satisfaction with the present state of things, and with very few exceptions there was in all of them the expression of the conviction that come what might they would be able to meet the emergency by the ordinary resources which they possessed. That, so far, was satisfactory as regarded themselves; but believing that no greater calamity could fall upon this country than an interruption to that great business which was necessarily interwoven with the well-being and prosperity of the United States, he required returns of the condition of the people, or rather of those of whom the guardians had special cognizance. For six months he received, frequently from week to week, returns of the progress of poverty and the state of the people. Those reports he proposed to lay on the table of the House, so that it would be informed precisely of the state of the population up to that time. He had also attempted to distinguish those districts more immediately connected with the American trade. The returns during the last two months would show their precise condition under the continuance of the distress. He had no desire to underrate the intensity of the case or to encourage the people in unfounded expectations of better times; but those returns showed that latterly the distress had apparently been stagnant, or at least had not increased, as far as they could judge from the number of persons receiving public relief. He did not wish to mislead anybody with regard to these returns, for there were circumstances which might partly account for it; but the fact stood that the returns from the end of April to the present week exhibited some falling-off in the distress as compared with earlier returns. It was under these circumstances the deputation that had been referred to honoured him with a visit at the Poor Law Board. The deputation called on him to state what he considered were the means of relieving the distress, very much in the terms in which the question had been proposed that night. They wished to know whether he was satisfied with the mode in which the guardians administered relief, and whether the means in their hands were adequate for their purpose at the present time. In answering that question he was able to refer to the returns he had just mentioned, and so far, having very carefully watched the operation of the system, he was able to state to the deputation that he did consider that the guardians of the unions and those whose duty it was to administer the Poor Law had hitherto provided excellent means for the purpose, that they were acting with firmness and judgment as well as humanity, and that he had no reason to complain of what was passing in those districts. The unions were acting together in harmony, and judging of the amount of distress by the number of persons relieved, melancholy as was the condition of the people, there was nothing to justify his interference with the local authorities, or any reason to spread alarm in the country as to the inadequacy of the means to meet the present distress. The deputation stated that, without doubting the accuracy of the returns which the Poor Law Board had received, these returns did not fairly or altogether indicate the true extent of the distress; and that though they were very faithful accounts of the actual numbers who submitted themselves as destitute and received relief from the Poor Law, yet that there was an immense amount of misery of which the Poor Law authorities had no cognizance, but of which persons locally acquainted were painfully aware. From these circumstances the Poor Law authorities were made acquainted with the extent of the feeling which prevented sensitive persons from submitting to the ex- treme consequences of destitution; but it was more than probable that such persons would sooner or later swell the aggregate of destitution. But he might be allowed to state what was the fact, that the Poor Law had no machinery by which it could ascertain the number of those persons, or undertake to relieve any persons who were not actually destitute. That might be a defect in our system, but he believed it impossible to find a remedy. That was a class which could only be reached by private benevolence, and it seemed to him that this was an occasion for the noble and effectual labours of local committees; that the local committees should place themselves in communication with the Poor Law authorities, and bring those cases actually before them, or apply the means in their own hands to their relief in various ways as they thought most fit. But, as the head of the Poor Law Department, he could only answer for the way in which the Poor Law did its work; and when he was asked, as he had been that evening, whether the Poor Law authorities were, as far as he was aware, equal to the emergency, he did not hesitate to say that they were; and in proof of that he need only communicate to the House what they were in the daily habit of communicating to him—that though the distress was great, they were perfectly able to meet the increased demands upon them by the means at their disposal. When he spoke of the exertions of local committees and the aid of voluntary funds he only threw it out as a suggestion, because those committees had the opportunity either of bringing cases of distress before the Poor Law authorities or relieving them themselves. From one statement made by the deputation it appeared that the people of Lancashire were under great uncertainty and doubt as to what the powers of the local Poor Law authorities were. There appeared to be some apprehension that these authorities were fettered, more or less, by some stringent rules of the Poor Law Board in London. He was surprised that any such doubts should have prevailed; but he was glad to have the opportunity of removing any misapprehension that existed upon the subject. He had been told that there was some doubt as to the power of the guardians or overseers to raise the rate to any amount to meet the exigencies of the time; as to whether they could extend their staff with a view to meet all the requirements of an extraordinary state of things; whether there was any stringent rule that required people to sell up house and furniture before receiving relief; and, lastly, whether rules issued by the Poor Law Board were so stern that the guardians had no power to relax them without previous communication with the Board on the subject. He satisfied the deputation upon all those points; and should, with a view to give further publicity to a statement he made as to the powers of local authorities, repeat it to the House. In the first place, then, the Poor Law-guardians might raise the rates to any amount, without communicating with the Poor Law Board. They might also increase the number of their staff, in order to distribute the relief that might be necessary. With respect to selling their furniture and household goods, it had been the law for nearly three centuries that those who asked for relief should possess no property, and no doubt provisions in Acts of Parliament to that effect were to be found; but no practical operation was given to those provisions, and in no instance were the people required to make such great sacrifices before they received relief. One member of the deputation stated that he had been informed that some person in Wigan had been subjected to a severe test. He directed a communication to be made to the clerk of the union, and he had received a communication from him emphatically denying that any such case had ever occurred at Wigan. Then it was said that the rules of the Poor Law Board were stringent and unbending, and that the overseers and guardians were obliged to exact a labour test, which was so humiliating to some persons that they would rather starve than submit to it. That was not the case. There was nothing so stern or so stringent in any order issued by the Poor Law Board which might not be relaxed and might not be adapted to circumstances. The whole system was elastic and capable of being adapted to extraordinary circumstances. In the time of the hon. Member for Lincolnshire, some ten or twelve years ago, an order was issued for the guidance of the authorities with respect to relieving able-bodied persons. The order required that when relief was given such able-bodied persons should give work in return; but in that order exceptions were specified, and instructions were conveyed to the authorities, that if they thought it desirable under certain circumstances to give relief without exacting labour, they should do so for a period of twenty-one days, and communicate to the central Board the special circumstances under which they thought it expedient to deviate from the order. It was not a stringent rule, but one which was well adapted to every degree of distress. It went on at the present time, and there was no general request from these unions, with whom the Poor Law Board was in friendly communication, that they should depart from it. There was a sort of cry raised now that there was a novelty in imposing the labour test upon persons in this condition. But the labour test only meant that those who received relief out of other men's earnings should return some work, and it was not a novelty, because it was a provision in the Poor Law which had been in existence for three centuries. The leading provision of the 47th of Elizabeth was, that when people applied to the parochial authorities for relief, they should be set to work. It might be the wisdom or not of our ancestors, but it had been handed down to us, and had never been objected to; and the novelty would be to say, that when people received relief, they should return no labour. Then they heard that the labour was of a kind which was offensive to those who had been engaged in very different employment. But that was not a necessary condition of the order, and unless the guardians were very inconsiderate there was no occasion to impose a test of work humiliating to the people and little suited to their previous occupations. All that was required by the labour test order was, that when an able-bodied man sought relief, he should have the money without going into the workhouse, provided that he did some work in return. Other places had been as unfortunate as Lancashire, and the application of the labour test in them had not been objected to. The case of Coventry, in which city a very severe distress existed for eighteen months, was, perhaps, the freshest in the recollection of the House. When the people of Coventry suffered so severely, the first impression of the benevolent was that they ought to be relieved from the stringent rules of the Poor Law Board. Lord Leigh, a nobleman who, to his great honour, took a prominent and useful part in relieving the distress of the Coventry weavers, thought he could not better serve the people and promote the object which he had in view than by writing a letter to the Poor Law Board, calling upon them in so peculiar an emergency to relax the labour test. The publication of that letter produced consternation among those whose duty it was to administer relief, and there was a general remonstrance from all the other unions. When the letter reached the Poor Law Board they immediately sent an Inspector to a meeting in the town, and the Inspector found at that meeting that Lord Leigh was not acquainted with the provisions of the Poor Law, that he did not know what the labour test really was, and that he believed extraordinary sacrifices were required. Shortly afterwards, Lord Leigh, through the chairman, acknowledged that he had acted in error, that he was not; acquainted with the provisions of the Poor Law, and that he saw there must; be some rule in administering relief. Not only so, but when large subscriptions had been raised in different parts of the country for the purpose of relieving the unfortunate weavers, a large proportion of the amount subscribed was administered upon the principle of exacting labour. The weavers went cheerfully to work. What they considered their relief was the opportunity to work. They had the opportunity, and he was assured that such was the spirit and right feeling of the people—no doubt it was the same in Lancashire as in Coventry—that they would rather do some work than receive relief without it. There was nothing in the order or in anything which proceeded from the Poor Law Board, or in anything which took place in the administration of relief, which ought to shock the people because of the conditions upon which relief was given. It was under these circumstances that he assured the deputation that there was no reason to apprehend any want of resources in the county of Lancashire, or in the parishes of the county where distress prevailed. He thought it right to state that hardly a day passed on which communications did not reach the Poor Law Board from the chairmen of boards of guardians in that county, who were responsible for these statements, that they were perfectly satisfied that their resources were at present equal to all the requirements which were made upon them. All they prayed was that they might be properly supported in the exercise of their duties, and all they hoped was that they might not be obstructed in the application of those rules which a large experience of their wisdom and propriety warranted them in enforcing. Therefore the House would understand that at that moment there were ample resources for relieving the distress such as it was, and that such was the view of the guardians of the poor of the county. The hon. Member (Mr. Potter) asked what were the prospects of the country, and what he thought generally might occur in the course of the year. He could not give the hon. Gentleman any precise information about that, but certainly he was disposed to take quite as gloomy a view of those prospects as the hon. Gentleman—that was to say, he saw no prospect of any cessation of the distress, such as it was, at the present moment. There was a very large number of people indeed out of employment. As the hon. Member for Carlisle truly stated, their being out of employment involved an immense deal more distress both among those above and those below them, who carried on business subsidiary to their wants. It was impossible to overrate the importance of that consideration, and there could be no doubt that the distress was perfectly appalling. The cotton manufacture really was the great element in the manufacturing business of the country, and it seemed to him that cotton was to commercial life what he ventured to think some years ago that corn was to the physical life of the workpeople. The importance of cotton to the commercial interests could not be exaggerated. It was a gigantic interest, and all matters that depended on it were vast. At the same time, he did not think that there was reason for hopeless alarm. It was not as if the business had ceased to exist; or as if a change had taken place in the taste of the consumers of cotton goods, or that any new discovery had been made rendering cotton goods unnecessary. The present state was clearly temporary, and the only question was how long would the pressure to which the factory people were exposed continue. He ventured to express an opinion that very large supplies of cotton must come from other countries besides America, as it was only natural to suppose that its high price would stimulate production. But even if the distress continued, the resources of the great and wealthy county of Lancaster were more than sufficient to meet all the difficulties arising out of the depression of the trade. He had read with some astonishment an account of the rateable value of the county of Lancaster; and seeing what was the amount of calls made on that rateable value daring the first four months of the present year, he felt confident that there did not exist that extremity of want and destitution which had been alluded to. The rateable value of Lancashire in 1856 was £7,298,000, and the cost of the poor in the same year was £455,000. In 1861 the cost of the poor was £429,670. He had made a calculation as to what would be the cost of the poor, supposing the expenditure on them went on at the rate it had been going on during the last four months; and he found it was bringing the expenditure on the poor up to £678,000 for the year, or at the rate of 1s. 10d. in the pound. Considering what was now paid by other counties, there was nothing very alarming in that amount. In Suffolk, and also in Sheffield, 2s. 6d. in the pound was paid; and that rate would raise the payment of Lancashire to £912,318. St. George's-in-the-East and Shoreditch paid 3s. 3d. in the pound, and such a rate as that would make the payment of Lancashire £1,186,013. In Nottingham Union, and in East and "West London Unions, the rate was 3s. 6d., and that applied to Lancashire would raise the contribution of that county to £1,277,245. As much as 5s. in the pound were paid by many parishes in the midland, eastern, and southern parts of England, and a rate of that kind would cause the payment of Lancashire to be £1,824,636. A rate of 6s. was paid by a smaller but still considerable number of parishes, and according to such a rate the payment of Lancashire would be £2,189,563. He did not mean to use these figures for any fallacious purpose, or to deny that in some particular towns of Lancashire the distress was most intense. In those localities there undoubtedly existed great suffering and the most vigilant attention was required in administering relief. He might be mistaken (though he was anxious not to state anything not strictly accurate), but he had not heard of any place in Lancashire that paid more than 3s. in the pound. He heard yesterday from Preston, and it was stated by the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, as being a very great payment, that, perhaps, the rate there had actually reached 3s. in the pound. In that place the distress was most severe; but, upon the whole, where the rates were comparatively so low it might be inferred that the contributions of private persons were liberal, and that great exertions were made by them to provide for the wants of the people. But the people had a right to apply to the poor rate, and to that they must apply before coming upon the public funds. There was no apprehension whatever that the Poor Law guardians were not equal to their position, or that they had not means at their disposal to relieve the poor, but as it had been stated by the deputation that some misapprehension, however groundless, prevailed as to the power of the Poor Law guardians, and as to the character of the rules and orders under which they acted, the Government had thought it right to instruct some persons of experience and judgment to proceed at once to the distressed districts, and to ascertain whether there was any want of information on the part of the guardians, and whether the system on which they acted was strictly legal. These persons, being men of experience, would be enabled to do something to bring into harmonious action with the regular authorities all those volunteer bodies who were doing so much good in giving relief. He trusted that that arrangement would produce a useful effect in preventing the waste of funds, and in directing persons anxious to contribute where they should go. In that matter the Government had been guided by precedent; for there had been former instances of persons being sent down, in times of distress, to assist the local authorities with useful advice. He would refer to one case—that of the Burnley Union. Some years ago when severe distress was prevalent, Sir John Walsham proceeded to Burnley, and, after putting himself in communication with all those engaged in administering relief to the poor, he addressed a report to the Government, in which he said that he found the relief was administered in a manner far from satisfactory, and he was not satisfied that the destitution was adequately met. "In fact," he said— It appeared to me that we are in the Burnley Union in the midst of a general scramble for the rates, which, if order be not introduced immediately into their administration, will before long reduce the ratepayers to insolvency, without, at the same time, leaving the conviction on any man's mind that the indefinite pauperism which had created such a lamentable result had been real to the extent asserted, or that those severe privations which too certainly do prevail, and are, indeed, painfully notorious, have been sufficiently alleviated. On the next day the board of guardians unanimously agreed that I should prepare, with the full concurrence of those present, a series of resolutions to be, I hope, passed by Tuesday's board, which resolutions should provide at once for the following points, namely:—1. Increase of the relieving power. 2. Establishment of relief in kind on an extensive scale. 3. Organization of out relief and settlement committees in and for each district, 4. Organization of a visiting and finance committee. 5. Organization of a labour committee. They passed a resolution to the effect that the notoriety of the distress afforded a strong temptation to the idly-disposed to throw themselves upon the rates, and that a system of labour ought to be devised under proper superintendence for obtaining that which undoubtedly, was wanted—namely, suitable employment. About six weeks afterwards a report was sent to London that the exertions of the board of guardians, combined with the spirit and patriotism of the manufacturers in employing the destitute heads of families, had been most effective. After the representations which had been made to the Poor Law Board, he had thought proper to send down an experienced person who would put himself in communication with the authorities, in order that the best means of relief might be resorted to, and that the Government might be kept properly informed. He was bound to say, from all that had reached him, that there was not the smallest cause of complaint against the persons in authority; they were doing all in their power to relieve the distress, and there was no disposition, anywhere existing to charge them with neglect of duty.


I think it was very natural that the hon. Member for South. Lancashire should have brought this question before the House, and am sure that only express the general feeling when say that the manner in which he did it was befitting the object he had in view. He being connected with the county—and many other Members of the House also connected with it—must know, that although there is great and growing distress, vet that it is not so universal as many persons at a distance might suppose; and that it is very much more severe in some towns than in others. And this arises, as the House might imagine, on the smallest consideration, from the very different kind of work which is performed, and the different branches of trade which are carried on in the different towns. For instance, in Bolton, where the spinning is almost all of fine yarn, and where only a comparatively small portion of cotton is used, the dis- tress is far less pressing than it is in Wigan and Rochdale, where the spinning is almost entirely of coarse yarns. I look back to the period to which my right hon. Friend has referred, twenty years ago, and I can say, without hesitation, that the distress of the whole county of Lancaster in the years 1840 and 1841 was very much greater than it is at this moment. At the same time, I am not certain that so many persons were out of work then, but the distress had continued for a much longer time; it had been preceded by a period of much less prosperity, and the people were gradually dragged down to a condition far lower than that to which they have now descended. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Potter) says that we have not more than about half trade. I should be thankful for half trade if it could be spread with any moderate equality over the country. But whilst the people of Bolton are having whole trade, or nearly so, the people of Wigan and Rochdale have not half trade; and therefore in a matter of this kind, averages are not very safe guides when we are to consider what may be done. I believe—I am sure, indeed—that the case is growing worse, and must grow worse, because, after the prosperity these districts have enjoyed, there are thousands of families who have saved a little money, and who can go on for a certain time without receiving relief; but, of course, the longer the distress continues the smaller the class will become, and the more surely will they be drawn into the abyss into which not a few have already fallen.

No, nothing can be more sad than the sight of men who, for years past, have saved what they could, and have performed in an admirable manner all the duties of life—to see their earnings and savings and little stores gradually waste under a state of things such as that which now exists. But let us not deceive ourselves for a moment by imagining that we can remove this evil or prevent it. The utmost anybody connected with the county or anybody connected with the Government can do must be to mitigate it to some small, and I hope to some considerable extent. But there must be, whatever is done, wide ruin—extending, I believe, to thousands of families in the cotton districts. Now, what are the means which we have at our disposal to ameliorate the condition of this unhappy class? My right hon. Friend (Mr. C. P. Villiers) has made a speech to night which, on the whole, I think has given satisfaction to the House, and I think also that it will be satisfactory to the country. While he has endeavoured to adhere to the acknowledged and ordinarily acted upon principles of the Poor Law, still I think he has shown that disposition which we should expect from him, and from the department over which he presides, to arm the guardians in every district with the power to exercise a very large discretion with regard to the treatment of this grave evil. The guardians are elected by a very large constituency in every parish, and they are not spending the money of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they are spending the money which their direct constituents have but recently paid into their coffers; and I believe there is no body of men in the kingdom, or, to limit the area, in the county, to whom you could more wisely intrust the expenditure of the ratepayers' money than those to whom the ratepayers themselves have intrusted it. In the old Poor Law times, when those grievous abuses existed which caused the establishment of the Poor Law Board, it was not so much in the towns that the Poor Law was badly administered; in the towns there is a public opinion that always, in the main, keeps officials in some kind of check with regard to the expenditure of money; it was in the rural districts where the great evils prevailed which caused the new Poor Law to be enacted. If, when the old Poor Law existed, those grievances of encouraging idleness and expending money wastefully did not prevail to a great extent in the towns, they are less likely to prevail now; and therefore I believe my right hon. Friend will be acting in accordance with true wisdom, as well as according to the dictates of humanity, if he does as little as possible—I will say almost nothing—to check the guardians in the distribution of the resources intrusted to their care.

But I do not think the whole of the matter can be met by the boards of guardians. And there is one reason why I think it should not be so met. The House will recollect that all the money intrusted to the guardians is not collected from men in proportion to their means, but according to the rent of the shop, house, or warehouse which they occupy. If you take a town like Manchester, you will find there a merchant who may be making his £10,000 a year, and whose property may amount to £100,000—especially the foreign merchant—whose building upon which he pays rates is not very large, and whose rates are, on the whole, comparatively very small. You collect from all these lands and buildings, but you leave an immense amount of wealth not touched under the Poor Law. Well, although I am not about to recommend any alteration of the law for the taxation of wealth, I say that it is desirable, and that it is necessary there should be other assistance to the people than that which the Poor Law guardians will be able to get from the rates so collected. Therefore I presume there will necessarily be, in every parish where much pressure is felt, a committee formed who shall collect subscriptions which should not come from those who are verging upon distress themselves, as the Poor Law would collect rates, but should come from those who have greater means, and who, under the present system, do not probably pay in proportion to their means. In the town in which I live there has been a committee of the kind established, and it has been working with signal success. A committee of gentlemen of considerable number have canvassed every street in the town where there was anybody at all likely to require relief, and have obtained very accurate statistics, and they have made a rule that whenever they find that the income per head in each family is below a certain amount, that they will afford relief—principally in food, and probably not much—I do not know whether any, in money—up to the point. I cannot pass this over without stating to the House that there has been not a few cases in which families, having received tickets entitling them to obtain this relief, have brought them back to the committee, explaining that since they received them some member or members of their families have obtained better employment, or an extra day or two's work; and therefore they brought back the ticket, that it might go to some one more necessitous than themselves. Wigan and one or two other towns may be worse off than Rochdale, because, with us, the flannel manufacture employs a large number of persons, and we have in that town, as the House knows, a remarkable co-operative institution, which has been of great advantage to the people under this pressure. I was down there only last week, and if I am not wrongly informed, the subscriptions have hitherto been in advance of the necessities of the relief committee. They have spent between £80 and £90 per week, and they have still a few hundreds in hand, although, as far as I am aware, none of the subscriptions in the town have been larger than £50. Therefore, so far as that particular town goes, notwithstanding the severity of the suffering of many, a state of things clues not exist which would justify that parish, town, or district in going to another district, or in coming to Parliament for any aid. My right hon. Friend has stated to the House what is the property of the county, but still there has been no rate in aid yet agreed to I hope it may never come to such a pass as that; but it must be admitted—I think no Lancashire man in this House will, for a moment, deny that there is—at least, I should flatly contradict any man who attempted to say the contrary—I say that there is patience and great power of endurance amongst the people; there is is also great wealth, and I believe an equal liberality amongst those who possess it. And therefore have the strongest confidence myself, that if this state of things should go on for many months longer, the county will find itself quite competent to take care of its own affairs, without sending the hat round to other parts of the country. At the same time, while I would object to any great measures of relief in the shape of a committee in London, or of Government interference, which would only add to the pauperism of the district and prove most pernicious, yet if there be any one in the Kingdom who is willing to aid an acknowledged distress which exists, let him send quietly, without ostentation, and without getting up a great fund to be scrambled for, whatever sum he can spare to any one he knows in the district. I have no doubt there are many persons who will receive and distribute contributions as the donors may wish.

My right hon. Friend said that the latest accounts showed a slight diminution in the number of persons receiving relief; and he has referred to the question of East India cotton. In the neighbourhood in which I live there has been an attempt, which has gradually extended of late, to introduce the use of East India cotton, and I have no doubt that in some cases mills have been started on partial or full time which had been altogether stopped. But the right hon. Gentleman referred to one point to which I would call the special attention of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. He said that the importations from India had been diminished this year, and that it was greatly owing to the uncertainty which had been caused by the fear of war with the United States. I believe that is quite true, but I wish to tell the noble Lord and his colleagues that nothing, apart from the great question which causes the main part of this suffering—nothing has done more harm to the trade in Lancashire than certain expressions of opinion which we have heard lately from Members of the Government on the question which now agitates and tears the United States. About two months ago I was standing at a place where we are permitted to stand not far from here, and to listen to speeches which are sometimes interesting and sometimes not. On that occasion I heard part of a speech delivered by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary on the question of the blockade. I heard him state that he—of course representing the Queen, the country, and the Government—had been impartial; we had been perfectly neutral; nobody could in the least complain; he thought the blockade was efficient, and so forth. And then he went on to say, after boasting of his impartiality, that he hoped in the course of two or three months that the Northern States (I am not pretending to quote his exact words, but I am giving his meaning) would permit the South to become independent, and that this country would, of course, wish the prosperity of both States. But what was the effect of that—the moment, the very day, when that passage in his speech went down to Lancashire? I can turn to an hon. Friend of mine who sits on this side of the House, and who represents one of the boroughs in Lancashire which is suffering the heaviest distress. He went down a few days afterwards; and when he came back, he said to me, "What did Lord Russell mean the other night in the House of Lords? "I said, "What did he say?" He referred to the passage. I said, "I don't know what he meant, but I heard him say it." "Well," he replied, "down in Lancashire the whole trade is checked by that very observation, and yarns and cloth in the Manchester market have fallen from 7 to 10 per cent in consequence of that declaration." Now, I want to know whether the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary knew anything about what he was talking about. In Lancashire they believe—they are often mistaken, no doubt—that great statesmen have great knowledge, and that they know secrets that the public do not know. Now, if there ever was a question in the world on which Cabinet Ministers know no more than any other Members of this House, it is precisely this question which agitates the United States. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary knew nothing at all of the facts. He had not the slightest ground for believing that the Northern States in two or three months would allow that great country to be broken up and consent to the establishment of a new State. It is quite possible that may happen. I am not going to prophesy, and therefore I will not express any opinion about that question, but I do say that if the Minister—the Foreign Minister of all others—stands forth in Parliament and expresses an opinion like that, it is taken by all the people in the country to be an opinion founded upon facts which give him fair ground to have that expectation, and in my view it is in point of fact a species of intervention, and a departure from the neutrality of which the noble Lord had just been boasting. I say I will express no opinion here on this question—my views are well known—but I say it is not the duty of any Minister to express such opinions. I say, further, that as regards the trade of Lancashire it has suffered very much from the statement of the Foreign Secretary; and, of course, from the various rumours that from time to time are set up that certain things are about to happen, which perhaps may never happen. Let the House bear in mind the state of things here. That cotton which a year ago was worth 6d. per lb. is now worth 1s. 1d. per lb. That is only an increase of 7d. in the pound; but if it extends to millions and hundreds of millions of pounds, you can conceive what a sum it becomes. If this cotton has been bought, say at 1s. per lb., at which it has ruled almost entirely since October last, except during the period at which there was apprehension of a war with America, and if it has been worked up into yarn and cloth, what the man wishes who has worked it up is that the price of yarn and cloth should gradually rise so that he may at least carry on his operations without loss. If his loss is considerable, he closes his mills. What, then, is the effect of the ob- servations of this sort? Why to lead men to believe that in two or three months the Southern ports will be open and cotton freely coming out, and then the cotton which was charged at 1s. will go down to; 6d. as before—that is to say, if a manufacturer has bought yarn and cloth at a price based upon cotton at 1s., the probability is that he may lose 25 or 50 per cent; and if he has any great transactions, he may be absolutely ruined. Now, do not the least blame Lord Russell for holding any opinion he likes upon American questions—even the most absurd that can be picked up. He may agree with me if he likes; but I say that, being Foreign Secretary, it is contrary to his duty in that office, to his professions of neutrality, and it is contrary to the interests of this great trade of Lancashire, that he should say one single word that should tend to add to the vast uncertainty which now paralyses every branch of that trade, and aggravates the original evil which we are all lamenting. I am in favour of what Mr. Hosea Biglow says in The Biglow Papers. He says in Yankee dialect, and without particular regard to grammar—" Don't never prophesy unless you know." I presume to recommend that advice to the Foreign Secretary in future. I hope that nothing I have said—nothing that has been said in the House—shows any disregard for the sufferings that are being endured by the people of Lancashire. I recollect twenty years ago, in 1842, there was a Report made by the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the state of Stock-port when that town was suffering so much; and that Report gave the highest character to the efforts of the people to sustain themselves from pauperism and the rates. An hon. Friend has handed to me the extract, which I did not know was in the House; but it is worth reading, I and believe that the same may be said of the character of the Lancashire people now. That Report states— On the occurrence of general distress, we find them neither a pauperized mass, nor readily admitting pauperism among them; but struggling against adversity, beating far and wide for employment, and in many cases leaving their country for foreign climates, rather than depend upon any other resources for subsistence than those of their own industry and skill. Those among them who have not been able or willing to leave a place where at present their labour is of little or no value, have been found enduring distress with patience, and abstaining sometimes to the injury of health from making any application for relief; while others, who have been driven reluctantly to that extremity, we have seen receiving a degree of relief sufficient only to support life, often with thankfulness and gratitude, and generally without murmur or complaint. Depend upon it, that in the short and simple annals of the poor there is to be found a heroism not less than that for which often the thanks of Parliament are given; and I trust that hereafter, when we come to look back upon the abundant compliments which hon. Members now pay to that population, there may be some who will change their opinion of them, and think that they are not improper subjects for admission to political power.


said, that as he had just come from the suffering district in question, having only taken his seat on the previous night, he should be wanting in his duty to his constituents and himself if he did not offer a few observations on the subject before the House. The feeling among his constituents and in Lancashire generally was that the distress was neither caused by the Government, nor by the Legislature, nor by the employers of labour, but that it arose entirely from the unfortunate war in America. On that account the distress was borne with great patience and exemplary fortitude. It was felt, however, that the time had come when the Poor Law Board might well suspend their labour test, which interfered with the proper distribution of relief. He was sorry to hear that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to suspend that test, the effect of which was that the guardians of the poor could not give outdoor relief without requiring a certain amount of labour to be performed, or if they did not require it, they were obliged to report the cases to the Poor Law Board. It was humiliating to boards of guardians to be obliged to report every case in which they gave outdoor relief to the able-bodied poor, and that restriction ought not to be imposed upon them when the distress, as at present, was of no common kind. It was calculated that there were upwards of 60,000 workpeople out of employment, and about 200,000 working from two to four days a week. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his decision as to the labour test, and rely upon the boards of guardians properly performing their duties, and upon the people not seeking relief except when they actually required it. The operatives would then thank the Government for the sympathy which they had shown them in their present distress.


said, that as one of the representatives of Lancashire he begged to return his best thanks to the hon. Members for South Lancashire and Carlisle, who had brought the subject before the House, and elicited the satisfactory reply of his right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board. From the information he had taken pains to collect in his district, he believed that very considerable misapprehension existed as to the spirit in which the Poor Law Board were inclined to administer the rules relative to the distribution of outdoor relief. The provision that boards of guardians should report to the Poor Law Board every case in which outdoor relief was given without exacting the labour test, was construed into a prohibition against such relief. The President of the Poor Law Board had, however, stated, that while he did not think it necessary to make any special alteration in the rules of the Board, he should give the amplest liberty to boards of guardians to meet the responsibility which rested upon them. He could not account for the slight diminution which his right hon. Friend said had occurred in some districts in the number of applications for relief. But he trusted that neither he nor the House would imagine that the temporary cessation of distress alluded to was any reason for relaxing the measures which he anticipated would be necessary to meet the impending difficulties, because no man acquainted with the state of the manufacturing districts would venture to predict otherwise than that there was yet great distress to be endured. In the town of Preston the weekly loss of wages to persons engaged in the cotton trade was estimated at £6,291. The relief given, however, only averaged £463. The usual relief at the corresponding period of the year was £130, so that the sum of £333 represented what had been done by the Preston Board of Guardians to meet the withdrawal of a sum of £6,000 heretofore paid in wages. No doubt other causes had been at work to save the poor rates. There had been a relief fund, private charity had been active, and the savings of the operatives had been drawn upon. There had been whispers and suggestions of a public subscription, and a grant from the Consolidated Fund; but not only had no such proposition been entertained by the Lancashire Members, but such an idea had been altogether deprecated. The House had heard the particulars with respect to what had been doing in Preston for the relief fund, but he denied entirely that the £3,000 raised there represented in any degree the amount of private benevolence in the neighbourhood. Many of the mill owners who had stopped work still continued to feed their hands; and although they undoubtedly might derive some benefit from keeping them together in case of a change in the aspect of affairs, yet it was a generous feeling on their part. The worst thing for the country would be to hold out a hope of a public grant or a public subscription, which would remove from the employers the responsibility that now rested upon them to keep their own workmen employed, or, at any rate, to save them from starvation. He should also deprecate the issue of any Government commission of inquiry, because the fact of the existence of distress was too well known to render it necessary, while such a proceeding would only tend to fill the minds of the operatives with illusory hopes. He could not sit down without adding his tribute of praise to the operatives for their admirable behaviour during the severe crisis through which they were passing. As far as he had been able to learn, their conduct had been admirable. There had scarcely been any remonstrance; there had been no agitation. The only large meeting he had heard of was one to impress on the Government the necessity of repealing the Indian duties. The discussion of that evening might not be of much practical use; but it would be a great comfort and solace to the people who were now enduring distress to know that hon. Members in that House were not indifferent to their great and unmerited calamities.


said, that on his own part, and on that of the Board of Guardians and the gentlemen intrusted with the management of the relief fund in the town of Wigan, he wished to say that nothing was further from their thoughts than to apply for a sum of money for the distressed operatives out of the Consolidated Fund, until it should have been proved that the rates and private subscriptions were not adequate to meet the case. The universal feeling in Lancashire was that the poor rate was the first resource, the private subscriptions the next; and that an application for any share of the public funds should only be mode as a last resource. He had given his support to the attempt made to raise a Lancashire fund by Lanca- shire gentlemen, of whom there were many, who, though they did not live in the county, were connected with it and largely interested in the distressed district; but tin; movement was not generally approved, and it was decided to let the Poor Law take its course. In the town which he had the honour to represent (Wigan) the poor rate had not reached a point which would at all justify an appeal to the country; but its amount would certainly have been much greater if it were not for the large fund raised in the borough of Wigan. Nevertheless, comparing the number receiving poor relief with the corresponding week last year, there was a difference of five hundred, and that number would, of course, have been much larger if the whole of those supported from the local fund for the last four months had been thrown upon the rates. The people of Wigan had thought it their duty, as long as they possibly could, to keep those operatives from becoming paupers who were thrown out of employment by a visitation of Providence in the shape of the American war; the Lancashire operatives were a proud race, anxious to help themselves, and doing all they could to avoid receiving relief from extraneous means. With that object a fund of £3,500 had been raised, and that had been recently distributed at the rate of £150 to £180 per week. At present there were no less than 4,500 persons out of employment, in another fortnight that number was expected to be increased by 2,400, and in the course of a month 700 more would probably he added to the number. The speech which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) had delivered that night was calculated to be a most useful one, for it would have the effect of explaining to the public in Lancashire what the general features of the Poor Law were, and of fortifying the guardians, who were sometimes supposed to shelter themselves behind the Commissioners, in the discharge of their duty. He must express his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for having sent down an officer of the Government to look into the working of the system in those localities, and to organize and combine the action of the boards of guardians with the different relief committees. As he had recently been at Wigan, he could not conclude without expressing his high admiration of the manner in which the operatives had borne their sufferings during the last winter.


said, he also desired to add his testimony to the good conduct and excellent behaviour of the working people of Lancashire under the severe trial to which they had been exposed, and to which they were still subjected. During the late Parliamentary recess the sympathy of hon. Members of that House had been extensively and effectually extended to meet the coming distress in the manufacturing districts, and, in particular, he would take that opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, who said there could be no sadder spectacle than that of men deprived of the opportunity of labour, when they were willing and able to work. The right hon. President of the Poor Law Board talked of their being subjected to the ordeal of labour; but there must, in that instance, he believed, he some relaxation of the rigid rules by which the administration of the Poor Law was regulated. For, independently of the hardship of exposing men, as honest and industrious as any in that House, to a test which they considered derogatory to their position, the ordinary labour tests would incapacitate their hands from performing those delicate manipulations which they would have to perform if they were ever again to earn their bread by their habitual occupations. It had been unwise in this country to depend on a single source for its supply of the raw material so essential to the national prosperity. The Government of the country had sanctioned the constant increase of the great manufacturing system; the Government had largely participated in the amount of revenue derived from that industry; and yet, with a monopoly of the finest cotton-growing lands in the world, it had left the country dependent on the United States for its supplies. Even at that moment he very much dreaded that no adequate efforts were being made to obtain a supply of cotton from India. The right hon. President of the Poor Law Board readily admitted that in all probability the time of suffering on the part of the people of these islands would be prolonged for a considerable period. If that apprehension were justified, the wisest course on the part of the Government would be by every possible means to stimulate our colonian possessions to the production of raw cotton and, above all, to induce the Government of India to give the requisite facilities for its production. To his own knowledge, the improvement of the navigation of the river Godavery had been under consideration for seven years, but little had yet been done to render that im- portant river navigable. If cotton could only be brought down from the vast cotton-growing districts of the interior, there would be a supply sufficient for the whole of Lancashire. That very day he had been examining some of the raw material sent from Australia to the International Exhibition, and he had great satisfaction in stating that more beautiful and excellent cotton he had never seen than that contributed by Queensland and New South Wales. If a sufficient population could only be poured into those dependencies, they would supply all the wants of England in a couple of years. Half a million of Chinese or half a million of Coolies set to work in that quarter would produce the cotton Great Britain required, and yet no effort was made to attack at the root the evils of the existing distress. What was needed was not so much assistance in a pecuniary form as that the labouring classes should be placed in a position of entire independence, with the raw material under their control, so that they might be enabled to raise their daily subsistence by their daily labour. He regretted exceedingly that his hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel W. Patten) was not present, as he would have told the House that in the regiment of Lancashire Militia, of which he was colonel, a number of recruits had been lately received who were so prostrated in point of strength as to be incapable of performing the ordinary initiatory movements required from soldiers. Having had occasion some time ago to visit the eastern district of Lancashire, he found most industrious cottagers endeavouring to raise themselves from the working to the proprietary classes by investing their little savings in joint-stock manufacturing establishments; and being unable from their earnings to pay their little calls, they were forced to sell their furniture and to deprive themselves of their little comforts, in order that they might keep the engagements into which they had entered. The working classes were actuated by honest intentions; their desire was to earn a livelihood by their industry, which never before failed them, and only failed them now because the Government had permitted a great trade to be raised upon an artificial basis of supply. He believed that both politically and commercially this country would have been treated better by the United States if it had been less dependent upon them for the supply of its raw cotton. With ample means in their hands, it was not cre- dible that they had suffered us to be placed in our present position. He hoped that in two or three years they would obtain that full supply of cotton which was as essential to a flourishing condition of the revenue of the country a3 to the prosperity, of the working classes.


said, that he too could not help expressing his admiration of the patience with which the distressed operatives of the northern counties had endured their privations, though that was not altogether a novel circumstance, for the same spirit had been displayed in former visitations of the same kind, when they had suffered from glutted markets, from over-production, or from unfortunate differences between employers and employed. He was also happy to say that there was co-operation between the masters and the operatives, and that many of the former had at great loss to themselves kept their mills at full work. He had listened with much pleasure to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board. It would be very satisfactory to the operatives in the manufacturing districts, among whom, as shown by meetings recently held at Manchester, there was beginning to be some dissatisfaction with the working of the Poor Law. He trusted that the discussion generally would prove to the operatives of Lancashire and Yorkshire that the House of Commons sympathized with them in their distress, and were no indifferent spectators of the noble patience and endurance with which they had borne their sufferings, and that the Government were not unmindful of their duty to see that the working classes obtained a fair share of relief in time of distress.


said, it was new to him that any feeling of humiliation on the part of boards of guardians existed from their having to report the cases in which they dispensed with the labour test, and he believed they were generally satisfied with the law. Returns of pauperism, though they did not adequately represent destitution, were an index of such destitution; and the figures which the returns gave, confirmed the statement of his right hon. Friend. In the eight weeks ending with April of the present year, and commencing with the second week of March, the numbers relieved in the manufacturing districts were, respectively, as follows:—2nd week, 111,000; 3rd, 111,000 4th, 112,000; 5th, 104,000; 6th, 106,000; 7th, 104,000; 8th, 104,000; and 9th, 105,000. He had received a letter from the clerk to the Manchester guardians, stating, that although returns showed a slight increase in the numbers receiving relief, as compared with the preceding week, the police returns showed an increase of 1,000 operatives in full employment. From Lancaster he had received the following return of the recipients of indoor and outdoor relief for the half-year:—In 1848, 3,556; in 1849,3,180; in 1860, 1,305; and in 1861, 1,419; and the return was accompanied by a report stating that the decrease, large as it was, was real, the regulations, whilst consistent with be nevolence, having done much to eradicate habitual and hereditary pauperism, and to remove stimulants to indolence and profligacy. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bazley), when he suggested a relaxation of the "rigid rules of the Poor Law Board," used terms which were not justifiable, either as regarded the rules or the manner and spirit in which they were carried out. It was the desire of the Poor Law Board that the Poor Law should be administered in a generous and at the same time in a just spirit. The House should recollect that there was a class of people who, though they were not paupers, were not far removed from pauperism, and upon them poor rates pressed most severely. He hoped, that if the benevolent would respond to the appeal made to them by the President of the Poor Law Board, the relief which they would contribute would be administered through the medium of the Poor Law authorities. That relief should be partly in kind, and not wholly in money, in order that the families of poor men should receive relief as well as the poor men themselves. The tendency of indiscriminate relief was to demoralize, and a man demoralized by such relief found great difficulty in regaining his former position. He sincerely hoped that this discussion would have the effect of convincing the struggling thousands of Lancashire that an earnest sympathy was felt for them in their distress, that their merits, their fortitude, and their patience were appreciated, and that the authorities were anxious to do everything they properly could for their relief.


said, that although having no connection with the manufacturing districts, he was anxious to express the strong sympathy he felt for the distress unhappily prevailing there. The subject had been introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire in a most admirable spirit, and it had been responded to by the Minister who had special charge of the interests of the poor in a speech which did him the utmost honour and would give the greatest satisfaction to the country. That right hon. Gentleman showed that the important office he held was not to be worked with hardheartedness, but that there was an elasticity in the Poor Law, which should be administered with kindness towards those who were suffering. The hon. Member for Birmingham had made a most affecting speech, but he regretted that at its close the hon. Member thought fit to introduce a political element into the discussion by appealing to the House whether the men who could bear so much suffering with so much fortitude were not to be trusted with the elective franchise. There was plenty of time to talk of politics in that House, but the subject they were discussing had nothing to do with politics. What they had to consider was how they could best alleviate the distress that existed. The people throughout the manufacturing districts had shown both fortitude and resignation; they had not sought the intervention of the Government to put an end to the known cause of their sufferings, but continued to bear them without complaint, and their conduct would bring on them the admiration of the whole world.