§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to extend for a further period the provisions of the Union Relief Aid Act of the last Session, said, the measure which he desired to introduce had for its object to continue the operation of the Act that was passed last Session for the purpose of better enabling Boards of Guardians in certain Unions to meet the very serious charge for the relief of the poor which was occasioned by the war in America, and which, by precluding us from the use of the raw material of cotton, had rendered nearly half a million of our fellow-subjects destitute, The Act to which he referred was, as the House would probably remember, introduced under some apprehension that under the ordinary operation of the Poor Law the means would be inadequate for relieving the distress, which was expected to increase. The resource in all cases of distress in this country was the property of the district where the poor were settled, or from which they could not be removed—a resource which had generally been available for its purpose; but in this instance fears for its adequacy had been felt. It was not alleged in this case that the great manufacturing counties in which this distress prevailed were unable or unwilling to discharge their liability to maintain their poor. That was not alleged on the part of those who represented the interests of Lancashire; on the contrary, if he rightly remembered, they emphatically declared that it was the desire of proprietors and occupiers of property in Lancashire to maintain the poor that might be cast upon the rates upon this occasion; and he believed also that it was the opinion throughout the House that it was desirable not to depart from the ancient policy of imposing local liability to meet local wants, and that the administration of relief should be left in local hands. There were, he believed, some opinions entertained by individuals 268 that the poor of Lancashire should be charged on the Consolidated Fund; but that proposition had never received any form or shape capable of being submitted to the House, and he did not think it had ever been put forward in a manner to command attention. What he understood the demand to have been when this matter was brought before the House, was that there should be some amendment or modification of the Poor Law as it existed, to render the guardians sure of possessing the means of relieving that vast amount of distress that was unfortunately then increasing, and, if possible, to mitigate in some way the pressure upon those who were liable, by law, for the payment of rates. The House would remember that this subject received considerable attention last Session, and that much observation was made upon the scale of rating for the poor in Lancashire. It was much observed that the rating was extremely low, and that in comparison with the rating in other parts of the country it seemed to be far below what was known to exist almost as the normal state of rating, and which would not probably be exceeded when the distress was greatest in Lancashire. It was, indeed, admitted as a fact that the rating in Lancashire was very low, and the property was very large, and that there were many places in this country where for many years past the rates had been much higher. But it was said then, and with great truth, that it was hardly then a fair criterion of the condition of the people in these districts to take any rate in the pound which might have been levied in past times for the support of their poor. Those districts were peculiar; they were unlike many other manufacturing districts where other kinds of business were conducted, and where there was a greater variety of property; unlike great and populous towns that are not dependent on manufactures, but have large numbers of poor to maintain. The peculiarity of what were called the cotton districts, was that they had sprung up and grown up with the cotton trade itself; and the state of those districts, altogether, whether as regarded the condition of the people or the value of the property, varied almost directly with the state of the cotton trade. It would be quite possible at one time to observe those districts prosperous, displaying wealth and capacity to bear burdens beyond almost any others in the country, and very shortly afterwards to 269 see the same districts suffering, almost prostrate, and incapable beyond other places to meet the charges which ordinarily attached to property. The result was, that people might see a very large estimate of the rateable property in those districts, and imagine that there was vast wealth there in proportion to the population; but whenever the trade became very much depressed and stagnant, a large proportion of this property became unavailable for rating and in some cases utterly valueless; and the fear was that by rigorously enforcing the law in collecting the rate many of the former ratepayers there might be forced into the ranks of the destitute, and the distress thereby be aggravated and increased. Any one, also, acquainted with these districts was aware that they had this peculiarity, that the proportion of the operative population to any other class was much greater there than in other places. In passing through the districts one could see almost miles of dwelling-houses which, from their appearance, must be occupied by operatives, with hardly any other buildings visible, but those of the mills where they worked; while the large and straggling suburbs which surrounded the older towns in Lancashire presented the same aspect. He believed that in those places there was hardly any intermediate class between the masters and the workmen, unless, indeed, they were the shop-keepers, who were the tradesmen of the operatives. It consequently was a necessary result, that when the trade was depressed, there was an enormous number of people requiring relief, and at the time when the burden of that relief was the heaviest, those who had to bear it were then the least competent to do so. Therefore, it seemed hardly fair to judge of the capacity of those districts to support a very heavy charge of burden for the poor, simply because in good times a large estimate of the property had been made, or to assume in consequence that the property would be equally available when a great burden fell upon it. Consequently, it had appeared to him a reasonable demand made upon this House, supported as it was by those who represented the interests of Lancashire, that there should be some means taken under the peculiar circumstances to ensure the guardians having the means necessary for relief, and some measure adopted by which the ratepayers might for the time be spared the whole weight of the burden legally cast 270 upon them. He had already mentioned the characteristics of the districts—depressed one day, and in the highest state of prosperity the next; and to prevent the unnecessary sacrifice of property, and the disorganization of capital and labour, it was desirable to devise a measure by which the temporary pressure might be alleviated. He was invited, therefore, to propose such an amendment of the Poor Law Act as would meet the exigencies of the case. On this occasion two suggestions were made, which seemed well adapted to meet what was required for the purpose, One was to give practical effect to the old principle and policy of the Poor Law of this country—namely, that when any townships or parishes became burdened in excess for the support of their poor, they were entitled to call upon the neighbouring divisions of the county for relief. This provision was quite as much part of the Poor Law of England as that which cast on any particular district the charge for what was called its own poor. This was a provision of the old law that had been held sacred for nearly three centuries, and at the time of the great revision of the Poor Law system, in 1833, that section of the Act of Elizabeth was carefully retained. Therefore there was no novelty in that proposition, so far as the principle was concerned, and it seemed, at the same time, to meet the circumstances of those districts. The only difficulty arose out of the new division of the country into unions for the relief of the poor, and legislation became necessary in consequence, to give effect to the original provision. A clause for this purpose, therefore, was provided, which in consistency with the ancient principle, has been rendered easy in operation, and appears to provide an appropriate remedy for the evil contemplated. One leading feature, therefore, of this Bill was to give power to any union in those districts which felt burdened in excess to call on other unions to contribute in proportion to their property in aid of their distress. There was another provision in this Bill, which appeared more simple, and which seemed indeed to be more popular— namely, that unions, when they felt the charge on property to be excessive, and when this should have reached a certain point, should have the power, with the sanction of the Poor Law Board, to borrow whatever sum might be needed to meet the excess. The Bill only contained those two provisions to meet the requirements 271 of the occasion; and though it seemed difficult at first to determine on the amendment of the Poor Law that would meet the object in view, he believed that it would have been almost impossible to devise a measure which more aptly suited the purpose and the circumstances of the people than the measure he had proposed. No one could say that on account of the borrowing power there was danger of the guardians being lavish in their expenditure, because their object would, of course, be never to reach the limit after which they would be entitled to borrow; and, as guardians were notoriously averse to borrowing when it was certain they must repay the money, that House fixed a limited period within which the borrowed money was to be repaid by annual instalments. Thus the guardians had the means of raising the money they required, and the ratepayers, relieved for a time, had a guarantee that the guardians would act with prudence. Looking at the great wealth which did exist in Lancashire and Cheshire, and feeling that that wealth had been enormously increased by the contiguity of the property to the districts engaged in the cotton trade, it was felt that there was an equity in calling on property which, though not exactly situated in the cotton districts, had yet been enhanced in value by its contiguity to those places, to contribute towards the relief of the distress. He believed that after the Act passed no proprietor regretted having given it his support, and the measure seemed to find favour in the country. He had been astonished to learn that one of the Members for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had stated the other night that the Act had been applied in only two instances, and, that in fact, it might be regarded as inoperative. His hon. and learned Friend had made a mistake in that respect. Not less than twelve most distressed unions were in a condition to avail themselves of the Act. Seven had done so already; five of them had borrowed money, and four had borrowed money and had called upon the county beside. He had learned that there had been no difficulty whatever in applying the Act. The forms were very simple; the accounts were prepared and were examined by the Inspector sent from the Poor Law Board to see that they were correctly made out; and on the order being given by the Poor Law Board the money was raised. The security was, doubtless, thought good, because all the money raised by these unions had been 272 obtained at the rate of 4½ per cent. He understood that no objection on principle had been made by the unions called on to contribute in aid. Several had already paid their quota; and whore objections had been expressed those objections were not against the principle of the rate in aid, but had reference merely to some technical point, such as that Chester was a county of itself, and that the distressed unions were in Lancashire and not in Cheshire. No strong objections had yet reached him to the principle of the measure, and he believed he might add that nothing had yet happened to alarm the counties with regard to contributions, either made already, or that might be required by the continuance of the Bill. The contribution in Derbyshire was not more than one farthing, in Cheshire not more than one penny, and in Lancashire only three farthings. He had taken some pains to ascertain how this Act was viewed by boards of guardians in the distressed districts, and he found that it was generally considered to be a very valuable resource to which they might recur in case of need; that nearly all considered it must, or ought to be continued, and that there was no question with regard to the policy of borrowing, although some objections were urged by some individuals against claiming relief from the county at all. Those who thought that the Act had not been operative to the extent which might have been expected might be reminded of the obvious reason for that, which was the very large contributions which had been made, he might say, from all parts of Her Majesty's dominions. Those contributions were not anticipated when the Bill was passed. They had been marvellous—they had been most munificent—and he believed he was in a position to state, that notwithstanding the enormous number who had been recipients of relief during the last six months, amounting to 500,000, more than half had been relieved by voluntary contributions. They might judge from that of what importance the Bill would have been, but for those contributions. Those contributions having been so large, and been flowing in constantly hitherto, must, he was afraid, be about to diminish; and if so, that made it more necessary that a Bill of this kind should continue, as its operation was now perhaps becoming more important than it had yet been before. Those contributions, he believed, had been very much stimulated 273 by that which might have been expected, but of which they could hardly have been sure previously; namely, the admirable patience and forbearance and, he might almost say, the patriotism of the poor people themselves in the manner in which they had borne their sufferings. And he believed that he might add that many subscriptions had been also contributed from the donors witnessing the intelligence, economy, and judgment displayed by those persons on the spot who had so nobly and generously devoted their time to the administration of the vast funds placed at their disposal. He would just show to the House what amounts had been borrowed hitherto under the Act in order that they might judge of the importance of the Bill and that they might have some idea of what would be required in future. For expenditure which occurred before Michaelmas and after Midsummer, Preston borrowed £3,890, and Blackburn £3,517, making a total of £7,407. For the expenditure during the Christmas quarter Ashton borrowed £8,037; Blackburn, £10,000; Glossop, £1,200; Haslingden, £3.063; Preston, £7,316; Rochdale, £5,887; Todmorden, £1,186; total, £36,689. Added to that there was charged to the counties, for Ashton, £8,097; Glossop, £1,7J8; Haslingden, £2,193; and Preston, £7,571, in all, £19,579, making a total borrowed and charged on counties of £63,675. This, indeed, added to the large contributions, would give them a sad idea of the extent of the necessities of these districts. He was afraid, that although trade was somewhat reviving, the distress was still considerable, and that it would be a long time before they could hope that there would not be what at any other time would be considered an enormous number of persons living on charity. For instance, since the Bill passed there were 160,000 more persons receiving relief than there were at that time, and he believed the charge weekly made exceeded by £20,000 a week what was then paid for their relief. He had besides the answers from twelve of the principal unions, all expressing a wish that the Act should be renewed. Preston was the most distressed union, and immediately a question was raised as to the value of the Act, Mr. Ascroft, the Chairman of the Preston Board of Guardians, wrote to Mr. Farnall to state that in his opinion the provisions were most valuable, and that in Preston they would be able to do with a 2s. 6d. rate 274 up to March, whereas, but for the Act, they would have required at least a rate of 5s. One union had presented a petition against the Bill, but in that union the number of poor was so small that they would not benefit by it, and might have to contribute to others, and with that exception he was not aware that any union had expressed a desire that the Bill should not be renewed. He had put forward this Bill, as he had stated, merely as a mode of meeting an evil which existed, or at least to prevent the evil of undue pressure of rates extending, of which there was great apprehension. He did not propose the Bill last year as striking at all at the cause of the distress. He was perfectly aware that the interruption of trade with the United States was the real cause, which was a matter far too deep for a Bill of this kind to reach. It was not his province at this time to express any opinion upon the prospect of a termination of the terrible depression of trade in those counties. It might be a subject of discussion as they advanced further in the Session, but he had only to state to-night what he conceived to he the reasons for renewing the Bill, and which he trusted the House would deem sufficient. He could only say that the Government were perfectly alive to the evils which at present existed. They were perfectly well aware of the enormous danger of a vast mass of the population remaining unemployed, and they knew what distressing sacrifices of property were daily made owing to this state of things. Those matters might be deserving of the special consideration of the House. The Government did not underrate the distress which existed or the evils to be overcome. He proposed this Bill for the purpose which he had stated. He had not the least reason for supposing that the powers conferred on the guardians would be in any way abused. He had the authority of Mr. Farnall, who was perhaps better acquainted with the opinions and views of the cotton district than any other person, for saying that there was the most anxious solicitude on the part of the guardians and those who were engaged in distributing voluntary relief to find independent employment, and to prevent anything which might tend to demoralize the people. He had not therefore the smallest hesitation in asking the House to extend the powers of the present Act for the term of one twelvemonth. There was not the smallest indication that there would be an 275 end of the distress in a year. If there was, the Bill would be inoperative. If there was not, there would be no necessity to trouble the House with a reconsideration of the renewal of the measure in the present Session. He therefore proposed that the Act of last Session should be continued until Lady-day, 1864. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, he had listened carefully to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and he thought there was no doubt a case had been made out for a renewal of this Bill—whether for a year or any other period might be hereafter discussed. But he thought the right hon. Gentleman laboured under some misapprehension when he said he believed the Act as it now stood gave entire satisfaction to all the unions which he had mentioned. Representations of a different nature had been made to him, and he had been requested by outlying unions to ask for one or two alterations which they deemed necessary. He would not enter upon those matters until the proper stage, but he should then call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to them, and he hoped he should have an opportunity of discussing some of them in private before that time. The chief pleasure which he had derived from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that it afforded ample justification for the course which was taken last Session by several Gentlemen connected with the manufacturing districts when they urged the Government to take steps to meet the awful calamity which they believed was about to fall on this country. If, in the present state of circumstances, which, in some respects, had altered rather for the better, the Government thought fit to bring in the self-same Bill and to afford the self-same relief, it was a conclusive proof that those Members were right in suggesting the measure at a former period when things were a more gloomy aspect, and when they could not have anticipated the enormous amounts which had been received from the munificence of this and other countries. At the time the measure was brought forward in the last Session the Members representing the cotton districts were taken to task by Members for southern constituencies because they were applying for those powers when they were so much more favourably situated as to rates than other parts of the kingdom. He recollected that an hon. 276 Friend of his in that House last year asked him why the locality in which he resided should be called upon to come to the aid of the manufacturing districts, observing that the poor rate in that locality was as high as 4s. 6d. in the pound, while in several parishes in Lancashire it was only 1s. 6d. But the answer to that way of putting the question was that a normal rate of 4s. 6d., subject to which bargains were made, and which in reality fell on the landlord, was not to be compared with a rate smaller in amount, but suddenly increased to meet an emergency—the increase being paid not by the owner, but by the occupier. A man, for instance, went into Lancashire and took a house, the poor rate being only 1s. 6d. in the pound, and for him it was a very serious thing indeed when he unexpectedly found himself called upon to pay 11s. 6d. Such was the difference between the circumstances of the manufacturing and the other districts throughout the country. Now, if the House would allow, he would mention a few instances of the operation of the distress in Lancashire in the augmentation of the rates. Take for instance the town of Todmorden, and there the rate which was formerly 11d. in the pound, was raised on the 22nd of November to 6s. 4¾d. seven times more of a rate than the occupier had to pay previously. In Stockport the ratepayers had been called upon to pay nine times, in Rochdale nine, in Preston seven and a half, in Oldham ten, in Manchester six, in Glossop nineteen, in Bury six, in Burnley six, and in Ashton-under-Lyne nineteen and a half times the original rate. It should not be forgotten that a very large portion of the rate-paying class were at the very moment that they were called upon to pay those rates deprived of the very means of paying them. The consequence was that a great number of people were brought to utter ruin. In Oldham alone—the hon. Member for that borough would correct him if wrong—the effect of the increased rates was to change the condition of 2,000 of its inhabitants from ratepayers to that of recipients of aid from that source. [An hon. MEMBER: "4,000."] That, however, was not the whole history of the pressure which had been put upon the small ratepayers and shopkeepers, because, in many cases, time for the payment of the rate was granted, while some were excused from paying it on the ground of inability. He wished he could see a Return setting forth the number of ratepayers in Lancashire 277 who during the last six months had been excused payment; the number who had become recipients of relief; and those who from inability to pay had been excused or allowed time to pay them. Such a Return, he believed, would show a very disastrous state of affairs. There was another very large class of ratepayers who did not come under any of those three heads. The object contemplated in the present measure was not so much to relieve the operative classes as a portion of the community who had not hitherto been reached by the relief committees. Hon. Members who did not reside on the spot could have but little idea of the calamitous condition of the small tradesmen in the manufacturing districts. Many of these were perfectly destitute, dependent, as they had been, upon the wages paid to the operatives. Some notion, however, might be formed of the distress to which these persons were reduced, when they were told that the diminution of wages up to the present time, owing to the distress, might be calculated at no less than £8,000,000 sterling per annum. If the operatives had been in receipt of this sum, the greater part of it would have been spent among the small shopkeepers, who were now, he undertook to say, among the most distressed persons in the community, not excepting even another very unfortunate class—'the small cottage-holders, and those who had invested their savings in other branches of industry— whom the committees felt it almost impossible to relieve, owing to the many abuses which would immediately spring up in dealing with the monies intrusted to them. His right hon. Friend had, however, very justly observed, "What would have been the case but for the munificence displayed by every class of the community at this critical juncture?" He had made a calculation as to the amount contributed for the relief of the operatives in the distressed districts, and had estimated that it could not be less than £1,400,000. He believed, indeed, that that sum was within the mark. The sum spent in the relief of distress by the local committees was £658,000, and the amount disbursed by the Poor Law Guardians during the last six months was, he believed, £250,000. Here was a total of £908,000 spent for the relief of the operative classes since the passing of the Relief Act last Session. Let any person 278 try to imagine what must have been the difference in the condition of those classes if these largo sums had not been contributed by a benevolent public. Even with all the aid afforded by the Act, the state of Lancashire would have been frightful. Now, the House had a right, he thought, when it was asked to give its assent to the renewal of such a measure, what were the present and future prospects of the manufacturing districts. The committee of which he had the honour to be a member had taken every possible means to ascertain the opinions of the most experienced manufacturers as to the present and probable future state of employment in their several localities. He was sorry to say that at the last meeting of the Central Committee the reports they received from those gentlemen induced the Committee to believe that they had not yet seen by any means the extent of the destitution with which they would have to contend. Other hon. Members would doubtless go into this part of the case more fully than he had; but he would state, as the result of consultation with the principal manufacturers, that the most sanguine of them looked for an average of employment during the next twelve months of only three days per week, whilst the less sanguine—who were by far the more numerous—did not anticipate that there would be an average of more than two days employment per week, taking the whole manufacturing population together. Under those circumstances the Relief Committee had felt themselves bound to deal most carefully with the funds—large though they were—intrusted to their care. Sometimes they had been charged with being too niggardly, and at other times with being too liberal in their distribution of the money. These charges were certainly inconsistent, and he ventured to assert that they were both totally unfounded; and he felt confident—though, doubtless, abuses would now and then occur—that, upon the whole, they had been promptly checked, and that the funds bad been administered with discretion. He had to thank his right hon. Friend for the assistance rendered by the Board of which he was at the head, by placing at their disposal Mr. Farnall, who was a gentleman of great experience, zeal, and energy, and who had devoted his time and attention to the matter, and had given the most valuable aid and information to the Committee — never, in- 279 deed, appearing to have a moment which he was not devoting in some way or other to their and the public service. But for the assistance rendered by that gentleman, the Committee would never have been able to perform their duties to their own satisfaction. The Board had also sent down two other officers—Mr. Adamson and Mr. Jones—and with their aid the Committee had been enabled, he believed, to take proper precautions against abuses of the fund. The question began to be asked whether, under these circumstances, it was necessary that the public should still be called upon to continue their benevolent contributions for the relief of the distressed operatives in Lancashire. He was hound to say, from all the information which he had received, that it was possible they would have still to rely upon that benevolence. Every month the Committee published and disseminated as widely as possible a statement of affairs, which he would invite all who were interested to read, and from which they could judge for themselves as to the propriety of continuing their benevolent exertions. Reverting again to the abuses likely to spring out of the management and distribution of so large a charitable fund, he observed that when half a million of persons were out of work, and likely to continue so for a long period, he did not think that any one should feel surprised at some great public detriment accruing from it, however wisely the public charity might be disbursed. At the present moment they were devoting their attention to enforcing a system of labour through the agency of the local committees, and the Vice Chairman of the Central Committee (Sir James Kay Shuttleworth) was at that moment engaged in devising a mode by which to give greater employment to the people throughout the districts. He (Colonel Wilson Patten) sincerely hoped he would be successful; but after everything was done that could be done there must still of necessity be a certain kind of demoralization among a portion of the inhabitants of the distressed districts. This must be accepted as in some degree unavoidable. The calamity, however, was not an unmixed evil. When the season of trial was over, they would have to look back upon many encouraging circumstances to which it had given rise. There was not a class of the people in Lancashire who were not perfectly aware who were the donors of the 280 money which was administered to them. The Committee took care that the name of every contributor should be sent through the whole of the country. There was one class of donors whom he desired especially on that occasion to thank. He referred to the residents in foreign countries and in the colonies. The House would be surprised to hear the names of all the places from which these contributions had come. They had flowed in from every quarter of the globe. He did not refer to the money which had been sent to the Committee presided over by the Lord Mayor, because he had not a copy of that subscription list, but only to that which had come direct to the Central Committee. Besides a vast array of places in Great Britain and Ireland, handsome contributions had been sent from the United States, Madeira, Russia, Brazil, Gibraltar, Spain, Holland, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Germany, Cape of Good Hope, India, China, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Australia. No less than £46,630 had been sent to the Committee from Australia—a contribution which he could not help characterizing as one of the most liberal made in any country under such circumstances. He did not like to single out particular towns for special mention, as it might appear invidious to do so. He could only say that there were places in the colonies as to the locality of which his geography was more than once at a loss, but who sent donations sometimes amounting to thousands of pounds. He had never witnessed such an outburst of sympathy as had been displayed from every part of the world towards the distressed operatives in England. He could only repeat that this charitable feeling would not be thrown away upon the people of Lancashire. There was a thorough conviction among all parties and classes in the county that they were deeply indebted to the donors. They were sensible of the interest taken in their welfare by all classes of the community. The result would be a lasting feeling of gratitude on the part of the Lancashire people to every class of society, not only in this country, but in every part of the world.
§ THE LORD MAYOR (Mr. Alderman ROSE)
said, he owed an apology to the House for rising on this occasion, being so very young a Member; but he felt it his duty to caution the House with regard to some of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down. It was true that most magnificent sub- 281 scriptions had been received from all parts of the world; and it was true that these subscriptions had been sent in a way that redounded to the credit, not only of the country, but of all connected with them. But he warned the House that the time was coming when these voluntary subscriptions could no longer be depended upon; and that the machinery, which it was proposed to be continued for another twelve months, would have to be brought forcibly into operation. Nor was it only that the contributions would cease, but the manner in which this great object had monopolized the charity of the nation had proved very prejudicial to other philanthropic enterprises, and the subscriptions were beginning to revert to the original channels from which they had been withdrawn by the exigency of this great crisis. From his experience, having had the collection and distribution of nearly half a million of money in consequence of the office he had the honour to hold, he feared the time was rapidly approaching when this source of income might fail. It was important, therefore, that the House should be prepared with machinery by which any possible want which might arise might be supplied by a more sure source of income than voluntary charity.
§ MR. HIBBERT
thanked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board for the statement he had made, and for having afforded the House an opportunity of discussing this important subject. Too strong words of thankfulness could not be used for the great stream of charity which had flowed into Lancashire during the past twelve months; nor ought thanks to be omitted to the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) and the hon. and gallant Colonel opposite (Colonel Wilson Patten) for the great labour they had given to the administration of the relief fund. He would give the House some particulars as to the condition of Oldham. The population of the Oldham Union was 111,267. Out of this population 39,975 were operatives. At the end of last month (January 31) only 8,028 persons were working full, and 20,726 were working short time, leaving more than 10,000 entirely unemployed. The number receiving relief from the guardians at the same date was 10,589, and from the relief committees 13,245 making altogether 23,834 persons. This was out of a population of 111,267, showing that one out of every five of the population was in a state of destitu- 282 tion. A great deal had been said in other places with regard to the amount of the poor rates in Lancashire; but as far as the Borough of Oldham was concerned, he would state a few facts which would show how severely those rates were pressing. One rate of 2s. in the pound was made in March last, and 4,120 persons were obliged to be excused by the magistrates from paying it on account of their destitution. In October a second rate was made of 2s. in the pound, of which £5,885 could not be collected on account of the distress of the people. In December last another rate was made of 4s. in the pound, of which a large amount of arrears were now unpaid. Thus in a period of nine months rates had been made and levied to the amount of 8s. in the pound. It was, however, very difficult to judge from the Poor Law Returns of the pressure which the rates inflicted upon the ratepayers. For example, the Returns laid on the table by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) showed that during the quarter ending at Christmas there had been expended in the relief of the poor in Oldham 1s. 3¾d. in the pound. This would give 5s. in the pound for the year. But, instead of having paid only 5s. in the pound for the year, the ratepayers had paid 8s. in the pound for only three-quarters of the year. The Return, therefore, did not afford a full view of the case as it really stood. The number of assessments in Oldham showed that there was a great body of very small ratepayers in the borough. In October, 1862, there were 16,190 assessments to the poor rate. Of this number 6,900 were between £10 and £6; and there were 6,190 assessments under £6; making, out of the whole number of assessments, rather more than 13,000 persons assessed under the value of £10 per annum. These facts showed how very great must have been the pressure of the heavy rates of the past nine months. The unemployed ratepayers had either to be excused or the rates to be left in arrear, and they could only be collected from those who were able to pay. The whole rate for the union of Oldham in the year 1861 was little more than 1s. in the pound. This was another proof how severe the pressure of the 8s. rate for nine months must have been. With regard to the Act of last Session, he would observe that there was a strong feeling among the boards of guardians that the time for the repayment of loans was not 283 sufficiently extended. There was also a strong feeling in Lancashire, that although there was no wish to dip their hands into the national purse, the Public Loan Commissioners should be empowered to lend money to boards of guardians. In conclusion, he would only say that the rates were pressing most severely, not only upon the poorer ratepayers, but on the owners of cottages and on small millowners, who had borrowed capital to carry on their business; and that if the distress continued, the House would see class after class added to the number of destitute persons.
§ SIR BALDWIN LEIGHTON
said, he was afraid the right hon. Gentleman had forgotten some of the principles which had always been maintained by his predecessors in office. One principle of the Poor Law was, that land, or real property, was answerable for the poor rates. Why, then, if the land was answerable for the support of the poor, had not the right hon. Gentleman made the landlords responsible, whose lands had derived so much benefit from the mills? There could be no doubt that Lancashire had derived the greatest benefit from the cotton manufacture. A large portion of Cheshire was entirely agricultural; and it was not fair that the agricultural landlords or tenants of South Cheshire should be called upon to pay rates for the landlords and millowners of North Cheshire. The farmer in South Cheshire had taken his land thinking he would have to maintain his own poor only; and why should he be called upon to pay for the poor of North Cheshire? If a landlord, instead of getting £1, or £2, or £3 per acre for his land, got £1, or £2, or £3 per yard, surely there was no harm in asking him, when a tenant was in distress, to pay a part of the rates of his tenant. He would suggest that after the rates reached a certain amount—say 5s. in the pound— the landlord should be called upon to contribute equally with the tenant. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) had thrown out a hint that the credit of the country might be given to enable Lancashire to effect loans. He (Sir Baldwin Leighton) hoped the credit of Lancashire was not so low that it was necessary to have the credit of the country added to it. There was no union, He believed, which could not raise money at four per cent. He had himself borrowed money for several unions at four per cent, and only once had he paid more, and that 284 was when he borrowed from the Exchequer Loan Commissioners, who charged five per cent. He would, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was prepared to carry out throughout England the principles he was now applying to Lancashire arid Cheshire? In London there were parishes which paid regularly no less than 5s. in the pound for poor rates. If Lancashire was to be relieved from the payment of a 5s. rate, why should not the parishes of London? In London there were no less than nineteen parishes where the poor rates were more than 3s. in the pound. In Buckinghamshire there were forty-four, and in Cornwall nine such wishes, but in Cheshire there were only, three parishes in which the rates were more than 3s. in the pound. Were they prepared to empower the heavily burdened parishes in the east of London to put their hands into the pockets of the ratepayers and say, "You must support us"? He repeated the question—Was the right hon. Gentleman prepared to carry out the principle of the Bill to all England? Because if he were not, the principle he had laid down was not right, and it could not be defended. The Bill, therefore, ought not to be passed without due consideration. There was also another consideration to be borne in mind, and that was the principle upon which relief should be given to the poor. He was not about to question the administration of the Poor Law in Lancashire generally, but in going through Lancashire he had been very much struck by the absence of employment offered by the guardians to the persons who were receiving relief. This was a great fault. The poor were much to be pitied; but the plan which was adopted was detrimental to them, for they were receiving for doing nothing as much or more as the labourers in his (Sir Baldwin Leighton's) part of the country who worked six days in the week. In Lancashire a man with a family of three children received 12s. per week, but in his part of the country the able-bodied labourer would receive only 10s. per week. He could not but think that if a little more pressure was put upon the manufacturers they would find some occupation for the operatives who were now out of employment. If emigration could not be resorted to, migration might. It was doubtless for the benefit of the millowners and shopkeepers that the people should remain in the district, but it was of great detriment to the people themselves; and gen- 285 tlemen serving on relief committees, as well as the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Poor Law Board, should use every means in their power to prevent so serious an injury. Persons now in idleness and in the enjoyment of an allowance equal to what was considered fair wages in the agricultural districts, would be very apt to remember the circumstance in after times, when that reminiscence might tend materially to swell the poor rates.
said, he rose only to offer a single suggestion—that it might be better to limit the operation of the Bill to six instead of twelve months, as proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. A period of six months would carry them over the Session, and afford the House an opportunity of reconsidering the subject in June or July, when they would be able to make such provision for the recess as might then be required, having had the advantage of that additional period of observation. It might be that the aspect of affairs might then be very different from what it was at present, and some modification of the law might be seen to be necessary. By the Bill as it stood the House was asked to legislate for the relief of distress in Lancashire up to February next. Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any man in the House or out of it would undertake to say what might be the state of Lancashire distress in February next. It was all guess work. Every one was in the dark. No two men agreed in their opinions as to what was likely to happen, and those who understood the subject best would be readiest to admit that their opinions were mere conjectures. Was it not wise, then, to commit themselves as little as possible; to refrain from tying their hands further than was absolutely necessary? No doubt, the course he recommended would entail additional trouble upon Parliament but in dealing with questions of this kind he ventured to think that mere considerations of trouble would not have any weight. He did not say that they would be in a position to legislate with certainty in June or July, but it was quite possible by that time that things might so far have changed that they might look at the question in a different point of view from that in which they saw it now. Various alterations had been and might be proposed in the present Bill, such as giving borrowing powers to townships as well as to Unions, extending the term allowed for repayment; and he had heard a suggestion, which he did not 286 adopt, that Government might be empowered to lend under certain conditions. He did not say that any of these propositions ought to be entertained, but they ought all to be maturely discussed, and he felt sure that Parliament would be much better prepared to deal with the question towards the close of the Session than it was at present. What he suggested was, therefore, simply a continuance Bill for six months, and then another discussion upon the subject.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
thought the suggestion of the noble Lord was a wise one. This was a matter which required the grave consideration of the Legislature, and not alone as regarded Lancashire, though that demanded a more enlarged view of the general law of the question than was proposed by this measure. If the Government allowed the present Session to pass away without attempting a great legislation upon the inequitable state of the Poor Law, he thought there would be a well-founded cause of dissatisfaction, more especially as in the present state of public business there was little of deeper interest to engage the attention of the House. The House was treating this question as if the condition of Lancashire was exceptional to the general state of the country, Hon. Members had favoured the House last Session with their views on the inequalities of the poor rate in the southern districts, and they had the testimony of the hon. Member for Oldham that at the present moment the rates amounted to upwards of 8s. The assessable property in Lancashire was in excess of £8,000,000. Now, an equalized rate of 3s. 7½d. would not only have raised the £1,000,000 in excess occasioned by the distress, but have provided for the £400,000, which was the average amount of the poor rates for the county of Lancashire. But he doubted very seriously whether the distress in Lancashire, great as it undoubtedly was, exceeded that in the metropolitan district of Bethnal-green, where he was told the condition of the poorer classes was frightful to contemplate. Yet they heard comparatively little of destitution in that quarter; it was lost sight of in the immensity of the Lancashire claims. He was likewise unable to say whether the depression in the manufacturing districts exceeded in severity that at Coventry. But he took it for granted the Legislature could not view such instances of the breaking-down of the Poor Law system in 287 so important a county as Lancashire without taking some steps to remedy the general defect in the law. Were the Government prepared to remedy these defects over the country at large? The present measure was a wise one viewed as a temporary expediency, and he was in favour of another temporary Bill; but should feel greatly dissatisfied if he learned that the Government had no intention of taking further action for improving the general system of administration, and especially in the important matter of the present inequality of the Poor Law rating.
§ MR. POTTER
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would limit this Bill to six months, and in the mean time provide a Bill of a more comprehensive character. He feared that there was no prospect for some time to come of there being a less pressure on the poor rates in Lancashire than existed at present. The loss of wages in Lancashire was certainly not less than £8,000,000 annually; on a moderate calculation one-third of that amount would have to be raised by means of the poor rate, and he was quite satisfied that unless some larger measure were brought forward, the poor rate would collapse. The subscriptions in hand amounted to between £700,000 and £800,000, and they ought not to be deterred from legislating further on the subject by any idea that such a sum would be sufficient to meet the evil. He thought they would require another million from the poor rates. He might state a few facts with regard to the Union of Glossop, with which he was connected, which was considered to be one of the worst in the country. In 1855 the entire rate for the Union of Glossop was only £1,000. He found that latterly they had been paying for the relief of the poor at the rate of £1,000 per week. The assessed rentals in this district amounted to £65,000, out of which £18,700 was for mills and works; £6,200 for houses and shops; cottage property, £22,000; and the remainder for land. The cottages (by far the largest item) belonged almost entirely to the manufacturing population, and were the result of many years' careful savings. There were 4,163 cottages, owned by 782 people. All these cottages were mortgaged and were at present almost worthless to their owners; he did not suppose, that deducting these mortgages, there would be £2,000 left. Look at the pressure laying on a district like that. It would be impossible to raise a 2s, or 3s. rate without a serious 288 collapse. In the whole district there were only sixty-eight buildings rated at above £50 a year. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bring in some more comprehensive measure. He did not object to the extension of the present Bill. It had not been tested to any extent at present because the large subscriptions had relieved the poor rates; but during the next six months the amount to be raised in Lancashire would be £1,200,000 or £1,500,000, four or five times the amount ever levied before.
§ MR. COBDEN
Sir, it is not my intention to go into the question at large: but I was struck with the suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), and probably a word or two may be added to the noble Lord's reasons in favour of his propositions. I think we must consider on the present occasion that the great difficulty we have to apprehend will arise towards the close of next winter, assuming that the present war in America goes on, which I humbly pray may not be the case. But assuming things to continue as they now are—and that depends upon whether any cotton comes from America, because all other hopes of alleviation are futile within the next two or three years, unless we do get cotton from America— assuming this state of things to continue, then I think the condition of the cotton districts will be much more serious, much more difficult in the next winter than it was in the last. In the first place, you will not, I am afraid, have that magnificent private benevolence in the form of subscriptions to rely upon which you have had the last winter—and I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Southampton (the Lord Mayor) give us this warning. I do not believe in the history of the world there has been an instance of a repetition of such a magnificent outburst of generosity as that we have witnessed during the last six mouths for the same object. Great benevolent efforts are in their very nature evanescent, because there are other claims always existing, and others arising to compete with them. I think, therefore, that next winter, assuming that this state of things goes on, will find you without this resource from this benevolent fund, and consequently find you under the necessity of relying entirely upon poor rates at a time when, as has been shown by my hon. Friend immediately above me (Mr. Potter), a large proportion of the ratepayers will have become insolvent: so that 289 you will have a far greater claim upon the rates at the time when your benevolent fund will have ceased, and when much of your rateable property will fall out of the assessment list. This view of the matter becomes still more apparent and more urgent when we call to mind how much has been done in the way of charitable relief and in rates, already, in the manufacturing districts themselves. I would not say a word in derogation of these honourable tributes paid to that worldwide benevolence which has flowed into Manchester; but probably it is not generally known, that, after all, the largest portion of this great fund has come from the cotton districts themselves. I find by the tabulated Return made by Mr. Maclure, the Honorary Secretary of the Relief Committee in Manchester, that the amount raised locally to be dispensed by local committees, and not remitted to the Central Fund, has been £245,000. He states that the amount raised in the cotton district, and remitted to the Central Fund, is £350,000. I will now give an estimate— and I am sure, from the inquiries I have made and the evidence I have taken, that I am very much under the mark—of what does not appear in the table of Mr. Maelure—namely, the amount which has been given by individual millowners and manufacturers and landowners at their own doors—the allowances made to workpeople, and not published in any subscription list at all. There are individual millowners who are giving their workpeople from £20,000 to £30,000 a year. And taking the whole of the cotton district, I estimate that the amount of these private subscriptions, which will not appear in any local or general list, is £250,000—that is to say, that by Midsummer next, in this private way, money to that amount will have been contributed. That will give for the year ending Midsummer next, a total of £845,000 as the amount of contributions for the relief of distress from the cotton districts exclusively. Now, assuming that the whole of the voluntary subscriptions from all parts of the world amounts to £1,500,000, then it should be remembered that considerably more than half of that sum has come from the cotton districts themselves. It is quite evident, therefore, that with regard to a large proportion of those charitable contributions, you cannot look for the same result next year, because these parties will be weakened by the progress of this dis- 290 tress. But that is not all. I find from the same table that the poor rates levied in the distressed unions in excess of their average in former years is at the rate of £600,000 for the year ending Midsummer next; that in round numbers the rate amounts to about £12,000 a week in excess of the former rates. This is a very small share, indeed, of the pressure upon these districts. We have heard it repeatedly stated by those most competent to judge, that the operatives in Lancashire are losing: at the rate of from £8,000,000 to £9,000,000 a year by loss of wages. Now, deducting what you have given in. the shape of relief from voluntary contributions and from rates, I will take the loss of wages up to Midsummer next to be £6,000,000. But that is not all. You have an enormous loss going on in capital in Lancashire. I estimate the loss of capitalists, arising from loss of interest, depreciation of fixed capital, non-payment of rents of cottages (not including loss of profits, though that is a loss of income), to be at the rate of £5,000,000 for the year up to next Midsummer upon mills, manufactures, and all establishments forming subsidiary branches of the cotton manufacture. That makes the loss of wages and capital £11,000,000 a year. Now, I will put the whole down according to my estimate —
Why, the whole amount of the voluntary contributions, great and unprecedented as it is, from all parts of the world outside the cotton districts, is hardly 5 per cent (or 1s. in the pound) of that which has been contributed and lost by the manufacturers and labourers in the cotton districts. Now, these facts will show how cumulative the pressure of the suffering will be next winter if the cause of the present distress continues. It is evident that the prostration of this district, however great at present, must be much greater, and my light hon. Friend at the head of the Poor Law Board must take this into consideration now. The wisest heads in Lancashire, as has been stated by the hon. and gallant Colonel (Colonel Wilson Patten), who has so honourably distinguished himself in this matter, are those who take the gloomiest view of the prospects of that district for 291 the next twelve months. Well, all this may be to a large extent mitigated provided the war comes to an end in the course of the spring. But would it not be well, under all the circumstances, to take into consideration the suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley)? I think some alterations should be made in the Bill, with the view of giving increased facilities to the people more immediately concerned to meet from time to time these great difficulties; but I would Submit to the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be better to confine the operation of the measure to six months, and then to come again to Parliament; because about Midsummer or the beginning of July we shall be better able to judge what are the prospects for the ensuing winter.
Loss upon wages and capital £11,000,000 Amount of subscriptions 845,000 Amount of increased poor rates 600,000 Total £12,445,000
§ MR. PULLER
said, that though a suggestion from the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) carried great weight, yet he believed that the Government had decided wisely in proposing that the Bill should be continued for the period of twelve months. Sufficient experience had been gained to enable Parliament to come to a tolerably safe conclusion as to what alterations were required, and the proposal of legislating for six months only was open to the objection that people would not apply their minds to the subject with the same energy if the measure were a mere temporary stop-gap as they would if it extended over a longer period. Again, they should remember that a Bill introduced at the end of a Session could not be discussed so fully and so satisfactorily as one introduced at the beginning of a Session. He no doubt thought the present Bill capable of amendment; for instance, with respect to the alternative given to boards of guardians of either borrowing or coming upon the county, it seemed to him, that looking at the great profits made by the cotton districts in more prosperous times, there was no reason why they should not provide for their own poor by borrowing the money. The period of repayment might be extended, if necessary; but the districts which were able ought to bear the burden without coming upon their neighbours for it. If you left it to the caprice of boards of guardians to come upon the county or not, as they pleased, agricultural parishes would feel aggrieved, and would say with justice that the question of their 292 liability to contribute should have been decided by Parliament, The amount thus thrown upon the county might hereafter, if the public subscriptions fell off, be double or quadruple what it now would be, and the agricultural districts would justly complain that there was no uniformity of treatment, and that one union demanded help while another in precisely the same position had borrowed the money.
§ MR. MUNDY
pointed out that the Union of Glossop, although in the county of Derby, was on the edge of Lancashire, and was Lancasterian in all its pursuits; and the unions in the south of Derby considered themselves aggrieved at being called on to contribute to the aid of the distress in a union fifty or sixty miles off. He would have conterminous counties made liable as well as conterminous unions. The great county of York, for instance, bordering on Lancashire, would hardly feel a rate in aid. He would extend the liability to the rate in aid to contiguous unions and counties as well as to parishes.
MR. J. B. SMITH
concurred in the suggestion that the continuation of the Act should be limited to six months, and suggested that an inquiry should be made by Committee or Commission into the present state of the manufacturing districts. At present our information came almost entirely from one source, the boards of guardians; but information was required from all sources whence it was available.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
There will be opportunities hereafter of considering the entire question, and I do not think it will be convenient to continue the present discussion. I have listened very carefully to the observations which have fallen from hon. Members, and they shall receive my most respectful consideration; but I think it would be better to postpone giving a decision at present.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill presented, and read 1° [Bill 17.].