§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. C. Gilpin.)
said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board had met the objections from the distressed unions very fairly and properly. He understood, that instead of having to borrow money with restrictions at a high rate of interest, the right hon. Gentleman proposed to enable them to borrow money from the Exchequer Loan Commissioners at the low rate of 3½ per cent. His constituents would rather have no rate in aid at all; but as they were to have it, they desired to have it extended to the whole country. He could not say he agreed with them on that point. He thought that, under the circumstances, the Government should have power to enforce a rate in aid, but it should be enforced as a last resource. He would suggest that they should raise the amount for putting the rate in aid in operation from 5s. to 6s. 6d., or 7s.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
was sorry that he was not present when the Order was called. As the principle of the Bill had received the sanction of the House on two occasions during the year, it would not be necessary for him to make any remarks. He would therefore confine himself to a consideration of the Amendments which had been urged on the attention of the Government, and which they were willing to introduce. He would remind the House that this time last year anxiety was felt lest there should be a failure of the means of maintaining the poor in the distressed districts. The destitution was then very great, and was continuing; and the Act, exceptional as it was, was deemed necessary. It provided, in the first place, for the practical application of the old principle of the Poor Laws in this country, that when any parish or district should be unable to maintain its own poor, it should be entitled to levy a rate in aid on the other divisions of the county, or even on the whole county itself; and secondly, when a certain point of expenditure was reached, then power was given to the unions to meet any excess by loans. The Act had proved successful in its operation, and had been of advantage to the distressed districts. Under it £80,000 had been raised by loan, and £34,000 contributed 722 in aid by different unions. A considerable amount of dissatisfaction had, however, been caused by some of the provisions of the Act; and an influential deputation, headed by his hon. Friend opposite, offered a number of suggestions to the Government. These gentlemen did not dispute that the measure had been of much benefit, but contended that the sources of supply were not to be relied upon. They objected especially to the rate in aid, arguing that one union ought not, when distressed, to cast its burdens on other unions who were on the eve of becoming equally embarrassed. Although the arrangement by which a union could come upon the county for relief might answer very well in some cases, it was said that there were peculiar circumstances in Lancashire which rendered it objectionable, for Manchester and some other large towns did not contribute to the county rate. It was maintained, therefore, that a distressed union should call upon the other richer unions for assistance, and not on the county. It was alleged that there were now nearly half of the unions of Lancashire exempt from contributing to the relief of the others, and these were the richest in the county. It was pointed out that the unions had a motive in raising their rates to a certain point, for it procured them exemption. The Public Works Bill would, perhaps, increase this difficulty. It was said that some of the unions would not apply for contributions in aid from a sense of their injustice, and that there had been a good deal of litigation on the subject. These were all, no doubt, arguments for putting the provisions on this point on a different footing. The provisions made with regard to the repayment of loans and the badness of the security were alleged to have deterred individuals and companies from advancing funds in many cases to the guardians. It was also said, that in many cases the rate of interest demanded was very high, and that in one case—Stockport, he believed—they had been unable to raise the whole amount required. There was probably some exaggeration in the description of the difficulties of obtaining money, and also of the inconveniences of the rate in aid. Substantially, however, the statements that had been made were true. These inconveniences he had mentioned were felt throughout the country, and the suggestions which had been made deserved attention. The first suggestion was that districts should be relieved from any motive for raising their rates to escape contribu- 723 tions. It had been considered that a slight rise in the amount of expenditure, which would give little inducement to the unions to go upon the county, would have that effect. Several unions had levied contributions upon the county at an expenditure of 5s. in the pound, and he had been assured, that if the amount were raised to 6s., accompanied by increased facilities for borrowing, no apprehension would exist, unless in the event of great distress, of being called upon to contribute. He thought there could be no doubt that 6s. in the pound would relieve the unions. The suggestion had been made of allowing boards of guardians to place themselves in the category of those parochial authorities who, under the new Poor Law, were entitled to apply to the Loan Commissioners. There were several purposes for which money was advanced by the Loan Commissioners—emigration, buying land, the repair of buildings, and the erection of workhouses. It was alleged, and he believed correctly, that the loans so granted had been punctually repaid. For the temporary purposes for which this Bill was intended it had been suggested that the mode best calculated to give facilities for borrowing was to allow boards of guardians to apply to the Loan Commissioners for the money they required, binding them to repay the loans within a limited period. The subject had been well considered by the Government; and when the Bill went into Committee, he should be ready with clauses to meet the objects in view—in the first place, to raise the amount upon which unions would be entitled to levy contributions in aid from 5s. to 6s. in the pound; and secondly, to empower boards of guardians to apply to the Loan Commissioners for the money they wanted. He hoped that would be satisfactory. This Bill, he believed, was well calculated for its purpose. The existing Act had already relieved the ratepayers under the sudden and severe pressure to which they had been subjected, and there never was a time when it was more needed than at present, owing to the unfortunate position in which many of the solvent ratepayers were placed. There was no real ground for apprehending the lack of means for maintaining the destitute people. He did not take a gloomy view of the prospect of the distressed districts in the coming year. Employment was becoming more plentiful, to which must be added the extraordinary cheapness of food and the likelihood of an abundant harvest, 724 which always augmented the wealth of the country. Moreover the large funds still in hand, voluntarily subscribed, relieved one from all anxiety as to there being adequate means for the support of the destitute. Those who suffered most were the ratepayers—that intermediate class between the operatives and those in comfortable circumstances. Having settled in different parts of the northern districts to supply the necessities of the operatives, they had lost the operatives as customers, and were now obliged to maintain them as pensioners. They had given credit largely, they had paid high rates, they had invested their savings in cottages, for which they now got little or no rent; and if hitherto any forbearance had been shown to them in the collection of the rates, the time had arrived when that forbearance could no longer be exhibited. Great uneasiness prevailed among this class of ratepayers; and although it was said that they did not pay higher rates than persons belonging to the same rank of life in the south and west of England, yet that was not altogether a correct statement, inasmuch as the rate was estimated upon an assumed ratable value, and an assumed solvency of the ratepayers. Now, the fact was that many of those who formerly paid rates were without the means of maintaining themselves; and to make up the necessary sums, those who were still in a condition to pay rates were now assessed to the amount of 10s., 12s., and even 15s. in the pound; and it was particularly with a view to relieve them that this Bill would be of assistance. It would lighten the charge which fell immediately upon them for a considerable space of time, and enable boards of guardians to find the means of relieving the poor without resorting to extreme and harsh, though legal, modes of enforcing payment of rates. Looking, therefore, at the operation of this Bill, the employment of the people, and the law already in force, he doubted whether the House could have acted more wisely in this matter than it had done. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. E. C. EGERTON
said, he cordially thanked the right hon. Gentleman for having acceded to the wishes of the influential deputations from Cheshire and Lancashire which had recently waited upon him. At the same time, he would express his belief, that if the existing rate in aid were continued for a few months longer, it would lead to disastrous results.
said, he wished to call attention to the distress existing in the Midland districts in consequence of the cotton famine. He hoped that those districts would be permitted to partake in the benefits arising from the Bill. Many of the unions were anxious that its provisions should be extended to them.
§ MR. HUMBERSTON
said, he also thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the course he had adopted. He was opposed in principle to a rate in aid, but the right hon. Gentleman had to a certain extent conceded the principle for which he contended, and removed his objections still further by raising the scale of the rate. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would still further consider the subject, and raise the standard from 6s. to 7s. 6d.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, that the concessions made by the right hon. Gentleman would give great satisfaction to those who had to deal with the distress in the manufacturing districts during the ensuing winter.
§ MR. A. F. EGERTON
observed, that the President of the Poor Law Board had met the deputations that had waited upon him in a very fair spirit. The modifications which had been introduced into the Bill were great improvements.
§ SIR BALDWIN LEIGHTON
said, he thought, that as the landlords in the manufacturing towns of Lancashire and Cheshire had seen the value of their land increase more than that of any other county except Middlesex, it would only be fair and just that they should pay any excess of poor rates beyond a certain amount. It was a great hardship upon the farmers of South Cheshire that they should have to support, in addition to their own poor, the poor of the neighbouring towns, who received a much larger amount of relief, and who were kept round the mills by the mill-owners instead of being allowed to go elsewhere in search of work.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for To-morrow at Twelve of the clock.