HC Deb 29 June 1863 vol 171 cc1619-32

Bill, as amended, considered.


said, it might be in the recollection of the House that on a former stage of the Bill he had asked some questions of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, without obtaining any answer, and that subsequently on the same day the House went into Committee on the Bill. If he were asked why he did not then repeat his questions, his answer would be that an appeal was made to the House by the hon. and gallant Member for Lancashire, setting forth that any further discussion at that time would interfere with the progress of the Bill, and in deference to that appeal he abstained from pursuing his inquiry. The questions to which he called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman were—first, whether he considered that the security to be given for the money to be advanced under the Bill was of such a nature as to render it quite certain that the money would be ultimately repaid, as otherwise the result would be, that portions of England in which, judging from the comparative state of the poor rates, still greater distress existed, would be virtually taxed for the relief of Lancashire. Secondly, whether, in his opinion, the distress existing in Lancashire was not to be attributed quite as much to overtrading as to the deficient supply of cotton. If that were so, the whole position of the case would be altered, and the House, though they might be prepared to come forward in times of great distress to relieve a portion of the population which might be suffering in consequence, were bound to ask the Government whether they had taken steps to prevent a recurrence of the evil. The third question was, whether the Bill would be a permanent source of relief; or whether it would be merely a temporary measure, and that the House would be called on in the end to resort to emigration? To the latter question, the only answer he obtained was, that in a later stage the hon. Member opposite would bring forward the subject of emigration, and that on that occasion he would express his opinion upon it. He (Mr. Bentinck), however, thought the House was entitled to information on all three points at an earlier period of the proceedings. The only answer he did elicit from the right hon. Gentleman was a somewhat—he would not say discourteous—but a somewhat supercilious taunt directed against his hon. Friend the Member for Devonport and himself, that they were the only two men left in the House, or perhaps in England, who still advocated the principles of protection. As the right hon. Gentleman had thought proper to throw out that taunt, he would not probably think he (Mr. Bentinck) was going out of his way if he offered an observation in reply to it. The right hon. Gentleman must have studied very little of the history of his own country not to know that during the last few months there had been two most remarkable converts to the principles of protection. Why, in the last eight or nine months the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) had publicly, avowedly, and advisedly advocated the principles of protection. The hon. Member for Birmingham boldly advocated the exemption of the cotton fields of India from all taxation till such time as they should be able to supply English manufacturers with cotton at remunerative prices. The hon. Member for Rochdale recommended that the cotton mills of Lancashire should be exempt from taxation till they were again at work with profit. He (Mr. Bentinck) claimed, then, these two hon. Members as converts to the doctrine of protection; and he would remind the House that the protection which these hon. Members asked for was of a widely different kind from that which he himself advocated. The protection that he advocated was protection against foreign competition; the protection which those hon. Members asked for was protection of the most mischievous and objectionable kind—namely, protection of one class of their countrymen against another. For one, he had always been of opinion that protection would be again called for, and that the first cry for it would come from Manchester; but he must confess that he had never been so sanguine as to expect that the cry would be raised so early as 1863, and, above all, that it would be raised by the hon. Members for Birmingham and Rochdale. But did the right hon. Gentleman, who taunted the hon. Member for Devonport and himself with standing alone in their belief in protection, himself believe in the existence of the large number of sincere free-traders that he talked about? Giving the right hon. Gentleman perfect credit for sincerity, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that it was he (Mr. Villiers), and not the hon. Member for Devonport and himself, that formed the exception. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had described the whole position in the happiest manner. A few years ago in discussing the Treaty of Paris, he told the House that every man, without exception, was a free-trader, but that there was no free-trader without his exception, for that every man was a free-trader except in the commodity in which he himself dealt. Did the right hon. Gentleman believe that the sudden conversion to the principles of free trade that occurred in 1846 were sincere conversions? Did he believe that the still more sudden and remarkable conversions that occurred in 1852, when noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen voted that to be wise, just, and beneficial, which they had always theretofore denounced as unwise, unjust, and prejudicial to the welfare of the country, were honest conversions in half a dozen hours? No. Those noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen were converted by the threat of expulsion from office; and there was no kind of conversion that such threat would not produce. [A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman laughed; but he knew that the term "free trade" was a rank absurdity, and for this reason—it never did, it never would, and never could exist. He knew that it meant nothing more nor less than a national bankruptcy. Believing the subject to be of vital importance, he felt himself justified in asking of the right hon. Gentleman clear and distinct answers to the three questions which he had that evening asked a second time.


said, he did not rise to discuss the question of free trade, and, indeed, he thought the right hon. Gentleman bad made a great mistake in introducing it. He rose to express a wish that some Member of the Government would tell them what was to be done with the unemployed factory operatives in Lancashire and Cheshire during the ensuing winter, and who was to be responsible for their condition? A fortnight ago the Central Committee met in Manchester, and Mr. Farnall, the special Commissioner employed by the Government to inquire into the distress, made a statement of a most alarming character. He stated that during the ensuing winter about 400,000 men, women, and children would be out of employment in the cotton districts of Lancashire and Cheshire alone, and that, by the Public Works Bill then passing through the House, not more than 27,000 adults would find employment, giving the means of subsistence to 82,000 men, women, and children. As many as 318,000 would therefore have to be kept out of the poor rates or by the aid of the Treasury. He (Mr. Ferrand) had, on four different occasions, asked the President of the Poor Law Board to give him the number of unemployed unmarried women in the factory districts who had formerly gained a living at the mills. The right hon. Gentleman said at first that he would try to get Returns on this head, then that it would be some time before they were ready, next that there was some difficulty in procuring them, because a great number of single women had never received parochial relief but had been maintained by private subscriptions; and lastly, that the clerk to the Central Committee at Manchester had undertaken to see whether the information could be obtained. Now, he believed that the right hon. Gentleman had done all he could to get those Returns, and that he would produce them if he had them; but he was afraid the right hon. Gentleman had been deceived in the matter. He received, on Saturday, a letter from an active Member of one of the relief committees, stating that there was no difficulty in ascertaining the number of the unemployed single women, because sewing schools were established in nearly all the manufacturing towns, where young women in receipt of relief either from the committees or the Poor Law Guardians, are obliged to attend; and at all such schools registers of the names, ages, &c. were kept, as well as whether the attendants were married or single. If this Return, his correspondent added, were not in the hands of the Central Committee, it could easily be procured by them from the district committees—from such towns as Blackburn, Burnley, Ashton, &c.—and would give a good idea of the percentage throughout the whole of the manufacturing districts. He understood, from private information, that the number of single women out of employment in the manufacturing districts was immense, and he suspected that it had been concealed, in order that the public might not learn the present alarming state of affairs in Lancashire. The hon. Member for Rochdale informed the House the other day that the next winter would be worse than the last, that the Bill before the House would not remedy the evil, that the savings of the people were gone, that the credit of the people was stopped, and the public subscriptions were at an end. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when asking for the £1,500,000 to be expended under the Bill, told the House there was no present prospect of a supply of cotton from America; and he further said that next February an application would be made for a further £1,500,000 of money; but he did not add one word as to what was to become of the unemployed during the coming winter. Not only had they 318,000 persons on the books of the Poor Law Guardians; but they had an immense number of single women kept by private subscriptions from being starved to death. The money to be expended in Lancashire and Cheshire under the Bill amounted to only about £1 a head, and there was no chance of a further national subscription. Mr. Rawlinson, in his Report to the Poor Law Board, warned them that the present system was most demoralizing to the able-bodied men who were out of work. What, then, was to become of that large population if Parliament were prorogued without any further steps being taken to provide for them? It was not his wish to hold out any threat, or to utter a single word that might excite ill-feeling in the country. He had been repeatedly requested to attend meetings of operatives in Lancashire, to hear what they had to say for themselves, and had always declined. He had told them plainly, that if they broke the laws, they must take the consequences; and he repeated now from his place in Parliament what he had often said out of doors, that he was prepared to do his duty as a citizen if any violence were attempted in Yorkshire, as in 1842 and 1848. But he earnestly begged of that House, knowing as they did how nobly and how patiently the unemployed people had borne their sufferings, to take their case into consideration; for if those poor factory operatives were to remain in their present state of distress for another winter, thousands and tens of thousands of them would be sent to their graves. He, therefore, entreated that House, whatever were the consequences, to do their duty, to act honestly, mercifully, and kindly to these poor factory operatives, to give them the means to a certain extent of emigrating, to enable them to work at their daily labour, and not to keep them in a state of semi-starvation—in short, to act in such a way towards the factory operatives that the whole working population of England might feel, that when they brought their distresses before that House, they would not only be listened to patiently, but that they would meet with the redress they deserved.


, in reply to the remark made by the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), begged to say, that nothing could have been further from his intention than to show a want of courtesy towards that hon. Gentleman. The fact was, he did not rise to reply to the hon. Gentleman on a former occasion because he understood that the principle of the Bill was approved of by him, and that as regarded the policy of free trade, on which he and the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Ferrand) had largely descanted, he collected from what fell from the hon. Member for Devonport that he intended, on an early day, to bring on a discussion on the policy of protection and free trade. He did not dispute the right of the hon. Member to adhere to his views in favour of protection; but he thought, that as time was precious, the sooner this Bill was permitted to become law the better; he would therefore proceed to answer the questions put to him by the hon. Member for West Norfolk. The first was whether he (Mr. C. P. Villiers) considered the security offered upon these loans was ample, and whether it was probable that they would be repaid. That was a matter for the Public Works Commissioners to consider, and it would be their duty not to advance any money unless it was so; but the Commissioners had already stated that the security would be ample. He had not, indeed, prepared the Bill without consulting with them on that point, and he had not, indeed, himself the least doubt that it would be adequate. He believed, that if the hon. Gentleman would only take the trouble himself to examine into the subject, he would find the security more than sufficient. The money to be advanced was never to exceed one year's assessable value of the property in the place where it was to be applied; and the district itself, where these advances would alone be applicable, included an area in which there were 2,000,000 of population, and the ratable value of the property was £5,000,000 annually. Ample powers were given by the Bill to recover the amount lent upon the rates: there would be power to levy a rate if none were made; and if the rates were not paid, the property itself could be made available for their payment: the security, therefore, was unquestionable. The next question was, whether he (Mr. C. P. Villiers) had made inquiry as to the cause of the distress, and whether he had not satisfied himself that it arose, in great measure, from overtrading on the part of the millowners; and whether, if it was caused mainly by overtrading, the Government was prepared to take some steps to prevent the recurrence of overtrading in future. He might say that he did not think it was especially his duty to inquire into the cause of the distress. His particular province was rather to satisfy himself as to the fact whether there was a great mass of our fellow-countrymen in a state requiring relief. Even if he had penetrated further, and found there was such a thing as overtrading, he should not have been prepared to say that the unemployed operatives should not be assisted. It was sufficient for him to know the proximate cause of the distress—namely, that the mills where the people used to find employment had suddenly ceased to work, or were not working full time, and which had been caused not by any fault of the people, but from the want of the raw material. But what did the hon. Member mean by overtrading? He ought to have been more explicit—he used the word as if it explained itself—but he (Mr. C. P. Villiers) hardly understood what it meant, or what the hon. Member thought it meant. Before the Civil War in America stopped the cotton supply, he could see nothing that could be objected to. The mills were all working full time, and a vast population were ail in full employment in consequence; there was a great demand for labour, and good prices were paid for it; the markets at home were good, and abroad they never were better. As an invariable consequence of this state of things, the agricultural interest was prosperous, the well-employed operatives becoming, as usual, better consumers of their produce. There was no anticipation of mischief till the raw cotton ceased to arrive in the quantity and at the price it had done; when, of course, from the prices rising, the markets were everywhere affected, and the consumption of goods diminished. What, then, was meant by overtrading? The hon. Gentleman always seemed to have in view some body or corporation of men whom he did not like, and who he thought were doing nil the mischief. He (Mr. C. P. Villiers) believed he meant the millowners. They seemed to the hon. Member to be the incarnation of mischief. They were always doing something rash or oppressive. They never seemed to be conducting their business to the hon. Member's satisfaction. What were the hon. Gentleman's opinions about trade? If the merchant gave the manufacturer an order, was he to refuse to execute it for fear of overtrading? He (Mr. C. P. Villiers) had heard the expression used before now in relation to agriculture. Sometimes it was that there had been too much corn grown, and that food was too cheap; and sometimes that there had been too much game preserved, which possibly might be the case. For his (Mr. C. P. Villiers') own part, he disbelieved in much that was said about this overtrading. He saw no proof of it. The only cause of the distress was the absence of the raw material; and when it was again imported in sufficient quantity, the trade would revive. He looked forward to its revival. He should not object to a revival of what the hon. Gentleman called overtrading, if it was attended with the same prosperity as before. The third question asked of him was whether this was to be a permanent source of relief. It was never intended to be permanent; it was simply a temporary measure intended to meet a temporary distress; it was not introduced to put an end to the distress, but to mitigate it, and he hoped it would prove successful. With respect to the relief the measure might afford, there was some uncertainty in the mind of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Ferrand), who was, however, not quite consistent in his criticism. The burden of his speech was that they had not done enough in the measure, but yet he had said on several occasions that he was satisfied the Bill would he inoperative, and that the money would not be employed. He (Mr. Ferrand) wished that money might be granted for emigration, and said that not half the amount proposed to be lent would be taken up for works. There might be a difference of opinion on the subject; but taking the views of gentlemen well entitled to confidence, he (Mr. C. P. Villiers) thought it more likely that the whole of the money would he applied for to execute works, and that a great number of operatives would be employed. That very day he had received an intimation from the town of Blackburn that they intended to apply for £104,000, to carry out works which had been long needed, and which would give great employment to unskilled labour; and that was only one town in a district comprising twenty-seven unions, and containing a population of two millions. If the hon. Gentleman had wanted to complain of something, and had said that the whole of the money would be speedily used up, and that there would not be enough, he would have been nearer the mark. The hon. Gentleman had spoken of what work the operatives would undertake, and what they would not undertake; but there was reason to believe that they would readily engage in the work in question, and that though somewhat rougher than that which they had been used to, a great many would be employed. The hon. Member for Devonport sought to impute to him some inaccuracy as to the number of persons who would find employment. Now, he could, of course, give no accurate calculation of that number; all he could give was the opinion of competent authorities, who, having looked at the state of the towns of Lancashire, and ascertained what works were positively required for health and convenience of the inhabitants there, came to the conclusion that enough might be advantageously done to find employment for every operative out of employment. But if only a certain number would be employed on these works, others would seek work out of the district, and he believed that at once their labour would be much needed for the coming harvest. At present, the number of the unemployed was decreasing. About 4,000 a week had been taken off the lists lately and got into employment; and when perhaps it was seen, as he firmly believed it would be, that the people were willing and able to work, whether in the street or in the field, he hoped and believed that some of the proprietors would carry out operations in drainage and other improvements which were much required to give their property additional value, and afford work for the unemployed. That would account for a very large number. The hon. Member for Devonport had tried to alarm them; he had not exactly threatened, but warned the Home Secretary about what might occur in the winter if some greater provision were not made, he seems to be expecting that the peace will be broken. He did not know what people might say under excitement and the influence of inflammatory addresses; but as for there not being sufficient funds to keep the people from starving, he ventured to say that there was no ground whatever for that apprehension. This was not the only measure by which the distress was to be met. He meant also to propose the continuance of the Act enabling the guardians of the poor to borrow money if the rates exceeded three shillings in the pound. Again, there was no limit to the charge which the guardians might make upon the common fund of the union, for purposes of emigration, if they thought proper to resort to that mode of relief; and it was also known that there was a large balance remaining from the contributions of all parts of the country. There was, therefore, not the smallest ground for alarming the people as to the existence of means for their support. The great object was that they should be supported by wages rather than by alms, and he believed that he was proposing a measure by which that would be done. It was far better, in his opinion, that work should be procured for them here, and if possible in their own neighbourhood, and that would also be more economical, than sending poor creatures out to Colonies of which they knew nothing themselves, and of which some of their friends did not know much more. He had never said that this Bill would do more than remedy a portion of the evil; but he trusted that if the House would now allow the experiment to be made, it would realize the favourable expectations which had been formed of it.


explained that he had not made a single statement, except upon the authority of Mr. Farnall, and therefore it was most unfair for the right hon. Gentleman to charge him with making alarming representations.


said, he gladly assented to the principle of the Bill. It proposed to give the operatives work and not the workhouse. He remembered asking the Government of the day, when the New Poor Law Act was under discussion in that House, whether it was meant, that if distress should at any time fall upon the manufacturing districts, the operatives must go inside the workhouse before they could get relief, and the answer given was that such was the intention of the measure. He was glad to find that that rule was not, in the present case, to be adhered to. He did not object to the present Bill, but it behoved them to see that it was accompanied by proper safeguards. Among other precautions which it was desirable to adopt for the due repayment of these loans, he thought there ought to be a clear and separate account kept of these transactions. He regretted that there was no provision to that effect in the Bill. Again, the chief responsibility for granting these loans and carrying out the Bill ought, in his opinion, to rest with the Finance Minister. The Poor Law Board was too often mentioned in the measure, and it was something new to trust that Department with the handling of the money of the nation. He thought the various relief committees in Lancashire had done their work admirably; yet he hoped they would take care not to interfere with the organized bodies of the country, otherwise they might paralyse the action of the boards of guardians and other local boards. He did not think the Bill placed the security for the loans quite so clearly as it ought to do. It was put alternatively upon the rates or the property. It should, in his opinion, be upon both the rates and the property; otherwise, if the rates fell through, the public might lose the foundation of its security for repayment. Another important point was, that the measure introduced the novel and somewhat dangerous principle of lending money to private individuals for private improvements. He wished to know, therefore, whether the local boards were to give the first security, and the private persons to whom the money was lent to give the second security. He thought that ought to be the case, because great caution was needed in this matter. If the capital of the nation was to be advanced for such works, every care ought to be taken to guard the nation against loss.


said, it was quite true that the Bill contemplated, very wisely, as he thought, large grants of outdoor relief for the people of Lancashire. It would have been a great misfortune, in his opinion, not only to Lancashire, but to the country at large, if an emergency like the present, requiring to be met by a great deal of outdoor relief, had occurred at a time when the new Poor Law Act was passed—a time when the people had been demoralized by a vicious system, and when the application of a stringent corrective was necessary. Now, however, that the principles of that measure had been well established, and were thoroughly understood in the country, relaxations of those principles, under great pressure, which might before have been dangerous, might now very well be both wise and safe. With regard to the accounts connected with pecuniary transactions, the Government had two objects to keep in view—first, that any transactions of the kind proposed should be carried out in the most economical manner; and secondly, that all the information connected with them should at all times beat the command of Parliament. The Government did not propose to commence by contracting any loan whatever, for, like the Vote for fortifications, proposed three years previously by his noble Friend, the whole charge would be thrown, in the first instance, upon the Consolidated Fund, and the loan would only be taken to replenish the Consolidated Fund when it had been too largely drawn upon by draughts for Lancashire. He was sure his hon. Friend (Sir Henry Willoughby) did not wish the Government to go into the market for money which they did not want, or until they had ascertained that the public balances would be insufficient. Separate accounts would be kept of the advances, and it would, therefore, be competent for any hon. Member of Parliament to obtain all the information he thought fit, regarding the application and payment of the money. The hon. Baronet thought there was one usurpation on the part of the Poor Law Board of the functions of the Treasury. In point of fact, there was a combination of several authorities under the Bill. The Treasury had to satisfy itself of the general wisdom of the proposal, and the Poor Law Board to regulate the details and method of its application. After the Treasury had given its assent, the most important portion of the financial duties would devolve upon the Exchequer Loan Commissioners, and the House, he was sure, would continue in the hands of that body the duties which they had discharged with so much prudence and advantage for the last thirty or forty years. It would be satisfactory to the hon. Baronet to know, that as far as the Government was concerned, the security was really upon rates and property. The local Boards were responsible to the Government for the entire amount, although, as between them and private individuals, there might be a different understanding.


said, he did not think the discussion one of a very practical character; but as it merely had the effect of deferring another discussion, initiated with a view of robbing the Irish Church, he was not disposed very strongly to object to it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, he thought, had rather misrepresented the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for West Norfolk. His hon. Friend was sceptical, not about the ability of Lancashire to repay the loan, but about her willingness to do so. A few years ago large sums were advanced for the relief of Irish distress. No one doubted the ability of the Irish proprietors to repay those advances, but they preferred not to do so, and the House remitted the debt. If the House agreed to grant small loans, larger ones would be asked for; and he feared that the precedent of the Irish loan would be remembered and acted on in Lancashire. [Colonel WILSON PATTEN: No, no!] His hon. Friend said "No, no!" Borrowers always said that, but he entertained a different opinion. The right hon. Gentleman asked what was meant by over-trading. The answer to that question was exceedingly easy. The manufacturers had glutted the market by providing a far greater quantity of cotton goods than they could reasonably suppose would be sold; and if the cessation of the cotton supply had not taken place, there must have been a crisis The same results took place in agricultural operations when a greater amount was ex pended on the production of crops than the return which they could be expected to yield.


said, the hon. Gentleman opposite was mistaken in supposing there was any intention to "rob the Irish Church." The Irish Chinch had been robbed long ago, and it was only the English garrison in Ireland that was undergoing revision. The hon. Gentleman, not satisfied with that erroneous assertion, also had a fling at Irish distress. But if a loan of £1,200,000 or £1,500,000 had been proposed for Ireland, all sorts of lectures would have been delivered about Irish jobs. It was true that six millions were sent to Ireland, but that amount had been more than repaid. Ireland suffered to the extent of six times six millions by the repeal of the Corn Laws, and during the famine years she had to pay fancy prices for the Indian meal and breadstuffs sent into that country. Their Lancashire Chancellor of the Exchequer talked a great deal about remitting the Consolidated Annuities, but he had taken good care to repay himself fivefold by his handling of the income tax. He (Mr. Scully) had no objection to grant any assistance to Lancashire which might be required. He would rather give five times the amount which was asked for than throw away money on that great job at the West End which was being perpetrated in the interests of the aristocratic classes. But there was no check upon expenditure. Parliament had degenerated into a debating club on foreign affairs—and a miserable debating club into the bargain. It discussed everything, and did nothing. Why was nothing done for Ireland? Because there were no Irish representatives in the Government. There were Lancashire men in the Cabinet who felt and acknowledged the distress. But Ireland had a Chief Secretary who knew nothing of the country and cared less, who contradicted all the evidence of distress in it, and who did his best to add insult to the misfortunes of Ireland. He, for one, had no wish to rob the Irish Church; it was such a hideous scandal that it was the interest of Irish Roman Catholic Members to keep it. The Lancashire weavers were unfit for emigration; and if it were to be tried, it should be in Ireland. They were all agreed in that, except right hon. Gentlemen on the front row on that side of the House, and the sooner they were removed the better.

Amendments made.

Bill to be read 3o To-morrow.