HL Deb 09 February 1836 vol 31 cc183-5
Lord Ashburton

presented a Petition from a Union of Parishes in Wiltshire, under the Poor-law Amendment Act, relative to the expense of building a Workhouse for the Union. The introduction of that measure he believed had been very generally beneficial throughout the country. In some parishes there had been a reduction to the extent of a third or a-half in the rates. In others, the condition of the labouring poor had been much improved by the regulations under the Act; but the rates had not been sensibly reduced. The hardship complained of by the petitioners seemed to him one which called for the interference of the Legislature, It was prescribed by the Act, that in those districts where new poor-houses were erected, the cost of building them should be paid off by the tenantry in ten years. The petitioners represented that many of them had but short terms of their possessions, and that they would thus be called upon to pay for advantages which would be left to others who would pay nothing for the building erected at the expense of the present race of occupiers to enjoy. When it was considered that the class upon whom this burden would fall were the farming tenantry of the country, already in a condition sufficiently distressed, the House, he was sure, would feel that the representations of the petitioners were entitled to attention. In the union to which the petitioners referred, the-poor-house had cost 6,000l. an amount equal to one rate of the whole union. He certainly was disposed to think that the landlord ought to bear a portion of this charge. The petitioners also complained upon another point. It was provided by the Act that the interest upon the Exchequer Bills advanced to defray the present cost of such erections should be at the rate of five per cent. Now, when interest of money in the country generally was between two and three per cent., why the farmers should be charged five per cent, he could not understand. Five per cent. was a rate of interest now wholly unknown in every part of the country.

Viscount Melbourne

said, it gave him great satisfaction to hear from such a source testimony of the beneficial working-of the New Poor-law Act. That Act formed, in the history of legislation of late years, one bright spot, unsullied by the recollection of party feeling. It was introduced into Parliament without any admixture of party-feeling; received, discussed, and passed in the same spirit; the appointments under it were made with, the same feeling; and, finally, its provisions were carried into execution throughout the country by persons imbued with adverse sentiments upon politics, but acting harmoniously together for the purpose of giving full and beneficial effect to the principles of that measure. Unquestionably both the points adverted to by the noble Lord were entitled to the most serious consideration. The first was certainly in no respect entirely new: it had often been stated before, and it appeared to him (Viscount Melbourne), although he was not immediately prepared with all the reasonings on the subject, to be questionable whether some relief ought not to be afforded in either one or other of the manners proposed by the noble Lord. With regard to the second point it certainly did appear to him strange how so very high a rate of interest should have been appointed. This was a point which his noble Friend might depend should receive the anxious consideration of Government.

Petition laid on the Table.