The Duke of Rutland
, on presenting two Petitions from the Leicestershire Agricultural Associations, complaining of Agricultural Distress, and praying Relief, said, my Lords, in presenting these petitions, it is right that I should explain to the House that they were intrusted to my charge before the Committee was appointed for which they pray; and further, that since they have been in my hands an improvement has taken place in the prices of those articles of agriculture which were most depressed. Nevertheless, the petitioners have so little dependence upon the permanency of a remunerating price (which is all they seek or want), that they are exceedingly desirous of such a sifting inquiry into the causes of the distress under which they have laboured as shall prevent its recurrence. They have the utmost confidence in the power of Parliament to afford them relief. For myself, my Lords, I own that I have not such sanguine expectations from the result of the labours of the Committee now sitting in the two Houses of Parliament; yet it is impossible for me to despair when I have seen, after several failures on the subject, a measure emanate from Parliament, so wide, so salutary, and, in my opinion fraught with such beneficial consequences to all classes of the community, as the Poor-Law-Amendment Act. My Lords, I do not speak unadvisedly upon this subject; I have formed an official connexion with a Board of Guardians of a distant Union, as the guardian of one of 1258 the parishes; and having constantly attended the meetings, I have closely watched the working of the measure. And indeed, my Lords, I almost feel myself warranted in predicting that the most sure and efficacious relief of agricultural distress will be derived from the Poor-law Act. I have heard, and I can state the facts upon testimony which cannot be doubted, that the reduction of the poor rates in those parts of the kingdom which have been already brought under the operation of the Act amounts to no less a sum than one million and a half per annum. If this saving was effected by the sacrifice and at the expense of the comforts of those whom we must always consider as deserving our most tender care and considerate attention—I mean the labouring and pauper classes—I am sure that I should not and, I am convinced, that not one of your Lordships would, countenance the continuance of the measure for another day. But I am as certain that no such result of the Act will take place, as that I am at this moment addressing your Lordships. On the contrary, it is my firm conviction, that its effect will be the improvement of the condition of the aged and infirm, the protection and encouragement of the industrious labourer, and the conversion of the hitherto idle and profligate into good members of the community. As such, I consider that the new poor law is identified with the relief of the agricultural interests. Before I sit down, I am anxious to bear testimony to the judicious selection of the officers by whom the new poor law is carrying into execution. It has been my good fortune to become acquainted with several of the Assistant Commissioners; and I must say, that persons more capable of fulfilling the important charge committed to them, more able in their expositions of the measure, and more temperate and forbearing in their difficult offices, could not have been selected.
§ Petitions laid on the Table.