HL Deb 11 February 1847 vol 89 cc1150-4

presented a petition from the Swaffham Union, in the county of Norfolk, against the present law of settlement, and praying for the substitution of a general national rate. Of such a proposition he desired to guard himself against being supposed the advocate; but if it could be shown that the market for the labourer's labour was restricted by the existing system—if it could be shown that the landowners in one parish pulled down the cottages, thereby compelling the labourers to live in another place, making it a difficulty to the poor to find habitations, and transferring the burden of the maintenance of the poor from parishes of one kind, which received the name of close, to others which were called open parishes, he thought that some ground for inquiry on the part of their Lordships would be made out. He was glad to learn that it was the intention of the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) to move for a Committee on this subject; and he thought it would be desirable to consider whether relief might not be given to the poor man, not from the funds of a parish or from a national rate, but from an assessment levied equally throughout a union.


thought that a more clumsy measure never received the sanction of Parliament than the Act passed last year. He believed that it was originally proposed in a more extensive form; but one half was taken away and the other half left, and now the lawyers in this country did not agree as to how it was to be worked. He thought that it had done a great deal of mischief. He was convinced that nothing could be more mischievous than continual alterations of the law of settlement. He found that in another place a Committee had been appointed, on the Motion of the First Lord of the Treasury, to inquire into this subject. He (the Duke of Richmond) was not in his place when his noble Friend opposite stated that it was not the intention of the Government to move for a similar Committee in this House; but, as he considered it a matter of great importance, he (the Duke of Richmond) begged to give notice, that he would move for the appointment of a Committee to consider the question. He would give the noble Marquess opposite an early intimation of the day on which he proposed to bring forward his Motion, and he would also move that the Lords be summoned.


agreed that some difficulty had been occasioned by the Act of last Session; but he approved of the general scope and principle of that law, and believed that inconvenience had arisen solely in consequence of the incomplete manner in which it was drawn. He thought it worth the consideration of Parliament whether it might not be desirable to introduce into the English poor law some of the provisions of the Irish law. His noble Friend opposite (the Duke of Richmond) was aware that when a pauper came before an Irish board of guardians, the first question was, whether he should be admitted into the House, or, in other words, whether he should have relief or no; and the next question was, upon what electoral district he should be charged, or whether he should be charged upon the union at large. Now, he (Earl Fitzwilliam) was inclined to think this was a regulation which it would not be inexpedient to introduce into the English poor law. He thought it a question deserving consideration, whether boards of guardians might not, within their own unions, be allowed to determine upon what parish the paupers should be chargeable. The administration of the Irish poor law, so far as he had any opportunity of judging, had in this respect been conducted with perfect fairness and impartiality. He considered that by adopting a similar system in this country, they would get rid of many of the inconveniences arising from questions of settlement. In fact, it would, to a certain extent, place the question of settlement within the union in the power of the board of guardians, and, in his opinion, would be attended with very beneficial effects.


observed, that in many cases, persons in the country found it a profitable speculation to run up small cottages, which were let to the lowest class of labourers at the highest rate that could be obtained. As it was found next to impossible to obtain rates from the occupiers of these cottages, a list, called the "excused list," by which they were exempted from payment, was usually presented to the magistrates to be allowed; but, if the magistrates refused to allow such list, the ratepayers were unwilling to proceed to levy upon these occupiers, because they found it cheaper to excuse them from payment of the rates, than to have them thrown upon the rates for maintenance. He (Lord Beaumont) considered that a remedy for this evil had been suggested and recommended by the Committee appointed last year to inquire into the burdens affecting landed property. That remedy was, that occupiers of cottage tenements under a certain value—he believed it was 6l. a year—should not be called upon to pay rates; but that the landlords, instead of the occupiers, should be answerable for the rates. He (Lord Beaumont) sincerely hoped that this suggestion would not be lost sight of. He would not for a moment attempt to defend the machinery or the wording of the Poor Removal Act of the last Session; but he contended that the principle of that Bill was just to the ratepayer, and generous to the pauper. It was generous to the pauper, because it prevented him from being bandied about from parish to parish; and it was just to the ratepayer, because the parish called upon to provide for the pauper must, during a period of five years, have received the benefit of his industry; and, if he were a ratepayer, have derived the advantage of his contributions for that time. The Act, he considered, was also just to the relieved parishes, because, under the old law, although a man had a legal settlement in a parish, that parish might possibly have derived no benefit whatever from his industry, or from his payment of rates. So far the principle of the Act was just; but when he looked at the interpretation which had been put upon it, he was astounded to see how that principle had been set at defiance. He understood the intention of Parliament to be this, that, in the calculation of the five years which gave the pauper a claim to irremovability, any period during which he was in the receipt of parochial relief should not be included; but that the residence required should be five years' strict industrial residence. Great hardships might result from the interpretation which had been put upon the law; inasmuch as a person, during the whole or part of the period of five years' residence by which he gained a settlement in a parish, might be receiving parochial relief from the place of his original settlement. Such an interpretation he conceived to be totally at variance with the principle of the Act.


thought that in any future law that might be adopted on this subject, provision should be made for rating all property; for he conceived that the exemption of property from rates was frequently attended with very bad effects. He was acquainted with cases of persons who derived incomes of several hundred pounds a year from such small tenements as had been referred to by the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont), and who yet evaded the payment of rates by getting their property placed in the excused lists.


observed, with reference to the suggestion of the noble Earl (Earl Fitzwilliam), that if they allowed boards of guardians to determine upon what parishes paupers should be chargeable, they would call upon them to decide one of the most difficult questions connected with the law of settlement.

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