§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ The EARL of MALMESBURY
said, that although he had no intention to oppose the third reading of this Bill, yet he could not allow it to pass sub silentio. He regretted that this had now become an annual Bill, whereas it was nominally only a temporary one. He thought it was the duty of Parliament and of the Government to make an effectual attempt to counteract the evils and abuses of the existing system of parochial assessment for the relief of the poor. There were two great evils connected with that system. The first was, that the burden of maintaining 1766 the poor fell almost entirely on real property; and more than half of the whole property of the country was exempted from that sacred duty, which ought to rest upon all classes of property equally. The second evil was, that between different persons assessed, there existed such inequalities in the mode of apportioning the burden, as to make the law odious as it stood at present, and a disgrace to the statute-book. All the recent remissions of taxation effected by the House of Commons also had gone to the relief of interests totally unconnected with agriculture; and many of those who still continued to reap the chief benefits of free trade and of the recent reduction, would be yet further relieved by the Bill; the third reading of which was under their Lordships' consideration at that moment. Her Majesty's Ministers had no excuse for not dealing with this question before. They had had sufficient time to propose those great alterations in the existing law of parochial assessment which were so imperatively required. In the early part of the Session, the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies had promised that a Bill for the reform of the law of parochial assessment would come up from the other House; yet up to that hour no such measure had made its appearance. He did not now entertain any hope that such a measure would come up during the present Session; but he did trust that at an early period in the ensuing Session the Government would take steps to redeem the pledge given by the noble Earl; at least, he hoped the noble Earl would inform their Lordships whether there was yet any hope of their seeing this Bill, or whether the Government had given up the point? What was the position of those who had to bear the burden of the poor's rates? Since 1847 there had certainly been considerable diminution in that burden; nevertheless it was hopeless to expect a class whose property (to speak under the mark) had certainly been depreciated to the amount of 15 per cent, could continue to bear such a burden. In the year 1837, when the price of corn was exactly the same as it was last year, namely, 39s. per quarter, the whole expenditure of the kingdom on poor relief was 4,044,000l., while in 1850 it had risen to 5,395,000l., being 1,351,000l. more than the cost was thirteen years ago. Their Lordships could judge therefore whether, the persons being the same who paid in 1837 as paid now 1767 they could be equally able now as they were in the former year to bear a burden which was increasing annually upon them. For although, as he had said, since 1847 there had been a great decrease in the poor-relief expenditure, still since 1846 the number of paupers had increased by 40,000, the whole weight of that increased burden falling upon the shoulders of those who, since 1846, had had the value of their property so largely reduced. He therefore urged upon the Government the necessity for readjusting these parochial burdens, and if they undertook to settle it, nothing would more redound to their credit; and early next Session he hoped they would be prepared to deal with the great and difficult question of making the rates for the relief of the poor a national matter. He believed that they had men among them fit to cope with the question; yet if they were afraid to grapple with the main difficulty of the subject—which was the principle laid down as an axiom in the report of the Committee of their Lordships' House which sat on the question last year, as contemplated by the 43rd of Elizabeth, namely, that all classes of property ought to be made to contribute for the relief of the poor—he trusted that at least they would speedily deal with the other recommendations of the report of the Committee, respecting the assessment of railway property and of tithe-rent charges.
§ EARL GREY
would endeavour to give his noble Friend an answer to the question which he had asked, but must decline to enter upon a discussion of the various points which his noble Friend had mooted. Government had been ready to introduce a Bill on this subject during the whole of the present Session; but his noble Friend must be aware that such a Bill could not be introduced in that House, but must be introduced elsewhere. Owing to circumstances unfortunately but too well known, there was no opportunity of introducing such a Bill into the other House of Parliament with any prospect of passing it this Session; and that was the only reason for the delay which had occurred in its introduction. He could not hold out to his noble Friend any hope of a national assessment, for if the assessment were laid on the whole country, and not on parochial districts, the consequences would be very ruinous. Year after year the charge laid on landed property for the poor-rates had been undergoing diminution.
The MARQUESS of SALISBURY
also 1768 expressed a hope that the Bill to be introduced next Session would not be one of a merely temporary character.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, that this was not the time for entering into a discussion on the very abstruse and complicated subject to which the noble Earl had alluded; and the noble Earl must not be surprised if he declined following him into it at present.
§ On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 3a accordingly; and passed.