HL Deb 02 May 1854 vol 132 cc1182-8

in presenting a petition of the guardians of the Poor Law Union of Cosford, in the county of Suffolk, complaining of the operation of the present laws of settlement and relief, and praying that the laws of settlement and removal might be repealed; that an Act might be passed whereby the poor might be entitled to receive relief in the place of their residence, and that rateable property throughout the kingdom might be made chargeable in an equal degree towards the expenses thereby incurred—said, he did so because he considered that it was due to their Lordships that some explanation should be given as to the cause, and some information as to the occurrences which had taken place from the 10th of February to the 13th of April, and which had led to the abandonment of the measure brought forward by Her Majesty's Government upon this subject (the Settlement and Removal Bill). The present was not a party question, and he would for a few moments refer to the history of the Bill in the other House of Parliament. It was well known to their Lordships that the injurious oppression resulting from the laws of removal and settlement was no new subject; for so long ago as the year 1735 a Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to consider the question. Various changes had taken place in the law since that period; and in the years 1844, 1845, and 1846 the law formed the subject of various discussions in the other House; in 1847 a Committee was again appointed, and considered the matter; and in 1848 Mr. Buller, the then President of the Poor Law Board, sent out a Commission, consisting of eight gentlemen, well qualified to investigate the subject. That Commission went into the rural districts, making full reports as to the injurious effect of those laws, and the right hon. Gentleman who now so ably filled that office (Mr. Baines) followed up those inquiries in 1850 by collecting the reports of all the Poor Law Inspectors; and the general opinion with respect to those laws was found to be that contained in the petition he now presented to their Lordships' House; that they were unequal and unjust, oppressive to the ratepayers, while at the same time they were most detrimental to the interests of the poor, in many instances confining them to their own parishes, preventing them from obtaining work out of their own district, and depriving them in consequence of many comforts. Indeed, that petition was but the echo of about 105 which had been previously presented to the House. He need not refer alone to the evidence taken before the Committees of the House of Commons, but to the able Report of Mr. Coode, and to their Lordships' Committee, for recommendations in favour of the repeal of those laws, as being injurious to the ratepayer and employer and unjust to the labourers. They recommended that the area of rating should be extended, and stated that one of the greatest difficulties connected with the subject was that which had reference to the removal of Scotch and Irish paupers, and to the question whether they could be included in a general measure. It had been stated both in that and the other House that it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to interfere with them; and the matter which required explanation was, how it happened that after the right hon. President of the Poor Law Board had brought in his measure, another distinguished Member of the Government had introduced an element which, as was well known, led to the abandonment or defeat of that measure. Last year a Bill which he had the honour of introducing was not pressed, in consequence of a pledge given that Her Majesty's Government would themselves bring forward a measure on this subject. He could not help thinking that after that measure was brought forward by Her Majesty's Government, and after an allusion had been made to it in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne, at least their Lordships should, when they found it had been abandoned by the Government, have some explanation as to what had led to its abandonment. The latter part of the question which he had put upon the notice he trusted that the noble Earl would also condescend to answer. The discussions which had recently taken place upon the income tax rendered it more necessary that some explanation should be given as to the views of Her Majesty's Government on this subject. He would not trouble their Lordships with any figures, but begged to recall to their recollection that the burdens occasioned by these laws were recognised not only by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but in the Resolutions of the Committee of their Lordships' House, as being very heavy. The land tax, which could only be called another property tax, also bore very heavily all over the country; that tax was made perpetual by the 38th of George III. on the failure of the Government of the day to carry the succession duty; and he could very well remember that when the noble Earl was pressing on that measure in the House last year he pointed out that it was necessary to carry it in order that the income tax might be gradually abolished. Thinking that some explanation was necessary, he wished to ask the noble Earl at the head of the Government what steps they were prepared to take to remedy the evils complained of in the petition, and whether the Scotch and Irish poor would be included in any measures they introduce; also, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to relieve real estate from any portion of the burden at present levied upon such property exclusively under the head of poor rates?


In answer to the question put to me by the noble Lord, it is unnecessary for me to say, as the noble Lord is aware of it already, that Her Majesty's Government entirely agree in the prayer of the petition presented by him; that it was their intention to give effect to the abolition of the law respecting the settlement and removal of the poor; and that an Act was introduced into the other House of Parliament to accomplish that object. My answer to the question put to me with respect to the Irish and Scotch poor being included in that measure is, that there must be an extensive inquiry as to the effect of including the Scotch and Irish paupers in any such measure before they could be so included. Circumstances have occurred which have led to the suspension, but not to the abandonment, of the measure in the other House of Parliament, and a Select Committee, to inquire into the state of the law affecting the removal of the Scotch and Irish poor, has been appointed, I believe, or is to be appointed this very day. Your Lordships will then see, by the Report of that Committee, whether it is possible to ingraft into the same law a measure affecting the removal of the Scotch and Irish poor, or whether a separate measure will be necessary. I fear, from the nature of the inquiry which must take place before legislation on this subject, there is no prospect of any measure being introduced in the course of the present Session, and I think it is impossible, until the result of that inquiry is known, that any measure should be proceeded with which should be applicable to the English poor alone. In answer to the latter part of the question, I may say that provisions have been already before the House to extend the area of charge-ability of rates, but we do not contemplate a national rate, neither is it our intention to make any change in the charge of real property to the poor rate. All I can add is, that it is highly important that the Committee should make their Report as speedily as possible, in order that legislation should take place early next Session.


said, it was quite true that by one of the clauses of the Government Bill the area of rating was extended, but it did not go far enough, and in some cases that extension would prove a positive injury to country parishes, as in the instances where they were situated near towns. He thought that if a large class of property now exempt paid its quota much of the opposition to the Bill would be done away with.


said, the noble Earl had said nothing as to the present intentions of the Government, which he thought was what his noble Friend wanted to know. He warned the House of the danger of a Union rating. The establishment of a poor law at all was opposed to all the principles of political economy; and unless the funds raised by a poor law were administered under small local boards, the effect would be to swamp the whole property of the country. He believed that the mode of administering the poor law adopted in Ireland was the best and safest that could be carried out. There a pauper was relieved by the electoral division, if he had resided in it for twelve months out of three years before he became chargeable; if he was not a resident for twelve months in any one electoral division, he was chargeable on the Union. Again, there was but a sparing administration of out-door relief in Ireland. He believed that if the English Poor Law was administered as the Irish Poor Law was in Ireland, English ratepayers need have no fear of being swamped by Irish paupers. By the last return of the Poor-Law Board the Poor Law expenditure in England for the year ending Lady-day, 1852, was 6,800,000l. Of this sum 4,800,000l. was expended in actual relief; and of this sum 3,000,000l., or three-fifths of the whole, was expended in out-door relief. Let him contrast that with Ireland. The total expenditure in Ireland for the year, up to the 29th of September, 1852, was 833,000l., out of which but 4,917l. was expended on out-door relief. In England the cost was 5s. 5d. per head of population; in Ireland it was only 2s. 7d. He trusted, therefore, the Government would endeavour to engraft upon their Bill, if not the whole, at least the leading principles of the Irish Poor Law Act. But, whatever they did, he would oppose any measure which did not do full justice to Ireland in respect to removals. The noble Earl and his Colleagues in the other House had admitted that the case made out for Ireland was a triumphant one, and there was no principle of justice or equity which entitled a pauper from Northumberland to relief in one of the London parishes without removal to the place of his settlement, while if he were born on the other side of the Channel, he should be sent back to his native country. He knew cases in which English paupers had been relieved in Ireland. There were not many such cases, he admitted; but, whether many or few, did not affect the principle of reciprocity.


said, that the Government were only waiting in respect to their determination relative to the removal of Irish paupers until they knew the result of the inquiry about to take place.


trusted that the questions included in the discussion having been now fairly raised that they would not be allowed to rest until the difficulties connected with them were satisfactorily solved. Their Lordships might rest assured that the affections of the Irish peasantry would never be wholly secured for this country as long as they saw the Irish labourer in England who might happen to be struck down by want or sickness denied the relief to which the English labourer was entitled under similarly distressed circumstances in Ireland. Instances of distress affecting English residents in Ireland were not altogether unknown, as he could testify from his own experience; and although the English peasantry did not resort in great numbers to Ireland, yet English soldiers were very commonly stationed there, who not only were sometimes reduced to the condition of paupers themselves, but likewise not unfrequently begot paupers as well.


said, there was one point which was always entirely overlooked in these discussions, and that was that the area of taxation ought to depend upon the nature of the settlement. If there was a parish settlement, it was just that the parish should be the area of taxation; if there was a union settlement, there should be a union rating; and if there was no settlement at all, as some recommended, the rate should be national. He admitted that considerable advantages would be derived from the abolition of the law of settlement altogether; but, on the other hand, when they reflected that a parish settlement had the effect of making those who paid the rate interested in keeping down pauperism; and that a national rate would leave to those persons only a slight interest in watching over the expenditure of their district, they would see that the subject was one of no ordinary difficulty. He was satisfied with the answer given by the Government on the present occasion, because he was glad that the Bill introduced into the other House by the President of the Poor Law Board had been referred to a Select Committee with the view of un- dergoing mature and deliberate consideration. There could be no doubt that the law, as it present stood, was extremely bard upon the Irish poor; but the noble Earl opposite should remember that it was only when they became permanent paupers that boards of guardians in England ever thought of removing them to their own country. At the same time he should be glad to see the law altered.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.