HL Deb 19 June 1855 vol 138 cc2227-30

presented a petition from the Committee of Metropolitan Association for the abolition of the Laws of Settlement and Poor Removals, and for the Equalisation of the Poor Rate, praying the repeal of the said laws and for a mea- sure by which all rateable property may be compelled to bear its fair share of the expense of providing for the relief of the poor. The noble Lord said ha had thought it right to give notice of this petition from a consideration of the great experience which the petitioners had on the subject to which it referred, and also from a regard to its very great importance. The petitioners were the representatives of thirty-six unions, and parishes in London, and of no less than 9,780,000l. of property rated for the poor. He might remind their Lordships that these two questions were considered of such great social importance that they had been the subjects of inquiry by Select Committees of the House of Commons in 1844, 1845 and 1846, and that in their Lordships' House two Committees sat in the years 1846 and 1850, while the subject was referred to in Her Majesty's speech from the Throne last year. The returns before the House showed that the direct local taxation paid by the land amounted to 14,320,000l. while that paid by manufacturers was, 4,432,000l. It had been repeatedly said that the incidence of local taxation could not be defended on any principle whatever; and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was a great authority on the other side of the House, had stated, that the principle of our law was, that personal, just as much as real property, ought to be the subject of local taxation. In 1850 the Committee of that House adopted Resolutions in which they declared that it was expedient to rate all property alike, and that the relief of the poor was the national object for which no description of property should be called to contribute more than another. Some time ago he laid a Bill upon their Lordships' table which embraced the subjects of rating and settlement, but he withdrew it upon a pledge being given on the part of Her Majesty's Government that they would forthwith bring forward a measure dealing with these questions. Early in Session 1854 such a measure was brought forward by the Government; but, although it was notorious that it was a matter of discussion whether such a measure should be applied to Ireland or not, the Bill was thrown over at the end of April on the plea that it did not apply to Ireland. The petition he had to present to their Lordships stated in the strongest terms that the present law was unjust, partial, cruel, and oppressive in its operation, and threw a most heavy burden upon these parishes in which there were many small houses. The petition further stated that the existing law curtailed the means of the poor man's labour, rendered it difficult for him to obtain a home, robbed him of domestic comfort, and depraved the habits of the people; and that not only was the law cruel and oppressive to the poor, but that it was attended with great expense to the ratepayers. The petition went on to describe the injustice to which the rate payers were subjected, and stated that the poor were the common property of the country and ought to be supported and relieved by the country at large. If their Lordships referred to the Reports of the Poor Law inspectors, they would find that many of the most wealthy parishes which derive the greatest advantage from the labour of the poor, were nearly altogether exempted from any contribution to the poor-rates. The petitioners represented that the value of property rated to the poor was 67,320,000l., and the total sum expended for the relief and maintenance of the poor in the year ending March, 1854, was 5,282,000l., which was a considerable increase upon the expenditure of the preceding year. The average amount of the rates was 1s.d., in the pound, the lowest rate being ½d. in the pound, and the highest 5s.d. The petitioners, therefore, prayed their Lordships to repeal the present law relating to the settlement and removal of the poor, and to equalise the poor-rates. He thought one reason why it was imperative that the Government should devote their attention to the subject, with the view of establishing a more just and equal system of rating, was that the tendency of the existing law was to throw the burden upon the land rather than upon towns. There was also another reason—namely, that in consequence of the establishment of the militia, a large number of persons—the wives and families of militiamen—had been thrown upon the parish for support. An order had been issued to the Colonels of the various militia regiments, empowering them to discharge those men whose families had become burdens upon the parish, and the consequence had been that, in the Leicester regiment, 136 privates, being nearly one-seventh part of the regiment, had been sent home to their respective parishes. An additional pressure would also be thrown upon the land in consequence of the withdrawal of the regular troops from the various counties and the consequent increase of the local police. He, himself, had recently received a notice from the chief constable of the county of Leicester, stating that it was desirable to increase the police force of the county one-fourth, owing to the withdrawal of Her Majesty's troops from the county. If this augmentation of the police force were made, the result would be that a considerable addition would be made to the county rates.


, in reply to the noble Lord, said he hoped he might be excused from entering into any detail upon so complicated a question. Her Majesty's Government did not intend to introduce any measure upon the subject this Session, because last year a Bill was brought into the other House of Parliament, and was referred to a Select Committee, and that Committee, which sat last year and a portion of this year, had only reported last week. As Parliament at present had so much business before it, he could not hold out any hope that the Government would make any proposition upon the subject this year.

Petition to lie upon the table.

House adjourned to Thursday next.