HL Deb 16 June 1865 vol 180 cc351-7

Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the said Bill.—(The Lord President.)


observed, that in the face of the division which took place on a previous evening, and of the statement that the introduction of any Amendments made in the Bill would be a virtual rejection of the measure, he felt that it would be useless for him to move any Amendment in Committee. He wished, however, to offer a few observations to their Lordships upon the matter. As to the argument that the labouring classes suffered under the present law and would be much benefited by the proposed changes, he would say a few words. The Bill contemplated two distinct objects—the modification of the law of settlement and the extension of the area of rating. The alteration in the law of settlement proposed was an extension of irremovability to cases of residence for one instead of for three years, the period at present required. The law of settlement, or rather the removals consequent upon it, were a great hardship upon the poor, and for his part he should be glad to have seen the Bill go a great deal farther in reference to this part of the subject. There was no argument for the change proposed which did not apply equally to the total abolition of the law of settlement, and his objection to this part of the Bill was that while the measure was an improvement upon the present law, it was a measure which, so far from aiding, would only tend to retard the progress of legislation towards the total abolition of the law of settlement. After this Bill the hardship of removals would remain, although the number of them might be diminished. Let them look who were the parties interested in the maintenance of the law of settlement. The abolition of the law would throw a considerable charge upon the town parishes; and, therefore, it was that Parliament had made a compromise with the town parishes by saying, "We burden you with a modification of the law of settlement, but we relieve you by throwing the country parishes into the area of your rating." The representatives of towns had great power in the House of Commons, and his own impression was that this measure would very much impede instead of promoting legislation for the total abolition of the law of settlement. Now, as to the advantage to the labourer. It was said that the present limited area of rating was an encouragement to landlords to demolish cottages, or, at all events, not to build them. There was nothing to support the truth of this statement except the statistics of Mr. Simon and the statement of Dr. Hunter; but he contended that the statements made did not support the conclusions to which he had referred. He denied, however, that any demolition of houses had been going on of late years, although houses might, of course, have been demolished in exceptional cases for the purposes of property. The Returns which had been made in the case of the parishes in which this demolition was alleged to have occurred showed that out of 821 parishes selected as exemplifying this demolition nothing of the kind could, between 1851 and 1861, be shown in 290 instances. Prom 1841 to 1861 the number of houses in 419 of those parishes had either increased or remained stationary, and on going back another ten years the total number of houses in the 821 parishes exhibited a decided increase. The obstacle to the increase of houses was, however, due not to the action of the Poor Law, but to the expenditure which was necessary for their erection. The cost of a cottage might be put down at £125, though he himself had always found them to exceed that sum, and the value of the land upon which it was erected at £25. Now, in the agricultural districts of England, no higher rent could be demanded than 1s. 6d. a week, or £3 18s. a year—about half the ordinary interest on the outlay, and making no allowance for what would have to be expended in repairs and other matters. Cottage building, therefore, did not, and could not pay, and as long as this was the case no alteration in the Poor Law would lead to an increase of cottage building. Now, what would be the effect of the measure upon the labouring classes? He maintained that the land did not naturally find employment for the people for more than eight or nine months in the year, and that during the remaining months the labourer was employed by the farmer comparatively at a loss, though that loss was not so great as it would be if the man were thrown upon the rates. The weak, the old, the infirm, for whom labour was found by the farmers now, would be forced, if this Bill were passed, into the union workhouse. Farmers could not pay the rates twice over. They could not pay for the unnecessary labour as well as the rates in the towns. A great deal was said of this being a landowner's question. As far as he could gather he did not believe the landowners generally would be injured by the Bill. In his own case he would be a largo gainer. The landowners would suffer only in special cases—in the thinly-inhabited rich grazing counties. He did not think farmers generally would suffer. It was the people that would suffer; and he did not see what could be done to help them, unless they made some large change in the law regarding the administration of relief to the poor in the rural districts, in whose behalf alone he had taken the liberty of addressing these observations to their Lordships.


said, he could not permit this Bill to go into Committee without shortly expressing the grounds of the objections he entertained to it. He objected to it both on the ground of justice and policy. It was fraught with injustice in this respect—that it threw upon one class the burdens which at present properly belonged to, and by law was imposed on, another. He objected to it on the ground of policy, because it sapped the very foundation of that principle to which he believed they were indebted for the admirable effects of the new Poor Law—namely, the vigilant superintendence of parochial relief by the guardians of each parish. Unions had been formed almost universally on this principle—there was a country town with probably a large population; that was made the centre of the Union, and the agricultural villages around were added to it. He might mention the parish of Sittingbourne, with which he was himself connected. In addition to the ordinary population of the town, there was a numerous body of labourers who were engaged in extensive brickfields in the neighbourhood. A vast number of cottages were run up, over which that population was distributed. These men earned extremely high wages during the summer months—perhaps 30s. a week; but in the winter their work was stopped and they were thrown on the parish. By this Bill they proposed to make the agricultural parishes, which had no connection with the town, and derived no benefit from the population, contribute to the rates by which that population was to be maintained. Besides, a tradesman was not rated for his capital, stock in trade, or profits; but landowners or landholders were called on to pay on their stock-in-trade, capital, and farm stock—rated to the full extent. Not only did they pay for the maintenance of a population to which really they ought not to contribute, but in a greatly increased ratio—more than they ought to be charged. Could anything be more unjust than this? The injustice of the Bill was perfectly monstrous. What reason had been assigned for this alteration of the law? The reason assigned for it had entirely failed. The demand for labour was great. Instead of cottages being pulled down, cottages were rising on all sides, partly because farmers required them and partly because landowners wished to see their labourers properly housed on their estates. The reform which had been effected in the administration of the Poor Law was greatly due to the fact that the Guardians from the different parishes who made a point of attending, and who had an interest in seeing that none but proper objects received relief, had performed their duty with the greatest fidelity. At present it was the interest, as well as the duty, of the landlords of each parish to take care of their labourers, and prevent them from being thrown on the rates; but the case would be altered by the operation of that measure, and its effect would be to charge those parishes which did their duty in that respect with burdens caused by the neglect or misconduct of other parishes. Some years ago the population of a parish in Kent being very redundant, a large sum was raised in it to aid the unemployed in emigrating, and by that means its surplus population was reduced. But by this Bill that parish would have thrown upon it the charge of maintaining a town population with which it had no connection, and also the poor belonging to pa- rishes which had incurred no such expense for emigration. He could not but think the measure was most objectionable both on grounds of justice and of policy. With respect to any Amendments which might be introduced into it in their Lordships' House, he was not in the least apprehensive that, if they were carried, there would be any difficulty raised on that account by the House of Commons on the ground of privilege. He could not suppose that the other House would strain the doctrine of its privilege in respect to matters of revenue to an extent to which common sense showed that it could not reasonably be carried; but if that course should be taken the result would be that they would gain a respite from this measure for another year.


said, he could not think it desirable that that Bill should be postponed for another year. The question with which it dealt had been constantly inquired into for the last thirty years, the arguments on both sides were thoroughly exhausted, and he could see no possible advantage in any further delay. The object of the Bill was to bring about a change, which ail authorities had held would be most beneficial to the labourer—namely, to give him a wider range and a freer scope for making the most of his industry. The opinion of the noble and learned Lord who had just spoken was no doubt deserving of respect; but it was directly at variance with all the Reports of Commissioners and Committees, and with the views of all who had devoted the closest attention to this subject for many years past. Sir James Graham—no mean authority—said the parochial system favoured the idle and profligate, and discouraged the industrious, skilful, and well-conducted labourer—it protected the former class from competition, and placed fetters upon the latter. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Bath) seemed to doubt whether the feeble and the aged poor would be cared for in their own parishes under the proposed system as much as was the case at present; but, in the Docking district, where union chargeability had been voluntarily adopted, no such result as the noble Marquess apprehended had been produced. It had been objected to this Bill that it did not go far enough; and he quite agreed in that opinion. If the Government remained in office they must look forward to an alteration of the law of settlement which, in the last century, Adam Smith deemed to be the greatest infringement of personal liberty, expressing at the same time his wonder that the people of this country had not revolted against it long ago. Of all evils inflicted on the pauper that of removal was the severest; and if by this Bill they unfettered labour, he hoped they would soon have another measure abolishing the principle of settlement throughout the whole kingdom. They had obtained freedom of trade, and he thought now they should obtain freedom of labour. He did not think it advisable that the adoption of the Bill should be delayed any longer, and, indeed, he believed that the sense of the country could more faithfully be taken upon it in the last Session of the expiring Parliament than in the first Session of its successor.


in supporting the Bill, said, he had been a Member of the Committee of the House of Commons which had sat so long to consider this subject, and which was composed of men perfectly conversant with the question, and who were almost unanimously of opinion that in time a union settlement, or even a measure of a more extensive character, would have to be adopted. The general tendency of recent legislation had been to reduce the period of residence in a parish necessary to create a settlement, and he could see no reason, after that period had been reduced from five to three years, why it should not be still further reduced to one year. The time had come when this advance should be made, and although he foresaw that great benefits would result from this measure, he believed that the evils which some noble Lords seemed to apprehend would not be realized. In reference to some observations which had been made during the discussion, he might say that although the poor might be well treated under the present system in certain parishes, they were not taken proper care of in other parishes. He could not regard this question as one between the towns and the country as it was one involving the general welfare of the poor throughout the kingdom. There had, no doubt, been great complaints of close parishes, and that cottages had been taken down to get rid of the poor; but his own conviction was that in the present day there was no new foundation for such charges. The condition of the poor had much improved during the last few years, owing to the increased demand for labour and to the large additional amount of cottage accommodation afforded them all over the country, new cottages having been built, some through self-interest and some through philanthropy. There was a great change in the condition of the labourer compared with the times in which the new poor law was passed; and there was now a great demand for labour everywhere, which made it desirable that the labourer should be enabled to carry his labour to the best market. He did not think there was any serious intention on the part of their Lordships of opposing the Bill, to which he gave his hearty support.


said, he had presented two Petitions from Boards of Guardians—one for and the other against this Bill, but had been reported to have presented two Petitions in favour of the Bill. The Guardians of the Bakewell Union, knowing that he wished it to be referred to a Select Committee, yet intrusted him with their Petition at rather a small meeting, and the majority of the Guardians had wished to convene a meeting afterwards to oppose the Bill; but, seeing the great majority in their Lordships' House for the second reading, had abandoned their intention. He feared, with the Guardians of the Belper Union, that decayed towns would be supported by the agricultural "districts, and that the Bill went too fast towards a general rating, as no preparation had been made for equalizing the rate.

Motion agreed to; House in Committee accordingly; Amendments made: The Report thereof to be received on Monday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 171.)