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Commons Chamber

Volume 114: debated on Tuesday 18 February 1851

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, February 18, 1851.

Statistics Of Agriculture

begged to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. Was it the intention of Her Majesty's Government to bring in a Bill this Session, or to introduce any measure, for the collection of agricultural statistics, to place us at least on a par with Ireland?

said, that if he could see his way to any unobjectionable mode of obtaining correct statistical information relating to agriculture, he would be willing, indeed he was desirous, of introducing such a measure. Last year he had consulted with Gentleman connected with agriculture on both sides of the House, without arriving at any satisfactory solution of the dfficulties that beset the question; and he doubted that, in the present state of the agricultural mind, it was advisable to bring in a Bill on the subject.

Poor Law

rose to move for a Select Committee to consider the expediency of assimilating the poor-laws of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and promoting the productive employment of able-bodied paupers. He knew very well that anything that he could venture to say on this subject would be insufficient to induce the House to agree to any abstract proposition relative to this question. He therefore only asked the House to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee to in- quire into and consider the question, to obtain such evidence as might throw a light on this important subject, and to report their opinions thereon to the House. The great and main difficulty in the question was, that the poor-laws, whether in England, Scotland, or Ireland, referred to the relief of the ablebodied poor; and therefore, if any light could be thrown on that complicated and vexed question, he thought it would do away with much of the objection that might otherwise prevail against the assimilation of the laws for the relief of the poor. It was on that ground that he ventured to ask the House to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee. The poor-law of England had been considered, and justly, as one of the most valuable of our ancient institutions—as one that more than any other tended to preserve order and tranquillity in the community. It could no longer he said of our poor-law, as once it was by a French writer, that it was la plaie dévorante l'Angleterre. The principle of our amended poor-law had been adopted in Ireland, and extended to Scotland. He thought no one could differ from him in this opinion, that of all the institutions of the country, the one which was, perhaps, most influential in determining the condition of the great bulk of the population, was the law which related to the administration of the relief of the poor. If that was so, it might be further admitted that any great difference in the law and practice of administering that relief in three countries so closely united as England, Scotland, and Ireland, must have a very remarkable effect upon the great body of the people of this country. It might have been expected that in so extending the poor-law to Ireland and Scotland, the principles detailed in the English Poor Law Act would have been adopted in both those parts of the kingdom. But such was not the case. The circumstances of the three countries seem to be so different, as to require a different law. The main differences between the law in England, Scotland, and Ireland were these: in the first place, in England and Ireland the law gave a title to relief to the poor of all classes, the infirm poor as well as the ablebodied. The law in Scotland, on the contrary, as appeared by recent decisions, gave no title to relief at all to the able-bodied poor. With regard to the practice of administering relief in the three countries, no less than six-sevenths of the poor of England were relieved out of the work- house, by the system of outdoor relief. In Ireland, on the other hand, it appeared there was scarcely any outdoor relief at all. While 3,000 persons were receiving outdoor relief in the whole of Ireland, no fewer than 750,000 were receiving outdoor relief in England. How was it in Scotland? Precisely the opposite system prevailed there. In Scotland there was no indoor relief until lately, when a few workhouses were built, whilst others were in the course of erection. But he might say that in two-thirds of Scotland there was no indoor relief at all. Again, the kind and amount of the relief differed in most important particulars. In England and Scotland the relief was given in all the necessaries of life, or in money with which to purchase them; but at a time when 700,000 or 800,000 persons were receiving relief in Ireland, the relief was confined solely to food. There was no clothing given, and the consequence was that the poor were swept away in vast numbers for the want of the other necessaries of life besides food. Such a great difference as that in the kind of relief given, could not but have a most prejudicial effect on the labouring classes in Ireland. There was also a difference in the mode of levying the fund for the support of the poor in the three portions of the united kingdom. In England the rate was levied solely on the occupier of property; in Ireland it was levied half on the occupier and half on the owner; whilst in Scotland there were no less than five different modes of rating. Besides, the parishes in Scotland had the option, under certain circumstances, of not being rated at all. The truth was that two-thirds of the parishes of Scotland were rated, whilst one-third of them were not. He did not pretend to discuss the question as to what was the best principle of raising the money necessary for the relief of the poor. But he might say that if a principle of rating was good in Scotland, it should be equally good in England and Ireland; and it would be a question to consider whether it was not judicious to adopt one uniform mode of assessment to the relief of the poor throughout the united kingdom. With regard to the management of the relief of the poor in England and Ireland, that was confided to hoards of guardians of unions controlled by a central Commission. In Scotland the management was a parochial one still; the parishes maintained their own poor; and though there was a central board there, it differed from the English one in this respect, that, whilst the central hoard in England was prohibited from interfering in individual cases of pauperism, the central board in Scotland had nothing else to do but to interfere in individual cases. The working classes of this country had a deep interest in this question. With the increased facilities of communication between the three parts of the united kingdom, it was quite obvious that, with those differences in the administration of relief to the poor, and when the relief given in their native country was of a niggardly character, numbers of the poor Irish and Scotch would be continually crowding into England. How could the English poor escape distress, exposed as they were to competition with hundreds and thousands of Scotch and Irish paupers, driven here by an artificial system, refused relief in their own country, and compelled to seek subsistence here? Political economists laid it down, that the poor had their fate in their own hands, viz. the power of limiting their numbers by not marrying; but that principle of their science was set at nought in this country by the immense immigration of Scotland and Ireland, taking the bread out of the mouths of the working classes. The poor-law returns of the last quarter of the previous year showed that, while I in 16 were relieved in England, and 1 in 26 in Scotland, only 1 in 40, or 2¼ per cent, received relief in Ireland, the average cost of the relief being 1s. 8d. in the pound in that country, as compared with 1s. 10d. in England, and 1s. 3d. in Scotland. The difference in the law of settlement in the three kingdoms operated in the same way. In this country a residence of three years gave the right of Settlement; but it was not so in Scotland or Ireland. There being no legal right of settlement in either of those kingdoms, an inducement was held out to the proprietors to relieve their estates from those who were likely to become chargeable to the poor-rate, by sending them to England, which they could do at a cost of about 2s. 6d. each person, the English parishes having to pay 10s. or 20s. each to send them back again to their own parishes, where, after all, they had no legal settlement. The second branch of the inquiry he was desirous of opening, was the mode of extending relief to the ablebodied poor— Notice taken that Forty Members were not present; House counted; and Forty Members not being present, the House was adjourned at Six of the clock.