Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834
We now proceed to two of the most difficult and most important of the questions submitted to us: the Laws respecting Settlement and Bastardy.
We have seen that the liability to a change of settlement by hiring and service, apprenticeship, purchasing or renting a tenement, and estate, are productive of great inconvenience and fraud; and it does not appear that those frauds and inconveniences are compensated by any advantage whatsoever. We have seen that these heads of settlement were introduced as qualifications of an arbitrary power of removal, and then indeed they were necessary. If they had not been created, the parish officers would have been empowered to confine almost every man to the place of his birth. Now that power is at an end. No man can be removed until he himself, by applying for relief, gives jurisdiction to the magistrates. The slightest evil arising from enactments, the motive for which has ceased, would be a sufficient ground for their repeal. It has been shown, however, that the evils are very great. We recommend, therefore, the immediate but prospective abolition of all these heads of settlement. For this recommendation we have the sanction of the great majority of those whose opinions we have taken. It is true that those opinions advocate most strongly the repeal of settlement by hiring and service, apprenticeship and renting a tenement, and with respect to the last, rather recommend raising the rent necessary to give a settlement from 10l. a year to 20l., or some larger sum, than the abrogation of the law. It appears, that the witnesses are led thus to restrict their recommendations chiefly from the circumstance that these are the most common modes of settlement, and therefore those of which the evil is most apparent, and that all the grounds which exist for making a change of settlement by renting a tenement more difficult, are also grounds for making it impossible. And we believe that if these modes of settlement are destroyed, and settlement by purchase and estate are allowed to continue, we shall be holding out temptation to perjury and fraud, not only without an adequate motive on our part, if any motive could be adequate, but with no motive whatever.
WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT SETTLEMENT BY HIRING AND SERVICE, APPRENTICESHIP, PURCHASING OR RENTING A TENEMENT, ESTATE, PAYING RATES, OR SERVING AN OFFICE, BE ABOLISHED.
There will remain parentage, birth, and marriage; with respect to parentage, however, there is this difficulty. If while the modes by which a male can lose his settlement are abolished, settlement by parentage is continued unaltered, and every male child is to acquire his father's settlement, to have no means of changing it, and to transmit it, equally unchangeable, to his children and his children's children, settlement will in time be reduced to a question of pedigree, and the expense of ascertaining it become intolerable. On the other hand, if settlement by parentage is totally abolished, the parents and their infant children will often be settled in different parishes.
It appears to us that the best mode of meeting these difficulties is to continue settlement by parentage during that period of a child's life during which it is dependent on its parents, and to put an end to it at the age at which that dependence has so nearly ceased as to render their separation comparatively unimportant. This age may be said, in general, to commence at fifteen or sixteen years. At fifteen or sixteen a child can generally earn his own maintenance, and if his parents cannot maintain him, it cannot be advisable that he should continue a member of their family.
WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT (SUBJECT TO THE OBVIOUS EXCEPTIONS OF PERSONS BORN IN PRISONS, HOSPITALS, AND WORKHOUSES) THE SETTLEMENT OF EVERY LEGITIMATE CHILD BORN AFTER THE PASSING OF THE INTENDED ACT, FOLLOW THAT OF THE PARENTS OR SURVIVING PARENT OF SUCH CHILD, UNTIL SUCH CHILD SHALL ATTAIN THE AGE OF SIXTEEN YEARS, OR THE DEATH OF ITS SURVIVING PARENT; AND THAT AT THE AGE OF SIXTEEN, OR ON THE DEATH OF ITS SURVIVING PARENT, SUCH CHILD SHALL BE CONSIDERED SETTLED IN THE PLACE IN WHICH IT WAS BORN.
It will be seen that we do not recommend the introduction of settlement by residence. We are aware of the advantages of that mode of settlement; it is the most natural and the most obvious, and its adoption would often prevent inconvenience to particular parishes, from the return, in age or infirmity, of those who have left them in youth and vigour, and inconvenience to the paupers themselves, from being removed from friends and residences to which they have become attached, to places in which they have become strangers.
But these advantages, great as they are, appear to us to be over-balanced by objections still more powerful. It appears from the evidence, that the existing modes by which a settlement can be changed are productive of perjury and fraud, and that they tend to injure the employers of labour by restricting them in the choice of their servants,—the owners of property, by distributing the labouring families according to rules not depending on the demand for their services, or the fund for their support,—and above all, the labourers themselves, by depriving them of the power of selling all that they have, their labour, to the best advantage. We fear that settlement by residence would aggravate all these evils. At present, a labourer may be steadily employed for years in a place in which he is not settled, by means of successive hirings, each hiring being for less than a year. But if settlement by residence were adopted, this would be impossible. We should have the constant occurrence of one of the worst consequences of the existing law, the separation of master and man notwithstanding their mutual utility, and their mutual attachment, to the injury of both, but to the greater injury of the most numerous and the most helpless class,—the labourers. Again, the demolition of cottages, and the forcing the agricultural population into the towns and the parishes in which property is much divided, though we fear that they must, to a certain degree, arise under any law of settlement whatever, would be much promoted by a law which would fix on a parish every labourer who should have been allowed to reside there for any given period, unless the period were so long as to render the law almost inoperative. Another objection to settlement by residence, which has been dwelt on by many of our most intelligent witnesses, arises from its effect on the unsettled labourers. At present they are confessedly superior, both in morals and in industry, to those who are settled in the parishes in which they reside. Make that residence give a settlement, and they will fall back into the general mass. With respect to the hardship on those who may be removed, we must repeat, 1st, that a person who applies to be maintained out of the produce of the industry or frugality of others, must accept that relief on the terms which the public good requires; and 2ndly, that in the small proportion of cases in which his claim is not founded on his own indolence, or improvidence, or misconduct, the duty of rescuing him from the hardship of a removal, falls peculiarly within the province of private and uncompulsory charity; a virtue so deeply implanted by providence in human nature, that even the existing system has rather misdirected than destroyed, or even materially diminished it.
We further recommend that, instead of the present mode of first removing a pauper, and then inquiring whether the removal was lawful, the inquiry should precede the removal. We find this measure in a Bill brought into the House of Commons in 1819, and printed in the Parliamentary Papers of that year, Number 211. That Bill empowers the Justice who shall order a removal to suspend its execution, and to forward (which might be effected through the Post-Office) a copy of the examination of the pauper, and of the order of removal, to the overseers of the parish in which the pauper has been adjudged to be settled. It then enables the parties who think themselves aggrieved by the order to appeal to the quarter-sessions within twenty-eight days, and the sessions to decide on the question as if the removal had actually taken place. In the absence of appeal, the order is to be conclusive. The expediency of this measure is so obvious, that it is difficult to account for its rejection in 1819, unless we are to believe a tradition, that it was defeated by a combination of persons interested in creating litigation and expense.
It will be observed, that in our exposition of the evils arising from the law of settlement, we have not dwelt on the expense of litigation and removals; we have passed it over slightly, not because we doubt its magnitude, but because we believe that in this, as in every other branch of the evils connected with the administration of the Poor-Laws, the pecuniary loss, great as it may be, is utterly unimportant when compared with the moral mischief. The collection, burthensome as it is, is far less ruinous than the expenditure. If twice the number of millions were annually thrown into the sea, we might still be a moral, industrious, and flourishing nation. But if the whole of our poor-rates could be raised without inconvenience; if they were paid to us, for instance, as a tribute by foreigners, and were still applied as they are now applied, no excellence in our laws and institutions in other respects could save us from ultimate ruin. And we must add, that we think it would be rash to expect, from the alterations which we have recommended in the law of settlement, much diminution of expense.
Some diminution, however, we anticipate from them, particularly with respect to litigation. The simplicity of the rule which we propose will exclude all questions of law, and in all cases reduce the question to a matter of fact; and when a general registration of births shall have been established, a measure which cannot be long delayed, the proof of the fact of birth will be much easier. We anticipate, however, a much further diminution, both of litigation and removals, from the operation of our general measures. In proportion as there is an approximation to uniformity of management, the motives on the part of paupers, to shift from a parish where there may be rigid management or "a bad parish," to a parish where there is profuse management or "a good parish," will decrease. In proportion as there is an approximation to our main object, that of rendering the condition of the able-bodied pauper less eligible on the whole than that of the independent labourer, it is proved by all experience, that the able-bodied will cease to avail themselves of any settlement whatever, whether immediate or distant.
Mr. Thomas Langley, out-door inspector of the parish of Marylebone, a witness whose evidence has already been cited, was asked, What effect regulations upon the principle last mentioned would have upon removals, and upon the general operation of the law of settlement? He answers—
"I think the law of settlement would then be of very little consequence. Where a pauper has a doubtful settlement, it is now our practice to offer him labour, or to take him into the workhouse, as an experiment. We even take families in, and we now, under all our disadvantages, get rid of three out of four of such cases. If we were under such regulations as would make a pauper's condition, whether in or out of the workhouse, not so good as the condition of a hardworking labourer of the lowest class, the experiment being much cheaper, we should naturally resort to it more frequently. In fact, if such regulations were established, I think we should very seldom incur the expense and trouble, or the risks, of a removal in any case.
"Would the law of settlement remain then of any consequence in any case?—I do not know that it would; I cannot see that it would*95."
And in order to afford further facilities to the proof of a birth settlement,—WE RECOMMEND THAT WHENEVER THERE SHALL BE ANY QUESTION REGARDING THE SETTLEMENT BY BIRTH OF A PERSON, WHETHER LEGITIMATE OR ILLEGITIMATE, AND WHETHER BORN BEFORE OR AFTER THE PASSING OF THE INTENDED ACT, THE PLACE WHERE SUCH PERSON SHALL HAVE BEEN FIRST KNOWN BY THE EVIDENCE OF SUCH PERSON, BY THE REGISTER OF HIS OR HER BIRTH OR BAPTISM OR OTHERWISE TO HAVE EXISTED, SHALL BE PRESUMED TO HAVE BEEN THE PLACE OF HIS OR HER BIRTH, UNTIL THE CONTRARY SHALL BE PROVED.
With respect to the BASTARDY laws, the evidence shows, that, as a general rule, they increase the expense which they were intended to compensate, and offer temptations to the crime which they were intended to punish, and that their working is frequently accompanied by perjury and extortion, disgrace to the innocent, and reward to the shameless and unprincipled, and all the domestic misery and vice which are the necessary consequence of premature and ill-assorted marriage. We advise, therefore, their entire abolition.
What we propose in their room is intended to restore things, as far as it is possible, to the state in which they would have been if no such laws had ever existed; to trust to those checks, and to those checks only, which Providence has imposed on licentiousness, under the conviction that all attempts of the Legislature to increase their force, or to substitute for them artificial sanctions, have tended only to weaken or pervert them.
FIRST, with respect to the Child.—In the natural state of things, a child, until emancipated, depends on its parents. Their legal domicile, or, as it is technically called, place of settlement, is also the settlement of their offspring. And such is the existing law with respect to legitimate children. Only one of the parents of an illegitimate child can be ascertained. WE RECOMMEND THAT THE GENERAL RULE SHALL BE FOLLOWED, AS FAR AS IT IS POSSIBLE, AND THAT EVERY ILLEGITIMATE CHILD BORN AFTER THE PASSING OF THE ACT, SHALL, UNTIL IT ATTAIN THE AGE OF SIXTEEN, FOLLOW ITS MOTHER'S SETTLEMENT. The immediate effect will be to prevent a great amount of waste, suffering, and demoralization. At present an unmarried pregnant female, though asking for no relief, is hunted from parish to parish, her feelings deadened by exposure, and her means of supporting herself and her child destroyed, and all this evil is incurred merely to save expense to the parish in which she is resident, at the much greater expense of the parish to which she is removed. We feel confident that if the woman were allowed to remain unmolested until she asked relief, she would, in many cases, by her own exertions, and the assistance of her friends, succeed in maintaining herself and her infant; but, as the law now stands, she has not power and inducement to do this. If she is settled in the parish in which her pregnancy took place, she has no inducement. The parish offers her a pension, generally equaling often exceeding, her incumbrance, to be obtain without any additional disgrace. If she is unsettled, she has no power. However willing or anxious she may be to toil for her own and her child's subsistence, rather than to be dragged in shame to the scene of her youth, she is not allowed the choice. The officers know, that if the child is born in their parish, they are responsible for its support throughout life, and for the support of its posterity. The consequences which her removal will produce to the child, to the mother, and to her parish, are no concern of theirs. They remove her as a matter of course.
SECONDLY, with respect to the Mother.—AS A FURTHER STEP TOWARDS THE NATURAL STATE OF THINGS, WE RECOMMEND THAT THE MOTHER OF AN ILLEGITIMATE CHILD BORN AFTER THE PASSING OF THE ACT, BE REQUIRED TO SUPPORT IT, AND THAT ANY RELIEF OCCASIONED BY THE WANTS OF THE CHILD BE CONSIDERED RELIEF AFFORDED TO THE PARENT. This is now the law with respect to a widow; and an unmarried mother has voluntarily put herself into the situation of a widow: she has voluntarily become a mother, without procuring to herself and her child the assistance of a husband and a father. There can be no reason for giving to vice privileges which we deny to misfortune.
This course, or a course as nearly resembling it as the existing law will allow, has been tried, and with uniform success. "In Swallowfield, Berks," says Mr. Russell, "a few years ago we adopted the practice of paying to the mother as much only of the allowance from the father as was absolutely necessary for the immediate support of the child. The effect upon the mother was precisely what we expected and desired it to be; and, if we could have persevered in the practice, I have no doubt it would have been productive of very salutary consequences; but a question having arisen as to its legality, we were compelled reluctantly to abandon it. At present a bastard child, instead of being an incumbrance, is a source of profit to the mother*96."
In Cookham, Berks, the same plan was adopted and persevered in by Mr. Whately. The result has been, that in a population of 3337 persons, but one bastard has been christened during each of the last five years. In 1822 there were twenty-six bastards; now ten years after, notwithstanding the increase of population, there are but five*97.
It appears, from Mr. Cowell's Report, that at Bingham, in Nottinghamshire, as soon as the parish adopted measures which prevented the mothers from recurring to the parish, bastardy, which had been previously prevalent, almost ceased. For the first three years there was not one illegitimate birth in the parish, except in the case of a woman who was an idiot, and for the last twelve there appears to have been only one woman who has had a second*98. The same principle has been acted on, and for a longer period, with equal success, in the United States. An instructive article on the Poor Laws, in the twenty-seventh number of the American Quarterly Review, the part of which relating to America we have inserted in Appendix (F.) states, that—
"In Boston, Baltimore, and Salem, the principle has long been acted upon, that the public will not undertake to bring up illegitimate children, without expense to the mother. The consequence is, that in 1826, but ten cases came under the notice of the public officers at Boston, and but two at Salem; while in Baltimore the public was put to no expense whatever in regard to them. In the same year, in Philadelphia, the number of bastards under the care of the guardians of the poor was two hundred and seventy-two*99."
Further evidence in favour of this plan is afforded by the conduct of those whom it would principally affect, the labouring classes themselves. Mr. Tidd Pratt, to whose evidence we have so often referred, was asked,—
"What is the course adopted by the labouring classes in their friendly societies, with regard to illegitimate children?—He answered, In female societies, which are numerous and increasing, they utterly deprive the parties of relief, and expel them. In male societies they allow no benefit on the birth of a child, unless such child is born in wedlock. In those societies which allow an annuity or other payment to a widow on the death of a member, such benefit is forfeited by her having lived apart from her husband during his lifetime, or having had an illegitimate child after his death. Their Rules are usually of the tenor of the following:"We do also agree to and with each other, that if any widow pensioner of this society, who shall be proved to be with child, or be delivered of a child, either alive or still-born, at any time after she has been a widow eleven months, that then and from thenceforth every such widow shall forfeit all her right and title to the pension of ten pounds per annum, and to be for ever debarred from every part thereof*100."
"No benefit will be allowed for the birth or death of a child that is not born in wedlock."*101
"Then in all cases they utterly disallow relief to a woman who has a bastard child?—Yes, both male and female societies."
In those classes of society which are above the labouring classes, the burthen of supporting an illegitimate child, in the first instance, falls of course on the mother. The labouring classes throw it upon her when they frame regulations for themselves. It appears, therefore, that the plan of exempting her has been rejected wherever there has been the power of rejecting it, and has been adopted only where one class has legislated for another.
One great advantage which will follow from giving an unmarried mother no advantage over a widow with a legitimate child, will be, that her parents will be forced, if it is necessary, to contribute to her support and to that of her infant. In a natural state of things they must do so, whether the child be legitimate or not; and when we consider that, in the vast majority of cases, the neglect or ill example, and in many cases the actual furtherance of those parents has occasioned their daughter's misconduct, it appears not only just, but most useful, that they should be answerable for it.
WE RECOMMEND THAT THE SAME LIABILITY BE EXTENDED TO HER HUSBAND. The general law of the country throws on the husband all his wife's liabilities; he is bound to pay her debts, he is answerable for her engagements, even though he may not have been aware of them, though they may have been carefully concealed from him; and there seems no reason why this peculiar liability, a liability which must almost always be notorious to him, should be excepted. We certainly consider it no objection that this will make it more difficult for a woman who has misconducted herself to obtain a husband: and we must add, that if this plan be not adopted, it will be difficult to follow out the system of giving no relief to the child independently of the mother, and of giving that relief in the workhouse.
ON THE OTHER HAND, WE RECOMMEND THE REPEAL OF THAT PART OF THE 35 GEO. III., C. 101, s. 6, WHICH MAKES AN UNMARRIED PREGNANT WOMAN REMOVABLE, AND THE 50 GEO. III. c. 51, s. 2, WHICH AUTHORIZES THE COMMITTAL OF THE MOTHER OF A CHARGEABLE BASTARD TO THE HOUSE OF CORRECTION. The first of these enactments will cease to be applicable as soon as the child follows the mother's settlement. The second appears, by the evidence, to produce on the whole much more harm than good, and we object to them both as unnecessary interferences. If our previous recommendations are adopted, a bastard will be, what Providence appears to have ordained that it should be, a burthen on its mother, and, where she cannot maintain it, on her parents. The shame of the offence will not be destroyed by its being the means of income and marriage, and we trust that as soon as it has become both burthensome and disgraceful, it will become as rare as it is among those classes in this country who are above parish relief, or as it is among all classes in Ireland. If we are right in believing the penalties inflicted by nature to be sufficient, it is needless to urge further objections to any legal punishment. We may add, however, that the effect of any such punishment would probably be mischievous, not only by imposing unnecessary suffering on the offender, but by making her an object of sympathy.
THIRDLY, as to the Father.—In affirming the inefficiency of human legislation to enforce the restraints placed on licentiousness by Providence, we have implied our belief, that all punishment of the supposed father is useless. We believe that it is worse than useless. Without considering the numerous cases in which that punishment falls upon the innocent, without dwelling upon the perjury by which that injustice is accomplished, we will confine ourselves to the effect produced on the woman's mind by her power of calling for that punishment. That power is the security to which the woman looks at present; she expects that the parish will right her. If she is ill disposed, this adds to the force of her temptation; if she is well disposed, this removes the prop which should support her self-control. Marriage will always be preferred by the woman if she can attain it, and she ought not to be placed in circumstances in which marriage shall be most easily attainable by previous concession.
"One day," says a witness examined by Mr. Chadwick, "I went into the house of one of the people who work at the chalk quarries at North-fleet, to buy fossils, and a young woman came in for a few minutes whose appearance clearly showed approach to maternity. When she went out, I said to the woman of the house, 'Poor girl, she has been unfortunate.' She replied, 'Indeed she has, poor girl, and a virtuous, good girl she is too. The fellow has betrayed her, and gone to sea.' I said, 'She should not have trusted him till she had been at church.' To this observation the woman replied, and let me observe her own children were all about her, 'What could she do, poor girl? if she did not do as other girls do, she would never get a husband. Girls are often deceived, and how can they help it*102?'"
WE RECOMMEND THEREFORE THAT THE SECOND SECTION OF THE 18 ELIZ. CAP. 3, AND ALL OTHER ACTS WHICH PUNISH OR CHARGE THE PUTATIVE FATHER OF A BASTARD, SHALL, AS TO ALL BASTARDS BORN AFTER THE PASSING OF THE INTENDED ACT, BE REPEALED
Cases will no doubt occur of much hardship and cruelty, and it will often be regretted that these are not punishable, at least by fine upon the offender. But the object of law is not to punish, but to prevent: and if the existing law does not prevent, as is too clear, it must not be maintained against its proper design, with a view to punishment, still less must it be maintained if it acts as an incentive. It must be remembered, too, that we do not propose to deprive either the woman or her parents of their direct means of redress: she may still bring her action for breach of promise of marriage, and her parents may still bring theirs for the loss of their daughter's service.
One objection, however, may be made to our plan, which deserves an answer in deference, not to its force, but to the religious and moral feelings in which it originates. It may be said, that throwing on the woman the expense of maintaining the child, will promote infanticide. It appears, from Mr. Walcott's Report, that infanticide, and in one of its worst forms, is promoted by the existing law; but we do not, in fact, believe that we have to choose between the two dangers: we do not believe that infanticide arises from any calculation as to expense. We believe that in no civilized country, and scarcely in any barbarous country, has such a thing ever been heard of as a mother's killing her child in order to save the expense of feeding it.
We have still to consider a subject which, though not expressly mentioned in our Commission, appears to us within its spirit, and that is,—
Before we examine the expediency of resorting to measures for facilitating emigration, as principal or auxiliary remedies for the evils which we have described, it is necessary to consider the questions, whether there exists in any part of England a population which materially exceeds the actual demand for labour; and whether such an excess is likely to exist, after the measures which we have already recommended shall have been put in force.
After a system of administration, one of the most unquestionable effects of which is the encouragement and increase of improvident marriages among the labouring class, has prevailed in full vigour for nearly forty years, it is a remarkable proof of the advance of the wealth of this part of the kingdom, that a question should arise as to the existence of a Surplus Population; and a mere inspection of the comparative account of the numbers of the people, especially in the Agricultural Districts, at the times of the three last enumerations, would seem to remove any doubt which may have arisen on such a question. Not only has an increase of population, which would have been heretofore deemed extraordinary in a long-settled country, taken place in the Manufacturing Counties, but the increase has been nearly as rapid in those purely Agricultural Districts from which we have received general complaints of a decrease of the Capital of the Farmer. In the County of Bedford, for instance, the increase of Population has been, in the years ending 1821, 19 per cent; in the ten years ending 1831, 14 per cent.; in Buckinghamshire, 14 and 19 per cent.; in Northamptonshire, 15 per cent. and 10 per cent.; in Essex, after similar rates for the same periods; and in Cambridgeshire, 20 per cent., and 18 per cent*103. In the communication so often referred to, Mr. Day has given the following statement:—
"Our division of petty sessions comprehends the following eleven parishes, the population of which is almost exclusively agricultural, and the censuses of which I subjoin:"—
"Note.—The increase in the whole county (exclusive of the towns of Brighton, Chichester, Hastings and Lewes), in the last 20 years, is from 161,577 to 204,707, or 26 + per cent. This population I apprehend to be purely agricultural. It gives an average increase of about 158 souls in each parish, the average present population being 752."
"The accuracy of the census of 1801 has been generally disputed; assuming then the census of 1811 for the purpose of my argument, we find that there are now 133 labourers to do the same work that was then done by 100. I say the same work, but I should be justified in saying less; for as the profits of agriculture have declined, and the capital of the farmer deteriorated, so has the state of tillage and the general cultivation of the land. As I consider this point of the argument to be of vital importance to a just view of the subject, I beg to explain that I mean, that the same physical force which effectuated a certain state of cultivation in 1811, (without reference to what was left undone,) would effect the same in 1831; and if that is now done by the application of a greater number of labourers, it must be by assigning less work to the share of each."
In the Answers to the Questions addressed by us to individuals in agricultural districts of the Middle, Southern and Eastern Counties, we find frequent cases stated of a great excess of labourers above the means of employment in the respective parishes. And we find the statement confirmed by the fact of multitudes of able-bodied young men wasting their time on the roads and in gravel-pits at the expense of the rate-payers, who deem it cheaper to pay them for their idleness than for their labour. The excess in some districts of labourers beyond the actual demand must be taken to be established beyond dispute.
But in the case of labour, as of commodities, the extent of the demand, as compared with the supply, will depend in some degree on the quality of the article offered. The present state of the administration of the Poor-Laws does not allow us to ascertain, in the great majority of parishes we have referred to, what the demand for labour would be, if work were sought for with energy, and performed with diligence. It is to be observed, too, that although not employed, all the population in the parishes which complain of its excess, is at any rate clothed and fed, and that the income which maintains an able-bodied puaper in idleness would, if not so expended, be applied directly or indirectly to the employment of labour. It does not necessarily follow, indeed, that the demand for labour which would arise from the saving of the farmer through the diminution of rates would be felt within the same parish or district within which the poor-rates are now expended, and we have therefore looked with some anxiety to the effect on the demand for labour in those parishes where a reform in the administration of the Poor-Laws has been effected. We have already had to state, among the most gratifying results of this reform, that the dispauperized labourers have found employment to a greater extent than the most sanguine friend of the change could have anticipated in the parishes where they were previously relieved as paupers.
One of the parishes which we have mentioned among those in which an improved administration of the law has been introduced (Uley), was the seat of an apparently large surplus population, and of a declining manufacture. No circumstances could be conceived apparently less favourable to the absorption of surplus labour. Yet of 1000 persons who, before the introduction of the reform, were on the parish books, (out of a population of 2641,) and who are now chiefly maintained by their own exertions, few have left the parish; and this statement is supported by a list, showing the actual occupations and present means of support of all who received parish pay before the workhouse was opened*104. No evidence can be more satisfactory or complete.
These results lead us to a conviction, that even in the parishes where the greatest surplus above the actual demand exists, it would be rapidly reduced and ultimately disappear, if relief were no longer granted, except in return for actual labour, and subject to the restraints of a workhouse.
But no expedient by which the reduction of the surplus labour can be accelerated, and the suffering of the labourer during the progress of the change diminished, should be disregarded; and we are of opinion, that emigration, which has been one of the most innocent palliatives of the evils of the present system, could be advantageously made available to facilitate the application of the remedies which we have already suggested.
Numerous instances are stated in our evidence, of emigration at the expense of parishes, and the results have generally been satisfactory*105; we believe they have been uniformly so wherever the experiment has been made on a considerable scale. In the case of Benenden, in Kent, where the effects of emigration, unconnected with other remedies, have been carefully detailed by Mr. Law Hodges, the result has been, that the annual parochial expenditure, exclusive of the emigration expenses, has been reduced in four years by one-third; that within the same time the debt incurred on account of emigration has been nearly liquidated; that the whole expense of the poor, including the sums applied to this liquidation, has been considerably reduced from the very year the emigration commenced, while the moral condition of the labourers has been decidedly improved. But emigration has hitherto been resorted to under many discouragements and difficulties. The same causes which make those who are dependent on the poor-rates listless in seeking employment at home, render them unwilling to undergo the temporary privations and inconvenience which must attend their settlement in another country. Those persons are generally most forward to emigrate who are least corrupted by the abuses of the system of relief. Those are most willing to remain a burthen to their parishes who are most thoroughly profligate and useless.
Mr. Stuart, speaking of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, where emigration to a greater or less extent has taken place in many of the parishes, observes,—
"It is, however, vain to hope that emigration can be carried to an extent equal to effect any diminution on the expenditure on the poor, so long as the parish funds are open to all comers. It is a matter of complaint by the farmers, that emigration only carries off the industrious and well-behaved, and leaves them encumbered with the idle and profligate; and it cannot be otherwise while everyone is sure of a liberal maintenance whether they are idle or industrious. Mr. Turner has taken the trouble to extract from the overseer's books the parish allowances paid to those who removed from Kettleburgh, from which it will be seen that men with seven children were in receipt of 14s. a week, and others in proportion. It is surprising that any inducement could be discovered sufficiently strong to influence any person to forego the certainty of so liberal a pension, to encounter the violent change of feelings and habits which must accompany emigration under any circumstances. It is universally known that those who are in receipt of parish relief, leagued together, for the purpose of keeping it up and augmenting it for their own benefit, or extending it to others; and as they are less scrupulous in the means they resort to, they are better able to carry through their designs of encroachment than the rate-payers are their endeavours to resist them. The progressive increase of the expenditure on the poor would seem to prove this. In such a state of things, it cannot be expected that the expenditure on paupers can be diminished by lessening the numbers of the population, unless it be carried to a greater extent than seems to be possible, so long as compulsory relief exists; the chances being, that whatever diminution of expense might take place from that cause, would be no saving to the rate-payers, as fresh candidates for relief would immediately start up. Where the parochial fund is considered as a property on which all have a claim, there is little difficulty in contriving pretences to make the claim good; and as long as the fund exists for the purposes to which it is now directed, it is not by the diminution of the numbers of the population which could be effected by emigration, that it can be brought within reasonable bounds*106."
"If chargeable paupers would go," says Mr. Maclean, speaking of Dorking, "the parish would be willing to raise a large sum; but this class of persons naturally prefer an idle but certain dependence on the parish at home, to an uncertain independence abroad, to be procured by industry and good conduct*107."
The following extract from Mr. Majendie's Report shows the pecuniary saving which has been effected by emigration. It is valuable, also, as showing that emigration alone is an inadequate, and must be a transient remedy. We have seen in the cases of Cookham, Swallowfield, and other parishes, that the evils of the Poor Laws disappear under the influence of the system we have recommended, notwithstanding an apparent surplus of population. We see in the evidence we are about to quote, that although the supernumerary labourers be removed by emigration, yet, in the absence of other changes, the abuses of the allowance system may continue to abound, and that the charge for the poor may be 27s. per head on a population, where no pretence of a surplus continues to exist;
"In the year ending March, 1822, the total expenditure was 3371l. The reduction of rates in the parish of Ewhurst has been effected partly by adopting money payment, but principally by emigration. Since the year 1818, 100 persons have emigrated, so that there are now no supernumerary labourers. In a parish which has incurred the expense of emigration to such an extent as to leave no more labourers than are requisite for the cultivation of the soil, in which 400 acres of hops afford employment to women and children, winter and summer, and where the rate of weekly wages is 13s. 6d., the allowance for children must be considered as compulsory, and to that must it be ascribed that rates are still 27s. per head on the population, and 11s. in the pound on a two-thirds value.
"The rector, from benevolent motives, has offered small allotments to the labourers, at a low rent: he has been able to let three acres only, and his offer of nine acres more has been rejected*108."
Even in Benenden, where emigration has been so well managed, the expenditure on the poor is still above 20s. per head on the whole population. The abolition of partial relief will remove the main discouragement to emigration, while it will ascertain the extent to which emigration may be useful; it will increase the disposition to emigrate on the part of those whose emigration is to be desired. We believe, therefore, that in proportion as our other remedies are applied, there will be an increased disposition on the part of parishes to supply the means to paupers desirous of emigrating, if they be enabled by law so to do. WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE VESTRY OF EACH PARISH BE EMPOWERED TO ORDER THE PAYMENT OUT OF THE RATES RAISED FOR THE RELIEF OF THE POOR, OF THE EXPENSES OF THE EMIGRATION OF ANY PERSONS HAVING SETTLEMENTS WITHIN SUCH PARISH, WHO MAY BE WILLING TO EMIGRATE; PROVIDED, THAT THE EXPENSE OF EACH EMIGRATION BE RAISED AND PAID, WITHIN A PERIOD TO BE MENTIONED IN THE ACT. We think it also would be expedient to adopt the measures for facilitating and regulating emigration contained in the Bill introduced into the House of Commons in 1831, and to be found (as amended by a committee) in the Parliamentary Papers of that Session, (No. 358.)
It has occasionally happened that emigrants have returned to burthen the parishes at the expense of which they have been removed; and to remedy this evil, it has been proposed that every person who should, with his own consent, be removed to the Colonies at the expense of his parish, should lose his settlement. But we do not think it expedient that this proposal should be adopted. We do not believe the instances of the return of emigrants are now frequent enough to affect the profit to a parish of an emigration judiciously conducted, and we believe that the instances would be still more rare if it were known that the emigrant on his return would not be entitled to relief otherwise than in a well-managed workhouse. But the chief objection is, that to deprive the emigrant of his settlement,—while it might operate to prevent the pauper from emigrating by the threat of an imaginary forfeiture,—would only enable returned emigrants to be relieved as casual poor in any places, not excluding their own parishes, where they might be pleased to fix themselves.
We should propose rather, that the expenses which any parish shall have defrayed, or contracted to pay for the removal of any voluntary emigrant, shall, upon the return to England of the emigrant, become a debt due to the overseers for the time being, and shall be recovered by an attachment of any wages to which the debtor may become entitled, as we have before recommended in the case of other expenses incurred on account of a pauper or his family.
We forbear to enter upon a consideration of the modes in which emigration may be most beneficially conducted, because it has already formed the subject of minute inquiries by Parliamentary Committees, and because, if the Emigration Bill which we have referred to be passed into a law, the Commission to be appointed under its provisions must soon be able to avail itself of information much more ample and detailed than we have had access to. But there is one suggestion of which we feel the value, from all the evidence we have received as to the state of feeling of the pauper emigrants. Under the influence of the system, which at once confines the labourer to a narrow neighbourhood, and relieves him from the care of providing for his subsistence, he has acquired, or retained, with the moral helplessness, some of the other peculiarities of a child. He is often disgusted to a degree which other classes scarcely conceive possible, by slight differences in diet; and is annoyed by any thing which appears to him strange and new. We believe the novelty of food and manners in the Colonies, and the longing for old associates and old associations, have concurred, with a retrospect of the ease and security of pauperism, to bring back to their parishes some of the least energetic emigrants, who, to justify themselves, spread discouraging accounts of the Colonies from which they have returned. In Mr. Stuart's Report will be found a letter from an emigrant at Montreal, who, being able to save money enough from his wages to pay his passage back, declared his intention to return to the parish in which he had been a troublesome pauper; apparently moved to that determination, as much by the want of well-tasted beer in Canada and a longing for old associations, as by the fact that he was obliged punctually to pay rent for his lodgings, instead of being provided with a cottage at the parish expense. We suggest, that to diminish distaste to the Colonies on imaginary grounds, the emigrants from particular parishes and neighbourhoods in England should be directed, as far as possible, to the same townships or districts, in which the new comers would thus find old acquaintances, and manners with which they would be familiar. We believe that this precaution would commonly lessen their aversion to a new country, and that, if any returned, their misrepresentations would be more effectually checked by the accounts continually received from their colonial neighbours.
There are some other matters connected with the objects of our inquiry, on which we do not propose the immediate adoption of any specific measures, because we should be unwilling to embarass the progress of the remedies we deem of paramount importance by any change not necessarily connected with them. The following subjects appear to us, however, to deserve the consideration of the Legislature.
The first is the present method of rating the property chargeable with the relief of the poor. The mode of rating is now, like many other parts of the administration of the Poor-Laws, in the highest degree uncertain and capricious. "It will be seen," says one of our Assistant Commissioners, "by a reference to the Return recently made to Parliament, that in the first ten parishes named, viz. Abingdon, Andover, Arundel, Ashburton, Aylesbury, Banbury, Barnstable, and the parishes of St. Michael, St. Peter and St. Paul and Walcot, in the City of Bath, nine different rates of assessment are now in operation, and these vary in the proportion of one-fifth of the rent or actual value, as assessed at Ashburton, to the full or actual value as assessed at Bath; while at Bridgnorth, a little further on in the Return, it appears that, in the seven parishes of the same town, five different modes of assessment are adopted*109"
Nor is the fractional part of the value on which the rate is professedly made always fixed or ascertainable within each parish.
The Commissioner whom we have quoted says, "Appeals are frequently made to me (as a magistrate) upon this subject, and although it has been my duty as well as my desire to ascertain the fractional part of the real value (for we do not rate on the rack-rent) upon which the assessment professes to be made, in Kensington, where I reside, I have been unable to do so, because I could not find any man in the parish who could state it with accuracy; and my conviction is, that, when once the simple rule of real value is departed from, a door is opened to much partiality and much abuse*110."
In the town of Southampton, according to Captain Pringle, the assessment for the poor-rates is on a valuation made 60 years since. New buildings are assessed by the guardians, and at a much higher rate; many of the old being rated at about one-third of the rack-rent, whilst the new are nearly two-thirds.
That the mode of rating should be uniform; that it should be according to the actual value, and not any alleged, much less any uncertain or variable fractional part, is too obvious to be doubted; and we may observe, that besides affording a temptation and a cover to partiality and abuse, the present system, or want of system of rating, enables parishes at their discretion to render nugatory the salutary provisions of the 58th Geo. III. c. 69, as to the manner of voting in vestries.
It would be unjust, however, to assume the actual value of rateable property to be identical with the rack-rent. The value according to which property should be rated, appears to us to be the rent which a tenant, taking upon himself the burthen of repairs, could afford to pay under a 21 years' lease.
We have incidentally observed, in a former part of our Report, on the evils which arise from the exemption from rates enjoyed by the cottages or apartments inhabited by the poor, and of the payment of their rents by the parish. The enactment of the 59 Geo. III. c. 12, s. 19, was directed against these evils; but it has been found defective, inasmuch as it empowers, and does not enjoin parishes to rate the owners instead of the occupiers, and because dwellings let at a rent of less than 6l. a year, or for three months, or any longer term, are exempted from the operation of this power. The remedies we have already recommended will lessen the interest of the owners of the dwellings of the poor in the mal-administration of the parochial fund; but we think that for effecting an improvement in the composition and conduct of vestries, and for securing the more full and punctual payment of the rates, it is desirable that the owner of every dwelling or apartment let to the occupier at any rent not exceeding 15l. for any less term than seven years, should be rated instead of the occupiers.
Militia Men's Families
The Act of the 43d Geo. III. c. 47, (for consolidating the laws for the relief of the families of militia-men,) to which we have already referred, appears to us to be within the range of the inquiries which we have been directed to make, and it deserves to be reconsidered by the Legislature. It enacts in substance, that if a militia-man be called into actual service, leaving a family unable to support themselves, an allowance, after a rate not exceeding the price of one day's labour, nor less than 1s. per head, for the wife and each of the children under ten years of age, shall be paid, upon the order of one justice, to such family, by the overseers of the parish where they dwell.
The justices in quarter-sessions may settle the rate of allowance for such county, and the allowance so settled is binding on the individual justices. The payment made by the overseers of the place where the family dwell, to be reimbursed by other parishes and places in a manner immaterial to our purpose.
These payments are open to many of the objections to the "allowance system." They are made not in reward of the services of the father, or in proportion to those services, but in proportion to the assumed necessity of the family, and this necessity is assumed to be in proportion to their numbers; for although, perhaps, the words of the Act would authorize a justice to refuse to make an order, where the mother was manifestly able to maintain all her children, yet it is clear that, if he give anything, the magistrate must give the full allowance for all the members of the family; and we believe the Act is commonly construed (as without violence it may be) as not even leaving the justice satisfied of the fact of marriage, and the number and age of family, any discretion to withhold the allowance. We have already stated that this Act, or rather the Acts which it consolidates and amends, largely contributed, in many parts of the kingdom, to familiarize both magistrates and parish officers with the allowance system, and it diminished the shame of applications for parochial assistance, because it exhibited, as receivers of relief by the hands of the overseers, numerous families to whom no moral blame could be justly attributed. We feel great difficulty, however, in proposing the abolition of the provisions in question, depending as it does on the method established by law of recruiting for the militia by lot. It is not within the province of our commission to pronounce an opinion on this mode of recruiting; but whatever may be its advantages, we may be permitted to state our belief, that it has tended—it must tend when it is no longer dormant—to discourage the course of steady industry, and to increase the excuses for improvidence. It adds a factitious chance of ruin to those inevitable accidents of health and fortune which make the reward of steady industry in some degree precarious, and must render the strict administration of the poor-laws more difficult, by multiplying the cases of blameless destitution.
Closely connected with the relief provided by the Poor-Laws is the relief provided by charitable foundations. As to the Administration and effect of those charities which are distributed among the classes who are also receivers of the poor-rate, much evidence is scattered throughout our Appendix, and it has forced on us the conviction that, as now administered, such charities are often wasted, and often mischievous. In many instances being distributed on the same principle as the rates of the worst managed parishes, they are only less pernicious than the abuse in the application of the poor-rates, because they are visibly limited in amount. In some cases they have a quality of evil peculiar to themselves. The majority of them are distributed among the poor inhabitants of particular parishes or towns. The places intended to be favoured by large charities attract, therefore, an undue proportion of the poorer classes, who, in the hope of trifling benefits to be obtained without labour, often linger on in spots most unfavourable to the exercise of their industry. Poverty is thus not only collected, but created, in the very neighbourhood whence the benevolent founders have manifestly expected to make it disappear.
These charities, in the districts where they abound, may interfere with the efficacy of the measures we have recommended, and on this ground, though aware that we should not be justified in offering any specific recommendation with respect to them, we beg to suggest that they call for the attention of the Legislature.
WE have now recommended to YOUR MAJESTY the measures by which we hope that the enormous evils resulting from the present mal-administration of the Poor-Laws may be gradually remedied. It will be observed, that the measures which we have suggested are intended to produce rather negative than positive effects; rather to remove the debasing influences to which a large portion of the Labouring Population is now subject, than to afford new means of prosperity and virtue. We are perfectly aware, that for the general diffusion of right principles and habits we are to look, not so much to any economic arrangements and regulations as to the influence of a moral and religious education; and important evidence on the subject will be found throughout our Appendix. But one great advantage of any measure which shall remove or diminish the evils of the present system, is, that it will in the same degree remove the obstacles which now impede the progress of instruction, and intercept its results; and will afford a freer scope to the operation of every instrument which may be employed for elevating the intellectual and moral condition of the poorer classes. We believe, that if the funds now destined to the purposes of education, many of which are applied in a manner unsuited to the present wants of society, were wisely and economically employed, they would be sufficient to give all the assistance which can be prudently afforded by the State. As the subject is not within our Commission, we will not dwell on it further, and we have ventured on these few remarks only for the purpose of recording our conviction, that as soon as a good administration of the Poor-Laws shall have rendered further improvement possible, the most important duty of the Legislature is to take measures to promote the religious and moral education of the labouring classes.
Notes for this chapter
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Mr. Chadwick's Report.
App. (A.) Part II.
App. (A.) Part I. p. 649.
21st Article of Agreement for regulating the Friendly Society formed at Eltham, Kent.
8th Article for regulating the TRIPLE FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY, Blackfriars, London.
App. (A.) Part II.
Some allowance must be made in this case for the rapid increase of the town of Cambridge.
Mr. Cowell's Rpep. Ap. (A.) Part I. p. 619 et seq.
Mr. Majendie's Rep. App. (A.) Part I. p. 170; Mr. Stuart (A.) Part I. p. 375; Capt. Pringle (A.) Part I. p. 320; Mr. Maclean (A.) Part I. p. 573, &c.
App. (A.) Part I. p. 377.
App. (A.) Part I. p. 574.
Mr. Majendie's Rep., App. (A.) Part I. p. 203.
Mr. Codd's Rep., App. (A.) Part I. p. 50.
Mr. Codd's Rep., App. (A.) Part I. p. 50.
End of Notes
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