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if the poor knew with certainty that the the deficiency of wheat. He allowed restraint bore equally upon every body, that, on this question there was a consi. that all men were on a level, and that the derable difference of opinion. He conrich were not fed with better bread than fessed that the mere signatures of memthemselves, there would be no discontent. bers could not be expected to have the They would all be satisfied, and submit to desired effect, unless the subscribers, by the necessity of the case. But if it were their individual exertions and influence, otherwise, I say you are bound by pru- endeavoured to recommend and forward dence and duty to meet the difficulty be the agreement in the several parishes in fore it is insurmountable; sooner or later town and country. Without this, he you must do it. In my mind, you ought could entertain no sanguine hopes ; but to have taken this resolution long ago. feeling as he did, the importance of the You must make your option between two object, he could not but expect that inconveniences, or rather between some every exertion would be made. “Another inconvenience, and the probability of a objection was, that we should find a regreat calamity. Consider whether it be luctant and discontented poor; but in worse that the people should murmur and various places it has appeared that many repine to-day, or run the risk of being of the poor have been inclined, from the starved to-morrow. If the object be essen- scarcity of wheat, to have recourse to tial, it must be accomplished. I do not say other mixtures of grain; and he under, that the agreement which the committee stood that in one of the parishes of Westpropose to us to sign will have no effect minster 1,400 loaves, of an inferior qua. at all
, or that it ought not to be promoted. lity, were distributed weekly among the This and every other expedient that can poor. In every measure of this kind there be devised to lessen the consumption of were two objects ; first, that of increasing wheat, ought, undoubtedly to be encou- the supply and diminishing the consumpraged. But when a security against fa- tion; and, secondly, to do that in a way mine is the object, it is not wise, it is not the most satisfactory to the bulk of the safe, to trust to hopes and probabilities, people. If, in the course of the ensuing if you have certainty in your power. year, the necessity should appear greater That certainty is to be had by such a law than at present, and this agreement should as I have alluded to, and in my opinion, not be found to answer the desired obby no other method whatever.
ject, it would be for the wisdom of the Mr. Ryder said, he differed from the House then to consider what farther steps hon. gentleman, as to the adoption of a might be necessary to be taken. In the legal provision; at least, till gentlemen mean time, he thought that the probable saw the issue of a voluntary engagement. advantages of the present measure would The question of remedying the evils of be sufficient to counterbalance any evil scarcity divided itself into two parts. arising from the delay of adopting any First, how far we might be supplied from other plan. foreign markets; and, secondly how far The motion was agreed to. by internal arrangements we might prevent the evil. It then appeared to him Debate in the Commons on Mr. Whitdoubtful whether we might not, in conse- bread's Bill to regulate the Wages of Laquence of the bounties offered for impor. bourers in Husbandry.] Dec. 9. Mr. tation, and by the voluntary associations Whitbread presented to the House a bill of people of distinction, preclude the ne- to explain and amend so much of the cessity of a positive law, which, in such act of the 5th of Elizabeth, intituled, cases, should only be resorted to when 'An act containing divers orders for Arall other exertions failed of success. • tificers, Labourers, Servants of Hus. Mixed bread was before prohibited, and bandry, and Apprentices,' as empowers now the bakers were permitted to use and justices of the peace, at, or within six sell it. The usage of this sort of bread weeks after, every general quarter seswas a good deal unknown to the people ; sions held at Easter, to regulate the and time should be allowed to sce whe- wages of labourers in husbandry.” The ther it would become general. If not, it bill was read a first time. On the motion might, as the last resource, be enforced for the second reading, Mr. Whitbread by law. The only question was, whether said, that he had brought forward this a voluntary agreement, or compulsion, bill under the idea that it was possible, by was preferable, with a view of remedying adopting its regulations, to give great relief to a very numerous and useful class of order to pledge themselves to use only a the community. The act of Elizabeth particular sort of bread, with a view to empowered justices of the peace to fix diminish the pressure of the scarcity, the maximum of labour. This bill went ought they not at the same time to form only to empower them to fix the minimum. an association, in order to raise the price However, the House might decide with of labour to a rate proportionate to the respect to his bill, he trusted at least price of the articles of subsistence ? With that the act of Elizabeth would be re- this view, he called upon the House to pealed.
consider the principle of the bill and its Mr. Fot said, that the bill was un provisions. He would call upon them doubtedly a bill of great delicacy and also to attend to the subject, in a constiimportance, and with respect to which, tutional view, though he could not hope, he admitted that, to a considerable ex- from the complexion of recent transactent, there might exist a rational differ- tions, that this was a view of the subject, ence of opinion. The act of Elizabeth, which would have great weight. It was as his hon. friend had truly stated, em- not fitting in a free country that the powered the justices to fix the highest great body of the people should depend price of labour, but it gave them no on the charity of the rich. In the elecpower to fix the lowest. It secured the tion of members of Parliament, all those master from a risk which could but sel- were strictly excluded from exercising dom occur, of being charged exorbi- any franchise, with a very few exceptions, tantly for the quantity of service ; but it who had at any time received relief frou did not authorize the magistrate to pro the parish. Was it becoming in a countect the poor from the injustice of a try like this, that the general mass of the griping and avaricious employer, who labouring part of the community, exceptmight be disposed to take advantage of ing those who derived relief from the their necessities, and undervalue the rate bounty and generosity of individuals, of their service. If the price of labour should be excluded from the exercise of was adequate to the support of the poor their most important privilege as freein ordinary times, though not equal to men? He admitted many of the rich to the accidental high price of provisions at be humane and charitable; but he could the present moment, it might be contend- not allow that those who were the most ed, that there was less necessity for any useful and industrious members of sonew legislative regulation. But, taking ciety should depend upon a fund so prethe average price of labour for some carious and degrading, as the occasional years past, including that period during supplies derived from their bounty. If which the scarcity had operated, no man the price of provisions had for two years could deny that the price of labour was been such as to put every poor man un. greatly disproportionate to the rate of der the necessity of applying for the aid provisions. That the general price of la. of parochial charity, and if that circumbour should be adequate to the support stance constituted a positive disqualificaof the general mass of the community was tion with respect to the exercise of a conindisputably a right principle. They all stitutional right, what, he asked, was the knew that a very extensive tax was state of a country which first compelled exacted from the country, under the de- every poor man to dependence, and then nomination of poor-rates, and that such reduced him to servitude? If they were a tax must be continued. It was under to go into associations, pledging them. stood, that to this fund none could apply, selves to use a particular sort of bread, but those few to whom, from particular with a view to alleviate the scarcity, it circumstances, their labour might not be was surely of more importance that they sufficiently productive to secure an ade- should associate in order to redress the quate support. But he feared that the
more material grievance, and strike at reverse was the case ; that the exception the fundamental source of the evil. With was with respect to the few who derived this view he should be glad to see an assufficient means of subsistence from their sociation in order to put the price of lalabour, and that the great mass of the bour upon a footing adequate to the rate labouring part of the community were of provisions. If the regulations of the under the necessity of applying to this present bill should not be adopted, he fund for relief. If the House, as was should be happy that any other legislative proposed, were to form an association, in enactments should be brought forward
in order to afford relief and protection to had increased in the proportion of
six or seven ; and that of clothing, no The bill was ordered to be read a se- less than fourteen or fifteen fold in the cond time on the 3rd of February, and same period. The poor-rates, too, had to be printed.
increased since the beginning of this cen
tury from 600,0001., at which they were February 12, 1796. The order of the then estimated, to upwards of three milday being read for the second reading of lions. Nor was this prodigious increase the bill,
in the poor-rates to be ascribed to the Mr. Whitbread said, that ample time advance of population; for it was doubtful had been given for members to consider whether any such increase had taken maturely its object and regulations, and place. At the present period the conto collect from their constituents such trary seemed to be the case.
By the information as they might require. For pressure of the times, marriage was dishis own part, every inquiry he had insti- couraged ; and among the laborious tuted, convinced him of the necessity of classes of the community, the birth of a remedying the grievances of the indus- child, instead of being hailed as a blesstrious poor by some legislative provisions. ing, was considered as a curse. For this Whether those which he had suggested serious evil a remedy was required, and were the most proper to be adopted, was to this was the bill directed. It was his a question for the decision of the House? wish to rescue the labouring poor from a Having bestowed considerable pains in state of slavish dependence; to enable drawing up the bill, he might have left it the husbandman, who dedicated his days for their consideration upon its merits to incessant toil, to feed, to clothe, and alone, did not the novelty of the measure to lodge his family with some degree of demand a few words in explanation. He comfort; to exempt the youth of this felt as much as any man how greatly it country from the necessity of entering was to be desired that there should be no into the army or the navy, and from legislative interference in matters of this flocking to great towns for subsistence; nature, and that the price of labour, like and to put it in the power of him who every other commodity, should be left to ploughed and sowed and threshed the find its own level. From reasonings corn, to taste of the fruits of his industry, upon the subject, the result was, that it by giving him a right to a part of always would find its level. But the de- the produce of his labour. Such were ductions of reason were confuted by ex- the grounds upon which the bill in ques. perience; for he appealed to the sense of tion was built. To those who dreaded the House, whether the situation of the every thing that wore the aspect of innolabouring poor in this country was such vation, and reprobated every measure as any feeling or liberal mind would wish that was new, he would say, that here He did not mean that the wages of the was no departure from established prelabourer were inadequate for his subsist cedents, no introduction of unknown ence and comfort in times of temporary principles. The statute of the 5th of scarcity, and unusual hardship; but even Elizabeth, was enacted expressly for the at the period preceding such distress, the purpose of regulating the price of labour. evil had prevailed. In most parts of the This statute was acted upon for forty country, the labourer had long been strug- years, when it was afterwards amended gling with increasing misery, till the pres- by a subsequent one in the reign of James sure had become almost too grievous to | 1st, bearing a similar title. He would be endured, while the patience of the not be understood as commending the sufferers under their accumulated disa principle of these statutes : on the contresses had been conspicuous and exein- trary, he was of opinion, that they plary. And did not such distress, sup- operated as a clog to industry, by ported with so much fortitude, merit re- permitting justices to fix the maximum lief from the legislature ? Were it ne- of labour. But so late as the 8th of cessary to refer to any authority, he his majesty, justices were empowered could quote the writings of Dr. Price, in to regulate the wages of taylors, and which he showed that in the course of even now the lord mayor and council of two centuries, the price of labour had not London control those of the silk-weavers. increased more than three or at most To those who were afraid of entrusting four-fold; whereas the price of meat justices with power, he should only say, that he left the power where he found it. parliament, though he was afraid that its At present they were possessed of the provisions were such as it would be impopower to oppress the labourer ; and this litic, upon the whole, to adopt; and such bill only invested them with the addio as, if adopted, would be found to be in. tional power to redress his grievances. By adequate to the purposes proposed. The fixing the minimum of the wages of labour, authority of Dr. Price, had been adduced a comfortable subsistence was secured to to show the great advance that had taken industry, and at the same time greater ex- place on every article of subsistence, comertions were prompted by the hope of pared with the slow increase of the wages greater reward.
To some, perhaps, the of labour. But the statement of Dr. Price time of bringing this subject forward might was erroneous, as he compared the earnappear exceptionable. There were those ings of the labourer at the period when who would say, if the labourers were not the comparison is instituted, with the distressed, why agitate a question for price of provisions, and the earnings of which no necessity calls, and awaken de- the labourer at the present day, with the sires which are not felt? Others would price of the same articles, without advertmaintain, that it was unseasonable to di- ing to the change of circumstances, and to rect the public attention to such a subject, the difference of provisions. Corn, which while the pressure of distress might excite was then almost the only food of the ladiscontents, or raise improper expecta- bourer was now supplied by cheaper substitions. To these he could only answer, tutions and it was unfair to conclude that that he was not one who could see wise the wages of labour were so far from keepand salutary measures sacrificed to the ing pace with the price of provisions, bepretended inconvenience of the times : cause they could no longer purchase the and that he was of opinion that what was same quantity of an article for which proper to be done could scarcely be done the labourer had no longer the same out of season. He then moved, “ That demand. The simple question now to the bill be now read a second time." be considered was, whether the remedy
Mr. Pitt said, that in the interval which for the evil, which was admitted in a certain had taken place since the first reading of extent to exist, was to be obtained by the bill, he had paid considerable atten- giving to the justices the power to regution to the subject, and endeavoured to late the price of labour, and by endeavourcollect information from the best sources ing to establish by authority, what would to which he had access. The evil was be much better accomplished by the un•, certainly of such a nature as to render it assisted operation of principles : -It was of importance to find out a proper remedy, unnecessary to argue the general expebut the nature of the remedy involved dis- diency of any legislative interference, as cussions of such a delicate and intricate the principles had been perfectly recognature, that none should be adopted with- nized by the hon. genileman hiinself. out being maturely weighed. The pre- The moss celebrated writers upon politisent situation of the labouring poor in this cal economy, and the experience of those country, was certainly not such as could states where arts had flourished the most, be wished, upon any principle, either of bore ample testimony of their truth. They humanity, or policy. That class had of had only to inquire, therefore, whether late been exposed to hardships which the present case was strong enough for they all concurred in lamenting, and were the exception, and whether the means equally actuated by a desire to remove. proposed were suited to the object inHe would not argue how far the compa- tended? The hon. gentleman imagined rison of the state of the labourer, relieved that he had on his side of the question as it had been by a display of beneficence the support of experience in this country, never surpassed at any period, with the and appealed to certain laws upon the state of this class of the community int statute-book, in confirmation of his proformer times, was just, though he was position. He did not find himself called convinced that the representations were upon to defend the principle of these exaggerated. At any rate, the compari. statutes, but they were certainly introsons were not accurate, because they did duced for purposes widely different from not embrace a comprehensive view of the the object of the present bill. They were relative situations. He gave the hon. enacted to guard the industry of the gentleman ample credit for his good in country from being checked by a general tentions in bringing the present hill into combination among labourers; and the [VOL. XXXII.]
bill now under consideration, was intro- | plan, defective remedies produced noduced solely for the purpose of remedy- thing but confusion and disorder. The ing the inconveniences which labourers | laws of settlements prevented the work. sustain from the disproportion existing man from going to that market where he between the price of labour, and the price could dispose of his industry to the greatof living. He had the satisfaction to est advantage, and the capitalist, from hear the hon. gentleman acknowledge, employing the person who was qualified that if the price of labour could be made to procure him the best returns for his to find its own level, it would be much advances. These laws had at once in. more desirable than to assess it by arbi. creased the burthens of the poor, and trary statute, which in the execution was taken from the collective resources of the liable to abuse on the one hand, and in- state to supply wants which their operaefficacy on the other. If the remedy suc- tion had occasioned, and to alleviate a ceeded according to the most sanguine poverty which they tended to perpetuate. expectations, it only established what Such were the institutions which mis. would have been better effected by pringuided benevolence had introduced, and, ciple; and if it failed, on the one hand with such warnings to deter, it would be it might produce the severest oppression, wise to distrust a similar mode of conduct, and on the other encourage the most and to endeavour to discover remedies profligate idleness and extravagance. of a different nature. The country had Was it not better for the House, then, to not yet experienced the full benefit of consider the operation of general princi- the laws that had already been passed, to ples, and rely upon the effects of their correct the errors which he had explained. unconfined exercise ? Was it not wiser to From the attention he had bestowed upon reflect what remedy might be adopted, the subject, and from the inquiries he at once more general in its principles, and had been able to make of others, he was more comprehensive in its object, less ex- disposed to think we had not gone yet ceptionable in its example, and less dan. far enough, and to entertain an opinion gerous in its application? They should look that many advantages might be derived, to the instances where interference had and much of the evil now complained of shackled industry, and where the best in. removed, by an extension of those refortentions have often produced the most mations in the poor-laws which had been pernicious effects. It was indeed the begun. The encouragement of friendly most absurd bigotry, in asserting the ge- societies would contribute to alleviate neral principle, to exclude the exception; that immense charge with which the pub. but trade, industry, and barter would al- lic was loaded in the support of the poor, ways find their own level, and be impeded and provide by savings of industry for the by regulations which violated their na- comfort of distress. Now the parish tural operation, and deranged their pro- officer could not remove the workman, per effect. This being granted, he ap- merely because he apprehended he might pealed to the judgment of the House, be burthensome, but it was necessary that whether it was better to refer the matter he should be actually chargeable. But entirely to the discretion of a magistrate, from the pressure of a temporary distress, or to endeavour to find out the causes of might the industrious mechanic be transthe evil, and by removing the causes, to ported from the place where his exertions apply a remedy more justifiable in its could e useful to himself and his family, principle, more easy in the execution, to a quarter where he would become a more effectual in its operations, in fine, burthen without the capacity of being more consonant to every maxim of sound even able to provide for himself. To reand rational policy. The evil, in his opi- medy such a great striking grievance, the nion, originated in a great measure, in laws of settlement ought to undergo a rathe abuses which had crept into the poor- dical amendment. He conceived, that to laws of this country, and the complicated promote the free circulation of labour, to mode of executing them. The poor-laws remove the obstacles by which industry of this country, however wise in their ori- is prohibited from availing itself of its reginal institution, had contributed to fet- sources, would go far to remedy the evils, ter the circulation of labour, and to sub- and diminish the necessity of applying stitute a system of abuses, in room of the for relief to the poor-rates. In the evils which they humanely meant to re- course of a few years, this freedom, from dress, and by engrafting upon a defective the vexatious restraint which the laws im