Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

opinion, 'a measure of incalculable advantage, more especially 'in large parishes, and in towns of considerable extent.' But he adds:

'I should yet deprecate the present appointment of such permanent assistance; if the appointment were now made, the business would be wholly thrown into their hands; and n great deal more than is called for. Till the country at large has given its time to the investigation of abuses, and its weight and influence to their correction, the appointment of an assistant would be a mere temporary palliative: the removal of one or two abuses has just the effect of more firmly establishing the rest; the assistant only can execute; Vestries and Committees must plan.'

If, indeed, the appointment of an assistant overseer should have the effect of inducing gentlemen to undertake the management of the poor, who, though benevolently disposed, are now deterred from it by some of the more troublesome duties of a parish-officer, the measure might be highly advantageous; especially if ' the principle of discrimination as to the causes of 'distress," can be by this means introduced into the administration of the laws. In the proposal to establish, and invest with enlarged powers, Select Vestries, we see, however, no good end that is to be answered, unless it be the salutary control which it will lay upon the magistrates, who have already occasioned so much mischief by their arbitrary orders and scales of relief. Viewed as a plan for assimilating our practice to that of Scotland, nothing can be more fallacious. We can see no analogy whatever between a Select Vestry and a Kirk Session, except indeed that, as the minister of the parish is ex-offieio mo-, derator or preses of the latter, the clergyman Is, in the bill introduced by Mr. Sturges Bourne, constituted perpetual chairman of the former. We will not insist upon the difference between the presbyterian minister and the episcopal rector, although the relation in which they respectively stand to their parishioners, admits of being forcibly contrasted, and the attempt to overcome this essential dissimilarity of national and political circumstances, must prove utterly abortive. Associated with the presbyterian minister, in this ecclesiastical court, are ' a number of 'elders, not less than two, as the extent and population of the 'parish may require, each of them being appointed to the spe'cial charge of a particular district of it.'

'These elders are elected by the nomination of the Session itself; they fill up vacancies from the individuals most likely from their known principles and habits to discharge with fidelity, prudence, and zeal, their official duties, which include a genera/ superintendence of the public morals, and the administration of ecclesiastical discipline, a* weir as the management of the Poor; they are solemnly ordained to their office according to impressive prescribed forms, in the presence of the congregation when met for Divine worship.'

Have the rulers of our Episcopal church in contemplation to adopt this feature of Presbyterianism, in remodelling the parochial system? Are these to form part of the future duties of the churchwarden or the select vestry - But further, this Kirk Session has under its own exclusive administration, what in this country (here would be some difficulty in constituting, a parochial poor's fund.

« These funds,' says the Report of the General Assembly,' consists chiefly of fines exacted for immoralities, of which they take cognizance; of fees paid by immemorial custom at marriages and baptisms; of the sums drawn for the use of a hearse or a mort-cloth belonging to them; and of the interest of legacies bequeathed to their charge. They are also entitled to retain in their own hands, one half of the collections made at the church doors.* From these they distribute relief in occasional cases of want or distress, and also pay some other trifling i n cidental expenses.

* These elders,' it is added, 'being overseers and almoners for the poor, not for one or two years only, and reluctantly, but willingly and for life, acquire all the advantages for discharging their duty, which long experience in the administration of the interests entrusted to them, can confer.' 'They have an opportunity also of administering those private personal expostulations and admonitions which their office binds them to give where expedient and necessary, and which are often found, in fact, most useful, both as to economy in the distribution of the poor's funds, and as to improvement on the morals and habits of the Poor themselves. However difficult and laborious the duties which the ministers and elders have to discharge, all those duties have been performed from the Reformation to this day gratuitously! though, by a moderate computation, they employ regularly the active services of not less than four thousand individuals.'

In place of these ecclesiastical officers, Mr. Sturges Bourne's Bill gives us a salaried overseer, and the churchwardens ! So much for the intended assimilation of our practice to that of Scotland. Besides them, the Select Vestry is to include 'a limited number

* These collections form in many instances the tole parochial fund for the support of the poor, and are found sufficient. In parishes, however^ where it is found necessary to levy an assessment, the heritors themselves, who pay one half of the assessment, arc associated with tin- ministers, elders, and deacons, who are considered as representing 1 the tenants and possessors' paying the other half, in the management of the poor's funds. The minister of the parish, in these cases, attends the meeting, to assist them with his local knowledge, but has no vote either in fixing the amount of the assessment, or the distribution of it: so far is it from being true, as has been represented, that the minister and elders, might of themselves proceed to assess the parish.

of substantial householders, elected by the general vestry, but approved by the Justices.' The general vestries or parish aeetinga are, so far as regards the administration of the Poor jaws, to be wholly superseded, and even the right of voting in lie general vestry, is to be regulated according to the property ssessed ; that is to say, a person is to have a number of votes iroportioned to his property; in addition to alt the natural influoce of rank mid opulence, he is to be allowed singly to out< timber any two or three obstina'e fellows who may dare stand ip and vote against him. No doubt, 'in populous parishes, where the substantial householders are numerous,' (too nuiner>u« for the parson and the squire to hold in complete subordination,) it will-be, as Mr. Courtenay says,' very advantageous to take the management of parochial concerns from a body so susceptible of faction and turbulence as a great parish meeting.' A more unjust and aristocratical infringement of popuar rights was never proposed to the Legislature We do not »resume to say what may have been the real intention of the originator of the plan; he might not be fully aware of its operation] jut we must say that it has the appearance of being intended jnly to render the power and patronage of the few, still more absolute than ever, at the expense of the many. It is a matter of astonishment, that the country at large should have had their attention so little awakened towards the proposed enactment.

With reirard to Settlements, the Select Committee recommend a return to the old law, whereby a residence for three years conferred a settlement. This is the case in Scotland, according to the statute of 1672 ; provided that the pauper shall not, during that period, have applied for charity. Mr. Nicoll objects, that if residence he the ground of settlement, a regular discharge of the labourer will take place at the end of the second year; and he endeavours to shew, that litigation will not, by such a simplification of the law of settlement, be put an end to: this spirit, be thinks, can be repressed only by ' giving full costs * on every frivolous appeal, and on every vexatious or even 'careless perseverance in an order obtained.' We must content ourselves with referring, on this point, to the pamphlets by Mr. Nicoll and Mr. Courtenay, which we have so often cited.*

The establishment of Parochial Benefit Societies, is the last expedient which we have to notice. This, too, according to the representations of both these gentlemen, is liable to the most serious objections. The Committee, says one of them,

• The average amount of money expended in suits of law, removals, and expenses of parish officers, is given in the Commons Report, at upwards of two millions, or more than one fourth part of the money raised for the maintenance of the Poor.

'has proposed a sort of combination between the Parish rate, and the box of the Friendly society. This is a good deal like giving every labourer indiscriminately a penny roll in lieu of half a peck loaf. When the flavour of the roll has become familiar, the loai will presently follow; when the labourer and the Overseer are once formally introduced to each other; when the mav/oaise honte of the first interview is over, I see no sufficient cause in future to break off the intimacy.

'This plan implies a general dependence of the labourer on his Parish; all the usual barriers, shame, pride, timidity—are broken down; a habit of looking up to the rate is solicited. At present many an honest man encumbered by difficulties, reluctantly asks for relief, feels himself degraded whilst lie receives it, and presses forward with eagerness to the moment, when, once more supported by his own exertions, he can look round with confidence amongst his neighbours, and say, «« I am again your equal." But if the weekly contribution placed in the Friendly Society's box, is met with a proportional sum from the Parish; if out of every half-guinea advanced in sickness, it is obvious half-a-crown is the produce of the Poor rate, does not every member become an initiatory pauper, when he subscribes to the box, and a completed one, when he receives from it? I see nothing to prevent the man who has to-day received half-a-crown in sickness, tomorrow demanding five shillings on any other occasion of need. The shame of pauperism is stifled; the pride of independence and self support, subdued .- even' man who looks round in this case, sees himself amidst a group all like himself, followers of the rate; and where there is no degrading comparison, there will be little sense of debasement.

• Where there is any thing of a prudential forethought, parochial addition to the Society's box will be wholly needless; and where there is no forethought, it will be vain: a very small contribution produces an adequate payment in sickness. In large payments there is considerable danger; where the allowances in sickness are high, the poor man will always be sick; at least a temptation difficult to be withstood is thrown in his way.'

We confess that we do not quite agree with Mr. Nicoll in the view ho has taken of the necessary tendency of such societies. The plan professes only to be a compromise adapted to the present situation of the country, as affording a facility for 'effecting the desired transition from the present system of 'relief, to one founded upon better principles.' And when the bonus afforded by the parish bears so small a proportion as is proposed, to the spantaneous contributions of the individual, we do not see why 'the pride of self-support' must needs be destroyed by the arrangement. Such, a contributor must feel himself in a situation very different from the puuper, to say nothing of the good effect which the habit of voluntary contribution will have had upon his feelings and character. The Schedule . • attached to the Bill as amended by the Committee, contains, among other rules fur the government of such societies, the ex

press provision that ' No allowance on account of sickness will * be made, except upon a certificate from the apothecary:' this seems to obviate one of the above objections. The Bill must be •viewed as having a twofold object, the encouragement, and the security of Benefit Societies; institutions which all allow to be adapted, if they can be guarded from abuse, to be highly useful. The Preamble states that

'Whereas the habitual reliance of poor persons upon Parochial Relief, rather than upon their own industry, tends to the moral deterioration of the people, and to the accumulation of heavy burthens upon the parishes; and it is desirable, with a view as well to the reduction oi the assessments made for the relief of the poor, as to the gradual introduction of a better feeling among the people, that special encouragement and facility should be afforded to meritorious and industrious persons, for rescuing themselves from the necessity of a resort to parochial relief; and for this purpose it is adviscable that such persons should be invited and assisted to make provision, while young and healthy, for their own maintenance, when visited with sickness or infirm old age.'

• And whereas by the contributions of the Savings of many industrious persons to one'common fund, the most effectual provision ma^ be made for the casualties affecting all the contributors; and if parishes be impowered to afford security to such fund, and to make a small addition thereto, the sums now expended by parishes upon the sick and aged may be greatly reduced, at the same time that industrious and frugal habits would be encouraged and rewarded.

« Be it therefore enacted, &c.'

If, however, instead of instituting Parochial Benefit Societies up-ill this plan, a few respectable individuals would combine to form a voluntary association for the district or province, holding out the simple advantage of guarantee, every objection would be obviated.* Mr. Courteuay gives his opinion in favour of such a

* Upon this subject, Mr. Barton's pamphlet (noticed in our September Number) contains some very valuable information and some judicious remarks. Sir F. Eden has stated «that in 1797. no instance 'had been known of a member of a Friendly Society becoming bur'densome to his parish.' Such instances are even now proved to bo rare, the proportion, in each county, between the number of paupers, and die number of persons members of Friendly Societies, being, as shewn in evidence before the Select Committee, in most cases, in an inverse rp.tio. Mr. Barton deprecates the bad effects to be apprehended from legislative interference with such societies, and he shew» that they possess advantages quite distinct from those of Savings' Banks, by the admirers of which they are too often depreciated. The number of persons belonging to Friendly Societies appears to be, on the average of the last three years, nearly 8-£ in each nundred of the population: the number relieved from the Poor's rate is 9J in each hundred. •

« AnteriorContinuar »