Page images

sieged, he would have had no alternative but to recross the desert to Egypt, as Napoleon Bonaparte had found himself obliged to do in similar circumstances. The possession of Acre was an indispensable preliminary to an advance into Syria, which would otherwise have been an act of insanity-the forerunner of certain destruction: no commander, however rash, would have ventured, in so narrow a country, to leave such a place in his rear; and hence, if by timely aid Abdallah Pasha had been enabled to make good his defence, Ibrahim's career would have been checked at the outset; and Syria, with its dependencies, would have been saved to the Ottoman empire.

ART. VIII.-Remarks on the Poor Laws, and on the Method of Providing for the Poor in Scotland. By DAVID MONYPENNY, Esq., formerly one of the Senators of the College of Justice. 8vo. Edinburgh: 1834.


HE defects and abuses of the English system of Poor Laws, and the means by which they may be obviated, have recently engrossed a large share of the public attention; and have excited a pretty general desire among our southern neighbours to be made acquainted with the methods of providing for the necessitous poor adopted in other countries. Of these, Scotland is evidently entitled to most attention, not only from the similar circumstances under which we are placed, but from the striking resemblance that exists between many of the principles that pervade our pauper legislation and that of England, contrasted with the wide difference exhibited in their practical results. The most sagacious enquirers seem to be fully alive to this; and hence the great attention paid by Committees of the House of Commons to the Scotch system, and the pains they have taken to become acquainted with it. Still, however, the information acquired in this way is both incomplete and diffuse; and is frequently also not a little inaccurate. It is, besides, buried amidst a multitude of other details, and is not, indeed, at all accessible to the mass of readers. Under these circumstances, we think we shall perform an acceptable service by endeavouring to supply a brief and popular account of the Scotch method of providing for the poor. The task is much facilitated by the appearance of Mr Monypenny's valuable work. Its author was formerly a distinguished judge of the Court of Session; so that his statements may be justly regarded as of the highest authority. And

we do not know that he could have more usefully employed his honourable retirement than in communicating to the public the fruits of his learning and experience embodied in the present publication.

1. The laws relating to the support of the poor in Scotland, originated, like those in most other countries, in attempts to check the prevalence of mendicity. The earliest act of the Scotch Parliament, having reference to the poor, was passed in 1424. It prohibits all persons from begging between the ages of fourteen and seventy, who should not be furnished with a pass from the proper authorities; and it further orders all other poor persons to betake themselves to some species of useful industry, under penalty of burning on the cheek and banishment. The provisions of this act were reinforced by succeeding statutes (1503, cap. 70, 1535, cap. 22); but from 1424 down to 1579, the impotent poor had no legal claim to any sort of relief except that of authorized mendicity; and if the claims of the able-bodied poor to relief during this period were ever brought under discussion, they were certainly not recognised.

Owing to the degradation of the coin, and to the confusion and disorders occasioned by the subversion of the Catholic Establishment, and of the religious houses and hospitals attached to it, by which many poor people had previously been supported, the number of destitute persons seems to have rapidly increased during the sixteenth century; at the same time that the enactments against mendicity either fell into disuse, or were but very carelessly enforced. In consequence of this increase of pauperism, some of the leaders of the reformers proposed that the estates and revenues of the Catholic Church should be applied partly for the support of the ministers of the New Establishment, partly for the instruction of youth, and partly as a fund for the regular support of the poor. There are no good grounds for thinking that the adoption of this proposal would have had any beneficial result; and it is not to be regretted that it did not take effect. The nobles and others who had seized upon the Church property, had no inclination to part with it for such objects. They consequently rejected the scheme as being, to use their own words, a devout imagination;' to the great grief of the reformed clergy, who, notwithstanding their secession from the Catholic creed, entertained a sufficiently warm affection for the good things that had been enjoyed by the Catholic priesthood.


At length, in 1579, the Scotch Parliament passed the celebrated statute, 12 Jac. VI., cap. 74, which forms the basis of the existing code of Poor Laws. This statute is in several parts literally copied from an English statute, the 14th of Elizabeth,


cap. 5, passed about seven years previously. It introduced, for the first time, the principle of compulsory assessment into Scotland; but with the important limitation, that it confines all legal title to relief to poor, aged, and impotent persons; while it directs that all idle and lazy vagabonds,' including all common labourers, being personnes abile in body, living idle, and fleeing labour,' shall be punished as vagrants and vagabonds, and that a fine shall be imposed on every one harbouring such persons, or giving them alms. There is not a word said in the statute about providing work for any unemployed person, though this forms a prominent topic in the English act of the 14th of Elizabeth; and it seems plainly to have been intended to provide merely for the support of such poor impotent persons as had previously been without any means of subsistence, other than what they derived from begging. Besides its directions as to the treatment of vagabonds and sturdy beggars, it prescribes the proceedings to be adopted with respect to runaway servants, the mode of passing soldiers and seamen to their respective parishes, the regulation of hospitals, the mode of taxing (stenting) the inhabitants for the objects of the act, the appointment of overseers, collectors, &c.

Sir Frederick M. Eden seems disposed to think that this statute, instead of being borrowed from the English act 14th Elizabeth, cap. 5, formed a model which the English Parliament had copied; and that many of the provisions respecting the poor in England had been framed in conformity with the Scotch policy.'* The late Mr Francis Horner accounted for this singular error from the circumstance of Sir F. M. Eden not having seen the 14th Elizabeth, cap. 5; it not being inserted in the more common editions of the Statutes, though it is in Rastell's, and some of the older collections. It is, indeed, impossible to doubt that the framers of the Scotch act had the previous English act before them; and so closely did they copy it, that the execution of the former in country parishes is committed, agreeably to the English practice, to those that sall be constitute Justices be the Kingis commission'ers,' there being no justices in Scotland at that time, nor till 1587, eight years after the passing of this act.

These circumstances have been but incidentally alluded to by Mr Monypenny; and we have been thus particular in noticing them, not so much in the view of correcting the mistake of Sir F. M. Eden, as of showing, beyond the possibility of doubt, that

* History of the Poor, vol. i., p. 131.

Note to Mr Whitbread's Speech on the Poor Laws, 1807,

the granting of relief to able-bodied paupers, either by supplies of work or otherwise, formed no part of the original Scotch system. All the regulations in the act of 1579 are copied, sometimes almost to the very letter, from the provisions in the preceding act of Elizabeth, leaving out those which have reference to the furnishing of work to able-bodied paupers. Now, as no one can say that an omission of this sort could be accidental, it is plain it could result only from the fixed determination of the Scotch Parliament to withhold legal relief from all except such as were disabled or impotent. The previously quoted words of the statute are, indeed, sufficient to establish this; but if there were any doubt on the subject, the fact of the statute being merely a paraphrase of the 14th Elizabeth, cap. 5, omitting all mention of the provisions as to the supply of work for the ablebodied poor, is quite conclusive.

Some of the later Scotch acts, and some of the proclamations that were issued in the reign of William III., contain provisions that have been supposed by some to require that work should be provided for the able-bodied poor. But any such interpretation is plainly inconsistent with the principles laid down in the statute of 1579; and Mr Monypenny thinks that the provisions in question refer only to the ordinary poor, that is, to those that are decayed and impotent. The statutes referred to,' says he, sufficiently establish that the impotent poor, who are to be enrolled in the parish lists, in order that their wants may be regularly supplied, and for whom an assessment must, if necessary, be imposed, are only such as are disabled from procuring a living by their own labour, either by old age, or by some permanent bodily infirmity, or mental incapacity, and who have neither separate means, nor any relations who are bound and able to support them. The whole tenor and declared object of the 'statutes concur with the particular expressions now pointed out, in proving that such is the prescribed and limited operation of the Scotch poor laws. It is scarcely necessary to remark, that no countenance is given to the idea that, in any case whatever, the wages of labour may be made up out of the poor rates. All such difficulties, whenever they occur in the country, must 'be surmounted by other expedients.'-P. 27.

[ocr errors]

The fundamental principle thus briefly explained, has led in practice to the important distinction that exists in Scotland between the regular and the occasional poor. Those of the first

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

class,' to use the words of the late Rev. Sir H. Moncreiff, receive a constant supply from the parish funds; those of the second are only assisted when they are laid aside from work by sickness or 'accidental causes, and especially during that season of the year

'which chiefly affects their health, or suspends their usual labours. 6 They receive at that time such assistance as the immediate • necessities demand, for the limited period when they are in this situation; but when the cause which occasioned the demand ceases to operate, the parish assistance is withdrawn, and they return to their labour, under a conviction, which they never relinquish, that both their subsistence and their comfort must ulti❝mately depend on their personal industry.'

Mr Monypenny lays it down as clear law, that the occasional poor cannot insist on being supported by compulsory means. A measure of this sort, being of the nature of a tax, must not be resorted to without the authority of Parliament; and the existing statutory assessment is confined to the case of the enrolled poor, whose wants are of a permanent description.'

It must, however, be admitted, that there is a decision of the Court of Session in opposition to this doctrine. In 1804, certain able-bodied individuals, perfectly competent to earn a subsistence by labour, but who were involved, by accidental circumstances, in temporary distress, applied for relief to the heritors (proprietors) and kirk-session of the parish to which they belonged. A majority agreed to relieve their wants by an extraordinary assessment; but the minority appealed to the Court of Session against this decision-contending that the heritors and session had no power to make an assessment for such a purpose. The Court overruled the objection, but only by the narrowest majority, some of the ablest judges being at the same time in the minority. The question has not been agitated since, which shows that the practice has made no way; and it seems now to be the concurrent opinion of those best entitled to decide upon such a point, that if a case of the same sort were again brought before the Court, the former decision would not be repeated.

[ocr errors]

Hence, as Mr Monypenny states, in his concluding remarks on this topic, those who are able to work, but who, by temporary and accidental circumstances, are reduced to indigence, 'must be supplied from other than compulsory sources; and even when the public afford them support through the medium of the 'ordinary administrators of the poor, this is done on the footing of pure charity, the administrators being, in such cases, in reality the almoners of the public. The wants of such poor persons may be urgent, and some of them may be equally fit objects of charity as ⚫ the ordinary poor; but it is not to be regretted, either on their ' own account, or for the sake of the public, that they are not placed by the law in the rank of paupers, but are left to de'pend on private benevolence.'-(P. 40.)


2. Having thus ascertained the class of persons entitled to sup

« PreviousContinue »