Imágenes de páginas


BO O K to be granted by that which he proposes to leave.

“ There is somewhat of hardship in this matter “ of certificates," says the same very intelligent Author, in his History of the Poor Laws, “ by “ putting it in the power of a parish officer, to “ imprison a man as it were for life; however “ inconvenient it may be for him to continue at “ that place where he has had the misfortune to “ acquire what is called a settlement, or what

ever advantage he may propose to himself by “ living elsewhere.”

Though a certificate carries along with it no testimonial of good behaviour, and certifies no. thing but that the person belongs to the parish to which he really does belong, it is altogether discretionary in the parish officers either to grant or to refuse it. A mandamus was once moved for, says Doctor Burn, to compel the churchwardens and overseers to fign'a certificate; but the court of King's Bench rejected the motion as a very strange attempt.

The very unequal price of labour which we frequently find in England in places at no great distance from one another, is probably owing to the obstruction which the law of fettlements gives to a poor man who would carry his industry from one parish to another without a certificate. A single man, indeed, who is healthy and induftrious, may sometimes refide by sufferance without one; but a man with a wife and family who should attempt to do so, would in most parishes be sure of being removed, and if the single man should afterwards marry, he would generally be



removed likewise. The scarcity of hands in one C HA P. parish, therefore, cannot always be relieved by their fuper-abundance in another, as it is conftantly in Scotland, and, I believe, in all other countries where there is no difficulty of settlement. In such countries, though wages may sometimes rise a little in the neighbourhood of a great town, or wherever else there is an extraordinary demand for labour, and fink gradually as the distance from such places increases, till they fall back to the common rate of the country; yet we never meet with those sudden and unaccountable differences in the wages of neighbouring places which we sometimes find in England, where it is often more difficult for a poor man to pass the artificial boundary of a parish, than an arm of the sea or a ridge of high moun, tains, natural boundaries which sometimes sepa. Tate very distinctly different rates of wages in other countries.

To remove a man who has committed no mifdemeanour from the parish where he chuses to refide, is an evident violation of natural liberty and justice. The common people of England, however, so jealous of their liberty, but like the common people of most other countries never rightly understanding wherein it confifts, have now for more than a century together suffered themselves to be exposed to this oppression without a remedy. Though men of reflexion too have sometimes complained of the law of settlements as a public grievance; yet it has never been the object of any general popular clamour,



BOO K such as that against general warrants, an abusive

practice undoubtedly, but such a one as was not likely to occasion any general oppression. There is scarce a poor man in England of forty years of age, I will venture to say, who has not in some part of his life felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements.

I shall conclude this long chapter with observing, that though anciently it was usual to rate wages, first by general laws extending over the whole kingdom, and afterwards by particular orders of the justices of peace in every particular county, both these practices have now gone entirely into difuse.

“ By the experience of above “ four hundred years," says Doctor Burn, “ it “ seems time to lay afide all endeavours to bring 6 under strict regulations, what in its own na66 ture seems incapable of minute limitation : for “ if all persons in the same kind of work were « to receive equal wages, there would be no “ emulation, and no room left for industry or “ ingenuity.”

Particular acts of parliament, however, still attempt sometimes to regulate wages in particular trades and in particular places. Thus the 8th of George III. prohibits under heavy penalties all master taylors in London, and five miles round it, from giving, and their workmen from accepting, more than two shillings and sevenpence halfpenny a day, except in the case of a general mourning. Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are



always the masters. When the regulation, there- C HA P. fore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always juft and equitable ; but it is sometimes otherwife when in favour of the masters. Thus the law which obliges the masters in several different trades to pay their workmen in money and not in goods, is quite just and equitable. It imposes no real hardship upon the masters. It only obliges them to pay that value in money, which they pretended to pay, but did not always really pay, in goods. This law is in favour of the workmen ; but the 8th of George III. is in favour of the masters. When masters combine together in order to reduce the wages of their workmen, they commonly enter into a private bond or agreement, not to give more than a certain wage under a certain penalty. Were the workmen to enter into a contrary combination of the same kind, not to accept of a certain wage under a certain penalty, the law would punish them very severely; and if it dealt impartially, it would treat the masters in the same manner. But the 8th of George III. enforces by law that very regulation which masters sometimes attempt to establish by such combinations. The complaint of the workmen, that it puts the ableft and most industrious upon the same footing with an ordinary workman, seems perfectly well founded.

In ancient times too it was usual to attempt to regulate the profits of merchants and other dealers, by rating the price both of provisions and other goods. The assize of bread is, so far


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

BOO K as I know, the only remnant of this ancient

usage. Where there is an exclusive corporation,
it may perhaps be proper to regulate the price of
the first necessary of life. But where there is none,
the competition will regulate it much better than
any aflize. The method of fixing the affize of
bread established by the 31st of George II. could
not be put in practice in Scotland, on account
of a defect in the law; its execution depending
upon the office of clerk of the market, which does
not exist there. This defect was not remedied
till the third of George III. The want of an
aflize occasioned no sensible inconveniency, and
the establishment of one in the few places where
it has yet taken place, has produced no sensible
advantage. In the greater part of the towns of
Scotland, however, there is an incorporation of
bakers who claim exclusive privileges, though
they are not very strictly guarded.

The proportion between the different rates
both of wages and profit in the different employa
ments of labour and stock, seems not to be much
affected, as has already been observed, by the
riches or poverty, the advancing, stationary, or
declining state of the society. Such revolutions
in the public welfare, though they affect the
general rates both of wages and profit, must in
the end affect them equally in all different em-
ployments. The proportion between them, there-
fore, muft remain the fame, and cannot well be
altered, at least for any considerable time, by any
such revolutions.


« AnteriorContinuar »