THE POOR IN SCOTLAND.
A MEMORIAL was presented last week to the Town-Council of Glasgow from twenty-six Emigration Societies, consisting of 3,054 members, in the city and suburbs. These societies are formed by operatives for the purpose of emigrating in a body : their applica- tion was for " the aid and countenance of the Council" to assist them in getting out to Canada. The members of the Council, with every wish to assist their petitioners, were at a loss what to do : as Councillors, they bad neither authority nor funds at their command to give effect to the request. As is usual in Scotland, the idea of " applying to Government" was thrown out. One member thought " Government might grant assistance by pro- viding transport-ships" ; another, that " Government might ex- tend its countenance to poor and deserving operatives" ; a third, that " it would be equally wise and expedient in the Government to assist these poor and industrious persons to emigrate, as to grant supplies to the paupers of Paisley." On the very same day when the Town-Council were thus canvassing the feasibility of applying to " Government " to take 3,054 of the destitute unemployed (and their families) off their hands, their fellows in office of the Police Board assembled to consider the propriety of appointing an officer to look after "vagrancy and pauperism, with a view to its sup- pression or removal from the city." In the course of the discus- sion, the Lord Provost asserted that one-third of the paupers of the city did not belong to it. The proceedings of these two civic boards are illustrative of two points which have repeatedly been urged in this journal,—that the pauperism of Scotland is becoming unmanageable ; and that one of the causes is the want of a uniform law for the whole country. It is becoming unmanageable : Scotland is learning to look either to benevolent contributions from England or to the funds of the general empire for the relief of its poor—it is becoming a pauper province. First the " Highlands and Islands" send a begging depu- tation to London ; next, Paisley follows the example, trying to re- present the relief afforded in the first case as a precedent which ought to have the force of law ; and now a Town-Councillor of Glasgow builds upon the assistance given to Paisley as an argu- ment for Glasgow receiving the same. The Lord Provost's asser- tion that one-third of the city paupers do not belong to the city, is highly probable, considering the state of the law of settlement in Scotland, and the provision which a communication inserted in last week's Spectator showed to be made for the poor in rural parishes ; circumstances cooperating to accumulate a disproportionate amount of pauperism in manufacturing towns.
The conversations (they can scarcely be called more) of the public functionaries of Glasgow not merely illustrate the necessity of a legislative measure for the poor of Scotland; they indicate that the common sense of the community feels, however vaguely, the source of the evil, and the most efficient mode of cure. The mischief has been allowed to go on so long unchecked, that there is a surplusage of suffering that cannot be relieved by the opera- tion of an ordinary poor-law. A poor-law can only grapple with the pauperism which under the most favourable circumstances must exist in every country—can only relieve the poor, who, in the language of Scripture, " are always with us." The shrewd men of the North are aware that some other measure is necessary to carry off the redundant labouring population who cannot find employment, and to prevent a similar accumulation in future. The operatives are forming themselves into " emigration socie- ties," and the authorities are devising means for assisting them to emigrate. " Government " ought to lend its aid, they say : and they are right, for Government has the power to enable every industrious poor man who chooses, to carry his labour from a part of the British territories where there is no room for it, to a part where it is wanted. Government can do this, not by pro- viding transports, not by grants of money, but by subjecting the disposal of waste lands in its Colonies to one common law—by preventing any individual from seizing upon land which is the pro- perty of the whole community except on payment of a fair price for it ; by allowing every individual or company to obtain land upon paying a fair price for it ; and by devoting the money received for lands to the exclusive purpose of providing free passages for voluntarily emigrating labourers. All that " Government" has to do is, to establish a uniform system, to take care that its provi- sions be made known and intelligible to all, and to enforce it rigo- rously. The individual or associated enterprise of capitalists and labourers will do all that is necessary, provided they are assured of justice by such an arrangement on the part of the Government. Such an arrangement for preventing the growth of a redundant population in one part of the dominions of the empire while all the rest is comparatively vacant, although the public mind of Scotland seems most ripe for demanding it, is a concern of the whole Three Kingdoms.
The reform of the poor-law is the more immediate concern of Scotland ; and all that is required for that purpose is that the law shall be made to impose the burden of supporting paupers as equably as possible upon property, and provide cheap and expe- ditious means of enforcing obedience to its directions. The first defect of the existing poor-law of' Scotland is, that it is a custom rather than a law, and has all the vagueness and uncertainty of a custom : this is to be remedied by embracing all its details in one well-arranged and clearly-expressed statute. The second defect is, that assessments are levied in royal burghs and what are called landward parishes upon different principles—a difference which not only exposes some to be taxed more heavily than others, but enables many by quirks and evasions to escape altogether, and gives rise to much expensive and harrassing litigation : this is to be reme- died by the adoption of one uniform system of assessment. The third defect is the uncertainty which exists as to who are entitled to relief, and from whom : the remedy for this is a distinct definition of who are paupers in the eye of the law, and an amended law of settlement. The fourth defect is the want of competent jurisdic- tion in the courts of law : the remedy for this is to confer summary jurisdiction, in all questions arising out of the poor-law, upon the Sheriff and Burgh Courts in the first instance, with, in cases which involve a general principle, an appeal to the Court of Session b' a simple and economical form of " advocation." This is an outhne of what any poor-law reform for Scotland must embrace, to be of any use. Sir ROBERT PEEL has announced that the subject is under the consideration of the Cabinet : the accumulating evidence which every year brings to demonstrate the necessity of a change, ought to have prepared the Scotch to cooperate with the Govern- ment sincerely and cordially, to render perfect any adequately com- prehensive measure that may be submitted to Parliament.