HC Deb 09 March 1827 vol 16 cc1086-91
Sir N. Colthurst

said, he had some Petitions to present, to which he must beg to call the attention of the House. In the month of August, very considerable distress prevailed among the labouring classes in the city of Cork, and a public meeting was held for the purpose of devising some measure for their relief. It was numerously and respectably attended; and, after a subscription had been entered into for the immediate relief of the distress, a long and animated discussion arose as to the best means of preventing a recurrence of it. The result of that discussion was the adoption of the Petition which he now presented, praying the House to consider the expediency of introducing into Ireland a modified system of Poor-laws. This decision of the meeting, however, was so far from giving general satisfaction, that it created very considerable alarm among the inhabitants of Cork, and meetings were held in all the parishes, at which petitions were adopted, praying the House not to sanction the introduction of the Poor-laws, should such a measure be proposed. These petitions he begged also to present to the House. From the best opinion he could form of the subject, the introduction of the Poor-laws into Ireland would be a most dangerous experiment; and, under all the circumstances of that country, unsuited to it.

Mr. H. Grattan

expressed himself strongly in favour of a modified system of Poor-laws.

Mr. Monck

supported the prayer of the Petition. He thought this as much an English as an Irish question. The county of Berks, during the last year, paid no less than 1,000l. for passing Irish vagrants on their way from Bristol to London. In the time of Queen Elizabeth, it was on record, that the population of England produced a race of mendicants, half paupers and half marauders, somewhat similar to those who now infested Ireland; but in that reign those laws were enacted under which the present system of Poor-laws was supported; and at that period the miseries and crimes attendant upon a state of mendicity had become almost unknown. In Ireland, previous to the Union, some attempts had been made to introduce a similar system, and particularly by an act which provided, that a penitentiary and asylum, to serve as a Bridewell, and a workhouse should be erected in every county. This act had, unfortunately, except in one or two instances, in Limerick and Waterford, remained almost a dead letter; and the benefits which might have accrued from it were consequently lost. In fact, it appeared, that in that unhappy country, the laws which related to the rich were executed with all attention and severity, while those relating to the poor were wholly neglected. In his opinion, there ought to be some power given to the party to exact from the Irish gentry and absent he landlords, a provision for their poor countrymen. They received in the present corn bill, a valuable consideration, for which they, in fact, gave nothing; and he conceived that strict justice required them to relieve this country from the burthens imposed upon them by the Irish poor, through the means of some contributions, whether voluntary or forced, to their support at home. He was quite sure, that if the clergy of Ireland at all resembled the clergy of England, they would willingly give a fair proportion of their tithes towards the maintenance of the poor; and he must again express his earnest hope, that this session would not pass over without some provision being made on this subject.

Sir John Newport

said, he was convinced, that the application of the poor-laws to Ireland would be attended with greater evils to that country, and produce greater want and misery than that which it at present suffered. In the district where he resided, there was not, for the space of eleven miles, a single individual to whom the duties attendant upon the administration of any part of a system of poor-laws could with safety be confided. Even in those parts where the country might be more thickly peopled, and the persons fit for the offices more numerous, he feared that they were not sufficiently so to prevent a system of jobbing which must be extremely pernicious in. a country so poor. and suffering so much from all kinds of misrule. He had no disposition to speak ill of his countrymen; but he felt that the majority of its poor had a propensity beyond the people of almost any other country, to live without labour. A system of provision like the English poor-laws, would have the effect of encouraging that propensity to a great extent; for, if it was once held out to them, that they could live, under any circumstances without labour, he was convinced that no labour would be done. This was not the proper time to enter upon the question; he would only, therefore, observe, that any system of parochial assessment, to be distributed under the authority of those who could, under the present state of Ireland, be found in these parishes, would be productive of great evil, and lead to fraud and delusion. The question was one, however, of considerable importance; and he would be happy to have it ascertained, whether or not the system of English poor-laws might not be beneficially applied to some parts of Ireland, where greater means were afforded of having its provisions faithfully executed.

Mr. G. Dawson

said, that whenever the poor-laws were mentioned in that House, he could not omit any opportunity of raising his voice against the introduction of them into Ireland. The right hon. baronet had justly represented the state of society in Ireland, and the consequence which would result from introducing the poor-laws into that country. Whatever sums were raised by county assessments, parish-rates were levied upon the occupying tenants, and to suppose, therefore, that absentees would be affected by it was a perfect delusion. Such great landholders as the duke of Devonshire and lord Fitzwilliam, would not pay a sixpence. It would all fall upon their tenants; and thus it would happen, that not the aged and infirm, but the idle and vicious, would be enabled to live on the earnings of the industrious.

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

said, that as he had given notice of a motion connected with this subject, he would not trouble the House with any observations now. He must, however, say, that the hon. member for Reading had advanced some of the most extraordinary propositions that he had ever heard. He was much obliged to his hon. friend for having told the House; that, on the principles of the union, Ireland had just as much right to export grain to this country, as Berkshire had to send into any other county in England; but then he wished, at the same time, that Ireland should be taxed by poor-laws in the same manner as Berkshire was. From such a proposal he should certainly dissent; and he trusted that the House would not be deluded by these partial observations, into the supposition that the poor-laws could ever be successfully introduced into Ireland.

Mr. H. Grattan

said, that the poverty of Ireland not only was and had been very great, but that its poverty had cost this country no inconsiderable sum. The hon. member then adverted to the subscriptions which had been raised in this country, in 1822, in order to relieve the distresses which then prevailed in Ireland. In the city of Dublin, at this present moment, not only poverty but disease reigned every where. The hon. member then read, from a report of the state of the poor in Dublin, an account of the number of destitute in different parishes, and declared, that in many; a great part of the population was supported by the contributions received from benevolent individuals, who were encouraged to give their bounty on the application of the residents of the parishes, going round from house to house. Want, disease, and misery, went hand in hand in that unfortunate city; and, unless something was done speedily by the government, a state of things must ensue, which it was painful to contemplate. Something ought to be done, and done shortly; for, although the hon. member for Derry might contend that the poor-laws were inapplicable to Ireland, yet, when the question was between life and death, extraordinary remedies must be their only resort.

General Gascoyne,

as one of the representatives of Liverpool, felt himself called upon to protest against the system of passing vagrants to Ireland by that port. Upwards of one third of all the rates collected in that town were expended upon the passing of Irish to their own country. He must either beg the hon. member for Wicklow to persevere in the motion of which he had given notice, or call upon the House himself to adopt some measure, which might relieve his constituents from the annually increasing burthen thus imposed upon them. The people of Ireland had very good reason for giving encouragement to the emigration of Irish la- bourers. They came to this country poor and destitute; and after labouring, to the injury of the working classes in England, they returned to Ireland with money sufficient for the payment of the rent of those farms which the hon. member for Derry described them as taking so improvidently. He did not wish to undervalue the merits of the industry of the Irish peasant; but he was satisfied that their emigration to this country produced evils which ought to be corrected.

Sir H. Parnell

contended, that no relief, such as that suggested by the hon. member for Dublin, could prove effectual; until there was a greater security for property in Ireland, and until the rate of wages was increased by the employment of capital. As long as the Irish peasant could not find labour at home, or labour at so low a rate of wages as to be insufficient for his support, he would leave his country whenever an opportunity presented itself.

Colonel Trench,

while he deplored the state to which Ireland was reduced, could not consent to emigration as a remedy for its evils. He was convinced that if the plan of emigration was put into effect, to the extent proposed by those who embraced it, its effect would be to carry away from Ireland all its best labourers, all those who possessed industry, skill, or a small capital; and that instead of leaving that country in a condition to become better, it would deprive it of all the elements of prosperity.

Mr. J. Maxwell

complained of the inundation of Irish into Scotland, where they could neither be relieved nor supported.

Mr. Van Homrigh

described the condition of the part of Ireland which he represented as most deplorable, as there were more than five thousand paupers in Drogheda and its vicinity.

Mr. James Grattan

said, he had heard some hon. members, and among them the member for Derry, say, that the poor-laws must make the state of Ireland infinitely worse than it was. Now, the hon. member for Drogheda had just stated, that there were five thousand paupers in one district, and he would ask what state could be worse than that? What alteration could place them in a state more deplorable? He knew that, but for the exertions of a Mendicity Society, supported by voluntary contribution, in the city of Dublin, it would be impossible, at that very moment, for any shop-keeper to keep his door open for the purpose of carrying on business. But for the exertions of that Society, the doors would be so besieged with mendicants, that all passage must be impossible. With respect to the motion of which he had given notice, he certainly could not pledge himself to press it, in opposition to the declared hostility of so many Irish members; he would reserve himself, therefore, for a future occasion, merely declaring that his opinion, as to its expediency, had not undergone any material change.

Ordered to lie on the table.

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