HC Deb 01 April 1828 vol 18 cc1417-22
Mr. James Grattan

presented a petition from the silk weavers of Dublin, praying that the House would make some permanent provision for the Poor of Ireland. The hon. gentleman impressed upon the House the expediency of attending to the prayer of the petition, which related to a subject which was every day exciting additional attention in Dublin, Cork, and other parts of Ireland. He was decidedly of opinion, that if hon. gentlemen were to look to the various returns on the table they would be convinced of the necessity of some measure for enforcing the attention of the gentry of Ireland to the means of employment for the poor, in the view of their maintenance, instead of resorting to a system of emigration. The petitioners complained of the distress brought upon the country by the drain of capital from it, in consequence of absenteeism. His own opinion was, that some system of Poor-laws must be established in Ireland. He had himself ascertained recently in Dublin, that three thousand looms in that city were unemployed, and that the persons dependent on them, to the number of twenty-one thousand, were in a state of the utmost distress.

Sir J. Newport

thought that the Poor-laws and Poor-rates, if established in Ireland, would be productive of most extensive mischief, and that a very small portion only of the fund would reach the hands of the poor. He should protest against the introduction of them into that country, as the most dreadful visitation, that could be inflicted on it.

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

said, that the public opinion in Ireland was not favourable to the introduction of that system. The statement of his hon. friend was calculated to turn away the attention of parliament, from the consideration of the real and practical remedies for Irish grievances.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that his attention had often been directed to this subject, but the only conclusion to which he could come was, that the introduction of the English system of Poor-laws into Ireland would be most injurious to that country. Indeed, he could scarcely imagine any new country, into which the system of Poor-laws that, under various circumstances, had grown up in England, could be planted with safety. Then, the peculiar state of the country should be considered; and, looking to the tendency to an increased population already in Ireland, he should rather think that the application of those laws to it would, by holding out a settlement to the poor, remove every check on population, and encourage more early marriages, and a still greater subdivision of the land. Then, as to the administration of the machinery, he could not see how it could be effected in the absence of the resident gentry. At the same time he was willing to admit, that the situation in which Ireland stood towards England, particularly in relation to the Poor-laws, was most unsatisfactory; but then, as to the application of the English Poor-laws to Ireland, even though its policy were allowed, there could not be found for years a machinery competent to execute the system, Still there were many circumstances that pressed the consideration of it on parliament; such as the relative situation of the two countries since the Union, the facilities of access in consequence of steam navigation, and other matters, which, though not sufficient to induce him to consent to the introduction of the Poor-laws into Ireland, were enough to call for the attention of parliament, particularly so far as they tended to throw the burthen of Irish poverty on England.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

, after declaring his entire concurrence in the opinions of his right hon. friend, took that occasion to deny that he had ever contemplated removing the unemployed poor to foreign countries; for he could never be brought to think that British colonies were foreign countries. If the poor could not get employment at home, what was to be done with them? Would it be said, that they should be supplied with work and subsistence at the expense of a parliamentary grant? If hon. members would say so, then he would join issue with them on that ground, and contend, that such parliamentary grant would be better spent in taking them to the colonies where there was much land unappropriated, than to expend it on them at home, where they could find neither cheap land nor profitable employment. The attempt to give parliamentary support at home to the unemployed men, women, and children, would cost no less a sum than 300,000l. a-year, taking the subsistence for each human being at its lowest rate of 3l. a head. As to the introduction of the Poor-laws into Ireland, under its present circumstances, it would be a hopeless proceeding, as the only effect it could produce would be to monopolise all the rental of the land. He would admit, however, that the closer admixture of the two countries since the Union, and the facility of transmission by steam navigation, must ultimately produce a state of things in which it would be found necessary to equalize the laws relative to the poor in both countries; and the system of English Poor-laws, if judiciously modified, would, he had no doubt, be productive of good; provided relief were given only to poverty brought on by old age and accidental infirmities, and if the children were not reared in the expectation that they were, in case of poverty, to have a lien on the land. As to the plan of supporting the poor by expending money in procuring employment for them, he was sure that 100,000l. spent in creating that artificial employment, would but aggravate the evil; as the labour would produce no return for the capital so expended on it. He should, however, have no objection to the expenditure of a moderate sum in that way, as an experimental measure, if an object, such as the cultivation of waste lands, could be found, of a nature likely to give a fair return for the outlay of capital. On the whole, the present condition of the pauper population of the three kingdoms, was such as called for the most serious attention of parliament.

Mr. Calcraft

approved of the principle of the Poor-laws, and had always ascribed the evils arising from them to the relaxed administration of them. The introduction of them into Ireland, he would oppose, as tending to produce more permanent destitution in that country than existed there at present; nor could he see what good emigration could do, as he was sure, if a hundred thousand paupers were transported to the colonies to morrow, the gap would be filled up, in a few years, with a hundred thousand more as needy as the former. Before the government adopted any measure of the kind, they ought to inquire into and remedy the grievances of the poor. There were many other remedies for the evils of Ireland. He was sure there would be neither peace nor happiness in Ireland until Catholic emancipation was granted. This should be the foundation of all remedial measures: then the expenses of government ought to be reduced to the lowest possible scale. In fine, he could not see how emigration could cure the evils of England; or the introduction of the Poor-laws heal the grievances of Ireland.

Mr. Monck

thought that the evils of Ireland arose from the fact, that her population was a nation of producers, and not of producers and consumers, like that of England. Absenteeism also was another cause. The Poor-laws of England were the sole partition between English comforts and Irish misery. If it were possible to reduce England to the same situation as Ireland now found herself in, the landlords of both countries would become mere exporters, instead of importers and consumers of produce.

Colonel Trench

was sorry to say that there was but too much truth in the statement which the hon. member had just made. He hoped, however, that the true remedy was about to be applied to the miseries and evils with which Ireland had been too long afflicted. He could assure the House, that there was an immense desire throughout the Irish population, to learn by their own exertions and labour an honest livelihood. The best proof of this fact was to be found in the constant emigration of the Irish poor to England; a grievance so much and so justly complained of. The true cause of the overpopulation of Ireland, and of all the troubles which ensued from it, was the infinite subdivision of the land; and he could not help saying, that the main spring of the immediate evils which oppressed her was a circumstance to which little or no allusion had been made; namely, the anxious desire of every body who was an Irish land-owner to produce a crop of free-holders of the smallest possible quantity of land.

Mr. Croker

said, it was his firm conviction, that the state of England and Scotland, labouring as they now did under what he must call the infliction of Irish emigration, would oblige this country to turn her attention towards the necessity of providing some great measure of relief for Irish pauperism.

Mr. W. Lamb

was of opinion, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department had stated the most unanswerable reasons why it was impossible to extend to Ireland the Poor-laws of England, in any considerable degree. He was quite willing to allow, that much of the evil which had arisen in Ireland, might possibly be owing to the deficiency of Poor-laws in that country. But before parlia- ment attempted to apply those laws to Ireland, let them wait, to see to what extent they could first be reformed in England. With regard to the plans which had been suggested by a right hon. gentleman, he must observe, that the financial difficulties of a country could not be relieved by schemes which began with borrowing large sums of money, on the security of a distant prospect of very doubtful returns. Neither was it possible that one part of the empire, like Ireland, could be benefitted in her own case, by that which was in effect a loss to the empire at large. The only remedies which he could imagine for a country labouring under the difficulties he spoke of, were patience, perseverance, rigid economy, strict punctuality, determined enterprise, and unwearied labour. These were hard conditions, he admitted; but they were the conditions upon which alone the affairs of states could be re-established, and which were at the same time the conditions of the tenure of our common existence.

Ordered to lie on the table.