HC Deb 06 May 1828 vol 19 cc371-5

Mr. Kennedy moved the further consideration of the Report on the Scotch Parochial Settlements Bill.

Mr. Estcourt

said, that his opposition to the bill was solely with a view to induce the House to assimilate the bill to the law of England. Great inconvenience was felt in this country from the permission allowed to foreigners of gaining a settlement here in a year, or he believed in less time; while in Scotland, even according to the present law, a settlement could not be made under three years. It was now attempted to extend the period to seven years; a change which would have the effect of relieving Scotland at the expense of England, from the multitudes who daily came over from Ireland. But overlooking that circumstance, he could not see any reason for such a difference as the bill was intended to make between the two countries.

Mr. Fergusson

thought it would be very difficult to assimilate the laws of England and Scotland in this respect, while there existed so great a difference between their laws in other respects. He bore testimony to the good conduct of the poor Irish who emigrated, and some of whom settled in Scotland, but represented their multitudes as most alarming. It was a mistake to suppose that they had not poor-laws in Scotland. They had, but the people were too independent in mind to depend upon those laws. The present facility of gaining a settlement in Scotland would burthen it beyond its capability.

Mr. Maxwell

said, that the present bill was anxiously desired by the people of Scotland, under an apprehension that, without it, that country could not bear the burthen imposed on it by the emigrations from Ireland; especially as in Ireland they had no reciprocal provision for their poor.

Sir E. Knatchbull

said, that though the effect of this measure would be one which he must regret as far as England was concerned, it could not fail to be of considerable advantage to Scotland. The object of the bill was to keep the poor Irish out of Scotland; but he feared the effect of it would be to make them come in greater numbers into this country; and if Scotland was exempted from the consequences of that evil, and England was more exposed to its influence, hon. gentlemen must not wonder that the English representatives should show some jealousy as to its success. The bill seemed scarcely to place England and Scotland on a fair footing; since it went to free the former from an evil which would only fall the heavier upon the latter.

Mr. Hume

did not consider it fair to object to a law on the ground that, though it was a good law in itself, the people of Scotland ought not to have it, because the people of England had a bad law upon the same subject. He thought the people of England were called upon to protect themselves against the additional pressure which the influx of the Irish poor flung upon their poor-rates, if no measure were adopted for their relief in Ireland. He was not, however, one of those who conceived that the emigration of the labouring population of Ireland into England was hostile to the interests of England. As long as labour was wanted, the English land-holder was glad to receive the Irish labourer, because his appearance in the market diminished the rate of wages: now that labour was superabundant, he changed his tone, and called for a protection against his becoming a burthen upon the poor-rates, before he had resided three years in the country. He thought that some protection was necessary for the people of England; at the same time he hoped that those who intended to oppose this measure would not object to it, because it was calculated to do good to Scotland. He would say to the people of England, "Get a similar measure for yourselves; and do not deprive us of the means which we have devised for benefitting ourselves."

Mr. Fergusson

said, that though he supported this bill, he did not object to the introduction of Irish labourers into either England or Scotland, on the score of the reduction which it produced in the rate of wages. It might be an evil; but he did not know how to prevent it, unless they prevented all intercourse between the three countries. The times were bad now, but it was not unreasonable to hope that they would be better soon. It was intended to prevent any future burthen from being imposed on Scotland, in the shape of poor-rates. The Scotch had no means of preventing the Irish labourer from settling among them; neither did he wish that they had. What he wished was, to prevent the Irish labourer from obtaining any settlement in Scotland without a previous residence of three years or more within it. In Scotland, the people wanted no support for their poor, either from England or Ireland: all they wanted was, that each country should support its own poor. How that consummation was to be brought about, was another question; but he thought it unjust that England and Scotland should be called upon to provide for the poor of Ireland, merely because Ireland would not provide for them herself.

Sir J. Newport

said, it must have been observed by the House, that almost every gentleman who admitted the benefit which had accrued to England and Scotland from the introduction of Irish labourers into those countries, had lamented over the increased introduction of them within the last few years. But in their lamentations over the introduction of the poor, they had entirely forgotten the introduction of another class; he meant the rich landed proprietors of Ireland. They were anxious to prevent the emigration of the poor from Ireland; but they said nothing about remitting back to Ireland the absentee proprietors; whose rents, however, they sought to diminish by the imposition of poor-rates. He was not exaggerating when he said, that a sum of three millions was annually drawn from Ireland by its absentee landlords; and that that sum was expended in giving employment to the artisans of England, and was therefore withdrawn entirely from any employment which might produce benefit to the pauper population of Ireland. To the introduction of the rich Irish landlord into England, no gentleman had yet made any objection; but many appeared astounded at hearing that the withdrawal of the rich land-holder from Ireland had brought pauperism on its inhabitants, and an influx of Irish poor on the neighbouring countries. He would not urge the objections which he felt to the establishment of a system of poor-laws in Ireland, until some person declared himself ready to point out to him a mode, by which a fair administration of the money levied as poor-rates could be ensured in that country. There were whole districts in Ireland, where, if rates were to be levied for the relief of the poor, it would be impossible to discover individuals who would administer them in such a manner as to give the poor the full benefit of them. He would appeal to the members of the committee appointed a few years ago in the city of London, to distribute the contributions of the charitable among the distressed peasantry of Ireland, whether they did not repeatedly, in the course of their inquiries, find themselves at a loss to discover proper persons in Ireland to intrust with the distribution of the funds committed to their care. He believed that, owing to the selfishness of their agents, the poor of Ireland did not receive one half of the funds which were sent over from this country for their relief. That was owing to the unfortunate condition of Ireland; and he was afraid it was beyond the skill of any gentleman to devise a scheme, which would ensure the fair distribution of poor-rates in Ireland.

Mr. Kennedy

said, that so far was he from feeling any hostility towards the natives of Ireland, that he had absolutely introduced this bill to do away with any hostile feelings which their influx into Scotland might have generated. For his own part, he wished to be able to deal more liberally with the Irish paupers than he could do under the existing law. The Irish poor were at present relieved in Scotland upon as niggardly a scale as was possible, from a prevalent belief, that if they were relieved more liberally, a greater number of them would come over, and thus a greater burthen would be thrown upon the country. The hon. member for Kent seemed to dread the effects of this measure upon England. Now, he was sanguine enough to hope that this measure would confer benefit upon Scotland, though not to any large amount; and he was quite certain that England would not suffer by it. He did not think that this bill would turn the tide of Irish emigration from Scotland into England, nor that it would even turn it from flowing direct to Scotland. He did not believe that the crowds of Irishmen who landed almost every day in Scotland, came there for the purpose of obtaining a settlement in either three years or seven. They were driven by the craving wants of nature to get that support in Scotland, which they were not able to find at home. He hoped that when they did come to Scotland, the people would treat them well; but he also hoped that they would not permit them to become a permanent burthen upon their industry. Such was the principle of the measure which he had introduced into the House.

The report was further considered; and the amendments agreed to.