§ Mr. Spring Rice
rose, he said, to bring forward, pursuant to notice, a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to take into consideration the state of the Labouring Poor of Ireland, and the best means to improve their condition. The hon. Member adverted, in the first instance, to the discussion which had taken place upon the subject last Session, when it was brought under the notice of the House by a friend of his, who was no longer a Member— Mr. Villiers Stewart. Though he (Mr. S. Rice) did not fully concur in the resolution submitted on that occasion by his hon. friend, yet he was sure that if Mr. Villiers Stewart had continued a Member of that House to the present time, he would not have objected to the Motion with which he then intended to conclude, namely—"that a Committee be appointed to inquire into the state of the Labouring Poor in Ireland." After much regretting the absence of Mr. Villiers Stewart, and pronouncing a warm eulogium upon his character and talents, he went on to say, that though he and that gentleman essentially differed as to the means of effecting an improvement in the state of the labouring poor of Ireland, yet they were animated by the same spirit, and anxious to bring about similar results. They now came to the consideration of the state of the Irish poor, free from one of the great difficulties and impediments which had heretofore interrupted the consideration of any measures for the improvement of Ireland—he alluded to the religious dissensions which had so long distracted that country, and which were now so happily terminated. He had understood from the noble Lord opposite, that no objection would be made to the appointment of a committee, and he should therefore have limited himself to the mere terms of his Motion, had he not been apprehensive that his views and intentions might be mistaken in Ireland; and that in that House persons might support his Motion from misunderstanding the object he meant to keep in view. He desired to entrap no votes and no support on any false views, and therefore he meant, with the permission of the House, to enter into an explanation at considerable length. The first proposition which he meant to establish was, that there existed a case for 184 inquiry, which no one who had paid the slightest attention to the evidence laid upon the Table of the House, upon the subject of the Irish poor, could doubt. In fact, all admitted that such a case existed. The next object, after acquiring information, was to found on the information some practical measure. If the House approached the inquiry, and came to a decision in a temper of moderation and discretion, he had no doubt that such a practical measure would be the beneficial result. It had too often happened, indeed, that measures like that he proposed had ended in nothing; but should the inquiry be determined on, he begged to assure the House that he would do all in his power that the labours of the committee should not be allowed to become a dead letter. It was the saying of an ancient sage, that Hell was paved with good intentions, and it had but too often been the practice of that House to appoint committees to examine witnesses, to make reports—most wise, and prudent, and rational—but those reports were made only to be neglected and forgotten. There was already before the House a great mass of evidence upon the subject of the people of Ireland, which he should, in the first place, beg leave to refer to the committee, and then he should wish that the committee be desired to extend the inquiry as far as might be necessary for bringing the information down to the present time. He hoped that the effect of that inquiry would be to disprove the exaggerated statements which they were every hour in the habit of hearing with respect to the state of Ireland, and the distress prevailing in that country. He did not deny the existence of distress, and very considerable distress in Ireland, but he altogther denied that the distress existed to the extent which had been stated in some quarters. It was decidedly his opinion, that the poor of Ireland were by no means in a condition of such distress, relatively to those above them, as the English poor were, though it was very much the practice to speak of the sinking and depressed condition of Ireland. He begged briefly to call the attention of the House to the exports of that country to England, and he should confine himself to a single case. Exactly a century before the time he was speaking, Sir Charles Whitworth stated—and he was considered good authority—that the exports of Ireland to Eng- 185 land amounted annually to about287,000l. That statement was written in the year 1729. Now the exports from a single city (Waterford) that which his right hon. friend near him represented—amounted to no less in a single year than 2,163,000l. There was reason to believe that capital was accumulating in every part of Ireland, and he believed that many of the gentlemen in that House connected with the banking concerns of Ireland could bear testimony to the improving condition of the commercial portion of the Irish people in other ways besides the exports to England. He confidently looked forward to a period of greater prosperity for Ireland than ever she had before experienced. Already he was able to trace a great improvement in the condition of the people, of which he would mention an example. In 1827 the number of persons admitted into the fever hospital at Limerick was 2,780; in 1828 it was 2,920; while, in 1829, it was fortunately diminished to 692. As disease and poverty generally went hand in hand, he did not know that he could quote a stronger proof of the improved condition of the people, and that the distress, though it was very severe, was not last year equal to former years. The hon. Gentleman then briefly adverted to the condition of the labouring poor in Killarney, among whom, he said, the Earl of Kenmare expended 5,000l. annually, finding them employment; to the numbers living by mendicity in Bandon, who, he said, were 2,590; in Cork, where many were in a state of destitution; and in Dublin, where 7,000 persons lived on alms; and then he proceeded to show the improving condition of the country from the criminal returns. The population, he observed, was rapidly augmenting, and crime, so far from increasing, had considerably diminished of late years. In 1823 the commitments were 15,000; in 1828, 14,600—showing a difference of 400 for the whole island. The progress of crime had been advancing in England in 1828, as the right hon. Secretary opposite knew; while in Ireland the contrary was the case. In that country, in 1823, the executions were61; 1827, 37; 1828, 21. In 1823 those convicted of seditious practices amounted to 121; 1825, 9; 1827, they had fallen to nothing, and in 1828, they were 3 only. Thus it would be seen that the condition of Ireland had, in more ways than one, been materially ameliorated; but antecedently 186 to any measure of legislation with a view to its further improvement, it would be necessary that the House should have its actual condition before them, and that brought down to the latest period. In moving for a committee at that early period of the Session, there was every reasonable prospect that its labours might be brought to a close time enough to admit of practical results. The next subject to which he would direct the attention of the House was, the charge brought against the Irish gentry and middle classes that they showed no disposition to relieve the wants and necessities of their poorer fellow-countrymen. National reflections might be easily made, but they should not be made lightly. What were the facts of the case? Was Ireland without its charitable institutions? Far from it: no country under Heaven, he would venture to say, maintained, as compared with its means, more munificent asylums for the sick and destitute than Ireland. Let the House look to the asylums for the insane, and they would see none of the great towns without one, and none of the provinces, except Connaught, (in which, however, there was one about to be erected,) and those were chiefly supported by voluntary contribution. Then every county in Ireland had its county hospital, except Waterford, which had an institution under another name, but for the same purpose. The Lunatic Asylums for the poor, he said, were more generously endowed, and exceeded in magnitude those of any other country. There were also fever hospitals and county hospitals, which relieved 8,000 patients, and were provided for at the expense of 54,000. a year; and there were other public institutions in each of the four provinces. Of the sum expended on county hospitals, 54,000. a year, only 2,600. was provided by Parliament, and the remainder was contributed by the charity of Ireland. He would next advert to the fever hospitals, which were established all over the country, and all of which, except the one at Dublin, were supported by local funds, and without costing the Government any thing. At all these hospitals, amounting in number to 271, cases of fever were treated with as great liberality, and with as great success, as in any hospitals of this country. There were also Dispensaries for the relief of sick persons, to the amount of 400, supported by private subscription; and at 187 these establishments, during the last year, half a million of persons had been relieved. If Gentlemen who some times censured the want of such establishments in Ireland would look at that country, they would find that it was not deserving of their blame; and to make them aware of this, he had mentioned these examples of public benevolence. These were facts open to the inquiry of any Gentleman who wished to direct his attention to the condition of Ireland; and here he could not refrain from saying, that he did not mean to quarrel with the particular opinion of any body upon the affairs of that country, provided it was formed upon an examination of the existing state of things. All he wanted was, that Gentlemen should come to these discussions with the knowledge and truth which were alone necessary to have them properly understood. He only complained of those who dealt in speculations and aspersions, in ignorance of the condition of the country, upon which, nevertheless, they were not restrained from pronouncing an opinion. They had also in Ireland houses of industry, but to these he should recur hereafter. He came then to the question, what was to be done for the Irish poor? The first step was, to ascertain what previous investigation had been made into the subject. The question of introducing poor-laws had been discussed, once directly, and once incidentally, in that House. In 1804, his right hon. friend (Sir J. Newport), whose name was always foremost in all works for the good of Ireland, had moved for a Committee to inquire into the state of the Poor in Ireland. That committee, which numbered among its members Mr. Wilberforce and Mr. Morton Pitt, reported, that to introduce the English system of poor-rates into Ireland would be highly injurious to that country, and not advantageous to the lower classes of the people. In 1822, the subject was investigated incidentally, in the committee appointed to inquire into the employment of the Poor in Ireland. The Report of that Committee was recommended to him by having received the sanction of Mr. Ricardo, and it stated, that any system of relief, however benevolently intended, which led the peasants to depend upon any other source than their own labour, repressed those exertions which were necessary to the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes. He 188 referred to these two authorities, not because he would then have the House to act on them, not considering them as conclusive that what was not wise then would not be wise now, but merely as authorities worthy of consideration, and to show the House, that if these opinions were erroneous, it ought not to come to a directly opposite conclusion, without first instituting a full inquiry, and hearing evidence on all the parts of the question. He had before only mentioned houses of industry; he would then refer to them, to show what would be the effect of a compulsory rate. The hon. Member for Wicklow proposed to make a compulsory rate for the whole country, for that was involved in his proposition for establishing poor-laws in Ireland. This principle ought, therefore, in the first instance, to be discussed. Before they extended houses of industry, they ought to ascertain what effects they had already produced; they ought to ascertain whether they had, on the whole, diminished or added to the sum of human misery. The experiment had already been tried on a large scale, and the illustration involving no question of local expenses, might be a good criterion to judge what would be the result of extending them. There were eleven of these houses in Ireland established by the 11th and 12th of Geo. 3rd. A compulsory poor-rate for the House of Industry at Dublin had been tried on the largest possible scale, and its effects ought to be known before they introduced the poor-laws in Ireland. It made no difference that the rate had come out of the pockets of the people of England, as far as its effect on the people of Ireland was concerned. Since the Union a sum had been voted for that establishment amounting to 803,000l.; and among the estimates then on the Table, there was, he believed, an additional grant for it. The effects had been ascertained by an inquiry instituted by Mr. Grant and Mr. Secretary Peel, when they held office in Ireland, and the Report made to them showed that that House of Industry had totally failed in its object of suppressing mendicity, and, in its effects, had augmented, by bringing destitute people in from the country, the number of poor in Dublin. The report of 1820 stated, that "the House of Industry had totally failed in accomplishing one main object for which it was instituted, the suppression of mendicity in the city of Dublin. So 189 far from having produced that effect, it is by no means certain that it may not have contributed to augment the evil by attracting numbers to Dublin from all parts of Ireland, in expectation of relief." "Let us suppose" the Report continued, "that the House of Industry had at any period been evacuated, and its inmates transported to another country; there can be little doubt that it would have been filled again in a very short period from the city of Dublin alone. Its power of acting as a restraint of mendicity would be thus again annihilated, and the vacuum created by the removal of Dublin beggars filled up by fresh supplies from the country." Such was the result of the Dublin House of Industry. If such establishments were formed in every part of the country, what would be the results? They would entail heavier burthens, and a greater number of poor, on cities and places already burthened like Dublin with poor, unless the introduction of poor-laws into Ireland was united with some provision that would be tantamount to the Laws of Settlement, and would limit relief to persons residing in paiticular places. If his hon. friend would examine the establishments of this description in Ireland in detail, he would find that it would be no remedy to establish Houses of Industry all over Ireland. In one of them he knew, that when the fever prevailed, the medical man never attended, but wrote his prescriptions at the distance of a mile. In another, he had seen a dead child lying in bed with its mother, presenting the most deplorable scene of human suffering. He would beg the House and his hon. friend not to suppose that establishments at the public charge would not lead to many such scenes. The erecting in various parts of the country large work-houses, half gaols half hospitals, in which excessive discipline and charity met and destroyed each other, would be as hateful to the people as productive of mischief to the country. He knew that some benevolent men —Dr. Davenant for instance—who had a scheme for a great hospital, that was to yield 1,200,000l. to the public treasury; and Sir Josiah Child, who had a vague notion of public benefit to be derived from such institutions, fancied that they might be both useful to the people and advantageous to the public. But whatever might be the case with the English pea- 190 santry, he was sure that the Irish people would never brook the charity which was accompanied with restraints and fetters. Even if they did, he had great doubts if it would be possible in the present state of Ireland to find churchwardens and overseers, and other local officers to carry a system of public provision for the poor into effect. Establishments supported at the public charge could not be kept free from local abuses. He thought Dr. Franklin's opinion was a wise one—that the more the law did for the poor the less they would do for themselves; and the less there was done for them by the law the richer they would become. It was proposed by many gentlemen to introduce the English poor-laws in Ireland; but while they proposed this, they were not contented with the poor-laws as they were administered in England. Since the passing of the 43rd of Elizabeth, there had been an uninterrupted series of attempts to depart from the principle of that act, or to amend the poor-laws. He was not aware by what alchemy the English gentlemen were to transfer all the gold of this system to Ireland, without any of that alloy they complained of. He should like to see the English poor-laws first of all adapted to the state of England, and the improvements in them carried into practice here before they were extended to Ireland. Not to refer to the more ancient attempts which had been made to improve these laws, he would merely mention the names of Mr. Pitt, Mr. Sturges Bourne, the present Attorney General, Mr. Nolan, and the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, as gentlemen who had tried to amend the English poor-laws, and had not succeeded. He was sorry that the hon. Member for Newark was not in his place, particularly as he had great respect for him, and conceived that Ireland was much indebted to him for the attention he had paid to its interests; but he was sorry that the hon. Member was not in his place, as he meant to make some observations on his opinions on this subject. He wished to say that Ireland was much indebted to that gentleman for the attention that he had paid to all the circumstances of her situation and the benevolent disposition he had shown to provide a remedy for the evils of her condition. That hon. Member was one of the ablest supporters of the plan of giving poor-laws to Ireland; and his argument 191 was, that such law would compel the absentees to return to Ireland, and would place a barrier against the clearing men from the land. Mr. Sadler's questions were, first—"Are the wrongs perpetrated by absenteeship undeniably great? A poor-law is the specific for these evils—a barrier to these clearances. "Against the hon. Member he would balance the political economist, though he was anxious to separate himself from them as far as their doctrines related to absenteeism, for he never could believe that the absence of the higher classes from any country had no evil effects, physical or moral, on the lower classes of the people; but while the hon. Member defended the introduction of poor-laws into Ireland as a barrier against clearing the land, the political economists urged on the measure as supplying an additional inducement for landed gentlemen to dispossess their tenants, and clear the land of the peasantry. For his part he did not wish to give the landlords any additional inducement to clear the land and drive away their tenantry. Mr. Sadler's next proposition was—" Is the want of employment another of the peculiar grievances of the country? A poor-law, under proper regulation, would go far to remedy the evil." He admitted, with the hon. Member for Newark, that there was a great want of employment, but he differed from him in supposing that the poor-laws would provide a remedy against the evil. On what principle could it be said that introducing poor-laws into Ireland would add to the employment of the people? The demand for labour depended on the quantity of capital; and how was that to be augmented by poor-laws? They would only take funds from the occupiers of land to transfer them to the paupers; they would take money out of the pocket of one man to put it into another. Then again Mr. Sadler says—"Is the remuneration of labour inadequate to a decent state of living? A poor-rate would unquestionably raise and sustain the rate of labour." He readily admitted that the remuneration of labour was inadequate, but he did not see how the poor-rate could meet the evil. A poor-rate would diminish capital and lessen the employment of the poor. He wished to give employment and higher wages to the labourer; but a poor-rate would only take money out of the pocket of one man to transfer it to the pocket of another. 192 The adoption of such a system would only render labour more disproportionate than at present to the capital of the country. The poor-laws would make the supply of labour greater in relation to capital than at present; for though the absolute wealth of the country had increased very much, the relative condition of the labourer had not been improved. Capital had not been increased as fast as labourers had been multiplied. He would like to know whether, in giving poor-laws to Ireland, it was intended to pay wages out of the poor-rates, as in England ["No!" was replied by General Gascoyne], He was glad to hear that "No;" and he should afterwards apply it, in order to expose the fallacy of the gallant General's opinion; but if they did not apply the poor-rates to pay the wages of labour, how were they to increase the demand for labour? He should like to know, however, from those who proposed Poor-laws for Ireland, in what form, and under what modifications they were to be introduced. It was said, that great advantages would result to Ireland from introducing the poor-laws into that country; but nobody, as far as he could learn, demonstrated how those advantages were to be introduced. They were promised the greatest possible advantages, but not shown how they could be obtained. To support his view, he would quote an able pamphlet, written by a friend of his, an English gentleman, which might, perhaps, recommend it to some of the Members—a gentleman whom he would be glad to see in that House—he meant a pamphlet on the poor-laws in Ireland written by Sir John Walsh. He says, "that gentlemen urge on the establishment of poor-laws for Ireland with arguments such as this 'the Irish must maintain their own poor, and something must be done.' Now, I protest," continued Sir John Walsh, "most strongly against this indefinite something. It seems to spur us blindly upon a course of action, and to oblige us to move before we see our way." As there was no definite plan yet laid down, he would ask, when the poor-rates were introduced were they to be coupled with the Law of Settlement? If that were the case, the result would be, to carry litigation into every parish; and whatever extent of good the poor-laws might confer, would be more than balanced by the great evils of the Law of Settlement. He had the authority of the very 193 able author of the Letter to Mr. Canning, signed "A Select Vestryman," to say, that the Law of Settlement was a part of the Poor-laws; and that, without it, those laws could not be carried into effect. "Cancel the Law of Settlement," said the writer, "and lease in operation what provides relief for indigence, and the code will be a monster in legislation, and will produce more pestilent effects than vagrancy or mendicity where there is no legal provision for the poor." The Law of Settlement, then, was to be considered an essential part of this system, and a source of mischief which could not be avoided. Mr. Pitt, in 1796, stated, in speaking of the Law of Settlement, "Such were the institutions which misguided benevolence had introduced, and with such warnings to deter, it would be wise to distrust a similar mode of conduct, and to endeavour to discover remedies of a different nature." He said, in the words of Mr. Pitt, mistrust the Law of Settlement as a source of mischief. He wished Gentlemen to reflect also on the means by which they proposed to carry the Poor-laws into effect. Did the parishes of Ireland, particularly the remote parishes, possess the means of providing overseers, churchwardens, and persons who would be responsible for the money, and who had intelligence and skill to apply it? He believed not; and some Gentlemen recommended Poor-laws as a means of inducing absentees to return to Ireland. But who were the absentees—who were the great proprietors? The Duke of Devonshire, the Marquis of Lansdown, the Marquis of Hertford, Earl Fitz-william, &c. He mentioned them not with blame, but approbation, for their estates were much better managed than those of many resident proprietors. But were they to be induced by Poor-laws tore-side in Ireland, and take upon themselves the offices of churchwardens and overseers? He objected to attempting to accomplish such an important effect as to make the gentlemen of Ireland resident home by a side-wind of legislation. It would be best effected by that species of laws which made the country prosperous and happy, and gave them security for their persons and property. Some Gentlemen recommended the Poor-laws on a principle of assimilation. The two countries, it was said, must be made alike; but it should first be shown that the law 194 proposed to be introduced was useful, not merely that it would assimilate the two countries to each other. Other persons contended, that as there were Poor-laws in England, and as the labourers came from Ireland to England—tending to make the wages of labour equal in both countries—the landed gentlemen of Ireland should be made to provide for the poor of Ireland, that they might not, by immigration, injure the labourers of England. He was prepared to assert, that the Poor-laws would not diminish immigration. If the labouring classes were not to be paid out of the Poor-rates, and the hon. Member for Liverpool said they were not, the Poor-laws would not in any degree diminish the quantity of labour that was poured into the English market. At present, the portion of the Irish who came here were the strong, and the healthy, and the active. If Poor-laws were introduced into Ireland, the practice of sending the Irish out of England in a summary manner could not then be acted on. Before any man was sent home, an inquiry must be introduced, litigation would follow on inquiry, the disputes that now existed between parishes in England as to the legal settlements of paupers would be extended to Ireland, and such a system, whether it kept the whole poor at home or not, would be a great benefit to the lawyers. It would be a new carcase for them, which they would be eager to devour; and his hon. and gallant friend, could he succeed in his wishes, would become so popular among the profession, that he might expect to be a standing toast, even on the Northern Circuit. The only way in which Poor-laws in Ireland could be a benefit to the labourers of England would be, raising the wages of labour in Ireland. At present, the peasantry of Ireland came into England because wages were higher here than there. He should propose that an inquiry be instituted by the committee as to the possibility of raising wages in Ireland, and, if possible, into the best means of accomplishing it; but he must say, he did not think Poor-laws were those means. It would throw a little light on this subject by comparing the northern with the southern part of England. In Northumberland the Poor-rates were 7s. a head; in Sussex, they were 20s. a head; and in the former the wages of labour were higher than in the latter. He had also the authority of the Committee of that House, 195 formed in 1817, who was presided over by the hon. Member for Ashburton, for saying, that the tendency of the Poor-laws was to reduce the wages of labour. That Committee reported—"As the funds which each person can expend in labour are limited in proportion as the Poor-rate diminishes those funds, in the same proportion will the wages of labour be reduced, to the immediate and direct prejudice of the labouring classes, the system thus producing the very necessity it is intended to relieve." Mr. Malthus also observed, that—" The Poor-laws of England appear to have contributed to raise the price of provisions, and to lower the real value of labour: they have therefore contributed to impoverish that class of persons whose only possession is their labour." If this were true, a system of Poor-laws would lower the wages of labour in Ireland, and increase the temptation for the Irish labourers to come to England. Every thing, it was said, was paradoxical in Ireland, and perhaps he might be thought guilty of a paradox in saying, that the power now exercised by the parishes in England, of sending the Irish back to their own country, promoted immigration. The fact was, that many of those persons came here for temporary purposes, and were glad to be sent back at the public charge. If the labourers of Ireland who now came here to seek employment, and who returned at the end of the year, were assured of being sent back at that time, they would come over in greater numbers. They came here only for a temporary purpose—they remitted their money home, and Poor-laws, providing them the means of return at the public expense, would only induce them to flock over here more numerously than at present. He had to complain, too, of the cruelty that was sometimes practised under the present system of Poor-laws. A man who had resided forty or fifty years in England, and who had spent the best part of his life in labouring in this country, the instant he demanded casual relief might be sent off to Ireland. This was not sending a man back to his native country, it was rooting him out from the spot where he had grown and flourished. English women, too, who had married Irishmen, were sent to Ireland with their husbands, and had been landed on the quays of Belfast or Waterford strangers in a strange country, and left to the mercy and hospitality of strangers 196 He considered that the present system of passing Irish labourers back into Ireland required revision. That was one of the subjects he should bring before the committee. The inquiry he proposed would be of great service, if it only gave a negative to the proposition of introducing poor-laws into Ireland, which might encourage misguided hopes, and mislead the Irish. But he looked for more than this from such an inquiry. If it should end, as some Gentlemen seemed to suppose, in showing that they would be beneficial to Ireland, no person would be more zealous to support them than he should be. The inquiry would also show to what extent means already existed in Ireland to relieve the poor; and it might show to what extent they might be advantageously increased. He believed, too, that such an inquiry would demonstrate that a great deal had already been done. To him it seemed likely to be attended with so many advantages, that he thought his Motion should be supported, both by those Gentlemen who wished to have Poor-laws in Ireland, as well as by those who were opposed to that measure. The next inquiry to which he would direct the attention of a committee was connected with the administration of what are called the Grand Jury Laws. He did not propose a revisal of these laws—far from it; but he wished the subject to undergo consideration, in order to ascertain how far the present system of administering those laws either limited the employment of the peasantry of a district, or provided for them a kind of employment which could be called beneficial. To illustrate his views on this part of the subject, he would mention a fact. It was the constant habit of those who were charged with the execution of the presentments for public works to put off that work till the latest possible moment, and the consequence was, that the poor labourer, at the approach of the Assizes of spring or autumn, was called from the planting of his seed in the potatoes-garden, or the gathering in of his harvest, to do the county work at the time when it was most inconvenient and injurious to him. It was to the augmentation of the local taxation, through the means of the Grand Jury, as well as the manner in which the money was employed, that he wished the attention of the House to be directed; and he thought that a further illustration of the extent to which this 197 taxation had been carried might not be inapplicable to his purpose. In the county of Limerick, taking a period of nine years, the local taxation had increased in the foling ratio: — The average taxation was, from 1790 to 1794, 6,787l.; in 1794, 8,498l.; in 1798, 11,463l; in 1802, 16,640l.; in 1806, 50,981l.; and in 1810, 34,860l., and at present, it was upwards of 40,000l. In the city of Dublin, the local taxation was, in 1771, 2,494l.; in 1781,4,223l.; in 1790, 6,711l.; in 1801, 8,896l.; in 1811, 16,556l; and in 1821, 27,515l., being nearly a twelvefold increase above the sum raised in 1771, and this, too, during the time when there were an Irish Parliament and a resident Nobility in the Irish Metropolis. If Ireland were then little able to afford such extravagance, still less could they now bear it. This was a point which was worthy of the attention of the House. Here was a sum of 800,000l. annually collected by grand-jury presentments, and other local means of taxation, from the tenantry of the landlords of Ireland. This was the real poor-rate. Take away that burthen from the industry of the peasantry, and Poor-laws would be wholly unnecessary. If they added to that the Church-rate, which he was not disposed to exaggerate in amount before the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir R. Inghis), who had taken that rate under his peculiar protection, which he thought he might fairly set down at two-pence in the acre—then they had 80,000l. or 90,000l. to be added to the 800,000l. of local taxation, which might, if not wholly removed, be much more beneficially applied, and which was now taken from the poor and the industrious to be. thrown away on the idle or the opulent. Very little had been said of the disturbance created by the collection of these rates, but he believed, that more ill-will and disturbance had grown out of the Church-rate, and the raising of the local taxation, than out of all the other causes to which they were so often ascribed. The next subject to which he wished to draw the attention of the Members of the House, both English and Irish, was the effect produced from the expenditure on public works. And he begged to observe, that if he knew anything on these subjects, he was indebted to the information derived from his right hon. friend, the Member for Kerry (Mr. M. Fitzgerald), who had devoted his attention to the subject with un- 198 remitting zeal and assiduity. He thought, however, he could not better illustrate this part of the subject, than by showing, from the evidence of Mr. Telford, in his examination before the committee of 1819, what were the consequences of the application of public money to public works in Scotland.The people, before these improvements took place, had no beneficial object to exercise their industry upon. In the course of opening these roads, and constructing the Caledonian Canal, there have been employed annually about 3,200 men on an average. At first, these men could scarcely work at all; they were totally unacquainted with labour; they could not use the tools; but they have since become excellent labourers. Of that number, by the gradual in flux and departure of the workmen, we consider that one-fourth left us annually, taught to work; so that these works may be considered in the light of a working academy, from which eight hundred have annually departed improved workmen. These men have either returned to their native districts, having had the experience of using the most perfect sort of tools and utensils (which alone cannot be considered less than ten per cent. on any labour), or they have been usefully disseminated throughout the other parts of the country. Since these roads were opened and made accessible to wheel-carriages, wheelwrights and cart wrights have been established in the country; and in different parts the plough has been introduced, and other improved tools and utensils are now used. In the western and more mountainous parts they frequently used crooked sticks, with iron on them, for ploughs; but now the plough is used, and these improvements have also led to the inclosure and cultivation of more land. I also conceive that by this mode of employment, the moral habits of the great mass of the working classes are changed. They see they may depend on their own exertions for support, and this appears to me an object of the first importance; but it goes on silently, and is scarcely perceived until apparent by the results. I consider these improvements one of the greatest blessings ever conferred on any country;" and he declared "they have been the means of advancing the. country one hundred years.This was the result of the execution of public works in Scotland. He would now 199 read the evidence of Mr. Nimmo, a man of great talent and. judgment, who spoke of the effect of public works in Ireland. Imperfect and few as they had been, Mr. Nimmo stated, that "in Kerry there was hardly a plough, car, or carriage of any kind; the butter, the only produce, was carried to Cork on horses, there was not a decent public house, and I think only one house slated and plastered in the village; the nearest post-office thirty miles distant. Since the new road was made, in three years there were built upwards of twenty good houses, slated and plastered, and with good sash windows; for one house the. owner demands 40l. rent; a respectable shop, with cloth, hardware, and groceries; a comfortable inn, with six bed rooms; a post-office and chapel; a quay covered with limestone; a salt-work, and a considerable traffic in linen and yarn; forty cars and carts, and a resident gentleman's coach. All this the result of the individual enterprise of the inhabitants. At Belmallet the advance is quite surprising; this place only commenced four years ago, it now contains about seventy respectable houses, two or three good cottages, with planted enclosures. The port-master has loaded five ships with five-hundred tons of grain, kelp, &c. The stamp and post-office revenue are rapidly increasing; thirty five newspapers come weekly to the office. Mr. Davis sold 900l. of wine and spirits; bought and sold 1,000l. of shop goods, iron, leather, tea, sugars, &c." Mr. Griffiths also stated in his report, that "in the Cork and Limerick mountain district, at the commencement of the works, the people flocked in, seeking employment at any wages. Their looks were haggard, their clothing wretched. They rarely possessed any tools or implements of husbandry beyond a small ill-made spade. The whole country was unimproved. But since the completion of the roads, great strides have been made towards improvement; sixty new lime-kilns have been built for agricultural purposes; carts, ploughs, and harrows, have become common; new houses of a better class have been built, or are building, in great numbers, and this country, formerly the theatre of lawless outrage, has become perfectly tranquil. A difficulty is created of procuring labour; at certain times no price will tempt the new landholders to leave their farms, and I was obliged to invite stran- 200 gers to come from considerable distances. The value of land has increased, and in some cases double rent is offered." He invited Gentlemen to look at what would have been the effect of this if the Poor-laws had been in operation in Ireland. The peasantry were here stated to be haggard, naked, willing to work, but unable to find employment; and yet, in a very short time from the operation of the employment of this money; labourers were scarcely to be obtained at any price, and the whole state of the district was improved. It was from these men, too, that the elements of emigration were derived. These haggard peasantry were the men who came to look for employment in this country because they could not obtain any at home, and who rendered the condition of the labouring classes still more miserable. But let them look at the reverse of all this—let them consider the effect produced by the consumption of exciseable commodities, the building of new houses, the paying of taxes. Let them suppose the starving peasants of Ireland becoming the friends of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of this country, and they would estimate as it deserved the application of money on such purposes. He would inform the hon. Member for Aberdeen, the greatest economical authority in the House, that he did not wish to draw on this country for the means of carrying on these works. He would propose that a sum of money should be advanced by Government, on the mortgage of the county-rates, or other securities, and to be repaid with interest at the end of a term to be fixed. This was a proposition to which he thought neither the hon. Member for Aberdeen, nor the strictest friend of economy, could make any objection. He passed now to a subject of great importance, although it did not at first sight appear to have any obvious consequences; he meant the local restrictions on trade, on the buyers and sellers at public fairs and markets. He had moved for a committee on this subject some years ago, and from the inquiries then entered into be found that these tolls amounted to five per cent ad valorem on all the goods sold; and if they changed hands often, it was easy to understand that the duties must soon absorb the original cost of the article. These tolls were collected through the means of oaths, which led to fraud, perjury and 201 deceit; and it would be equally desirable to put an end to a system which tended to produce immorality, and to deteriorate the property of the peasantry, and throw obstacles in the way of their trading, which too frequently led to disturbances and the breaking of heads. He remembered that when he stated to the House that illegal oaths were administered in various places in Ireland, in order that tolls might be collected, producing an atrocious system of fraud and perjury, his noble friend, then Attorney General for Ireland, denied that these things could exist or they must have come officially under his knowledge. To administer an unlawful oath is an indictable offence. But before the end of that Session, the Earl of Clancarty petitioned the House not to prohibit the administering such oaths, because they enabled him to collect the tolls of Ballinasloe fair. This was, therefore, another subject deserving inquiry in the committee. The hon. Member then observed, that another point to be desired was, that capital should be applied to the culture of the waste land. He was anxious to see the result of an experiment for that purpose. There were two millions of acres in Ireland which could be reclaimed at an expense of seven pounds an acre, and which it was calculated would yield a rent of twenty shillings an acre. Supposing, according to the calculations of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Queen's County (Sir H. Parnell), that the population of Ireland doubled itself in thirty years, how much, he would ask, must not this increase of cultivated land add to the property and resources of the people? With these reliefs from the burthens which pressed on the labouring portion of the population, and with the benefits of education more extensively diffused, and with the demand for labour increased by the proper application of the natural resources, he thought that Ireland would be in a condition of prosperity and comfort, without the application of the Poor-laws. He trusted for the assistance and acquiescence of the House in the appointment of a Committee to inquire how these objects might be advanced; and he hoped, that although a political economist, and one of those landholders whose selfishness was described to be so intense, he had not shown any very inflexible selfishness in the views he advanced, or in his desire to cast the burthen of the local taxation on the 202 revenues of the landlords. Ireland did not require the interposition of new laws so much as the repeal of ancient and injurious legislation. The House must foster the exercise of the moral virtues of industry and frugality before it could expect any solid improvement. "Patience, labour, frugality and religion," he would say, in the language of Mr. Burke, ought to be recommended to the people; "all the rest is downright fraud." If there were evils which the law had created, the law must be applied to remedy or remove them, because it was the duty of those who had made the enactments to see that they did not operate to produce effects contrary to those which were anticipated. The subjects he wished to bring under the consideration of the committee were all of a practical nature. They came before the House unconnected with any party considerations, and he trusted for the support and co-operation of all men, of all opinions, in support of the inquiry he proposed. For these reasons he looked also for the support of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland. All parties were at an end—all factions were extinguished, all animosities had ceased; and now, if ever, was the time come when the subject of the evils of Ireland could be calmly and patiently considered, and remedies successfully applied. He concluded by moving for a Select Committee, to inquire into the state of the Poorer Classes in Ireland, and the best means of improving their condition.
§ General Gascoyne
rose to second the Motion, and observed, that although he had been an advocate for the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, he had never contemplated the probability of the English system being introduced without considerable modifications. No one, surely, could suppose that he would wish to introduce all the abuses which had crept into the laws respecting the poor in this country. His hon. friend had asked what Poor-laws would he introduce? He answered at once, those which were in operation in Scotland. He would divide the poor and the helpless equally among the holders of all the land, absentees as well as residents, and compel them to provide for them; and he would make the absentees pay in the same proportion as in Scotland, where if the resident paid fourpence in the pound, the absentee was called on to pay eight-pence. He thought, however, that great 203 good might result from the inquiry, and that the House might be able to put an end to that system of passes which at present formed one of the burthens of England, and one which was ever recurring; for, although the custom was to give the Irish paupers a shilling and pass them to their own country, they returned again as soon as they had an opportunity. He would correct this by imposing a slight punishment on the persons who came here without adequate means of subsistence, and on those who brought or sent them hither. The hon. Member talked of eleven Houses of Industry, and of the effects likely to be produced from charitable institutions. But did the hon. Member forget the institutions of England, and her contributions to the support of Houses of Industry? Why, the payments of England on that head amounted to ten or eleven millions, being nearly three times the sum collected by all the public payments made under every local demand in Ireland, and even nearly three times the amount of the whole revenue of that country. He observed, that whenever an Irish Member brought forward any proposition in that House, he always ended with a demand for money; and he confessed he thought the latter part of the hon. Member's speech, when he spoke of public works, indicated something of the same kind. How the hon. Member proposed to defray the expenses he suggested, unless by a tax of some kind, he was at a loss to imagine; and he had no doubt that his hon. friend would come into the committee at last with a proposition for a small sum to be given by this country in the way of an advance. He had great pleasure, however, in hearing from his hon. friend, that so much good had already been done in Ireland by the sums advanced in that way, that the country was so prosperous, that the people were likely to be in a condition to bear their share of the general load of taxation to which all were subjected. The hon. Member asked, where the churchwardens and the overseers were to be found, if the Poor-laws were to be introduced into Ireland; and he had founded his opposition to them on that ground. He would answer, where were the magistracy to be found? Surely, if they could find a class of people to make magistrates of, they could also find a class of men from whom they could elect officers for the administration of the Poor-laws. The hon. Mem- 204 ber concluded by expressing an opinion that a modified system of Poor-laws would do great good in Ireland; but as he also thought that the inquiries of the committee would afford much useful information, he seconded the Motion of the hon. Member with very great pleasure.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
conceived that the hon. Member for Limerick deserved great thanks for the able manner in which he had brought this important subject under the notice of the House. It was almost superfluous for him (Mr. F. Lewis) to say that he entirely concurred with the hon. Member for Limerick in the necessity of the appointment of a committee on this subject. It was due to England no less than to Ireland, that we should inquire into the condition of the Irish poor, with a view to their relief. Since the great measure of last year, almost all the distinctions between the two countries were removed; they were now indissolubly united, and one of the few distinctions that still remained consisted in the laws which existed in this country for a compulsory provision for the poor, while no such laws existed in Ireland. That was an important subject, which deserved to be approached with caution, to be treated with due deliberation. There were two points to be taken into account in reference to this subject. The relief of the suffering poor in Ireland was to be balanced against the consideration, that the forced adoption of a compulsory rate for the relict of indigence and misery there would put into jeopardy every species of property in that country. It should be borne in mind, that in adopting any such measure for their relief, there was a risk of its being followed by such a result. With regard to the tolls at fairs and markets in Ireland, it certainly appeared to be necessary that the House should consider that subject immediately, with a view to devise some measure calculated to remedy that evil, at the same time that due attention ought to be paid to giving a compensation for local vested interests. He would venture to say that, upon inquiry, it would be found that these vexatious imposts and local duties at fairs and markets depressed the value of property to a tenfold greater amount than that of the benefit which they conferred upon the particular individual to whom they happened to belong. His hon. friend had also adverted to the county assessments with some censure, but in his opinion, the improvements resulting from 205 those assessments were fully equal to their amount. Great caution ought to be used if it were proposed to abolish these assessments.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
intimated, that he did not propose to abolish, but only regulate and restrict these assessments.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
said, as he had misunderstood his hon. friend, inquiry might make their views meet on that as well as on other points. He would next address a few observations to the House, in reference to the propriety of the introduction of the Poor-laws into Ireland. He had heard with great satisfaction from the hon. Member for Limerick, that there already existed, in different parts of Ireland, a great number of charitable institutions for the relief of the poor. He thought his hon. friend had referred to the existence of these institutions to show that there was no necessity for Poor-laws in Ireland: and he had anxiously waited to hear from his hon. friend some practical conclusion on that point, or some proposal for the extension of legislative aid to those institutions. His hon. friend however stated, that there was at present a tendency in Ireland to disparage such institutions, and he afterwards appeared inclined to suggest that Parliament should make grants of the public money for their support. Now he could not well reconcile those two propositions, and he did not very clearly see what good could be effected by public grants to institutions, the utility of which was even at present questioned, and the character of which met with general disparagement in Ireland. His hon. friend had then approached the subject of the Poor-laws, and he had asked, what modification of them it was proposed to introduce into Ireland? Now, whether or not it would be wise to introduce a modification of the English Poor-laws into Ireland was a question which certainly deserved the most serious, cautious, and deliberate consideration. If he might be permitted to offer a suggestion upon the subject, he should rather recommend an imitation of the Scotch system of Poor-laws, for it was only upon such principles as that system was founded, that a proper system of compulsory provision for the poor could be administered in Ireland. The great difficulty in adapting a system of Poor-laws to Ireland would be to find proper persons to administer them, and it appeared to him - that the most proper persons to administer 206 the law were the persons who paid rates under it, for they would be likely, in consideration of their own interests, to take care that the law was properly administered. The Scotch system, therefore, under which the rate payers administered the law, was, it appeared to him, much better adapted for Ireland than the system which existed in England, where the administration of the laws was committed to the overseer, who might be under the complete control of the magistrates. The Scotch Poor-law was administered by the elders and heritors of the parish, who were themselves the payers of the rates; and a system framed upon such principles he conceived would be by far the best adapted to the state of Ireland. He thought that, in the report of the committee of 1817, to which reference had been made, a part of it was too strongly expressed, in which it was stated that Poor-laws had no tendency to increase the capital or funds of a country, but on the contrary had a tendency to diminish them. These and other points, however, he was of opinion could be more conveniently and advantageously discussed in committee than in that House. There was another point to which he should briefly advert. He differed from those who stated that Ireland did not suffer much from absentees. A resident gentry was one of the greatest blessings a country could possess, while the evils resulting from an absentee proprietary, more particularly in Ireland, could scarcely be overrated. He hoped that the committee would be granted; but he trusted, at the same time, that Members would not go into it with a view of establishing some foregone conclusions, but would strictly and impartially examine every proposition which might be submitted to them with a view to relieve the distress of Ireland.
§ Mr. G. Dawson
commenced his observations by complimenting his hon. friend, the Member for Limerick, on the able and eloquent speech which he had just made, and on the conciliatory manner in which he submitted his motion to the House. He must, however, express a hope that his friend would confine the labours of the committee to one point— namely, the best means of finding employment in Ireland for the poor of that country, who now came over to England, and that he would not extend them over the numerous points which he had mentioned, as such inquiries could lead to no practical ad- 207 vantage, and would only disappoint the object which his hon. friend had in view. It would terrify the hon. Members whom his hon. friend had nominated on the Committee, from attending its sittings, if they were to be compelled to examine into the operation of the Grand-jury laws, the laws for the Education of the Poor, the amount of Market-tolls, Church-rates, Poor-rates, and various other objects, which his hon. friend had announced with such rapidity as to render it quite impossible for him to take them down. There was one of these points to which he would momentarily advert. His hon. friend had spoken of 800,000l. a-year, levied for local purposes, as an actual poor-rate, and he proposed to inquire into the application of that sum. But his hon. friend knew very well that a large part of it was destined by special Acts of Parliament to particular purposes; and the Committee could not alter these. It would be an herculean labour, and beyond the powers of the Committee, to inquire into all these acts, and therefore it would have been wiser in his hon. friend not to have included the county assessments among the subjects for the Committee to inquire into, and wiser if his hon. friend had taken little or no notice of them in his speech. The state of the poor in Ireland, he admitted, well deserved the consideration of the House. His hon. friend, the Member for Limerick, was opposed to the introduction of any system of Poor-laws into Ireland, whilst another hon. friend of his, the Member for Liverpool, was a warm champion for their introduction. He had listened with great attention to both their speeches, and with all deference to his hon. friend, the Member for Liverpool, he must say that he had never heard any speech on the imposition of the English system of Poor-laws upon Ireland, so devoid of every thing like common sense or argument as the speech which he had just delivered. He was anxious to express his own opinion upon that subject. It was naturally divisible into two parts, and he would seize that opportunity of saying a few words upon both. He should object to the imposition of the whole of the English system of Poor-laws upon Ireland, from a conviction that it would tend, more than any other measure which the imagination of man could devise, to pauperize and barbarize Ireland; and the reasons upon which he rested that conviction were the 208 same with those which had been so ably stated by his hon. friend the Member for Limerick. There was, however, a part of that system which he conceived that it would be both just and necessary to introduce into Ireland. He thought that the aged and the impotent, the halt and the blind, had a right, because they were helpless, to be maintained by the richer part of the community. He therefore wished for the introduction of a law which would give every person who came under that description a claim of relief on the parish in which he was either born or settled. He was sure that the people of Ireland would have no objection to support that description of persons who were the original objects of the Act of Queen Elizabeth. In the part of the country with which he was best acquainted, the people were willing enough to assess themselves for the relief of such objects; but voluntary assessment was faulty in this respect, any cold-hearted person could decline contributing to it, and could throw the burthen off his shoulders upon those of individuals whose hearts were more open to the dictates of charity. One of the most striking and horrible things in Ireland was the sight of its wandering beggars. He believed that the feeling of charity was as strong in Ireland as in any country in the world: but still the relief afforded to these beggars was inadequate, and the ostentatious mode of administering it formed a forcible contrast to the simple mode adopted in England. It was not unusual to see a dozen cripples together at a town's end in Ireland. The mode in which they obtained relief was somewhat curious. A case, or box, in which one of these cripples were seated, was placed by some-good natured person at the door of another person's house, and was left there until the cripple was relieved. After he had received relief in the shape of refreshment or money, as the case might be, it was customary for the person who relieved him to convey the box to the door of the next house, and to leave the cripple before it. By that person he was passed on to the next house, and so on from house to house. Thus it often happened that these cripples were carried on from one house to another through whole townships. The House would readily conceive that persons in a state of decrepitude were among the most offensive objects which could be contem- 209 plated. These cripples had no claim upon any person for permanent relief; and he thought that if a law were passed, enabling the parishes in which they were settled to give them such relief, nobody would object to it. There, however, he would stop. He never would consent to give the able-bodied labourer a claim for relief, for which he could not be called on to make any return. If such a law were to be imposed upon Ireland, nine-tenths of its population would become paupers. The burthen of supporting them would thus be thrown, not on the landlords, not on the absentees, but on the actual occupiers and cultivators of the soil. It was impossible for any man to travel in Ireland at present, without seeing that a great improvement in the condition of the population of that country was going on; but that improvement would be stopped, and a greater degradation would succeed it than any in which Ireland had hitherto been involved, if the House should determine to introduce into it the entire system of English Poor-laws. For that reason he should always feel himself compelled to resist such a proposition. He was friendly to such a modification of that system as he had pointed out; but conceiving that the English Poor-laws would blight the now budding prosperity of Ireland, he should be always opposed to introducing them into that country.
§ Mr. Brownlow,
after thanking the hon. Member for Limerick for having brought forward the Motion, of which he should have been suspicious had it been in other hands, or had it merely proposed to inquire, without practically relieving the existing distress, proceeded to say, that he was of opinion that his hon. friend, the Member for Limerick, had not stated the case of the existing distress in Ireland so broadly as he might have done. He had frequently described in that House the state of the suffering poor of Ireland; and he had been charged with drawing upon his imagination rather than narrating fact. He wished that he could be convicted of having done so. But of this he was sure, that whatever language he and others might have used, either in the House itself, or before committees, no language could be exaggerated which described the sufferings of the great mass of the labouring population of Ireland. Not only were the Irish people below the general standard of European improvement, 210 but there was no part of the world in which the people were exposed to so much suffering. He admitted that there was some improvement going on by the consolidation of small farms, the building of better farm-houses, &c. But the tendency of this improvement was to detach the people from the land. By a comparison of the census of 1821 with the census of former periods, it appeared that during the last hundred and twenty-five years the population of Ireland had been increasing in an extraordinary ratio. He attributed this to the wretchedness of the people; and he founded upon it one argument in favour of the introduction into Ireland of the Poor-laws. The people of Ireland were frightfully reckless of the increase of their number, because no increase could render them more destitute than they were. But if their condition were bettered—if they were put in possession even of the commonest necessaries of life, they would become more cautious, and would look before they leaped. In Ireland there never had been any legal provision for the poor, and in no country had they been so shamefully neglected; wretchedness and population had increased together, and the owners of the land must be made by a compulsory system of enactments, to feel that they have an interest in keeping down the population before that wretchedness could be effectually relieved. Gentlemen talked of winning back the absentees, but while the present beggary existed, there was no hope that Ireland would recover her absentees. In fact, whoever could get out of the country would do so, and thus escape from being exposed to all the mischiefs resulting from an unprovided population. The hon. Member for Liverpool had talked of the vast number of paupers who came from Ireland to this country, and entered into competition with the English labourer, and he hinted at some coercive measure to prevent the emigration. But was the hon. Gentleman serious in his suggestions as to the mode of stopping that influx? It was true, that the Irish sent labour to this country in the shape of human beings; but the English sent labour back to Ireland, in the shape of boxes of manufactured goods. The hon. Member for Liverpool had, therefore, had no ground for complaint. The interchange of labour was one of the advantages of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland. He owned that he was 211 an advocate for the introduction into Ireland of Poor-laws, for he could not avoid attributing to that conspicuous difference in the legislative enactments of the two countries much of the difference in the wealth of the people. In Holland and Sweden, and England, where a compulsory system of relief prevailed, how different was the character of the people from what it was in those countries where they depended wholly on casual charity for support. He feared, indeed, when he looked at the difference between the population of England and Ireland, that the English system alone would not suit that country. Where there were no Poor-laws, dissoluteness and idleness distinguished the people, and imprecations followed the refusal to bestow casual charity. Until some powerful remedy was proposed, it was in vain to talk of checks on the population, and of moral restraint; for the evil would only go on increasing from day to day. He thought that the English Poor-laws, freed from abuses not natural to them, might be advantageously introduced into Ireland. He could not agree with his hon. friend, who had said that since the Poor-laws had first been introduced, Parliament had been engaged in one continued effort to amend them. In his opinion they began to suffer abuse in 1796, when, for the first time, was introduced the idle— he had almost said the impious—system of endeavouring to uphold the condition of the pauper after a very bad season in the same manner as after the best seasons—a system in which the overseer endeavoured to counteract in his establishments and to defeat by his care, the will of Providence. And it was remarkable that from about the same period, 1796, his hon. friend had quoted the first instance of an attempt to amend the Poor-laws. The Act of Elizabeth did not encourage the system of relief without labour, and the two things ought to be separated. He was for introducing that Act, or the preamble of that Act into Ireland, and he looked to the better class of farmers who were growing up in that country, as likely to form an excellent class of persons for carrying such an Act into execution. The landowners of the country had hitherto been interested in the increase of the numbers of the population; give them an interest the other way, and the evil of a redundant population would be much diminished.
Lord F. L. Gower
said, he heartily concurred with the object of the Motion made by the hon. Member for Limerick, though he differed from that hon. Member as to some of the doctrines he had laid down. Knowing the attention that the hon. Member had paid to the subject of political economy, he was glad to hear that hon. Member declare that he would not be classed with those who maintained absenteeism to be no evil. The process of reasoning by which the gentleman who stood so high in that science had arrived at the conclusion which he had stated before a Committee of the House, and subsequently published, he had always been unable to understand—and he would make the same reply to the fallacy as Johnson made to the philosophy of Berkeley—he would strike his foot upon Besborough and Michelstown, and contrasting them with places to which the landlord never came, the difference would afford a refutation of the doctrine. He did not think that the sudden introduction into Ireland of a system of Poor-laws would check the immigration of Irish poor into this country, or the emigration of Irish gentlemen. It was only by making the country more agreeable that the latter would remain, and the former would come over in great numbers, as they had hitherto done: if they could not find one means of procuring a passage, they would resort to another—they would be like Rabelais, who, when he wanted to go to Paris, and could not afford the means of the journey, wrote on two packets, "poison for the King," and "poison for the Queen," and had his expenses defrayed by the Government, and explained on his arrival the circumstances which had created so much alarm by telling the authorities that he had found that the cheapest and most expeditious method of getting conveyed to Paris. The evils of this system of immigration into this country of the Irish poor had often been referred to, but Members had overlooked the advantage of their coming here at a season when a great degree of labour was required. The only part of the hon. Member's speech that created apprehension in his mind was the last portion, in which he proposed more subjects for consideration than could be advantageously investigated by any committee. He would not say that in any one of the things mentioned by the hon. Member the interests of the poor 213 were not concerned, but in many of them their interests were only indirectly affected, and he thought they ought to confine themselves to those subjects in which the poor were directly interested. The Grand Jury system was one of those matters that only had an indirect influence on the condition of the poor, and in his opinion it ought not to be introduced into the present inquiry. If it were, long as the Session might last, it would hardly last long enough for the attainment of the object. He agreed with the hon. Member as to the importance of the subject of tolls and customs, and had prepared a bill relating to it, which, if found, as he trusted it would be, deserving of the approbation of the House, the credit of it would deservedly rest with the hon. Member opposite, who had been the most active Member of the Committee to which that subject had been referred.
Mr. M. Fitzgerald
said, that there had been several definitions given of the Poor-laws that night, which differed materially from each other. The definition of the hon. Member for Liverpool (General Gascoyne) was this—that if Irishmen came to England a second time, they were to be punished,—fined, he believed. [General Gascoyne said "confined."] Well, confined: that would prevent a repetition of the offence. But if he confined all who so offended, Liverpool must be provided with large gaols. The hon. Member had talked of the manufactures which England supplied to Ireland; but the Irish sent their manufactures likewise—their principal manufactures were corn and men. Another definition was given by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Brownlow) which was the adoption of the Act of Elizabeth. But he apprehended that the adoption of the Act of Elizabeth would be pregnant with consequences mischievous to those very persons whom he was desirous of serving. If the principle of a compulsory demand for subsistence by the poor be admitted, all the evils experienced from the Poor-laws in England would afford a very slight notion of the evils which would arise in Ireland. The Poor-laws, it was well known to all who were acquainted with Ireland, were not applicable to that country. The whole pauper-population, instead of being incited to labour, would be encouraged in idleness. He was, however, not disposed to refuse making a safe and proper provision for the poor, he 214 should be willing to submit to a compulsory rate for the relief of the impotent, if he could be satisfied that it could by any possibility be limited to them; but he was sure that it could not, and he was ready to do the only thing which ought to be or would be done with a view to serve the poor themselves. He was ready to tax the landed interest of Ireland for the purpose of employing the labouring classes. He would reverse, with respect to Ireland, the principle on which pauper-labour was employed in England, as the only justifiable course that could be pursued. That labour should be employed for productive and useful purposes; it should be directed to the improvement of each particular district. Now it was notorious, that the vast application of funds for the support of the poor in England, ended pretty nearly where it began; and the system was well described, when they were told of the poor digging holes one day and filling them up the next. It was expedient to prevent the people from starving, but it was also proper that their labour should not be thrown away; and, as the system was conducted here, it was really useless as to any great national purpose or object. He would create independent sources of industry, which would not otherwise exist, and which would afford the means of taxing the lands so as to meet the expenditure. The gallant Member for Liverpool had been pleased to say, that no Irish Member rose in that House but to call for a grant of public money, and he had stated that such was the fact on this occasion. Was he justified in making that assertion by the tenour of the speech of the hon. Mover? Did he ask for any grant of public money? Did he seek for any been that Ireland was not to repay? Unquestionably he did not understand him so; and in all the communications which he had had with his hon. friend on the subject, his hon. friend had always said, that his object was, that labour should be applied on the principle of improving the country by it, and that, in turn, the country should be taxed to meet the expense. For his own part he was for a territorial tax in Ireland, but different from that in England—a territorial tax levied for the improvement of the land, and payable out of that improvement. The principle which he meant to assert was this, that the land should be taxed for the use and employment of the people 215 on it, in such a manner as to repay all expenses whatever, both principal and interest. In order to judge of the course that ought to be taken with respect to Ireland it would be necessary to consider the peculiar circumstances of that country. The peculiarity of the situation of Ireland, as contrasted with that of England, consisted in this,—that a vast proportion of income or revenue, derived from the country, was totally withdrawn from it; and therefore domestic industry in Ireland did not obtain that just reward which every where else was claimed by those who resided on the soil. That was the peculiarity of Ireland. The absenteeism of that country deprived it of that machinery which gave a stimulus to labour; and to that point the Committee ought to direct particular attention. To apply a remedy to that evil, if remedy could be found, ought seriously to engage the consideration of the Committee. The noble Lord and the right hon. the Treasurer of the Navy had objected to some of the multifarious objects to which his hon. friend proposed to direct the attention of the Committee; but it appeared to him, that his hon. friend, when attempting in his opening speech to state his view of all the sufferings connected with the distress of Ireland, could not possibly avoid those particular topics on which he touched. His hon. friend had been charged with not making a proposition as extensive as the case he had laid before the House; he was charged with doing nothing more than adverting to the evidence which had formerly been taken on this subject, and then leaving the case pretty much where he found it. Now, he believed that it was not in his hon. friend's nature to leave the subject without arriving at some practical good. When he referred to those voluminous reports on this question, he stated that no practical result had been derived from them; but he went on to say, that when at length he should have all the evidence before him, and when the subject was taken up under calmer and better auspices than heretofore, he would exert himself to work out some efficient and certain benefit for the country. He hoped that the labours of the Committee would be successful, and that such measures would be taken as would prevent the influx of Irish paupers into this country, by raising the condition of the Irish labourer at home. The present was the 216 first time that the House could come to the consideration of Ireland without any painful feelings. The handsome manner in which the Government had granted the Committee augured well for its beneficial results. He would make but one observation more. He believed that distress did exist in Ireland, but that it arose solely from the want of employment; and that was the point to which the Committee ought to turn its attention. He believed that there existed in Ireland the great and growing seeds of prosperity, and they only wanted, to become flourishing, a little legislative care.
§ General Gascoyne
explained: He had only said that a repetition of applications by the same persons for passes into England might be punished by imprisonment, in order to prevent them making a trade of travelling.
Mr. Secretary Peel
was unwilling to permit a question relating so immediately to the domestic policy of one part of the empire, and not very remote from that of the other, to pass without a few observations from him, particularly in consideration of the public situation which he held. He was favourable to the appointment of the Committee; for nothing could be more improper than to attempt to legislate upon the subject of providing for the Irish poor, without very mature preliminary inquiries, and nothing could be so unwise as to reject the proposal to legislate after such inquiries had been made. One great part of the value of the Committee would depend on the mode in which the inquiry should be conducted. If the Committee entered into the general condition of the Irish poor, he would not say that much valuable information would not be collected, but perfectly certain was he that no practical result would ensue. He would advise his hon. friend, who he supposed would sit as chairman of the Committee, to make his report upon the few following points:— First, a clear statement to the House, and to the British public, of the existing enactments in Ireland, with reference to the provisions for the Irish poor; the extent to which the land is subject to any pecuniary levy for the purposes of providing for any classes of the poor, mutilated, diseased, or wanting subsistence; next to inquire, whether it were desirable to extend those enactments, and to describe the measures by which they were to be extended, with the machinery by 217 which they were to operate; and lastly, the Committee should report on the effect which the system of Irish Poor-laws would have upon the population of Ireland. Nothing could be more plausible and specious than the first appearance of the proposal for assimilating the two countries, or extending the English Poor-law system to Ireland. It might appear that the poor had a natural claim to relief. By poor he meant those that were unable to provide for themselves; and great injustice arose practically from the existence of Poor-laws in one place and from their absence in another. The gallant General who seconded the Motion felt the inconvenience of the Poor-laws, and he wished to impose the same suffering on Ireland. He was like the fox who had lost his tail, and who wanted to persuade all other foxes that tails were an encumbrance. He would give the whole of the English system to Ireland. Many Gentlemen said —apply all the good of the English system of Poor-laws to Ireland, and without any of the evil. But even if this could be done, the question was, could they exclude the gradual growth of what was bad? There was an inevitable tendency, in any such a system, to grow into abuse; and if the poor had an acknowledged legal claim to relief, where could the limitation of that claim be fixed? If every man who could not support himself were to have an acknowledged legal claim upon the wealthy, the land of Ireland would be subject to an Agrarian law, and the present possessors of the soil would have to part with their property, and, what was more, without any material, and certainly without any permanent, diminution of the distress. If the right or claim be confined only to those who were diseased, that limitation would not be found much stricter than the other; for if a man were unable to procure employment, and especially if he had a family, the step from poverty to illness was very short. The hon. Member for Armagh had said— "We won't have Poor-rates, but we will have a Labour-rate, and nothing shall be raised on the land except to provide for the employment of the poor." The hon. Member, by this principle, provided no relief for distress; he excluded the decrepit, and all who could not labour. Was this "Labour-rate" to be applied in the parish in which it was raised? What would this be but a subscription from the 218 rich, and a diminution of their means to employ the poor, and how would this increase the demand for labour? It would pro tanto diminish the means of the prosperous farmer, to be applied to a forced labour, which would not otherwise arise, or be actually necessary; the produce of which being less productive in amount, and in every respect of inferior benefit to the country than the labour the farmers would employ with that capital if it were left in their own hands, there would ultimately be less employment for the labourer, and diminished wages, than if no such Labour-rate was imposed. Before the House consented to the introduction of the Poor-laws, under the name of Labour Rate, let the House consider the practical operation of that system; and they would find in it no material distinction, either in principle or effect, from such a rate as was called the Poor-rate in England. His hon. friend, the Treasurer of the Navy, advocated the Scotch system, instead of the English. Now what was meant by the Scotch system? for in Scotland the system in the Highlands was perfectly different from that of the Lowlands and manufacturing districts. By the law, the system in every part of Scotland should be the same; but practically this was very different. He much doubted if, according to the decisions of the Scotch courts, there was not a legal claim for relief by every one of the poor who was unemployed. He doubted if the Scotch system were legal as it existed, or if any system of taxing parishes for the support of the poor could check the ultimate evil now felt in this country. It was impossible for him to discuss absenteeism at that time, although he felt all the inconvenience of it; but he would at once reject the doctrine which considered it proper that Parliament should attempt to interfere directly with absenteeism. It might be thought plausible to impose a tax upon absenteeism; but if any man did entertain such a notion, and wished to be converted, or was open to conviction, let him read the letter of Mr. Burke to Sir Charles Bingham. In 1774, when Ireland had an independent Parliament, a tax on absentees was proposed, and a very popular and prevailing impression existed in favour of the lax; but Mr. Burke's arguments were perfectly conclusive, and they had changed the opinions of many of those who were disposed to de- 219 cide in favour of the measure. But at present, when the public duties called the Irish gentry away from their country, and when so many possessed property in both parts of the United Empire, how could it be consistent with justice to impose such a tax? The question was altogether beyond the direct interference of the legislature. But the most material object to be kept in view by the Committee would be, to satisfy the people of England by its inquiries. There was, unquestionably, a great practical injustice in the working of the Poor-laws at present. Although the greatest abuses existed respecting the passage of Irish labourers into England, he must confess that he felt averse to imposing any restriction on a free passage. His hon. friend proposed imprisonment as a check, he would probably confine all the Irish labourers who came to Liverpool in that town at the expense of the corporation; but, of all checks to immigration, imprisonment would be the most useless and objectionable.
Mr. Peel continued
Then the passengers would never come again. But it would not be a cheap way of getting rid of Irish labourers, to build a jail and support them at the expense of the rest of the population. The best way would be to find an open market for the poor man's labour, his only commodity; and any laws to prevent the poor man from passing freely from one part of the country to another would be pregnant with injustice. As to large institutions in Ireland, to receive the poor who were unable to provide for themselves, he despaired of any effectual remedy from such a scheme. This was the worst system that could be introduced; for it was providing not only food but lodging, which ought not, he thought, to be done, except in cases of disease, or decrepitude from accident. He much doubted if the introduction of the English Poor-laws into Ireland would relieve the poor of England; for England did not suffer from Irish distress, but from the invasion of Irish labourers. The English fanner had the benefit of cheap labour, by the influx of Irish poor. The Poor-laws in Ireland would increase distress, as they would prevent the building of cottages, and have other injurious effects. They would probably banish from the country a number of persons of small 220 fortunes, who would not like to be subject to the additional annoyance of the Poor-laws. Although he thought it a dangerous experiment to introduce the English Poor-laws into Ireland, yet the proposal ought not to be rejected without the most deliberate inquiry. The Committee, however, would only have to consider the distress which existed among the labourers, and the best means of providing them employment and relief. In that view of it he gave his cordial assent to the Motion.
was sorry to observe, that the hon. Mover had taken too partial a view of this subject, his mind being evidently made up before he moved for the committee; and he lamented, too, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) opposite seemed to think that almost no relief by a measure of this nature could be introduced into Ireland. Sure he was, that something must be done to raise the moral character of the Irish peasantry. He saw well the prudence of giving no distinct pledge on this subject, until the labours of the Committee should be concluded. He would not detain the House at that late hour, but reserve to another opportunity the expression of his views. He begged, however, to be allowed to observe, that unless something were done to prevent the influx of Irish peasantry into this country, our own peasantry would soon be as badly off as the Irish: In the last year no less than 50,000 deck passengers came over from Ireland into this country. The injurious effects of this influx must be obvious to every one. He was averse to introduce the English system, with its abuses, into Ireland, but he must say he thought that something might be done by a system like our own, but relieved of the abuses which had grown up here. The Committee, however, would be the place for investigating this question.
§ Mr. A. Dawson
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, assumed that these 50,000 persons from Ireland were paupers, and vagrants, and vagabonds. This was not the case; they paid for their passage to this country, and brought with them the gifts which nature had conferred upon them; their strength and their sinews. They asked for employment, and, if they obtained it, they gave, in their labour, a fair recompense for the money they received. He did not mean to say that vagrants and vagabonds did not come from Ireland, or 221 that the House might not legislate upon vagrants: but he did protest against the industrious Irish, who earned all they received from this country, being confounded with Irish vagabonds who came to ask English alms. Let him, however, tell the House that they could not, by legislative enactments, prevent labour from finding its level. As to relieving Ireland, and bettering the condition of the people, hon. Members speculated upon emigration and the Poor-laws, while an obvious mode, which presented itself to the view of everyone, was passed over. He would say, give the Irish employment in Ireland, which might be easily done. There were in that country, 2,000,000 acres of bogs, which were a standing reproach to the Government. By the Reports of Commissioners, it appeared, that if these bogs were drained, they would, in ten years, be converted into fertile land, at a profit of 200 per cent.
said, that he had applied neither the term vagabond nor vagrant to the Irish who came over here. He had not wished to apply such terms to them, and if he had so wished, still, surrounded as he was by so many sensitive Members from the sister kingdom, his prudence would have got the better of his wish.
§ Mr. Monck
said, that at that late hour he should detain the House but for a very few moments. He did not think that the influx of the Irish was so great an evil as had been represented, in regard to its effects upon our own peasantry. For, in the first place, the influx was chiefly confined to London and the great towns. In the country it lasted only during harvest-time. Against this evil, however, such as it was, our Poor-laws were our security, and did not, as it had been supposed they did, increase the evil. For, if the Irish offered their labour at fifty per cent under our own labourers, the farmer would not accept the offer, because he knew that if he did, the English labourers would next day come upon him for relief as paupers.
§ Mr. O'Connell
begged to notice an expression which had fallen from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. The expression was calumnious; and although he was sure the hon. Member had not so intended it, yet he felt it necessary to notice and to correct the expression. The hon. Member had talked about raising the moral character of the Irish peasantry. Now he begged leave to tell the hon. Member, 222 that, by the example of England, this could not be done. On the contrary, while crime was rapidly increasing in England, it was on the decrease in Ireland. With respect to the subject before the House, he would not detain it by any observations of his upon it. He would only remind the House, that the distress, which was on all hands admitted to exist in Ireland, prevailed among an industrious and numerous population, who were blest with a most fertile soil. Would it be said that no remedy could be applied to distress in such a country as that?
§ Sir C. Cole
said, that with his experience as a magistrate of the mischiefs of the Poor-laws in this country, he could never think of advocating the extension of those laws to the sister kingdom.
in explanation, said, that he had not used the words "moral character," in the sense in which the hon. Member for Clare had understood them.
§ Motion agreed to, and Committee appointed.
§ Mr. Trant moved, "That it be an instruction to the Committee, to inquire how far the 43rd of Elizabeth might be made applicable to the poor of Ireland."
§ The Speaker
said, that the Committee, from the wording of the Motion, had already power to extend their inquiries to that point; and it was unusual to give an instruction to it to do that which it already had the power to do.
Lord F. L. Gower
could have no personal objection to the hon. Member's name being added to the Committee; but, on general principles, he objected to the proposition, because other hon. Members might make similar ones, and so extend the Committee to the whole House.