HC Deb 12 August 1831 vol 5 cc1257-60
Lord Morpeth

presented Petitions from Leeds, Halifax, and Dewsbury, recommending the adoption of a system of Permanent Relief for the Poor of Ireland. The persons from whom these Petitions proceeded, belonged to the great manufacturing districts, from which large contributions had been drawn for the relief of the distressed Irish. The Petitioners attributed the frequent recurrence of this distress to the state of society in Ireland, and expressed their opinions, that the destitute persons of that country ought not to be supported by perpetual drafts on English charity. Although the principles of Christian charity were universal, yet the application of the means must necessarily be confined to particular countries and neighbourhoods.

Mr. Sadler

supported the prayer of the petition. The meeting at which the Dewsbury petition was agreed to, was highly respectable, and the general feeling was, that it was a most improper and insufficient method of obtaining relief, to carry a begging-box round the country; for the consequence was, that the utmost distress had been endured before relief could be administered. He entirely agreed with that part of the petition which suggested the necessity of establishing a compulsory provision for the relief of the Irish Poor, and expressed his readiness to concur in the adoption of means calculated to put an end to the necessity which so frequently arose, of resorting to voluntary contribution for the relief of such dreadful distresses as seemed now to be almost periodical. A distinction had been taken between affording relief to the aged and impotent, and those able to work, but who could not find employment. This point had been made the subject of discussion at the meeting to which he alluded at Dewsbury—and it had been unanimously resolved, that no mode of relief would be satisfactory which did not include an efficient and practicable plan for affording assistance to persons able and willing to work, but who were deprived of employment by the peculiar circumstances of their country. Distress, accompanied by crime, formed a dreadful, but a per- petual feature, in the history of Ireland. Private charity only reached the extremity of the evil when the previous sufferings could no longer be borne. Humanity, common sense, and justice, all combined to shew the impropriety of permitting a starving multitude to depend upon such uncertain and slender resources. He had no wish to provoke premature discussion, but he was convinced that the feelings he had uttered would soon prevail throughout the kingdom. There was, however, one circumstance to which he must revert, he meant the excitement which prevailed in the minds of English labourers, at the approach of the migratory mass of labour which, about the present time, was periodically thrown into the market of this country from Ireland. Considering the unhappy circumstances of these people at home, no man of humanity would wish to prevent them obtaining employment here, but it could not be concealed that their presence caused strong feelings of discontent, which was greatly augmenting in the minds of the English peasantry. On all these grounds, therefore, it was necessary that some efficient means should be adopted for improving the condition of the poor of Ireland, and doing away with the necessity of making them dependent on the casual charity of the humane, which, after all, was a poor resource, and only afforded a mockery of relief. He trusted the House would bear in mind, that the petition spoke the sentiments of a respectable and well-educated class of the community.

Colonel Davies

was surprised that the hon. member should found an argument for the establishment of Poor-laws in Ireland, on the excitement which the presence of Irish labourers created in the minds of the English peasantry. He was of opinion, that the establishment of Poor-laws in Ireland would not raise the wages of labour in that country. It would rather tend to reduce wages. At all events, he was satisfied that it would not keep a single Irish labourer from visiting this country; so long as an Irishman could earn 12s. or 15s. a week by crossing the Channel, he would never remain at home, to starve on a miserable pittance, doled out to him by the operation of Poor-laws.

Mr. Evelyn Denison

did not think the prevention of Irish labourers coming into this country was a proper motive for the establishment of Poor-laws in Ireland, The decision of the House must be guided by higher considerations. When the subject was regularly brought forward, he should be fully prepared to state the grounds on which he concluded, that it was not only necessary, but just and expedient, that some legal provision should be made for the poor of Ireland, in their own country.

Mr. Hodges

must also take the opportunity of stating, that, in his opinion, it was absolutely necessary to establish Poor-laws in Ireland.

Mr. Hunt

wished to call the attention of the House to the unfortunate condition of the people of England, who were driven out of their own markets by labourers from Ireland. When he was a farmer, there was such a scarcity of hands, that farmers would have been glad to procure extra labour at any expense; but the case was now reversed. From the enormous pressure of taxation, the farmers could not employ sufficient labour properly to cultivate their land. He hoped, that measures would be adopted with a view to stimulate agriculture in this country, and was satisfied, that by such a course, sufficient employment would be afforded, not only to our own population, but to every Irish labourer who should visit England.

Colonel Sibthorp

regretted to observe in the public prints, a disposition to create dissension between the English and Irish labourers, and he therefore gladly availed himself of that opportunity to refer to an outrage said to have been committed by a part of the population of Lincolnshire, on some Irish labourers. He was happy to say, that the story of the mutilation, which had been published in some of the newspapers, had received a complete contradiction in the county paper, where the report was described to be completely false and scandalous.

Mr. Sadler

begged to be permitted to observe, as it might be inferred from the course the conversation had taken, that he objected to the Irish coming to this country to seek for employment, that he had not the least desire to prevent their doing so. They had a right to seek elsewhere for the subsistence of which they were deprived at home by the unnatural conduct of the rich. Those persons who opposed the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland were extremely inconsistent in their reasoning. Formerly they contended such a measure would raise the price of labour, and thereby prove injurious to the buyers of labour, or to those who employed the people. Now it was said, the measure would reduce the value of labour. It was not possible that both of these opposite arguments could be well founded. Any measure which created capital, must naturally increase the demand for labour, and in the same proportion augment the value of the remuneration.

Mr. Protheroe

was much gratified by the increasing interest this subject acquired upon every fresh discussion; it was a question which yielded to none in importance.

Petitions to lie on the Table.