HC Deb 27 July 1831 vol 5 cc390-5
Sir J. Newport

presented a Petition from Waterford, in favour of Poor-laws in Ireland. He would take that opportunity of stating, that he had fully made up his mind, that a modified system of Poor-laws was absolutely necessary for Ireland. He had come reluctantly to that opinion, but, seeing that a crisis was at hand for Ireland—seeing that a large part of the revenue of the country was taken away by absentees, while the peasantry were left to starve, he had been compelled to conclude, that the time was come, when a portion of the produce of Ireland must be appropriated by the law to relieve the wants of the people. Something must be done, and speedily.

Mr. James Grattan

concurred in the opinion expressed by his right hon. friend. Ireland was indebted to him for some of the wisest measures the Parliament had ever passed, and from him, if from anybody, it might be expected, that those regulations would emanate which were necessary to adapt the English Poor-laws to Ireland. He had long been convinced of the propriety of introducing Poor-laws into Ireland, and he gave notice, that it was his intention soon to lay on the Table of the House, a bill for that purpose. A measure of that kind would cure absenteeism, and compel gentlemen to reside on their property. The example of his right hon. friend who had so candidly expressed his opinion, would have great weight with many of those who had hitherto opposed the measure; but to shew, that it was making great way with the public, it was only necessary that he should recal to the memory of the House the number of petitions which had been lately presented on that subject.

Mr. Slaney

thought, that the subject was deserving of the most serious attention; and he trusted, that Parliament would speedily give it. At the same time he must say, that he hoped the abuses of the English Poor-laws would not be introduced into Ireland.

Sir R. Bateson

said, that night after night the Ministers had promised to bring forward a measure for the relief of Ireland, and he thought, that it was high time for something of that sort to be done; he was, however, afraid that the English system of Poor-laws in Ireland would only produce further misery, instead of effecting any good.

Mr. Hunt

said, that it was in vain for the hon. Baronet to appeal to his Majesty's Ministers, when there was not one in the House to hear what he said.

Mr. Wyse

said, the proceedings of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) in last night proposing a grant of money for England, was a frightful commentary on the system it was proposed to introduce into Ireland. Before they introduced Poor-laws into Ireland, it ought to be proved that they worked well in England. But here they existed—the land was overflowing with wealth, and ingenuity was in excess—skill and employment were abundant—and yet public relief was demanded for the people. Ireland was suffering under the evils of absenteeism, and though he should like to see some tax levied on them to make them contribute to the necessities of their countrymen, yet as there were already many charities and eleemosynary institutions for the relief of the poor, it would be worth while first to consider whether those institutions could not be made more effective. Some Gentlemen might propose Poor-laws for Ireland, as a means of keeping the Irish at home, but labour was the capital of Ireland, which she had as much right to export, as England had to export her manufactures to Ireland. Something was necessary to make the indolent and the avaricious contribute to the support of the poor; and a poor-rate which could accomplish that, would be deserving of the utmost praise. If Ireland was not relieved by good legal institutions, she would require a local Legislature. It was impossible, unless good institutions were given, to look forward in Ireland with any hope but that the same cycle of distress, famine, and disturbance, would continually recur. He strongly recommended attention to the state of that country, if England meant to preserve it in peace.

Mr. Ruthven

was glad to hear, that the member for Wexford had taken the matter up; for it was clear that the Government, which was so much occupied with other things, could not attend to the wants of Ireland; and the Irish Gentlemen themselves must take that country under their care. He was satisfied that the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland was now necessary.

Mr. Callaghan

had long been of opinion, that nothing could be more productive of benefit and tranquillity to Ireland than the introduction of Poor-laws into that country. He should not deal fairly with the House, however, if he did not state, that this opinion was not shared by the landlords of Ireland, who dreaded being made by the Poor-laws, paupers on their own estates.

Mr. G. Dawson

thought, that the time was now come, when a modified system of Poor-laws must be introduced into Ireland. He saw no other measure which was likely to give tranquillity to that country. The rich ought to make sacrifices, if they wished the country to remain at peace. He denied, that the measures proposed by the Government, such as the issue of 500,000l. in Exchequer Bills, would give any relief to Ireland, and he looked on those measures as likely to create delusion. The only means to relieve the people of that country was, to give them employment, and that could not be done but by making it the interest of the landed gentlemen to provide for them. He had become, unwillingly, a convert to the opinion, that it was necessary to give Poor-laws to Ireland. He wished, however, that the subject were taken up by the Government, and not left to be brought under discussion at the discretion of individuals.

Mr. Leader

stated, that the condition of Ireland was now become a vital English question. Those who had brought the country to pauperism by their free trade principles ought now to bring all their intellect, if they had any, to raise the country out of the condition into which their principles had plunged it. Ireland could not go on as it was at present. The claims on the land were such, and the extortions so many, that it was not possible for the people to live. The demands of Landlords, Grand Juries, Tithe-proctors, and Tax-Gatherers amounted to 25,000,000l. per annum; one of these stood on one side of the hedge, and the other on the other, looking after the growing crop, eager to take it whenever it was ready to be reaped. The country was in the last stage of destitution; the population were behind the level of humanity; and in Ireland there was no security for life or property.

Mr. Spring Rice

deprecated the discussion of this important question, except on some notice being given, particularly as there were already two notices on the book to bring the subject before the House. They were all agreed, that if the introduction of Poor-laws would relieve the poor of Ireland, they ought to be introduced. This, however, was yet a matter of doubt; and he wished Gentlemen would take the principle of the question into consideration. In particular, he wished Gentlemen would take into their consideration the effects of introducing Poor-laws into Ireland on the state of the poor of England. He conjured the House to weigh the subject maturely, and consider well the means by which that relief could be given which they all desired to give.

Mr. Hume

said, it was evident, from the returns on the Table of the House, that since the restrictions on trade had been removed, the business of Ireland had increased. He regretted, therefore, that such a cause should have been assigned for the distress of Ireland as the removal of those restrictions. He only rose, however, to say, that this subject ought to be taken up by the Government, if it was only to allay the agitation which now existed. He thought, that the Poor-laws in England had not been of advantage to this country; and he therefore, though he wished to give relief to Ireland, could not consent to introduce Poor-laws into that country. It was, however, the business of the Government to bring the question, which was of primary importance, under the discussion of the House.

Mr. Sheil

said, the hon. member for Middlesex had given an opinion against the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, without assigning his reasons. The right hon. Secretary of the Treasury was also of the same opinion. He had been Chairman of that Committee which had been appointed to inquire into the subject of Poor-laws in Ireland, and had given an opinion on every other subject but that they were appointed to inquire into. He advocated the propriety of the Government taking up the question, and not leaving it to the interlocutory explanations of Members across the Table.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, the reason for the Committee not giving an opinion was, it had sat for a considerable time, and the dissolution being at hand, it had no opportunity of entering into a question of such importance in the absence of many Members.

Sir J. Newport

said, that he had expressed his opinion, for which, perhaps, he owed an apology to the House, because at his time of life he might not otherwise have an opportunity of stating the change which had taken place in his views on this subject. He was now convinced, that without some provision for the poor of Ireland, the tranquillity of that country could not be preserved.

Mr. Grattan

said, the hon. member for Middlesex had expressed himself against the Poor-laws of England; he wished, therefore, to know if the hon. Member proposed to alter or amend them; if the hon. Member did, he should oppose him.

Mr. Hume

had not objected to the principle of the Poor-laws, but only to the abuses of the system.

Mr. Sadler

wished to know, if the noble Lord would allow any day to be set apart for the discussion of this important question? The day appointed was the 2nd of August.

Lord Althorp

was well aware of the great attention which the hon. Member had paid to the subject, and knew how desirous he was of bringing it forward. He could not, however, pledge himself to set apart any day for the purpose. He could not tell what might occur in the progress of the business then before the House, but he thought there might be an opportunity of discussing the question after that was disposed of. Not perceiving, however, what was likely to be the state of things before the House, he could not promise that any particular day should be devoted to the discussion.

Mr. Sadler

wished merely to take the opinion of the House on the propriety of adopting measures for the relief of the poor in Ireland. The subject, as he should bring it forward, would be divested of details.

Petition to be printed.