§ Mr. Sadler
rose for the purpose of bringing forward the Resolution which it was his intention to submit to the House, for the purpose 832 of affording an opportunity of expressing their approval of the principle upon which he advocated this important subject. The hon. Member declared, that as he had hitherto let slip no opportunity which had been afforded to him, since he was in public life, of bringing forward the question of the application of Poor Laws to Ireland, neither would he stay from the thorough discussion of the subject at that moment, even to proceed to take the sense of the House upon his proposition. He had been urged, on the last occasion of his bringing forward this question, to prepare a bill for the purpose of carrying his object into effect, and to submit that bill to the House, when they could discuss the matter regularly, and in detail. He thought, however, that the principle of the measure ought first to be affirmed by the House, and, upon that affirmation, a bill might be introduced, for the purpose of carrying that principle into effect, with some chance of success. Without dwelling upon the minor arguments which might be adduced in favour of the Resolution which he was about to propose, he would assert that the very "head and front" of them was that indisputable axiom which maintained the right of the poor to be relieved out of the produce of the land. Especial care had been taken to enact laws—and those, too, of a sanguinary and harsh nature—for the purpose of protecting the rights of property in Ireland; but that sacred duty which was imperative on a just Legislature to perform—namely, of providing by law for the relief and support of the destitute and comfortless—had been totally and shamefully neglected in Ireland. It was a principle in morals, immutable as any principle in nature, that the poor inherited this claim to support as part of their birthright: the great Locke advocated that principle in his Treatise on Government; and allowing, as he there did, the rights of property, he at the same time declared' that the rich had no right to starve the poor, or to withhold from them their share of the bounties of Providence. The very principles upon which the rights of property were based, were founded on this indefeasible right of the poor, for property could not be maintained to be sacred, save upon the principle of reserving the right of the poor to maintenance from the land. This was the law in all civilized States. In that State where, of all others, it was least to be looked for, the principle 833 was extended beyond the bounds which were put upon it in the European States. He alluded to America—the United States, in which, says Mr. Dwight, the poor of all classes, all colours, all nations, may claim relief by law; and what rendered this claim more onerous in those States was, the fact, that the maintenance of a certain number of poor persons cost more in New York, for instance, than an equal number did in England, notwithstanding the great disparity which existed between the prices of provisions in the two countries. The only exception which he had to make to this universal adoption of a system of Poor laws in European States was Ireland; and the only question which it seemed to him it was necessary to put before they were extended to that country, was, whether there was a sufficient degree of poverty there to render their extension a matter of necessity? What was the reply which was made to this question by those upon whom those Poor laws would press? Why, that the very magnitude of the distress which existed in Ireland, was the principal reason why those laws ought to be refused to them. What a perversion of argument was there—the very greatness of the evil being alleged as the excuse why no remedy was to be applied—the very depth of the distress was the most cogent reason used for evading and neglecting their duty. This selfish argument had been brought forward as the most irrefragable. What! could the long neglect of a duty, the non-performance of which had been the cause of so much calamity, be a reason why it should never be carried into execution? He trusted the House would never for one moment entertain such an argument. Ireland had stronger claims to legislative relief than any other country. Alternate pestilence and famine, those scourges of the human race, had committed their ravages amongst her population, whilst the sword destroyed those who had escaped the pestilence. For many centuries past, such had been the fearful history of Ireland; famine, plague, and sword, held alternate sway in that unhappy land. For all these evils it was said, casual charity is a sufficient boon, a sufficient relief. Such was the melancholy history of Ireland. It was the so called protection, or rather the cruel desertion, of their absentee landlords which had reduced the poor of Ireland for centuries to the most abject distress. These landed 834 proprietors had at length resorted to the expedient of clearances; a plan which they would never have dared to propose in England, where there was a system of Poor laws. They had audaciously called the people on their estates a surplus population, and had proceeded to ship them off, as if that assertion were, or could be, founded in truth. It was objected to the introduction of Poor laws in Ireland that there was a great deal of malversation going on in the administration of these laws in England. But where, let him ask, was there to be found an institution, so widely extended as the English Poor laws, in the administration of which some venial errors might not be detected? Ireland had long been in a state either of latent or open disturbance. The existence of distress, according to the axiom of Bacon, "Distresses are so many hopes for trouble," was one of the chief causes of her disturbed condition. Let her have a system of Poor laws adapted to her, and he would answer for it the troubles would mainly cease. Even without reverting too narrowly to the condition of England and her Poor laws, he would advance a proposition which no one could deny—that it was equally hard upon both Ireland and England to provide for the poor in one country, and not in another. It was hard upon Ireland, because of the suffering which her population endured; it was hard upon England, because her already numerous train of operatives, both in manufacture and agriculture, was swelled by the Irish poor, who flocked over to obtain employment, and who, by working for a less sum, reduced the artizan's wages, and took his bread from his mouth. In short, owing to this cause, the market for labour, both manufacturing and commercial, was completely overloaded, and the poor of both countries, in consequence brought down to one level of wretchedness. By doing justice to the population of Ireland they would do justice to England, and enable each country to maintain its own poor. An objection was made on account of the difficulty of founding a system of Poor laws for Ireland. Why, the same difficulty was made at the time the Poor laws were first considered in this country. The existence of a difficulty was no answer when the necessity of legislation was admitted. Others expressed their fears of an increase of the numbers of mankind; surely they could not attempt to apply such an argument as 835 this to Ireland, whose history was a practical demonstration to the contrary of this absurd theory. He had said enough, he trusted, to satisfy the House that the principle upon which his Resolution was based was correct: the affirmation of it he left to their consciences, and to their sense of duty. It was proved by statistical documents that admitted of no controversy that the poverty of Ireland had a great effect upon human life. The comparative tables of mortality there and in England gave a balance of fifty per cent in favour of England, on all lives under forty years of age. He trusted, with such important facts before them, that all parties in that House would lose their acrimony, and blend in one united effort for the amelioration of the condition of the Irish poor, as by so doing—so far from putting a check, as had been asserted, upon charity—they would maintain and give vigour to that inestimable feeling. He had pondered long upon the subject of his Motion; he had devoted years to it before he entered into public life; and he felt convinced, whatever might be their decision on the subject that night—he felt convinced that his ideas would ultimately obtain confirmation in that House, and his principles be carried into effect. He trusted the House would reflect upon the consequences of rejecting his Resolutions. It was too late in the session to introduce any bill founded upon them, but he called upon them, as they valued the sacred principle upon which his proposition was founded, to give their affirmation to it. He begged to move a resolution, declaratory "That it is expedient to establish a permanent provision for the suffering and destitute poor of Ireland, by a levy upon all the real property of that part of the United Kingdom, and more particularly upon that of the absentees."
§ Mr. Hunt seconded the Motion.
observed, that the hon. Member seemed merely desirous, by his present Motion, to put on record his adhesion to the benevolent principles which he had, on former occasions, fully developed to that House, and he could hardly think it possible that the hon. Member was serious, when he declared it to be his intention to take the opinion of the House upon those principles, which would, he dared say, be silently assented to by all, because they were so general and so vague that nothing binding could come of them, though the 836 hon. Member deserved great credit for his able advocacy of them. When the hon. Gentleman brought forward his proposition last year, the objection taken, not only by members of his Majesty's Government, but by Members whose conduct was entirely uninfluenced by party considerations, was, that it was calling on the House to affirm a proposition which admitted of different constructions, and the judgment of different individuals. The people of Ireland might fancy that it bound the House to every thing whilst some of the Members who voted for it might conscientiously believe that it bound the House to nothing. He stated, then, that he wished the hon. Member, who had paid the subject so much attention, would bring it under the consideration of the House, in a form which would enable them to grapple with the practical point and real difficulties of the measure; and if the hon. Gentleman would introduce a bill, he then assured him it should have the most anxious and impartial consideration. He was, therefore, rejoiced to find, from the notice on the Order Book, that the hon. Gentleman intended to do this. Judge, however, of his regret, as well as his surprise, to find that the notice had been altered within the last four days, and the hon. Member now came forward with a Resolution, he would not say as vague, but infinitely more vague, than that which he introduced last year. He had listened to his speech to-night with every possible respect for the talents and eloquence of the hon. Gentleman; but it was quite impossible to ascertain from that speech any one single plan by which the hon. Gentleman expected to overcome the evil of which he complained. He did not for one moment deny the moral obligation to relieve the necessities of the poor, but the question was, in what manner the Legislature was to afford effectual relief. He wished to know what was the practical question which the hon. Gentleman meant to bring forward. Did the hon. Gentleman mean to assert, that there were no charitable institutions in Ireland, to which the Legislature had not paid any attention? Did the hon. Gentleman not recollect the Lunatic Asylum, the Fever Hospital, the County Infirmaries, and other institutions of a similar description? Did the hon. Gentleman mean to say, that those institutions should be more effectually assisted? Except for the evils of blindness, 837 and deafness, and dumbness, there were no physical evils for the mitigation of which, in Ireland, legislative means were not afforded. Did the hon. Gentleman mean that the House should blindfold, and without investigation, pledge itself to a Resolution that it would afford the means of supporting all persons in Ireland who were unable by their labour to support themselves and their families? Was he prepared to bring forward such a proposition as that, with all the immediate disadvantages which surrounded it? Was it not desirable, at least, to postpone such a pledge until it could be shown that the proposed system was free from the difficulties which beset a similar one in England? Would that hon. Member bring forward a bill himself on the subject, and expose himself to all the consequences in public estimation of its advantages and disadvantages—such as the expenses of litigation incident to the English system, with the charges of removals from one parish to another? No; the hon. Member shrunk from the difficulties incident to such a measure, though he had talked of bringing in a bill, and had actually given notice of it. Now they were to be amused with something of a lighter character; namely, a resolution, by which it was sought to pledge the House to something not strictly defined. He acknowledged that his Majesty's Government had been so occupied with objects of the very utmost and pressing importance, that they were not prepared to introduce, at present, a measure, on their own responsibility, which it might be hoped would obviate the difficulty. He, therefore, must object to an instruction which would have the effect of pledging Government to an abstract proposition, propounded by any other person, the consequences of which his Majesty's Government had not weighed and considered. At least, before such a pledge was given, they should know to what they were to be pledged; because, observe this, whatever it might be, it was a subject which, if they touched, they must touch with prudence and consummate judgment; for, if they touched it incautiously, or infelicitously, the evils they would create must be, perhaps, greater than those they would avoid, and it was most likely that in such a case the most ruinous and fatal consequences would ensue. Now all this the Government was called upon by the hon. Member's motion to do, in utter blindness and 838 ignorance of the object or extent of the measure thereon to be founded. It was also notorious that, ere Parliament met again, a new Parliament would be called together, and the effect of this Motion would be, to pledge a future and a new Parliament to the expediency of acquiescing in the future measure which still slumbered in the bosom of the hon. Member, and which was, in fact, an abstract principle, conceived, but not announced, by that hon. Member. It might be, perhaps, applicable only to the old or infirm, or it might embrace the able-bodied poor who had not employment sufficient for their support; but, as the question now stood, with this imperfect information before them, he should, he confessed, meet it, as he had before met a similar motion, to show his conviction that the Motion was ill-timed and inconvenient, by moving the previous question. To disprove the assertion of the hon. Member, that there was no legislative enactment, relative to Ireland, on the principle of our Poor laws, he would only refer to a bill of his own, this Session of Parliament, for amending the 58th and 59th of George 3rd, with the view to prevent contagious and` epidemic diseases. The principle of this bill was, to extend the power of levying means of compulsory relief, through the establishment of a Board of Health. The clause to which he alluded gave power to the Board, which was appointed by the parish vestry authorities, to guard against the first symptoms of approaching contagion, or epidemic disease, and to borrow money of the Consolidated Fund, whenever they perceived symptoms of that distress which they apprehended would lead to endemic disease. Was not that a Poor law, so far as it went? He would not sanction the application of a system, such as that existing in England now, to a country so eminently and exclusively agricultural as Ireland, because a Poor law, such as we had in England, would, in Ireland, be productive of the most fatal effects; because it implied that employment was to be provided by some means, for those who could not support themselves by the means of their own labour. If such a project were carried into effect in Ireland, without great care being taken to counterbalance the evils necessarily attendant on it, it could not but prove a curse, instead of a boon, to Ireland. In the present state of the House, in the present state of the 839 Session, in the present state of the Parliament, it was impossible to legislate satisfactorily on so important a subject. If so, how impolitic and imprudent it would be for the House to pledge itself to something which it could not accomplish, and the mode of accomplishing which, by its successor, it could not divine! There was one part of the hon. Gentleman's resolution to which he would rather give a direct negative than meet it with the previous question; for the hon. Gentleman had complicated the question of the Poor laws in Ireland with the question of Absenteeism. He willingly allowed that a great moral injury resulted from the absenteeism of great landed proprietors in any country; and when to that consideration was added great drain of rents, it must be admitted that absenteeism had a great effect on the physical comforts, as well as on the moral condition, of the community. But it was a very difficult question to know how to deal with. Were they, by a system of Poor laws, to press on the estates of absentees? But how was absenteeism itself to be defined? Did it consist in an absence from Ireland of nine months, of six months, of three months, of two months? Was an absence of six months in two years, or of three months in two successive years, to be considered equal absenteeism? What then was absenteeism?
§ Mr. Sadler
The Legislature had decided who was an absentee, and the question had been settled by their vote.
If so, he would not trouble the House with an inquiry into that which had been settled by so high an authority; but the Legislature had not decided whether it was equitable or politic to make distinctions in taxation between those who were resident and those who were not so. He would ask the hon. Gentleman, too, looking at the question in another point of view, were the Irish proprietors, in his mind, the only persons who, in strictness, could be considered absentees, living at a distance on the produce of Irish property, and making no return to that country? What would he say to the numerous mortgages on Irish property and estates? Was not the man who advanced money upon mortgage to a person possessed of a rent-roll of 10,000l. a year, from which mortgage he derived an income to the extent of 9,500l. a year, whilst the original landed proprietor received no more than 500l. a year, a very 840 formidable absentee, and very difficult to reach by legislative provision? Had he no right to receive the amount of his mortgage, and the proceeds of his money, on the security of an estate in Ireland, although he resided here, and had never seen the estate in question? Would the hon. Gentleman go, in order to support his abstract proposition, the length of saying, that he would tax this mortgagee as an absentee, in order to protect the interest and the pocket of the farmer or tenant who resided on the land, and thus raise a provision by law for the Irish poor? There was also a class of absentees here who had estates in both countries, and, though they preferred living on their English estates, yet the property from which they absented themselves in Ireland was far more liable to mismanagement; and the influence of change of seasons or crops upon the condition or resources of their tenantry was much greater than on their English property. Would the hon. Member go to the extent of taxing each and all of these parties? The hon. Member seemed to have taken up the question, although humanely, certainly far too vaguely, and upon too light grounds to warrant him in giving the Motion his support; he should, therefore, meet it by moving as an amendment the previous question.
felt desirous of doing that for the hon. member for Aldborough which he had altogether omitted doing for himself, and of giving to the House some description of the extent and nature of his proposed plan of Poor laws. In his speech at a public meeting in Leeds, the hon. Member had stated, that if all the tithes in Ireland were converted into a provision for the poor, that provision would be inadequate; therefore, let Irish Members be fully aware of the extent of the proposed plan, and not imagine that, by voting for that Motion, they were merely advocating the introduction of a modified system. He felt extremely unwilling upon that occasion to detain the House by any lengthened observations as to the necessity or expediency of introducing a modified system. Upon that point he begged to refrain from giving any opinion; but in opposing this measure, he did not mean to pledge himself to oppose a modified system: he chiefly opposed it on account of the time at which it was brought forward, as he considered 841 that, however consistent it might be in the hon. Member, who looked forward with fear and apprehension to the reformer Parliament, to endeavour to bind this House, and hurry forward the measure now, it would be very unsuitable in those who anticipated great and important benefits from the next Parliament, to advocate so vague and indefinite a proposition, which the hon. Member himself acknowledged he did not intend to follow up by any specific measure, and which, therefore, could not possibly lead to any practical results. He, therefore, would oppose the Resolution, without at that time expressing any opinion upon the subject of the extension of a poor-rate to Ireland, which he would reserve for some other opportunity. On the subject of absenteeism he would only say, that the hon. Member seemed to him about reviving the obsolete statutes of Edward 3rd and Richard 2nd.
§ Mr. James Grattan
begged to than the hon. member for Aldborough for bringing the subject under the attention of the House. It had been argued, that the hon. Gentleman had not gone into or proposed any detailed or definite measure. And why had he not? Because there were already on the Table of the House propositions of definite measures, resolutions of this House, and Reports of Committees upon this subject, which remained on the Table unattended to. Such being the case, he thought it was too much to charge the hon. Gentleman with being indefinite in the resolution he had proposed. That the propositions to which he had referred remained unattended to, somewhat surprise him, when the right hon. Gentlemen (the Secretary for Ireland) had admitted and recognized the necessity of establishing Poor laws, and had acknowledge their principle in the bill he had himself introduced in the present Session, and to which he had this evening referred, making a provision for the sick poor. In reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman with respect to absentees, he (Mr. Grattan) begged to say, that he would preserve to every individual the right of residing wherever his choice dictated, but he should, notwithstanding, require that all such should contribute to the relief and comfort of the poor, and that every nobleman or gentleman should be bound to afford something to the support and maintenance of those he left behind him. The question of a provision for the poor of Ire- 842 land was one demanding early attention, and he was sure the question agitating Ireland for a Repeal of the Union, would never be settled until the laws were assimilated and the people of both countries were placed upon an equal footing. There were already two bills on the Table of the House, and in progress, involving two great and important questions to the people of Ireland—he meant the bill for the removal of the Irish poor, and the Tithe Commutation Bill, both of which tended to aggravate the distresses of that country, while any measure, tending to the relief of the poor was wholly unattended to; but they were told to wait until the next session of Parliament, when their wants would be considered. Indeed, all his (Mr. Grattan's) hopes for any measures of benefit to Ireland centred in the reformed Parliament. While the present system continued, there would be no end to the combinations of Rockites, Whitefeet, and other parties, from which so much misery had been entailed on the country. Both in 1819 and in 1822 Committees had sat to inquire into the condition of Ireland, and they had reported that her distresses arose from local causes, which could only be removed by such charges on the land as would afford a security to the peace and tranquillity of the country. He concurred in that opinion. Allusion had been made to the emigration system, and he was ready to acknowledge, that the system of emigration of Mr. Wilmot Horton had been productive of relief to Ireland; but with respect to what had been stated of the charitable institutions for supporting and relieving the sick, he would say, that the poor supported themselves, for they, in some way or shape, contributed the funds upon which they relied when distressed. He regretted the subject had not been taken up by the late Government, in the year 1825, but they turned a deaf ear to the cries of the Irish people, and what was now the consequence? Why, tithes were extinguished in Ireland. Would the Clergy of the Established Church have now been in the situation in which they were placed, if a different course had been adopted, and they had themselves come forward with petitions upon the subject? But they never stirred in the matter, and the result was their present distress. He felt convinced that some such measure as that proposed by the hon. Gentleman who had moved the resolution before the House was 843 necessary, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman, as Secretary for Ireland, would give it his support if brought forward on a future occasion.
had been requested by several gentlemen of the county of Mayo to complain of the manner in which the Grand Jury laws were administered, especially that portion which related to a provision for the poor, the object of which had been, on several occasions, frustrated by the Grand Jury of that county, who even had staggered the Judges themselves, when they had called their attention to that portion of the Grand Jury laws by which the intentions of the Legislature had been frustrated.
§ Mr. Strickland
called the attention of the House to the Report of the Committee of 1825, and expressed his opinion to be, that it was absolutely necessary to raise the Irish labourer to the standard of the English labourer, or else the consequence would be, that the latter would be eventually overpowered by the influx of the former. It had been said by a noble Lord (Lord Holland), several years ago, "that it was easy to describe the sufferings and miseries of the poor, but that it was difficult to provide a remedy for them." Now he (Mr. Strickland) thought a strict, well-modified, and well-defined system of Poor laws would confer a great blessing upon Ireland; while he hesitated not to say, that a system such as practised in this country, particularly in the southern districts, would be an evil and a curse to that country. He should support the motion of the hon. member for Aldborough, if he pressed it to a division, because his (Mr. Strickland's) construction of the Resolution was, that some system of Poor laws should be introduced into Ireland; others might put a different construction upon the Resolution, but such was his. He, however, hoped that, considering the near approach of the end of the session, and indeed, of the end of the Parliament, the hon. Gentleman would content himself with having thus recorded his sentiments, and not press his Resolution to a division.
§ Mr. Wyse
could not help availing himself of that opportunity to say, that the Church had taken every occasion of throwing those taxes which it ought to pay, on the shoulders of the people; for which reason it appeared to him, before any fresh burthen was imposed on the nation, that the Church ought again to pay those taxes 844 which had so unjustly been imposed on the country: when this was done, they might judge how far the money of the nation would be required. If this point were settled, he should be prepared to go with the hon. Gentleman, who had always shown himself so anxious and so zealous on the subject; but, till then, the matter ought to rest in abeyance, and he should, therefore, suspend his vote, especially when it was to be given on such a motion as that presented this evening; for it should be observed, that the present Resolution went much further than that of last year, which merely stated that it was proper to support our fellow-creatures. The present Motion, however, went into details, though much too loosely; and it, therefore, pledged the House, not only to the opinion that it was proper to support our fellow-creatures, but that it was proper to support them in a particular manner. His objection to this Motion was, that, having once gone into detail, it had not gone far enough. It was neither one thing nor the other; and he, for one, therefore, must wait for something more specified and distinct. He was fully aware that there was a great difference between the countries: on this side of the water the poor man was sure of support; on the other side, such support as there was for him was disjointed and uncertain; and, therefore, he should contend, that some great change ought to take place, for the purpose of producing an assimilation between the state of England and Ireland. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that the support of the sick and the maimed in Ireland had been a subject of frequent legislation, both in this Parliament and the Irish Parliament; and, so far from their not being provided for, there was, perhaps, a larger provision for them in that country than elsewhere; but, then, it had always assumed a heterogeneous shape, and wanted that system of regularity which had always proved so highly beneficial here. Besides, it was not afforded sufficiently early to do that good which might otherwise be effected. A family, for instance, gradually sunk, from want of sustenance, and was at length attacked with fever; the father was removed to the fever hospital, and died; his children shared his fate one by one. And why was this? The earlier wants of the family had been unattended to, and the Irish system of relief seemed to forget that 845 prevention was better than cure. Surely, it would have been better to have expended the money in giving that man employment, and thus to have redeemed him in time from so deplorable a state of starvation. He did not, however, expect that one Session of Parliament would be sufficient to bring the House to a safe conclusion: such a subject must necessarily occupy a considerable portion of time; and his main objection to the hon. Gentleman's motion was, that it did not tend to direct attention to any special object. He gave him the fullest credit for benevolence of intention; and if the hon. Member had moved for leave to introduce a bill, he should certainly have had his support, because he was seeking information on the subject. It was of very little consequence whether the House pledged itself to the opinions expressed in the Motion, for in a few months that House would be no more, and the next Parliament would not hold itself bound by anything this Parliament might have clone, but act, he trusted, on very different principles and views. Above all, he wished that this question should be suspended, now that the public mind was occupied by a very different subject—which subject was being solved day by day—and which, when solved, would put it in the power of the Legislature to come to a wiser and a juster conclusion on the question than was now proposed by the hon. member for Aldborough.
said, a subject so important as the present required the most mature consideration, and it was his wish to pay the utmost attention to it; but he was sorry to say, he had not heard one argument from the hon. Mover that could induce him to vote for his proposition. The hon. Member ought to have made out the efficiency and advantage of the Poor laws, as they operated in England, before he required the system to be applied to Ireland. But the hon. Member did not and could not show that any advantage resulted from the English Poor laws. So far were they from conferring benefit, that the system, he believed, destroyed the independence of the people, without effectually relieving their poverty. The Poor laws threatened to swallow up the fee-simple of the land. The condition of the northern and southern districts of this country was very strongly contrasted: it would be found that in the former, where the Poor 846 laws were not enforced in the same manner as in the latter, the people were morally and physically in a better situation than in the south. The same remark applied to the northern and southern parts of Scotland. He thought the hon. Member had not made out a case such as would justify the House in agreeing to his proposition. With respect to absenteeism, that was a question of serious import, much more so, indeed, than the hon. member for Aldborough seemed to think. The principle of taxing absentees more than others involved the question, how far the Legislature had a right to chain men to their property, or to compel them to change it; and it certainly must operate against the permanent interests of Ireland, if anything were done that should finally draw the capital from that country. He, therefore, hoped that this question would never be combined with that of the Poor laws, but that, whenever brought forward, it would be as a distinct and separate subject.
thought that there were two objections to the adoption of the hon. Gentleman's motion. The one was, that the House would thereby be only leaving a legacy to the next Parliament: it would be a sort of testament of recommendation from a Parliament already self-condemned, and in the agonies of suicide. The right hon. Gentleman had, with his usual tact, laid his finger on this part of the case, and all that he (Mr. Sheil) had to hope was, that he would further embody the idea in his Tithe Report, and leave the whole of that question also to the decision of the next Parliament. The other objection was, that the hon. Gentleman had not come forward with a distinct proposition. He (Mr. Shed) had narrowly watched the progress of his speech: he certainly went over a vast range of amiable speculations, but he did not mention one specific object: he did not propose a Board of Management in the respective parishes; he did not say anything about the co-operation of the Clergy; and, in fact, he entirely confined himself to abstract principles. But why did he do this, when he was sure that the House would be looking for the means of entering into some safe and substantial measure? The hon. member for Middlesex had fallen into a mistake, in thinking that the hon. Gentleman proposed to apply the English system to Ireland. Indeed, all must admit that the ma- 847 chinery of this country did not work well, and the hon. Gentleman certainly did not propose to adopt it as the model for Ireland. The hon. member for Middlesex had, therefore, put into the mouth of the hon. member for Aldborough, arguments which he never used; but then the hon. member for Middlesex had done them the favour of answering those arguments with great ingenuity. The hon. Gentleman should also have recollected, that Scotland was situated very differently from Ireland. Scotland had enjoyed a long course of political ease; agriculture there had been carried to the highest point, so had manufactures; the Clergy there belonged to the religion of the people, and they therefore exercised an influence over the rich which could not be felt in Ireland. In Scotland the clergyman stood at the door of the place of worship, and made a collection for the poor—a collection not enforced by the law of the land, but by the law of public opinion. The clergyman acted as a sort of tax-gatherer; he used religion for the purpose, and he succeeded, even with the hard-hearted, because they were influenced by a feeling of shame. But in Ireland the minister of the poor did not stand at the church door of the rich. It was true, the Protestants of Ireland were a most charitable body; but their charity could not be brought into practice as in Scotland. No one could deny, that great misery had resulted from the clearing system. He trusted in God that the effect of that system would not be permanent; but, while it lasted, it must produce misery of the most appalling sort. It might be said that that system was not likely to prevail again. No; for it had done its worst: it had left a large deposit of calamity in several parts of Ireland. A system of Poor laws for Ireland would be premature, till such part of the Church property as was not required for the decent maintenance of the Clergy was applied to the support of the poor. And, while on this part of the subject, he would remind the hon. member for Aldborough, that, in his book on Ireland, he had very fully discussed those questions which related to the Church of Ireland. He (Mr. Sheil), therefore, begged to ask him how it happened that he had entirely omitted the topic in his speech of this evening? It was certainly hiatus valde deflendus. With respect to absentees, although there seemed no immediate connexion between them 848 and the other part of the hon. Gentleman's motion, it was certainly difficult to touch upon one of those subjects without referring to the other. He rejoiced to find that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, unlike a certain school of political economists, admitted that absenteeism was productive of great moral evil and pecuniary embarrassment; but, whilst he made that admission, he (Mr. Sheil) was sorry to see an objection raised in his mind as to the removal of the evil. He asked, how were they to distinguish between the proprietor of an estate, and a mortgagee residing in London? He would see, upon examination, that the evil arising from a mortgagee residing in London was only temporary; whereas, that of a proprietor not residing on his estate was permanent. For instance, he (Mr. Sheil) had an estate in Ireland; he mortgaged it to a London merchant; and, on his not paying the interest, he foreclosed, sold the estate, and things resumed their natural course. [Mr. Stanley: Suppose you pay the interest?] That was a fact assumed by the right hon. Secretary; but regularity with Irish mortgagors was certainly not often to be met with. The evil, then, arising from a mortgagee's being in possession of an estate was only temporary. Now, there was the Duke of Devonshire, who received 20,000l. per annum from the county of Waterford; and the rents of the estates from which he received it, had, in like manner, long been drawn by his ancestors. This, then, was a permanent drain of money from Ireland; but, if these estates were to fall into the hands of a mortgagee, and his interest were not paid, he would sell the land, and it would be distributed amongst various purchasers. It was, therefore, quite a mistake to compare the case of the mortgagee, who had only a temporary hold upon the soil, with that of an absentee proprietor, who was fixed and rooted in it. It had been said that no expedient to prevent absenteeism had ever succeeded; but, certainly, he did not think it could be denied that the attempt had been made more than once, with more or less of success. The Statute of Edward 3rd, and the Statute of Richard 2nd, had been referred to; and the latter had been pronounced, by high authority, to be just in principle, and salutary in its effects. In the time of Henry 8th, another Act was passed to cure the evil; nor must the House imagine they remained a dead 849 letter, for let any hon. Member open the Statute-book, and he would find, under the head of the "Earl of Shrewsbury," that all the estates of the Talbot family in Waterford, were forfeited for absenteeism. Did he mean that there should now be forfeitures? Certainly not; but that in those Acts materials might be found for framing the provisions of a bill at present. Before the Union, an Act was passed in Ireland imposing a tax of 4s. in the pound on all pensions paid to persons absent from the country; and, in 1773, Mr. Flood made a motion, which was lost by only a small majority, for a two shilling tax on the estates of absentees. Such a proposition, therefore, was not quite so unprecedented as hon. Gentlemen might imagine.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
was prepared to vote for the motion for postponing the consideration of this matter for the present; but he should have been equally ready to vote had the question been so framed as to meet the proposition of the hon. Member with a direct negative. The grounds of his opinions upon this subject he had stated, at great lengths, on former occasions, and should not, therefore, occupy the attention of the House beyond a very few minutes. He concurred with the hon. member for Middlesex in all the statements of facts and principles which he had made; and rejoiced that such a declaration of opinion had come from him, who, of all men, could not be suspected of being indifferent to the rights of the people, or the real interests of the poor. He (Mr. Spring Rice) objected, on principle, to any proposition, the effect of which, under colour of giving relief to prevailing distress or misery, would be rather to increase misery, and create a demand for relief greater than they had the means of supplying. He should at all times feel it his duty, as an Irishman, to meet any such proposition, in any shape, with a direct negative. With respect to the application of Church property to the relief of the poor, not only did he think the House had no right to take the Church property for that purpose, but that the objections he had to relieving the poor in that way would be greater than if the relief were to be given from the produce of voluntary assessments. When people were called upon to tax themselves, there was some check upon abuses; but if the power were given them of putting their fingers into the pockets of others, if the 850 principle were vicious, then would it be applied in a more mischievous degree. With respect to absenteeism, he deplored it as much as any man; and had never mixed himself up with that school of political economy which, looking only to the pounds, shillings, and pence part of the question, and forgetting the important considerations of moral and political influence, had said that absenteeism was not an evil. He thought it was, but he was also satisfied, that if any attempt were made to remedy it by controlling freedom of action in any part of the country, the law which should so brand it, would inevitably be a greater evil than any benefit to be derived from it could counterbalance. Such a law could not be sanctioned by those who opposed themselves to any distinction being made between the two countries; and was it to be said, that Ireland was a country so hateful to those connected with it, that the humanity, the sympathy, which bound men in other countries to the performance of their duty, was insufficient for the purpose in Ireland, and that Irish proprietors were not to be trusted with that degree of moral and political liberty which was enjoyed by all Englishmen? Let the remedy for absenteeism be discussed as a proposition applicable to the whole empire, and not as a proposition applicable to Ireland alone. If it were an error, it was a grievous one: if it was a moral crime—and he admitted it to be one—to absent yourself from your estate, it was as applicable to Englishmen who resided abroad as it was to Irishmen. He must complain a little of his hon. and learned friend, the member for Louth, having, when speaking upon this subject, run down the credit of his country. He seemed to think that the punctual payment of interest was a rare exception to the general rule of neglect and foreclosure of mortgages, which, said he, bringing about a sale amongst residents, the evil of absenteeism ceased. If that were the case—if payment of interest were the exception, and not the rule—he (Mr. Spring Rice) knew enough of the money-market of London to say, that he might relieve his mind from the apprehension of any dangers he might think likely to arise from English mortgages; for he could assure him, that the security to be derived from the non-payment of interest, and the possibility of foreclosure, would not occasion a very great flow of British capital into 851 Ireland. But, suppose the estate to be sold, it was rather an Hibernian way of making Ireland rich, to send the purchase-money out of it to satisfy the English capitalist, who, of course, had been applied to because the money could be obtained from him on better terms than from an Irish capitalist. He now came to a point on which the hon. Mover was altogether mistaken, although he could not but do justice to the motives of humanity and benevolence by which he had been actuated. The wages of labour were regulated by the proportion of the supply of labour compared with the capital capable of being advantageously employed in its payment. The hon. Gentleman, however, had peculiar notions with respect to population. He thought that if a given number of persons were found to live in comfort upon a given number of acres, the same given number ought to live in comfort upon the same number of acres any where else, and, that, therefore, an idea of excess of population, if misery should be shown to exist among the labouring classes of any similar number of acres, was out of the question. The mistake of the hon. Gentleman existed in his omitting to take into account the amount of the wages of labour. He might have 100,000 people living in comfort if wages were high, but he might have 100,000 people living in a district of similar extent and fertility, miserable from the low rate of wages. The hon. Gentleman only looked to the question of area and the numbers of the people, which had no more to do with their comfort than if he measured the degrees of latitude and longitude within which they were placed. Provided the wages of labour were high it mattered not to the labourer whether he were employed by a resident proprietor or an absentee. It was stated by the hon. member for Middlesex, that a comparison of the state of Scotland, and the northern counties of England with that of the southern counties, would enable the Irish Gentlemen to judge how far it was desirable to introduce the poor-laws into Ireland. He would refer Gentlemen to the Report of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, and to the evidence of Dr. Chalmers, given before a Committee of which he (Mr. Spring Rice) had the honour to be Chairman, for a proof of the fact referred to by the hon. member for Middlesex—namely, that just in proportion as 852 the poor-laws were adopted did the condition of the people become deteriorated. In the south of England, where the poor-laws had been so far perverted as to occasion the payment of the wages of labour out of the poor-rates, the condition of the people had been brought so low, that not two years since, their wretchedness made them throw the country into confusion. In Yorkshire and Northumberland, where wages were very little, if at all paid out of the poor-rates, the physical condition of the labourer was better; but his moral condition was much the same. In Scotland, the assessment principle had only made its way within the last 100 years into a few districts; but just in proportion as it was advanced was the condition of the people deteriorated. Dr. Chalmers stated the case of two parishes or districts in the town of Glasgow, which completely illustrated his (Mr. Spring Rice's) position. In one of these the principle of assessment had prevailed, in the other it had not. The pursuits of the people in both were precisely the same, so that they offered the very best possible test of the real nature of the assessment principle. A period of calamity came, attended with loss of employment and great distress. A subscription was raised for the relief of the poor, and it was found that there was less demand for relief in that parish where the assessment principle had not prevailed than in that where it had. He (Mr. Spring Rice) had dealt with the general principle; but in the present state of Ireland, there was no one evil connected with the Administration of the poor-laws in England, which, if they were introduced into Ireland, would not there cause tenfold distress and mischief. There was one point on which the peasantry of Ireland would bear a comparison with the peasantry of England, or of any other country in the world, and that was in the sanctity of the marriage tie, and in the affection for their children. He believed that one of the evils consequent on the introduction of a system of Poor laws would be to destroy the sanctity of that tie, and render a man comparatively indifferent to his children. Such, at least, had been the effect produced by the compulsory marriages which took place under the Poor laws in this country. He called, then, on the hon. Member, before he introduced the English system of Poor laws into Ireland, to withdraw from them the dross 853 and the alloy with which their administration was mixed up in this country. When that was done, the experiment might be tried in Ireland; but until then, he (Mr. Spring Rice) should object to it. He thought it would be a serious evil if the peasantry of Ireland were taught to look to the Poor laws for a remedy for the evils of their condition; it would paralyse their industry, and induce them to depend on other means besides their own labour for their support. At the same time that he said this, he begged most distinctly to declare, that he should be quite ready to support a proposition to relieve those who by age, by disease, or by accident had become unable to support themselves; but he strongly objected to the introduction of a principle that would afford assistance to those who were merely unemployed, since he believed, that although in some cases, that relief might be most charitably afforded, the establishment of it as a right would only tend to deteriorate the condition of that peasantry whom it was intended to benefit.
was glad that he possessed influence in Ireland, because it afforded him an opportunity of exerting that influence to guard the people against a delusion, which would have a most injurious effect upon their real interests. He admitted, that at first sight, the arguments in favour of poor laws seemed plausible enough, and were calculated to delude the people, because they impressed them with the notion that they ought to rely upon the pockets of their more wealthy neighbours for support, instead of their own exertions. It was true he had entertained a very different opinion at one time upon this question. He had since bestowed upon it all the consideration which it was in his power to bestow. He had reviewed it in all its bearings—weighed the arguments which had been urged in its favour—and, after a patient and minute investigation of the subject, it was his deliberate and decided conviction, that Poor laws would deteriorate the condition and debase the morals of the people. If his object had been mob popularity (a motive which had so often been ascribed to him), he ought to have pursued a very different course from that which he now adopted. Throughout his political life he had only supported such measures as he conceived would benefit his country; and it was because he was persuaded that the present one would have 854 a contrary effect that he now opposed it. He thought that injustice had been done by some hon. Gentlemen to the hon. member for Aldborough, in imputing motives to him in bringing forward this proposition. On the other hand, he also conceived that other hon. Gentlemen had been too lavish in their commendation of his conduct. They gave him credit for too great a share of philanthropy in favour of Ireland—they gave him too much glorification for his extra purity and disinterestedness of purpose, without making a proper estimate of the benefits which they were to receive in return. He would beg of the hon. Gentleman to turn his philanthropy to something practical. He did not, for his part, fancy that species of charity which put the four fingers and thumb into the pockets of a third person; for no philanthropy was more easy and imposing than that which vented itself in taxing other people. In the first place, he thought that Poor laws were calculated to widen the breach between the higher and lower orders of the people, which was so much to be deplored in Ireland. If the rich were compelled to support the poor, their hatred for that class would be increased, and this, in itself, he thought, would be a great evil. Institutions for the relief of the sick and the suffering were very different in their nature from Poor laws, and did not hold out discouragement to industry; for instance, no man would voluntarily break his leg, or incur a fever, merely for the gratification of getting into an hospital. To this extent, and under such circumstances, he admitted that the poor were entitled to relief, but he denied that the right went one whit further. No one would be found to say, that the man who was wilfully idle ought to be supported at the public expense. Now, how were they to ascertain whether a man was wilfully idle or not? They should have some tribunal to decide. The farmer would have an interest that the poor should be employed at the public expense—that the price of wages should be reduced. It was, therefore, clear, that a person so situated, having these temptations before him, would not be exactly the person adapted for the discharge of these duties. Then, if it were left to the landed proprietors, they would also take care to shift the burthen off their own shoulders; so that, in whatever light the subject was viewed, it was surrounded with insurmountable difficulties. He knew 855 that the poor, both of England and Ireland, had great reason to complain. Their poverty and distress was brought about by the heavy and grinding taxation, which the people were no longer able to bear, resulting from the crimes of former Governments, which had taken the property of a mighty nation into its own hands, and squandered it, with a shameless profligacy, upon unnecessary wars. He trusted, however, that they were now returning to a natural system, and that all those evils would, in time, be greatly mitigated. He did not mean to assert, that if property was willed to the poor, it should not be rigidly applied to the purpose of the owner; he only meant to deny the abstract right of the poor to relief at the expense of his more prosperous fellow-subjects. The advocates of the abstract rights which he thus denied, admitted that they would not extend relief to those who had the opportunity and the power to work; but he would ask, would not the inquiry into the fact, whether an applicant was able or unwilling to labour, be placing the applicant in the condition of a slave—and whether, therefore, Poor laws, as implying slavery on the part of those who thus obtained relief under their provisions, was not prejudicial to the independence of the national character? There was, however, another powerful reason to which he might confine himself, and into which all the others he had stated might be merged. When he saw the most powerful, wealthy, and intelligent nation upon the earth, a nation of all others most deeply interested in discovering a remedy for the monstrous abuses of their own system of Poor laws—when he saw this mighty nation engaged for upwards of half a century in examining the institutions of other countries, in sending emissaries to every quarter of the globe, and using every exertion which the combination of splendid intellect and unwearied industry could achieve—when he found that all those things had failed, and that no man had the hardihood to stand up in that House and propose a plan for their amendment, or even a partial mitigation of the abuses which were admitted to prevail to a frightful extent in the system—with such evidence as this before his eyes, could he, without an abandonment of all those principles by which public men should always be regulated in the discharge of their public duties, vote for the introduction of Poor laws into Ireland?
§ Mr. Hunt
observed, that the hon. and learned member for Kerry had changed his opinion with respect to the expediency of introducing a system of Poor laws into Ireland. The hon. and learned Member was a man of observation—from observation came experience, and from experience often a change of opinion. Hence the declaration of the hon. and learned Member that evening. He hoped, however, that the hon. and learned Member would go on to observe, and to change his opinion again. It was almost impossible to suppose that the hon. and learned Member's opposition to the Resolution moved by the hon. member for Aldborough could arise from any selfish motive. The hon. and learned Gentleman was a most disinterested person, actuated by no motive but a desire to promote the general interests of the country, and the happiness of his countrymen. With that desire uppermost in his mind, he had become an advocate for the Repeal of the Union. But it seemed that if the Poor laws were introduced into Ireland a Repeal of the Union would become unnecessary—the wishes of the people would be satisfied. On the other hand, it became apparent, that if a system of Poor laws were not introduced, a Repeal of the Union must take place. Now, was it possible that the hon. and learned Member could have a personal interest in the Repeal of the Union—was it possible that he could be a little blinded to the interests of his suffering countrymen by any interest of his own? For his own part, he (Mr. Hunt), thought that the best results would follow from the introduction of the Poor laws into Ireland, and for that reason he should give his cordial support to the Motion of the hon. member for Aldborough.
said, that as upon every occasion when the subject of a legal provision for the poor of Ireland was before the House, he had given it his humble advocacy, he would not then trespass on their time, by any repetition of what he had before stated; but he would express his regret that the hon. mover of this Resolution had confined his exertions on this occasion to a simple Resolution, without proposing what, after the last debate on this subject, the House had some reason to expect from him; viz. a Bill, or substantive plan, for effecting the humane object he had in view, which would enable the House to deal with the subject more fairly than by allowing so many to believe 857 that he had in view Poor laws similar to those which existed in England. He had also to regret that the hon. Member had mixed up with the question of a just provision for the poor, the other intricate question of Absentee laws, agreeing, as he did, with the right hon. member for Limerick, that the question of absenteeism was a general one; and, though the evil unfortunately pressed upon Ireland more heavily than elsewhere, he would rather it were treated not as an Irish, but as a general question, on its particular merits. He could refer with pleasure to most of the sentiments expressed by the hon. member for Middlesex, whose facts and principles he could not deny; but there was one of his conclusions on which he would remark. The hon. Member stated that, in a natural state of society, where every man was left to his own resources, and had no pension or tax to resort to, he would providently guard against the evil day, and if, by any great casualty, a period of destitution should unfortunately arrive, the poor man would be certain to receive the charitable assistance of the higher orders. He would say, that Ireland presented the exception to that rule, for there the poor had no fund whereon to rely, that periods of destitution were continually occurring, and that it was allowed upon all hands that its relief was not adequately supplied by the charitable feelings and donations of the rich, however great these were, and however honourable to the feelings of the great majority of the better classes, in the cause of charity. It was because of this frequency of a state of destitution by sickness, poverty, and want of food, that he was anxious to have established some better means than at present existed, of providing for the poor of Ireland, and that he had hoped a Bill for that purpose would be introduced, satisfied that until then the march of distress would go on, and the evil be continually increasing. He thought the difficulties in framing a plan not so great as others did. His notion was, that the amount to be expended for the support of the poor should be regulated by, and be optional with, those who were to pay it, and that amount determined annually; that the levy should be compulsory in such proportions as were just upon the landlords and tenants. The right hon. Secretary to the Treasury, and others, held that there in fact did exist in Ireland at 858 present a Poor-rate, because all the afflicted poor were provided for by funds raised by presentments of Grand Juries; but he had to state to the House that this very system was one becoming very grievous to the householders and inhabitants of towns in Ireland; that the Cholera Bill which the right hon. Secretary for Ireland had introduced, and which was now in operation in Ireland, was felt not to be placed on a just basis, for all the weight of taxation by it fell upon the occupying tenants, and not upon the landlords. He had had some petitions from the city which he represented, complaining of this, which he should have to present to the House as soon as he could do so consistently with the plan laid down for petitions, and which he hoped the right hon. Secretary would attend to. The House had to deal with facts. Ireland was continually overcharged with poor. There existed not sufficient means by law to relieve them. The charity of the higher orders was great; but there was no compulsion upon them by law, and several proprietors found it convenient not to contribute. It was to oblige such people to contribute that he would look for a law. His constituents believed that for this they had a precedent in the case of the Scotch Poor law; for that there the heritor, or landlord, was obliged to contribute in a greater proportion than the householder or tenant. The poor of Cork were continually increasing; the poor of the estates of all the neighbouring gentlemen were continually pouring into the city, to add to the stock of healthy labourers, and the aged and feeble poor citizen was left without work or provision in his old age. A general Poor-rate would prevent this; and without it he saw no end to the misery which the towns in Ireland would have to bear with. He had attended anxiously to all the debates and inquiries on this subject, since he had the honour of a seat in the House, and he had heard nothing that could shake his confidence in the opinion he had heard delivered before a Committee of the House by Dr. Doyle, that the 43rd of Elizabeth, which gave a system of Poor laws to England, was the Magna Charta of the poor. The abuses that had since grown up in the system might or might not be capable of correction; but a system which he hoped to see adopted for Ireland should have guards against such abuses, the principal 859 of which was, perhaps, the payment out of the Poor rates by the farmers who distributed them, in reduction of the wages of the poor for their own benefit. This, he had heard was capable of correction by the attention of the landlords themselves, who absented themselves from vestries, and from the control of the Overseers and their expenditure. With the abuses of the system he had nothing to do but to guard against them. He was told, that enough public institutions existed in Ireland to relieve destitution; he knew that destitution existed there, nevertheless, to a frightful extent; he knew that no man, in any state of society, would lie down and die—that he would make some exertions to live—and rather than die would rob. To guard against such a contingency was the duty of society, and, as the poor must live and be supported, he was for maintaining them by a system, instead of having the country without a system, as at present. Until this was established, he could not think the peace and happiness of Ireland properly provided for, or that the Government had done its duty to the people. Much had been said in the course of this debate on which he might comment, but he thought he should best discharge his duty, by confining his remarks as much as possible to show what he was anxious to impress upon the House, that a necessity existed for legislating further for a provision for the poor of Ireland.
§ Mr. Lambert
, in support of the Motion, said, that Dr. Doyle had so fully exposed the cant and hypocrisy of the objection to Poor laws, founded on their alleged tendency to narrow the channel of voluntary charity, that he need only refer to that able divine's pages. The learned member for Kerry objected to Poor laws, because they tended to make the poor cringing, and whiningly dependent upon the voluntary charity or capricious beneficence of the rich; but surely the moral and social dignity of the poor was best preserved by enabling them to demand as a right, what the learned Member would make them cringe for as a boon. Why should not the rich landed proprietor—particularly the absentee—be compelled to contribute to the support of those persons to whose labour he was wholly indebted for his wealth and leisure? Was it not a notorious fact, that in Ireland the absentees and great proprietors wholly neglected their duty to the poor, and 860 would continue to do so till compelled by a legislative enactment? Then, in Ireland there was no provision for illegitimate children; the wretched mother had to bear the whole expense and ignominy. Was it wonderful, therefore, that infanticide should occur to her thoughts? And was not Dr. Doyle borne out in stating, that he should prefer twenty illicit intercourses and their consequences between the sexes, to the chance of a single mother's being forced by shame, or the consciousness of being the only sufferer, into the crime of child murder?
said, it was easy for hon. Gentlemen to say, that benevolent feeling called upon them to adopt the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite, but his (Mr. Slaney's) firm belief was, that if the system of Poor laws prevalent in this country, were transferred to Ireland, instead of diminishing evils there, which no man deplored more sincerely than he did, it would have the effect of increasing them. Hon. Gentlemen from the sister kingdom might not know, that the English Poor laws divided themselves into three branches, which were all distinct from each other. In the first place, there was the law of rating, with respect to which the hon. Gentleman opposite had not said a single syllable. That was a most complicated and difficult part of the English law, and had furnished more cases to puzzle the sagacity of lawyers than any other. The hon. Gentleman had not touched upon it; but he would beg leave to say a few words with respect to it by-and-by. Next came the law of settlement, which was also exceedingly complex. The hon. member for Limerick had referred to some of its difficulties; but if Irish Members would look to its different heads—at the minute differences which existed in it—at points of division which would excite laughter, if it were not for the expense to which they had put parties—they would pause before they adopted that branch of our law. The third, and most important branch of all, was the law of relief. This divided itself into two parts, perfectly distinct from each other; first, there was the relief of those who by misfortune, by accident, or any natural defect, were unable to assist themselves. These were a large class, to which the law of England directed assistance to be given; and, as far as regarded that class, provision should be made for it in Ireland, 861 and this might be done in a way so as completely to cut it off from another large class to which he should presently refer. But it was unfair for Gentlemen to say, that the Government appeared to feel an indisposition to give due consideration to an alteration of the law; for the right hon. Gentleman below him had said, that he had already made experiments for the purpose of endeavouring to see how far it might be politic to introduce some provision, at least as far as regarded those who were the objects of everybody's pity. But it was the second class which caused all the difficulties they had to contend with. Was it right to give every able-bodied man a right to say, "You shall employ and support me?" It appeared doubtful to a Committee which sat upon the subject of the Poor laws, whether the Act of Elizabeth gave that right at all; but custom had given it in most parts of England, and the question now was, whether, in giving assistance, it should be given in the form of work, of money, or of something else. He had ever contended that in giving that assistance, it ought always to be in the shape of work, for that the idle man, truly speaking, did not want. Now he would venture to say that, as regarded the application of the Poor laws to Ireland, no good would be done to the poor of that country, by introducing this part of the English law; but that, on the other hand, the greatest possible evil, by relaxing all that desire which they now had to exert themselves. He did not say this upon his own humble judgment merely. Far from it; for it was the unanimous opinion of all who had looked closely into the subject. How had the law in this respect worked in England? There were many instances of a man not worth sixpence, taking a pauper by the hand, marrying her, openly declaring that he intended to come upon the parish for the support both of her and his children. In point of fact, the law stimulated to improvidence, and was beneficial neither to the rich nor the poor. Experience would prove this. England divided itself into two districts with reference to the administration of the Poor laws. In the southern counties it had been the habit to allow every able-bodied man so much for every child, so much for cottage-rent, and so much for other things; and if he stated himself to be without work, none was given him, but he was shut up in a yard to 862 play at marbles. In Sussex the rate amounted to 7s. in the 1l. throughout the county, and it was equally high in several other counties—but were the poor there happy—were they contented—were they as we should wish the peasantry of our kingdom to be? Let the House look to what had taken place within these two years in those counties for an answer. A very different system, on the other hand, prevailed in Northumberland and other northern counties: there the wages of the people were good, and the Poor rates were low, and there that independent spirit prevailed amongst the people that ought to prevail in this country. Now, if such a system as he had described were to be introduced into a poor country like Ireland, it would absorb all property, and render the whole people a mass of paupers. He was far from contending that nothing should be done upon this subject. On the contrary, much benefit would arise from permitting certain persons in Ireland to tax themselves for the purpose of providing relief for a particular description of poor. If, however, Parliament should establish a permanent system of Poor laws in Ireland, and make the relief of the poor compulsory, the evil would be perennial. He was, therefore, disposed to restrict the interference of Parliament upon this question, to giving to benevolent landlords the power of assessing themselves, for the relief of the poor, in particular emergencies. It occurred to him, that a powerful reason for inducing the House to abstain from pledging itself to the expediency of introducing the English system of Poor laws into Ireland, was to be found in the fact that, at the present moment, a Commission, appointed by his Majesty, was sitting to investigate that system. Before long, in all probability, that Commission would make a Report, pointing out what part of the present system ought to be retained, and what part was defective and should be abolished. He appealed to the House, whether it would not be an unprecedented proceeding, whilst this Commission was sitting, with the view of suggesting alterations in the Poor laws, that this House should pledge itself to introduce the system unrevised, and unamended, into a neighbouring country? He was not the enemy of a wise system of Poor laws—he would give the utmost extension to that part of the system which provided for the maintenance of the impotent and aged who 863 were stricken by misfortune. There was one thing much wanting in our system of Poor laws, and if no person of greater influence than himself should endeavour to supply it, he would pledge himself to do so before long: he alluded to the want of any provision for the education of children of paupers who became chargeable to their parishes. He was prepared to maintain that such a provision was necessary even upon the ground—the paltry ground—of saving. If parishes wished to diminish expense, let them teach the children of the poor the way in which they should go. In the greater part of the country parishes these unfortunate children had scarcely any education at all. The consequence was, that when the time arrived for apprenticing them, masters refused to take them; and, being thrown upon their own resources, they, in most cases, became vicious members of society. If one-tenth of the sum which was applied to the relief of the aged poor were devoted to the education of the young, there would soon be a great improvement in the moral condition of the lower classes. He did not feel it necessary to detain the House longer upon the subject. He would only say, that whilst he agreed with the hon. member for Aldborough, as to the necessity of providing for the relief of the impotent and aged poor in Ireland, he would oppose the introduction into that country of that part of the English Poor laws which provided for the support of able-bodied men at all times, whether they were idle or industrious. The introduction of that part of our system would be injurious to the Irish peasantry themselves: and, on these grounds, he must, reluctantly, vote against the Motion.
deprecated incautious attempts to legislate on this important subject. Those persons who wished to introduce the Poor-laws into Ireland were unacquainted with the working of the system in this country, and totally ignorant of the state of Ireland. He was anxious to see a provision made for the poor and infirm, but the extension of the whole system of Poor laws to Ireland would deteriorate the condition of those whom it was intended to benefit.
§ Mr. Ruthven
saw no just ground for opposing the resolution which had been brought forward by the hon. member for Aldborough. He was decidedly opposed to the introduction of the English Poor 864 law system into Ireland; but that a strong necessity existed for some measure of this kind, however modified it might be in its details, he entertained not the slightest doubt. He hoped and believed that the people of England were not indifferent to this question. He regretted it was not brought forward at an earlier period of the Session, but even late as it was, he thought the present state of Ireland—the misery and destitution of the people—the crimes and disturbances arising from this misery—the unfeeling conduct of many of the proprietors of the soil towards the destitute poor—all these considerations, he trusted, would induce the House to accede to the resolution of the hon. member for Aldborough. He differed widely in opinion from the hon. Member who conceived that the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman pledged the House to any specific plan. It merely said that it was expedient to provide some plan of relief for the destitute poor of Ireland. This he conceived to be the first question. This House ought to decide, having once admitted the principle, that it was expedient to introduce some measure of this description. The consideration of the plan and detail might form the subject of future deliberations. He repeated, that the hon. member for Aldborough had not been treated fairly on this question. He conceived his opinion entitled to just as much weight as that of any of the Committees which had been sitting for several years back on the state of Ireland, which had printed four folio volumes, and, after all this labour and fuss, just left the country in the condition in which the Committee found it, without introducing one single practical measure of amelioration. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland asked, what plan did the hon. Gentleman propose. This, he repeated, was not the time for the plan. It was a question of great difficulty, at least as far as related to the details; but he had heard no argument which could convince him that he ought not to vote for the principle. The right hon. Secretary had himself brought forward a resolution on another question of great difficulty also, and yet no objection was made to his proposition on the ground that he had no plan. He knew not whether the right hon. Secretary had yet determined upon a plan; but this he would tell him, that the people of Ireland had adopted one of their own, which was 865 likely to supersede all the legislative enactments which the right hon. Gentleman might pass upon the subject. This state of things was precisely owing to the manner in which Ireland had been always treated in this House. It was either too late or too early to bring forward any measure for her relief, and the consequence was, that the people, finding their petition and remonstrance unavailing, determined to redress and relieve themselves. He now warned the House how they rejected this proposition. When any measure intended to benefit the Church was brought forward, they heard nothing about the inconvenience of the period at which it was proposed. Irish Poor laws were matters of too much importance to be entertained in the present Parliament, but Irish tithes were looked upon in a very different light. He again repeated, that the proposition of the hon. member for Aldborough had not been met in the spirit of fairness which the character of the hon. Gentleman and the importance of the subject demanded. He trusted the House would not allow the right hon. Gentleman to get rid of this proposition by moving the previous question. If they did, the people of Ireland would only receive it as another instance of the contempt with which they were treated in that House. Negative the proposition if you will, but he would protest against getting rid of it by a side-wind. With regard to taxing absentee property, he was of opinion, that the consideration of this portion of the subject might be postponed. He did not think it expedient to bring it forward at this moment, but the measure should have his cordial support whenever it was introduced. He regretted that his hon. friend, the member for Kerry, did not concur in his view of this question. He (Mr. Ruthven), however, felt convinced that Poor laws would benefit his country, and, entertaining that opinion, he should always openly avow it. It had been frequently said, that hon. members from Ireland were under the dominion of the hon. member for Kerry; that their opinions were controlled by him, and that those who were in the habit of supporting him, were influenced by other motives than those which ought to influence an independent member of this House. He, for his part, repudiated this assertion—he had always acted with perfect independence, and every vote he gave in that House was regulated by his own 866 sense of duty, and with the view to benefit his country. He supported his hon. friend, the member for Kerry, when he thought that he was right, but he opposed him on every occasion when he thought otherwise. One of his reasons for advocating the introduction of Poor laws was this, the landed proprietors of the country, they who ought to contribute to the relief of the poor, did not fulfil this duty, and the consequence was, the burthen was thrown upon the middle classes of the people. In proof of this he would refer to a case in the county of Mayo, during the late famine in that county, when a landed proprietor, of extensive property, refused to contribute a farthing, although some of his tenants were literally starving. There were other cases of a similar description, which had been mentioned in the public papers. Now, he would put it to the House, ought such a state of things to be permitted in a civilised country? Ought the population to be allowed to starve, while the landlord pocketed the product of their labour, and contributed nothing towards their support? Did hon. Gentlemen mean to say, that it was better to have paupers roaming in hordes through the country, than living within the limits of their own parishes? It was a common practice with some landlords to send their tenantry to beg on the estates of other individuals. The only remedy he saw for this crying evil, was a well regulated system of Poor laws. He thought the resolution of the hon. Member would lead to this. It should, therefore, have his cordial support.
Mr. John Smith
said, that he was anxious to address the House on this occasion, because circumstances with which he was closely connected, not many years since, had given him no slight acquaintance with the poverty of Ireland, and he must own, that it appeared to him almost incredible that the House should not eagerly embrace any plan which might be offered to them for putting an end to the dreadful calamities which had resulted from the distressed situation of the Irish peasantry. It was proved by evidence which was removed beyond the possibility of doubt, that in the year 1822 a great number of individuals perished by hunger, and that a much greater number, from insufficient nourishment, was attacked by typhus fever, and other lingering disorders, of which, in the end, many died. The hon. Member who last addressed the 867 House stated, that a person of large property in the county of Mayo, having no feeling for the poor destitute peasantry in his neighbourhood, refused to subscribe one farthing for their relief, but left them to perish, as they would have done if assistance had not arrived from England. That fact he knew. He would not mention the name of the individual—it would not be fit to do so; but he knew the fact. This was not a solitary case: he knew many others like it. He was not one of those who undervalued the Irish character. On the contrary, he very highly estimated it, from the experience he had had of the good qualities of the lower classes of the Irish. In the course of his life he had had in his employment many poor Irishmen, whom he had found in a state of dreadful destitution, and who remained with him for seven, twelve and some eighteen months. These poor men had but one fault—to him individually it was a great one—excess of gratitude. He heard strong language used in this House on the subject of slavery—stronger than he thought ought to be employed—but the most highly-coloured picture of the wretchedness of the slaves in the West Indies could not exceed the reality of the misery of the Irish peasantry. If that House should suffer their Irish fellow-subjects to languish longer in their horrible state of destitution, they would participate in the crime of those of their own country who barbarously refused to afford them any relief. There had been a great deal of poverty in England, particularly of late years, but there were no instances of assassination—of shooting Magistrates—of setting houses on fire for the purpose of burning the inhabitants, or any of the other dreadful atrocities which were constantly occurring in Ireland. The reason for this difference in the conduct of the people of the two countries was to be found in the system of Poor laws, which in this country rescued the poor from starvation; but in Ireland there was no such resource. From the turn which the discussion had taken, it might be supposed that his hon. friend had submitted a proposition for introducing the system of Poor laws at present existing in this country, into Ireland. No man could oppose such a proposition more strenuously than he would, but the fact was, that his hon. friend only proposed that the House should declare the expediency of providing for the relief of the poor in Ireland, by an imposition on 868 the land in that country. He thought that it would not be very difficult to frame a plan for assessing the land in Ireland, for the relief, not of able-bodied peasantry, but of wretched, helpless individuals, children, aged, sick, and perishing mortals, of whom England occasionally heard such disastrous accounts. In 1822 an enormous sum was subscribed by the people of this country for the relief of the Irish poor, and he would take the liberty of asserting, in contradiction to some statements which had reached his ear, and which were entirely destitute of truth, that the whole of the money so subscribed was honestly and fairly distributed. Since that period another famine had taken place in Ireland, which, though not so afflicting as the former, was, nevertheless, the cause of great sufferings. On that occasion he exerted himself in order to raise a subscription; but, with few exceptions, he found the hearts of the people of England closed against the dish tresses of their Irish fellow-subjects, and the sum obtained was trifling in amount, compared with that to which he had before adverted. If the calamity of famine should a third time visit Ireland, it would be in vain to appeal to the people of England. Nothing would be obtained from them. Often was he told by those to whom he applied for subscriptions, "We have poor enough of our own." The Bank of England contributed liberally to the first subscription for Ireland, but refused to give anything to the second. Other wealthy Companies, who were liberal on all occasions, acted in the same manner. He repeated, therefore, that if Irish distress should again occur, it would not be again alleviated by English benevolence. If hon. Members knew one-fiftieth part of the scenes of horror which occurred in Ireland, at the periods to which he alluded, they would, in spite of every consideration, fly at once to some measure of relief. Children perished by the road-side, multitudes subsisted on the weeds which they picked up on the sea-shore, and others sold their clothes off their backs to purchase a morsel of food. He did not wish to say anything disrespectful to the Irish gentlemen, but he must declare that he thought he observed amongst them less sympathy for the poor than was evinced by persons of the same rank in England. Perhaps this might arise from the Irish gentlemen not seeing much of their poor countrymen in consequence of not living amongst them. If some regula- 869 tions for the relief of the poor should be enforced in Ireland, they might, perhaps, have the effect of inducing the gentlemen of Ireland to reside at home. He also desired to see a system of relief for the Irish poor established, in order that they might not be driven to the necessity of coming over to this country to beg, for that he would maintain they did. The presence of the bands of poor Irish in this country often led to serious disturbances, for they were viewed with a jealous eye by the English labourers. These men pretended to seek for employment, and perhaps they would work if they could get anything to do, but begging was their trade, and they were exceedingly expert at it. In conclusion, he thought that the establishment of a system of relief for the poor would tend to tranquillize Ireland, and to benefit the whole empire.
§ Mr. Sinclair
supported the Motion. Unless some measures were taken to provide for the Irish at home, they would swamp both the English and Irish labourers, and, therefore, he would give his strenuous support to any measure which was likely to have such a beneficial effect.
Mr. Gally Knight
also supported the Motion, but said, that no measures would be productive of any benefit in Ireland, unless tranquillity were established there; and, therefore, he hoped that all persons who possessed influence in Ireland would employ it in endeavouring to establish order there. There was no one, however, connected with Ireland who did not anticipate as part of the beneficial results from the introduction of a system of Poor laws, that they would tend to establish order.
saw no reason to suppose that the plan of a provision for the poor, which the hon. Gentleman contemplated, would have the effect of raising the wages of labour in this country, by keeping the Irish labourer at home; for so long as the wages of labour in England remained in the slightest degree higher than in Ireland, so long would the Irish peasantry come here in search of work. It was, therefore, a most mischievous error to maintain that the establishment of a provision for the poor in Ireland would have the effect of improving the condition of the English peasant.
took great blame to himself for not having been present at an earlier stage of the debate. He was at all 870 times ready to support any measure which might be calculated to better the condition of the Irish people, whenever he could see any reasonable chance of its being carried into effect. The suffering and extreme destitution of the people of Ireland were owing to oppressions of long standing, arising from heavy burthens inflicted upon them in the shape of rack-rents. Absenteeism was also another fruitful source of evil, because it drained away a large portion of the capital of Ireland, a shilling of which was not appropriated to the improvement of the country, or the employment of the people. To this might be added that ill conceived and badly constructed measure, called the Subletting Act, which empowered the landlord to turn out his poorer tenantry, without providing them any means of employment. By this iniquitous measure, thousands of families were driven from dwellings which their forefathers had held for years, and, while this law sanctioned this violation of the most sacred principle of humanity—while the Government had been looking on at its disastrous effects, no steps were taken, up to this hour, to remedy the evil, or counteract its frightful consequences. Was it, from this state of things, to be wondered at that disturbances existed in Ireland? It would be indeed a wonder if it were otherwise. There was a point of suffering beyond which human endurance could no longer contain itself, and the starving, despised and infuriated peasant, in the blindness of his desperation, wreaks his vengeance on his oppressors, destroying and sacrificing human life and property. These were the results of the abominable system he had described, and nothing but a provision for the poor could save that unfortunate country from destruction. He begged to express his gratitude to his hon. friend, for his perseverance in bringing forward this measure. He had every hope, from what occurred upon a former occasion, when a similar proposition was only negatived by the trifling majority of twelve, and from the declaration then made by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that no opposition would be offered on the present occasion. He knew an instance of a noble Lord, who had large estates in the part of Ireland with which he was connected, and who, with an income of 60,000l. a-year, spent but 100l. in Ireland. His visits to that country were like those of angels, "few and far 871 between," and were generally paid in the month of June, which is the sheep-shearing season. Thus, while the people were employed in shearing the sheep of their superfluous wool, his Lordship was also assiduously engaged in a pursuit of a similar nature; and, after fleecing his tenantry of their cash, he packed it up carefully in his breeches pocket, took his departure for the shores of old England, and was never seen again in Ireland until the "shearing" and "fleecing" season arrived. He assured the House that he stated a fact, and there were countless facts of a similar character in other places. The hon. Member concluded by supporting the Resolution.
§ Mr. Sadler
, in rising to reply, said, he should not detain the House long at that late hour, especially when so much time had been already consumed by the debate. In answer to an observation made by a right hon. Gentleman opposite, he begged to state, that he was prepared with a bill upon the subject; but, from the little prospect there was of carrying it through at so late a period of the Session, he would not then introduce it to the House. The right hon. Gentleman himself admitted that some provision was necessary for lunatics, and those unhappy persons who might be afflicted with fevers, but he declined to give relief to the able-bodied labourer. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that an able-bodied labourer, who could not meet with employment—and how many thousands were in that deplorable condition?—might, within forty-eight hours, be reduced by sickness to such a state as came within his admission. The hon. Member who spoke last alluded to the case of some absentees receiving a large income from Ireland, and spending little of it there. He did not propose to make any just in the case of absentees, but just that they should contribute in Ireland to the support of the poor; that they should perform the same duty there which the law compelled them to discharge here. The father of political economy, Adam Smith, said that, perhaps, absentees were the fairest subject for taxation. While they declined the performance of every other duty in Ireland, they should not, at least, be exempt from that of contributing to the support of the poor. He would not, however, then go into the subject of absenteeism, although so much had been said relating to it; neither would he go into any arguments which had been advanced 872 against the system of English Poor laws, which it was supposed by some Members, notwithstanding he had repeated again and again that he had no such intention, he was seeking to introduce into Ireland. He must confess his surprise at hearing the objections of the hon. member for Middlesex, against a system of poor laws. Those objections were founded in a total ignorance of the subject. The fact was, that the portion allotted for the support of the poor here had diminished since the time of Queen Elizabeth, in proportion to the total revenue of the country. In her time it was half as much as the total revenue; and a century after, in the reign of Charles 2nd, the total amount raised in the way of poor-rate was 665,000l., a greater sum, in proportion to the revenue of both periods, than that collected now for the same purpose. The hon. Gentleman considered them as discouraging to industry. "Adieu to exertion and industry," argued the hon. Member, "in every country in which there are Poor laws established." Let the hon. Member, however, point out, if he could, an illustration of his assertion. The hon. Member also complained of the Poor laws, as encouraging extravagance and destroying foresight. He appeared to think it possible for the labourer to save sufficient to keep him in old age or sickness. This could not be the case at the present very low price of labour. This was a species of doctrine which was not acted upon by Government, for why were pensions granted to Chancellors, Judges, and other officers? Men filling these high situations were not paid with a sparing hand, and yet they were provided for by pensions; and why hold one doctrine for the rich and another for the poor? The labourers of the north of England were better off than those of the south, because they were hired the year round: they had their cottages and gardens, and thus their character was preserved. He totally denied that Poor laws had destroyed the industry of the English labourers in husbandry. No men worked harder, or were more willing to work, when they could procure employment. He denied, too, that the Poor laws destroyed sympathy for the poor, or withheld the hand of private charity. When Ireland saw the dying and the dead lying together in one scene of suffering and sorrow, the appeal to the absentees did not call forth a larger contribution than 83l. Wanting Poor laws in Ireland, they saw nothing but 873 want and mendicity, human destruction; and armed police, and the establishment of those laws would alter the horrible picture. This question, which he had to-night again introduced, however it might be treated by the House of Commons, could not be turned aside, for, in fact, it was one which was gaining ground in the estimation of the country. Every hour that the people of Ireland were deprived of what he would venture to call their rights, added to the injustice from which that country suffered. The people of England—the people of Ireland, demanded a provision for the poor; and never, at any time, was there a greater impression out of doors of the necessity of such a provision for the people of Ireland than at present. Whilst they delayed the act of justice for which, he contended, they committed an offence, and for that offence they would have to answer to God and man. He did not call upon the House of Commons to pledge itself to any particular measure, but he was anxious to have its recorded vote upon the Motion which he had that night submitted.
§ The House divided on the Motion:—Ayes 58; Noes 77—Majority 19.
|List of the AYES.|
|Attwood, M.||Mackillop, J.|
|Blackney, W.||Mayhew, W.|
|Blamire, W.||Miles, W.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Mullins, F. W.|
|Bourke, Sir J.||Musgrave, Sir R.|
|Briscoe,.J. I.||North, F.|
|Buller, Sir A.||O'Connor, M.|
|Bunbury, Sir H.||O'Ferrall, R. M.|
|Calcraft, G. H.||Payne, Sir P.|
|Callaghan, D.||Rickford, W.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Rider, T.|
|Doyle, Sir J.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Ellis, W.||Ruthven, E.|
|Encombe, Viscount||Ryder, Hon. G. D.|
|Estcourt, T.||Scott, Sir E.|
|Evans, Colonel||Sheil, R. L.|
|Forbes, Sir C.||Sinclair, G.|
|Forbes, J.||Smith, J.|
|Grattan, H.||Strickland, G.|
|Guise, Sir B. W.||Thicknesse, R.|
|Halse, J.||Thompson, Alderman|
|Hodges, T. L.||Tomes, J.|
|Howard, R.||Tyrell, C.|
|Hunt, H.||Venables, Alderman|
|James, W.||Walker, C. A.|
|Johnson, J.||Warre, J. A.|
|King, E. B.||Wason, R.|
|Knight, H. G.||Webb, Colonel|
|Knox, Hon. J.||Tellers.|
|Lambert, H.||Sadler, M. T.|
|Leader, N. P.||Grattan, J.|