§ Mr. Speaker
I rise to address the House under feelings of considerable embarrassment.
Surrounded, as I am, by so many hon. Gentlemen of great experience and eminent talents, I cannot but regret that some one, better qualified than I am adequately to perform the task which I have undertaken, does not bring forward the motion which I shall have the honour of submitting to the House.
There are some hon. Gentlemen, I know, who think that the King's Ministers would be the most proper persons to bring* Printed from the corrected edition published by Baldwin and Cradock,847 forward the question of making some provision for the poor in Ireland. But, I hope, I shall not be accused of presumption in attempting to do this, when I state that, nearly two months ago, I applied to the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to know if his Majesty's Government had any intention of introducing some measure for the relief of the poor in Ireland; and was answered, "that the Government had no such intention." Impressed with a deep sense of the magnitude and importance of the question to the best interests of the United Kingdom, and relying on the kindness and indulgence of the House, I then determined not to shrink from the discharge of what I consider to be a public duty.
Before I enter on the consideration of the expediency, and, as it appears to me, necessity, of making some provision for the poor in Ireland, the House will, perhaps, allow me to ask, if there be any difference of opinion amongst hon. gentlemen as to the state of Ireland? The hon. and learned member for Dublin says, [hears, hear.] But, alas! that Ireland is, but too frequently, the scene of outrage and violence, and bloodshed, none will deny. During the debate on the Irish Disturbances Bill, the then right hon. Secretary for Ireland, and many other hon. Gentlemen, described, in strong language, the atrocities and crimes Which had been committed in Ireland. They said, that robbery, and violence, and murder, were perpetrated on a system, that property and life were not secure; that the ordinary laws would no longer suffice; and that, in order to punish and repress crime, the Government must he armed with powers of a novel and extraordinary character. Little, however, was said of the want of employment in Ireland; and, still less, of the poverty and misery that prevail there. In order to give some idea of this want of employment, and poverty, and misery, I will, with the permission of the House, read a passage from the 'Summary Report,' published, in 1830, by the Select Committee appointed to inquire into and report on the state of the poor in Ireland.
"Your Committee regret to be obliged to state, that a very considerable proportion of the population is considered to be out of employment. The number is estimated differently, and by Mr. Smith is supposed to be as much as one-fifth of the entire population. By Mr. Ensor it is carried still further, and is calculated to 848 amount to one-fourth. From this want of demand for labour necessarily ensues very severe distress among the labouring classes. This, combined with the consequences of an altered system of managing land, is stated to produce misery and suffering which no language can possibly describe, and which it is necessary to witness in order fully to estimate. The distress is stated to exist in its greatest severity in the suburbs of cities and towns. Dr. Doyle describes the condition of this suffering class in the strongest and most impressive manner. He states a case of some of the ejected tenantry, who, seeking a refuge in the towns, after their little capital is expended, become dependent upon charity. They next give up their house, and are obliged to take, not a room, but what they call a corner. Four of these wretched families are sometimes accommodated in one small apartment of a cabin, and three in another. I have not myself seen so many as seven families in one of these cabins, but I have been assured by one of the officiating clergymen, that there are many instances of it. Their beds are merely a little straw spread at night on the floor, and by day wrapped up or covered with a quilt or with a blanket. In these abodes of misery, disease is often produced by extreme want; disease wastes the people, for they have no food or comforts to restore them; they die in a little time."
In proposing, as a remedy for this want of employment and consequent misery in Ireland, the introduction of Poor-laws, it is impossible not to advert to what has been done, by way of provision for the poor, in England. The alleged effects of Poor-laws in England will, I expect, be urged by some hon. Gentlemen, as an argument against their introduction into Ireland. I quite agree, indeed, with those who consider the whole question as much an English as an Irish question. And, with this impression on my mind, and in order to save the time of the House, I shall confine myself to four heads of observation; and shall address the House on each with as much brevity as I can.
The first head of the important subject, which I proceed to bring under the attention of the House, is the great injury sustained by England from the dreadful extent of pauperism in Ireland.
It must be obvious to the House, that the melancholy extent of pauperism in Ireland, by keeping that country in a constant state of trouble, and serving to excite the 849 poor population to breaches of the law, to violence and disorder, has long been a main cause, and, while it continues, must still be a cause, of rendering Ireland a drain upon the resources of England; and has prevented Ireland from contributing (in the degree she otherwise might) to the wealth, the prosperity, and strength of the United Kingdom.
In addition to this great evil, which, in various ways, has long been severely felt, we have to consider the injuries which England suffers from the vast numbers of labouring Irish, who have (especially of late years, since the easy and cheap communication by steam navigation) continually flowed into this country. They have been the means of progressively deteriorating the condition of the industrious and laborious classes in England; and of spreading pauperism and distress amongst us to an extent that has at length become appalling!
In the third Report, in 1826, of the Select Committee on Emigration, this effect seems to have been foreseen. In that Report, it is said, "Mr. Malthus was asked whether he had taken into consideration what may be the effect of the continued increase of the population of Ireland upon the condition of the labouring classes of England? He stated, that, in his opinion, the effect will be most fatal to the happiness of the labouring classes in England; because there will be a constant and increasing emigration from Ireland to England, which will tend to lower the wages of labour in England; and to prevent the good effects arising from the superior prudence of the labouring classes in this country. He stated, that he has understood, that, in the western parts of England and Scotland, in the manufacturing districts, particularly in Manchester and Glasgow, the wages of labour have been lowered essentially by the coming over of Irish labourers; which opinion, your Committee beg to observe, is confirmed by the evidence that has been given by witnesses resident in those districts. Mr. Malthus is of opinion, that this emigration will tend materially to alter the habits of the labouring class in England—to force them into the habitual consumption of a sort of food inferior to that to which they are now accustomed, namely, potatoes; and the danger of the use of the lowest quality of food is, that it leaves no resource in a period of scarcity; whereas, in the case of a population habitually living on wheat, 850 there is always the resource of potatoes to compensate for the failure of an average crop. He is also of opinion, that it will necessarily throw a great number of English labourers upon the Poor-rates; inas much as, if there be a redundancy of labour in any English parish, the presence of Irish labourers, universally seeking for employment, would prevent such English labour from being absorbed. He stated, that he was satisfied no permanent improvement would take place in the case of the English poor, even if a portion of them were removed by emigration, as long as this influx of Irish labourers continued without a check."
But even the extract which I have read will fail to give the House an adequate notion how much of the pauperism and distress in England is occasioned by the enormous and overwhelming influx of Irish poor. In some parishes within the precincts of the metropolis, the amount given for the relief of the pauper Irish, who have come over to England flying from beggary and want in their own country, in search of employment and subsistence here, almost exceeds belief. I hold in my hand a paper from the parish of St. Olave, Southwark, signed by the overseers, giving an account of the number of persons, under the head of "Casual Poor," relieved in that parish last Thursday. From this paper, it appears that there were relieved 336 adult persons. Of these—274 were Irish; 56 English; 5 Welch; 1 West Indian—total 336.
But these 274 Irish adults had 284 children; so that the number of Irish persons relieved was, in fact, 558! Some hon. Gentlemen may ask, why the parish officers do not pass these Irish paupers to their own country? But, when I state, that, owing to Roman Catholic marriages in England not being legal, the children, in the case I have mentioned, would, if their parents were sent to Ireland, remain a charge on the parish, hon. Gentlemen will readily believe, what the overseers allege, that they find it cheaper to give the parents some relief here, than to send away the parents and wholly maintain the children In the parish of St. George, Southwark, there are now, I am told, 100 illegitimate Irish children who have been thrown on the parish from the passing of their parents to Ireland. But this is not the whole case of these parishes: for the labour there is almost entirely engrossed by the Irish labourers from the English. What is to 851 be the result of the progress of such a state of things, if some remedy be not applied? The Poor-rates have, hitherto, prevented the labouring class in England from being reduced to the Irish starvation level. But those Poor-rates have already ruined great numbers of the industrious middle class of England—that class which used to be considered the pride and strength of the country; and yet the demand is increasing for an augmentation of those rates, in order to meet the growing misery of the English poor and the multiplying calls of hordes of Irish poor, who continue to pour, like a flood, into this country to swell her poor lists, and throw the poor English out of employment. And, shall England, in spite of her improved modes of cultivation in agriculture, which improved modes furnish increased employment—in spite of her manufactures, carried on with a skill and to an extent which the world never before saw—in spite of her commerce, which spreads to every part of the habitable globe—in spite of all which ingenuity can devise, or which unrivalled industry and enterprise can accomplish, shall England be thus impoverished, degraded, and, finally, destroyed?—I cannot, I will not believe it. In the name of the industrious and laborious people of England, I appeal to this House for succour; and I confidently trust to their justice, and rely upon their wisdom.
Let me, now, entreat the attention of the House to the melancholy state in which the poor population of England was, and the causes of that state, before the establishment of Poor-laws.
To show the state of the poor population of England, which led to the enactment of Poor-laws, I will, with the permission of the House, read a passage from Strype's Annals, vol. 4. p. 290.
This passage is contained in a paper, preserved by Strype, and written by an eminent justice of the peace for the county of Somerset, in the year 1596; and contains an account of the disorders which then prevailed in the county of Somerset. The author says, 'That forty persons had been there executed in a year, for robberies, thefts, and other felonies; thirty, five burned in the hand, thirty-seven whipped, 183 discharged. That those who were discharged were most wicked and desperate persons, who never could come to any good, because they would not work, and none would take them into service. That, notwithstanding this great number of 852 indictments, the fifth part of the felonies committed in the county were not brought to a trial: the greater number escaped censure, either from the superior cunning of the felons, the remissness of the Magistrates, or the foolish lenity of the people. That the rapines committed by the infinite number of wicked, wandering, idle people, were intolerable to the poor countrymen; and obliged them to a perpetual watch over their sheepfolds, their pastures, their woods, and their corn-fields. That the other counties of England were in no better condition than Somersetshire, and many of them were even in a worse. That there were, at least, 300 or 400 ablebodied vagabonds in every county, who lived by theft and rapine; and who sometimes met in troops to the number of sixty, and committed spoil on the inhabitants. That if all the felons of this kind were assembled, they would be able, if reduced to good subjection, to give the greatest enemy her Majesty has a strong battle. And that the Magistrates themselves were intimidated from executing the laws upon them; and there were examples of Justices of Peace, who, after giving sentence against rogues, had interposed to stop the execution of their own sentence, on account of the danger which hung over them from the confederates of these felons'.
But, Sir, what were the main causes which led to this dreadful spread of pauperism and disorder in England? I earnestly request the attention of the House to these causes, more especially for this reason, that the very same causes operated to produce similar effects in Ireland, where their baneful influence has ever since continued; for, although the evil has been met in England, it never has been met in Ireland. The main causes of the spread of pauperism in England, at the period when Poor-laws were adopted, were these two:—First, the progressive and widely extended impoverishment of parishes, by the alienation of the whole, or far greater part, of their endowments; and the appropriation (as the phrase was) of those endowments to monasteries, to Bishops, to Cathedral Chapters, and Church dignitaries; and, secondly and chiefly, to the plunder of the monasteries by Henry 8th. It appears, from various authorities, and, abundantly, from a distinguished antiquarian and historian of England, Bishop Kennett, in his History of Appropriations, not that a precisely equal tripartite or quatuor-partite divi- 853 sion of tithes, or other Church property, existed in this country; but that, when the incumbents held the entire endowments of their respective parishes, they were, uniformly, considered as burthened with the care of the churches, and with the relief of the poor. The parochial clergy, by various means and under various pretences, were deprived of their endowments by the monasteries, the Bishops, and the Cathedral Chapters. But there was always an understanding, that, out of the parochial endowments thus appropriated, relief for the poor should be provided. The duties of hospitality towards poor strangers, prô misericordia Dei, and of charitable sustentation of the poor, were prominently put forward by the monasteries, the Bishops, and the Cathedral Chapters, amongst the objects for which they sought and received the parochial endowments transferred to them. The Bishops and Cathedral Chapters soon lost sight of the poor. And the property of the monasteries was given to Henry 8th, by the two statutes* for their dissolution, which he procured to be passed. These two statutes gave him this property, to be held by him "only in as large a manner as it had been held by the governors of the monasteries;" and with an express saving of all the rights and interests of all other persons and bodies, which those persons and bodies had in the said property. But, under these Acts, Henry seized the whole property; and gave it away or sold it, without any consideration for the equitable claims and reserved interests of the poor; in plain terms, the poor were robbed. Documents are quoted, both by Bishop Kennett and by the famous Selden, confirmatory of the statement I have made; which documents are highly curious, instructive, and interesting;† to but which
§ *27 Hen. 8. cap. 28; and 31. Hen. 8. cap.13.
§ Bishop Kennett says, "Another fair pretext of the religious (the Monks) to gain appropriations, was to desire no more than two parts of the tithe and profits to be so appropriated to them; leaving a third to the free and quiet enjoyment of the parish priest, whom, at the same time, they eased from the burthen of repairing the church and relieving the poor; and took that charge upon themselves."
§ "Had the religious kept to this double portion; and discharged the works of piety and charity, for which purpose they received it; this had been specious in the eye of the world; and even tolerable to the parish priest, from whom nothing was then expected beside the bare support of himself: but the religious could not be contented with their parts without854
§ I shall not venture to trespass on the time of the House by reading.
§ But, Sir, why have I referred to these high authorities, and to the extensive and
§ engrossing the whole; which they did, by all the ways of acquisition. So that, in two or three following ages, parochial churches would have been universally annexed and united to religious houses, if the bishops had not provided for the ordination of perpetual vicarages, and the distinct endowment of them. This institution of vicarages, though designed by the bishops to remedy the mischiefs of appropriations, was turned by the Monks into a new method of facilitating their design. For the bishops now requiring the presentation of a perpetual vicar, and endowing him with a separate portion of manse, glebe, tithe, and oblations (at least to the old proportion of one part in three), assigned the customary burthens of church-repair and poor to the religious. This appeared with some face of equity, and took off the odium of appropriating parochial to conventual churches; because it did not alienate or much divert the Ecclesiastical Revenues, but only prescribed and allotted them to religious men, and to sacred uses, as devoted from the beginning.
§ "When the scandal of appropriating was thus abated, the religious never wanted pretensions to get more and more churches to their own proper uses. And because hospitality and charity were the more especial charge entailed upon the two parts of tithe and oblations or offerings, they chiefly urged these occasions, and promised to employ the profits this way.
§ "The Seculars learned this way of gain from the Monks. They likewise got the churches of their own donation to be converted to their own proper uses; to increase the number of their prebends, augment the portion of the dean, or of any other principal dignitary; or for the table of the bishop; or, indeed, for any thing that could contribute to the grandeur of the cathedral church or see.
§ "The secular clergy were sensible of the yoke; and took many occasions to seek for ease and redemption from it: sometimes by appeals to Rome; but all to little purpose, while the religious were too rich, and therefore too strong for them. The answer which the clergy of Berkshire made to the pope's legate, anno 1240, was their common argument against appropriations, as well as against papal exactions, viz. that by authority of the Holy Fathers, the fruits of parochial benefices were assigned to certain uses of the church, of the ministers, and of the poor; and ought not to be converted to any other uses.
§ "The like arguments were again offered by the clergy in convocation, 1246: that it had been a good old custom in the kingdom of England for the rectors of parish churches to live in hospitality and charity; whereas a sub-855
§ scandalous robbery of the poor, at the period of the dissolution of the Monasteries? Far be it from me to seek to disturb property, or to root up the foundations of long
§ ducting their former profits had put them under the necessity of closeness and narrowness of living. And (about A. D. 1414) the University of Oxford, being required by king Henry the Fifth, at the beginning of his reign, to lay before him such matters as might deserve to be considered and reformed in an ecclesiastical synod; among the articles of grievance, speaks thus pathetically of the appropriations of churches:—'The manifold appropriation of churches has been obtained (by divers subtle and sinister suggestions), especially to bishops' tables, and also to monasteries before sufficiently endowed; by which means there does arise a great discomfort to the parishioners, and the hospitable refreshment to the poor is withdrawn, &c. And where vicars are instituted, so small a portion is assigned to them, that they cannot conveniently support themselves, nor relieve their poor parishioners, as they are bound to do.'
§ "The bishops of the Church of England were likewise sensible, and very much ashamed, of this scandalous practice (viz. of appropriations). They had, indeed, been too much the authors and abettors of it. Some of them had been regular Monks: and the religious could make it the bishop's interest; they could allow him a standing pension out of their larger portion of the tithes—they could let him appropriate one church to his own table, on condition of appropriating another to their convent. (Bishop Kennett here refers to wartoni Angl. Sacr. p. 350.)
§ "But, amidst all the acts of extorting a compliance, the English bishops were, by degrees, much offended with this sacrilegious humour of the Monks." (A sacrilegious humour which the bishops, and cathedral chapters, had been long most earnestly indulging in and imitating, according even to Bishop Kennett's own statements and proofs). "And at last the bishops were so conscious of the iniquity and scandal of this practice, that they dared no longer consent to it without an apology, and open confession of their doing an ill thing."
§ "One of the very best governors of the Church before the Reformation, John Peckham, constituted Archbishop of Canterbury in 1278, in an epistle to the bishop elect of Hereford, reflects severely on the prior of Wenlock and his brother, for their collusion in appropriating churches; and thence takes occasion to say, that, by thus grasping at rectories and tithes they very much hurt the Commonwealth; they did in a manner extinguish the care of souls; they locked up the gates of hospitality; they murdered the poor by not feeding them; they fatted up the rich to nauseousness itself, &c. &c. All which mischiefs, and many more not fit to856
§ settled possessions. I have stated the truths which I have advanced only for the purpose of showing the causes which produced the establishment of Poor-laws in England.
§ be mentioned, do for the most part follow the appropriation of churches." Bishop Kennett, afterwards referring to "the great increase of the poor," early in the reign of Elizabeth, says, "Another ill consequence of despoiling the parish churches was the increase of the poor; which was not altogether owing to the dissolution of the abbeys, but, in some measure, to the decay of the parochial clergy;" (viz. through appropriations, &c.) "who, being now burthened with greater families, and yet supported with less income, could neither employ nor relieve so many of their poor neighbours as they were wont to do; and the Lay Impropriators, though they received the tithes with the rent-charge of hospitality and charity upon them, spent little or nothing in those pious uses."
§ A very remarkable document is quoted by Bishop Kennett, and also by Selden, from the Monasticon Anglicanum, which throws much light on the subject. It is a complaint preferred to Parliament, not long after the dissolution of monasteries, by a London merchant. "Ye that be Lords and Burgesses of the Parliament House, I require of you, in the name of my poor brethren, that are Englishmen, and members of Christ's body, that ye consider well (as ye will answer before the face of Almighty God, in the day of judgment) this abuse, and see it amended…… If the parsonages were impropred," (viz. appropriated to monasteries), "the Monks were bound to deal alms to the poor, and to keep hospitality. But now that all the abbeys, with their goods, and lands, and impropred parsonages, be in temporal men's hands, I do not hear tell that one halfpennyworth of alms, or any other profit, cometh unto the people of those parishes. Your pretence of pulling down abbeys was to amend that which was amiss. It was far amiss, that a great part of the lands of the abbeys (which were given to bring up learned men that might be preachers, to keep hospitality, and give alms to the poor), should be spent upon a few superstitious monks, which gave not forty pounds in alms when they should have given two hundred. It was amiss, that Monks should have parsonages in their hands, and deal but the twentieth part thereof to the poor……The Monks gave too little alms……But now, where twenty pounds were given yearly to the poor, in more than a hundred places in England is not one meal's meat given……And as touching the alms that they (the monks) dealt, and the hospitality they kept, every man knoweth that many thousands were well received of them, and might have been better, if they had not had so many great men's horse to feed, and had they not been overcharged857
§ This robbery of the poor, on the dissolution of the Monasteries, caused the greatest pauperism and misery. Mendicancy and vagrancy covered the land as with a leprosy. Robbery and murder were of frequent occurrence. To punish and repress outrage and crime, measures of the utmost rigour were had recourse to. Upwards of forty Acts of Parliament were successively passed without effect. In vain were tried transportations, and hangings, and emigration, and Martial-law—all would not do. At length was enacted the 43rd of Elizabeth; and this famous Act, which was drawn up by Bacon, assisted by the other eminent statesmen of that day; and which was, deliberately and advisedly, made the law of England, soon cured the numerous evils which then afflicted the land. Dalton describes their effect thus. He says, "1st. Idleness is very much repressed 2nd, Infinite swarms of vagabonds are rooted out, which before wandered up and down, to the great danger and indignity of our
§ with such idle gentlemen as were never out of the abbeys."—See Kennett's History of Appropriations, pp. 129, 130; and Selden, in his History of Tithes, p. 487.
§ Selden, referring to the plunder of the poor, &c. at the dissolution of monasteries, says, "I doubt not but that every good man wishes that, at our dissolution of monasteries, both the lands and impropriated tidies and churches possessed by them (that is, things sacred to the service of God, although abused by such as had them) had been bestowed, rather for the advancement of the church to a better maintenance of the labouring and deserving ministry, to the fostering of good arts, relief of the poor, and other such good uses, as might retain in them, for the benefit of the church or commonwealth, a character of the wishes of those who first with devotion dedicated them (as in some countries, upon the Reformation, was religiously done), than conferred with such a prodigal dispensation as it happened, on those who stood ready to devour what was sanctified."—Selden's History of Tithes, p. 486.
§ Selden, writing of the period from A.D. 800 to 1200, says, "Res Dominiœ, and Dominica Substantia, and Dei Census, and the like, are the attributes given to tithes by the ancients of this age; which also they style Putrimonia Pauperum, and Tributa egentium animurum, and Stipendia Panperum, hospitum, et peregrinorum; whence also the clergy were not to use them quasi suis, sed quasi commendutis." (Selden refers to Councils' authority, and Pope Alexander the Third; and says, that the council of Lateran, under Innocent the Third, agrees to this).858
§ nation. 3rd. We ourselves are now compelled but to relieve the poor of our own parishes (whose condition and estate we know), and to a certainty of gift, wherewith we are now taxed by our neighbours; whereas, before, we gave we knew not what nor to whom, and many times to such as were ready to cut our throats, if opportunity had served."
§ Permit me now, in the third place, to call the attention of the House to Ireland.
§ The Bishops, the Deans and Chapters, and the Monasteries there also,* under one pretext or other, sacrilegiously appropriated to themselves, to a very pernicious extent, the property of the Parochial Incumbents. Still, in Ireland, the poor, till the dissolution of the Monasteries, received much alms from them; but when the Monasteries in that country were dissolved, this great resource of the poor was cut off. Their condition was aggravated by absenteeism, and the perishable nature of their food; added to this, the potato crop is liable to failure, and, when it fails, famine and fever ensue. Accordingly, we find that Ireland has long been, and is now, in a state very similar to the state in which England was in the reign of Elizabeth. Outrages, rapine, murders, abound. Life and property are alike insecure. The people, suffering from want and misery, lend a ready ear to any agitator who holds out to them a prospect of relief. Circumstances like those I have mentioned generate agitators. They address themselves to the wants and wishes, or supposed wants and
§ * In a publication of considerable learning, written by—Ryves. Judge of the Prerogative Court in Ireland, and dedicated to King James the First, a publication which produced very important results, this eminent author thus wrote:—"But of all kingdoms of the Christian world, I suppose that never any was so surcharged, and ruined with this heavy burthen" (of appropriations) "as this poor kingdom of Ireland hath been and is. … For the more superstitious, the more easy to be wrought upon in this kind To instance in one for all—I have observed, out of an old ledger-book in the abbey of St. Thomas, near Dublin (a house of no very old foundation), that, in a few years after it was erected, it had procured fifty-nine church livings, in part or in whole, to be appropriated to their uses. Neither may we doubt but that Kilmainham, St. Mary's, and other such houses, which were in great number in and about Dublin; and other parts of that kingdom, had their share alike," &c.—Ryves's Poor Vicar's Plea, p.9.859
§ wishes of the people. "Per omnia tempora, quicumque rempublicam agitavêre, honestis nominibus, sicuti jura populi defenderent;" and thus the safety of the State itself is endangered. Is it not then monstrous, that no adequate legislative remedy has been ever applied, in Ireland, to such dreadful evils?—that all the remedy should be left to the voluntary benevolence, the discretionary charity, and the kind consideration of the Irish landlords of all descriptions? Let me not be misunderstood. I do not believe that English landlords, under similar circumstances, would be a jot better than Irish. I know some Irish landlords in this House, and others elsewhere, who are men of enlightened understanding, enlarged and active benevolence, and true patriotism. But, Sir, not the sufferings of Ireland only, but the sufferings and dangers of England, imperiously require the Legislature to interfere; and, without further delay, to apply the proper and adequate remedy. And to this last head of the great subject I am endeavouring to bring before the House, I now respectfully and earnestly solicit their attention.
§ If history be truly said to be philosophy teaching by example, then we ought not to disregard the lesson taught us by the history of the establishment of Poor-laws in England, and their non-establishment in Ireland. The domestic circumstances of the two countries in 1601, when the 43rd of Elizabeth was passed, were, in many respects, alike. Are they alike now? It is sometimes painful to make comparisons; but the House cannot but look on this picture and look on that. Here, we sec peace and order, and obedience to the laws; there, outrage and disorder, and disobedience. Why is there this difference between the two countries? I answer, because the poor, in Ireland, have not had justice done them. Give Ireland Poor-laws; and, to use the words of Dr. Doyle, "You will gladden the heart of the widow, be a staff to the aged, and a resting-place to him who has no home; you will shelter the houseless, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, and relieve the distressed. Give Ireland Poor-laws, and you will put an end to vagrancy, separate the impostor from the virtuous, compel the idler to do his work, and remove from the turbulent the food of sedition."
§ Sir, it is impossible, I think, for any one carefully to read, as I have done, the elaborate Reports of the Committee of 1830, appointed to examine into and report on the 860 state of the Irish poor, and the Extracts from the evidence collected by the Poor-law Commissioners, without being struck by the manifest appearance there is of an endeavour to make out a case against Poor-laws. In saying this, I mean no disrespect either to the eminent individuals who composed the Committee of 1830, or towards the Poor-law Commissioners. And, especially, I beg to assure the right hon. Gentleman who was Chairman of that Committee, that for him I entertain the greatest respect. Having thus guarded myself, I hope, from any suspicion of intending the slightest disrespect towards any one connected with those documents, I shall speak of the documents themselves without reserve.
§ In reading the extracts, I could not help noticing the twist, to borrow a phrase, if he will allow me, of the hon. member for Oldham, which the reporters seemed to have against Poor-laws. None of the advantages—none of the benefits—which result from Poor-laws, are mentioned, or even alluded to! No; the abuses only are pointed out and dwelt on. Now, I do not contend for the continuance of these abuses in England; and, still less, would I seek to introduce them into Ireland; but because abuses have crept into the Administration of the Poor-laws in England, is that an argument of any force against Poor-laws? What! because abuses in the Administration of the Civil and Criminal Law are complained of, shall we, therefore, destroy our Courts of Justice? Because our army and navy occasion us great expense, shall we dismantle the one and disband the other; and thus deprive ourselves of safety at home and of defence abroad? In all human institutions there will be abuses and defects; and it is well to correct and amend them. But he would hardly be accounted a wise statesman, who, on account of alleged abuses, should propose to destroy the institutions themselves.
§ But the example of Scotland is cited by the opponents of Poor-laws. Why, Scotland furnishes the strongest argument in favour of Poor-laws. Nearly a century after Poor-laws had been established in England, what was the state of Scotland? It is described, in 1698, by Fletcher of Saltoun; who says, "There were then 200,000 sturdy beggars in Scotland, who, if you would not give them alms, took them by force." What did the Government of those days, having experienced for nearly a century the advantages and benefits of Poor- 861 laws, do for Scotland? In the Second Report of Evidence on the State of the Irish poor, Dr. Chalmers states, "In the reign of William and Mary there were no less than two Acts passed, and four proclamations issued, on the subject of the Scottish Poor Laws; all evincing the utmost earnestness, on the part of the Legislature, to establish a compulsory provision in Scotland. The proclamation of the 3rd of March, 1698, complains of the inefficacy of all former Acts and Proclamations; orders correction-houses to be built, one in each of the larger towns for the benefit of the surrounding districts, that should, under a penalty of 500 marks for each quarter's delay, after a specified time, provide work for the unemployed. The Sheriffs were further required to see this executed, under a penalty of 500 marks in the first instance, and then 500l. for each week of their delay. The Magistrates were ordered to support the poor till those correction-houses should be provided; and the Kirk Sessions were empowered to see to the execution of the Acts." Now, what were the effects of these measures? Dr. Chalmers says, "that only nineteen years afterwards, Scotland, as if per sultum, became tranquil, obedient to the laws, and prosperous." The Doctor, I am quite aware, endeavours to account for this happy change in the condition of Scotland, by ascribing it "to the institution of schools, and the zeal of the clergy." But the House will, I think, agree with me in ascribing it to the wisdom and vigour of the Government in repressing vagrancy and establishing Poor-laws. It may be objected that there was not in Scotland a compulsory assessment. No; but under the salutary fear of a compulsory assessment, the heritors assessed themselves.
§ But let me again call the attention of the House to Ireland herself. The principle of the Poor-laws has been tried in Ireland, and found to succeed. In the city of Dublin, in the year 1818, an Association was entered into for the suppression of Mendicity. The House will, perhaps, allow me to read, from the First Report of this Institution, the causes of its formation. "The City presented a spectacle at once afflicting and disgusting to the feelings of its inhabitants; the doors of carriages and shops, to the interruption of business, were beset by crowds of unfortunate and clamorous beggars, exhibiting misery and decrepitude in a variety of forms, and frequently carrying about in their persons and garments the seeds of contagious disease: 862 themselves the victims of idleness, their children were taught to depend on begging, as affording the only means of future subsistence; every artifice was resorted to by the practised beggar to extort alms, and refusal was frequently followed by imprecations and threats. The benevolent were imposed upon—the modest shocked—the reflecting grieved—the timid alarmed. In short, so distressing was the whole scene, and so intolerable was the nuisance, that its suppression became a matter of necessity."
§ I have the satisfaction to inform the House, that this Institution in Dublin has succeeded admirably. Mendicancy has been repressed, vice corrected, ignorance instructed, and the habits of the poor improved. But, alas! it is found that voluntary contributions for its support, although every one admits the abundant usefulness and absolute necessity of the Institution, are uncertain and precarious. To prove this, I need only state, that out of 11,500 solvent houses in Dublin, only 2,000 contribute anything to this Institution. The inhabitants of Dublin, therefore, after having, for fifteen years, experienced the numerous advantages of this Institution, now entreat the House to make its support compulsory. They do more—they ask you to extend the benefits of this Institution, by the establishment of Poor-laws, to the whole of Ireland. Here is nothing merely theoretical: this institution has been tried; it has stood the test of long experience; and the inhabitants of Dublin, with the Duke of Leinster at their head, now testify in the strongest manner to its utility, by entreating this House to give it the sanction of the law; and to establish Poor-laws throughout the whole of Ireland. Need I say one word more?
§ But there is one objection which I cannot pass by. If, it is said, you employ the able-bodied but destitute poor, will you not in the same degree lessen the capital applicable to the employment of the independent labourer? Now I submit to the House, that this question implies a want of attention to circumstances and to the nature of circulating capital. In times of peace, and order and security, capital possesses, if I may use the expression, an expansive power; another element is generated, which is credit. I will endeavour to illustrate this. In times of confidence and credit, a person draws a bill for 500l., which a banker discounts. The money so obtained is employed ill labour; and this labour reproduces the 863 capital so employed with a profit. But, assuming capital to be a fixed and limited sum, it is obvious, in seasons of alarm, such as almost constantly occur in Ireland, that the capitalist, who is generally timid, will hoard his money, and not employ it. Now, Poor-laws occasion peace, and order, and security; and these circumstances inspire confidence and create credit. Therefore Poor-laws, instead of diminishing capital, infinitely increase its power and activity; and, as a consequence, add to its quantity.
§ Another objection is, that you will not find in Ireland the necessary machinery. The same objection might have been made to the introduction of Poor-laws both into England and Scotland. But this objection is frivolous. Never, in my life in England, did I ever know men more benevolent and humane, or more intelligent as to the mode of applying these feelings for the benefit of the poor and of society, than I have met with in Ireland. In going over the Mendicity Institution in Dublin, I was forcibly struck with the perfect knowledge of the subject which the gentlemen, who kindly showed it to me, evinced. The necessary machinery is now, actively, in use in Dublin; and I have good ground for stating, that similar machinery may be found in all the other considerable towns. As to the more remote districts, I am prepared to point out machinery efficient for the purpose. But I will not further anticipate objections.
§ In the course of the discussions in Parliament, severe remarks have been made by some hon. Gentlemen on Irish landlords; and appeals have been made to their humanity. There are other gentlemen, out of doors, who seem to think that poverty, and misery, and vice, are not merely incident to, but inherent in, human nauture; and that they should be left to correct themselves. Sir, if the poverty and misery of the Irish peasantry could be fairly attributed to the dispensations of Providence—if summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, did not succeed each other,—if the earth no longer gave her increase,—and if, therefore, pestilence and famine wasted them,—there might be some seeming reason for charging God foolishly. But since, in Ireland, the Divine Giver of all good has been so munificent in His bounties,* let us
§ * It has been justly remarked of Ireland, "that there never was a country for which God appears to have done so much, and man so little."864
§ not, ungratefully and impiously, blame Him for evils which are caused by ourselves. Nor, as respects the alleged misconduct of Irish Landlords, let us, as Legislators, indulge in puerile complaints against individuals, for not being humane. Sir, in saying this, I hope it will not be supposed, that I am deaf to the calls of humanity, or dead to feelings of compassion for the sufferings of my fellow-creatures. But, Sir, these are not the motives which govern my conduct in the discharge of my duties in this House. In earnestly recommending the great measure of which I am an humble advocate, I stand upon the broad and immoveable foundation of justice and sound policy. I seek not, by a parliamentary Act, to make men kind and charitable, but to enforce justice. I seek to make it the urgent and commanding interest of the landlords of Ireland to prevent pauperism and its attendant evils to the utmost of their power. It was a just remark of an eminent Judge from the Bench, "That it is not for human laws and human legislation to do that which belongs to Him alone who can rule the hearts of men—to make them what they ought to be; but it is for human laws and human legislation to protect and save society from the inconvenience of men's being what they are."
§ I beg leave humbly to move the following Resolution:—
§ "That it is the opinion of this House, that the establishment of a provision for the Poor of Ireland, on the principle of the Act 43rd Elizabeth, with such alterations and improvements as time and circumstances may require, is expedient and necessary to the interests of the United Kingdom."
§ Mr. James Grattan
felt great pleasure in seconding the Resolution. He had ever held, that till the poor of Ireland were secured against famine and its consequences, it was vain to expect tranquillity in Ireland, and every day's experience was a too painful corroboration of his opinion. He would confidently rest his case on this single principle—that a man uncertain of his daily bread,—a starving man,—was necessarily a savage, who was incapable of that prospective and temperate course of conduct which was the essential condition of peace and prosperity. The Irish poor eked out a miserable existence between famine and rapine; they were able and willing to work, but there was no work for them. They saw the means of comfortable subsistence around them; they were nevertheless destitute in their native land. They 865 were, moreover, a sensitive and irritable people. Was it to be expected, under these circumstances, that they should be peaceable and obedient to the law. He expected that the present Motion would be met by clap-trap appeals to the one-sided, partial, and evidently got-up scraps of evidence contained in the reports of the deputy poor-law commissioners just published for the occasion. Apart from the illogical unfairness of arguing against the use from the abuse, he would protest against these appeals as being necessarily partial and imperfect. It would have been but common justice in Ministers to have suspended the publication of these extracts till the whole of the evidence and the general report was ready for publication. But even this got-up one-sided evidence would fail in its object. If they wished to retain Ireland as an essential and profitable portion of the Empire, they must induce the Irish people to respect the laws, and to induce them to respect the laws the Irish must be taught that the laws were protective, conciliatory, just, and impartial. What was their present system—was it protective, conciliatory, just, and impartial? Certainty, if the Insurrection Act was conciliatory, and if starvation, rapine, and then hanging or transportation were the proofs of conciliation. Since the Union there was hardly an interval of two or three years without the Insurrection Act being enforced; and till they applied a remedy to the parent evil—a want of employment and a legal security against starvation—things would not, indeed could not, grow better. The fact was, there was no choice between the most iron coercion, or the remedial policy of Poor-laws; and if they were seriously determined to apply a remedy to the ills of Ireland which the Union had undoubtedly produced, they would give the Irish peasant an interest in its preservation. It was, unfortunately, a too easy task to show that the poor of Ireland were in a condition of misery so great as to call upon the Legislature for some remedy. Mr. Sadler had shown, that such was the case in his able and unanswerable speech delivered last Session, in which it was put beyond cavil, that in consequence of the want of provision for the indigent, famine was the frequent visitant of Ireland. Their state of miserable existence reduced the duration of life at least eight per cent lower than it was in England. That was the constant state of their miserable being. They had heard much of the advantages of expending 866 capital in local improvements; the fact was, experience had demonstrated, that such expenditure, when partial, was only mischievous, and that, to be beneficial, it must be universal. Did a gentleman expend thousands in giving employment to the poor in his neighbourhood, he immediately attracted all the floating misery for miles and miles about him, with a view to profiting by his benevolence. But evidently the heartless landlord, from whose district this horde of paupers had emigrated, was pro tanto benefited at the expense of the humane and upright. Then, unless the giving employment were made compulsory, the absentee landlord would never apply himself to the improvement of his estate, so long as his agent could extract the rent from the impoverished tenants. Make him provide employment for the poor on his estate, and in self-defence he would betake himself to domestic improvements. As it was, the only semblance of improvements attempted in Ireland were those of the justly repudiated jobbing system of Grand Jury Assessments. Again he repeated, that they had no choice between iron coercion or conciliating the poor by insuring them against destitution, and affording them profitable employment—between the Repeal of the Union and Poor-laws. They had already exhausted every expedient and means of staving off Poor-laws. They had Mr. Wilmot Horton and his Emigration Committee, and, that justly failing, they had Mr. Rice's Committee got up to make out a case against the adoption of Poor-laws. The evidence given before that Committee, however, was itself the antidote of the purpose for which it was appointed. He called upon the House to compel the Irish landlords to do their duty to themselves, their tenants, and their country. It was the cause of humanity and true religion. Already the Irish landlords had obtained their 40s. Disfranchisement Act, which cleared their estates of the poor villains when no longer useful upon the hustings; and then they had their Subletting Act, which prevented those unfortunate outcasts from again settling down upon the soil upon which they were born. And yet, in the face of these facts, the Irish landlords hypocritically talked of the abuses and demoralizing effects of the English Poor-laws. Out upon such barefaced, such sordid hypocrisy; it was not the abuses, but the long-tried, long-proved uses, of the Poor-laws that he demanded for Ireland. Let them look at the benefi- 867 cial consequences of the partial attempts that had been made towards affording the poor of Ireland employment. In the western districts of Ireland a large army, distributed over twelve barracks, was hardly sufficient to keep the peace, when Mr. Griffiths, the mining engineer, under the direction of the Government, superintended the application of some money, about 140,000l. or 150,000l.—to public works for some ten years: such was the beneficial result of this employment as a mere means of restoring social order, that eleven out of twelve of those barracks, with their military occupants, were dispensed with. And so it would be, though to a greater extent, under a general system of employment. These facts proved, that what had hitherto been attempted for the pacification of Ireland had been in vain. Let not the first reformed House of Commons act towards Ireland as its predecessors had uniformly done,—impose upon her acts of coercion, instead of granting her measures of relief; if they did, all hope of making Ireland of benefit to this country was at an end. Ireland had a right to Poor-laws: she acquired that right by the Act of Union, and if they were not granted, he would not only join in the cry for the Repeal of the Union, but would go further, and say, that he would not live in a country where martial law prevailed, and where he was compelled to see his countrymen starving around him. Mr. O'Connor, a Catholic clergyman, who gave evidence before a Committee of the House last year, stated, that the poor peasants were accustomed to exclaim to him, "We cannot live upon 8d. a-day." He agreed with them; it was impossible for the peasantry of Ireland to be satisfied, whilst the produce which their hands had raised was exported to England to furnish the means of supplying luxuries to absentee landlords. The hon. member concluded by expressing a hope that the Reformed House of Commons would adopt a measure which would make them live in the grateful recollection of the people of Ireland.
§ Lord Althorp
I agree, Sir, with the hon. Gentleman who has proposed the Motion, that this is a subject of the greatest possible importance; and I think, also, that it requires the greatest consideration to be bestowed upon it before we adopt it. I must say, however, that considering the evils which we know to exist in the Poor Law system of this country, it would have been move advisable for the hon. Member 868 not to move a direct Resolution, declaring that Poor-laws should be adopted in Ireland, without explaining, at the same time, how he expects to remedy those evils in applying the system to Ireland. There is one part of the speech of the hon. Member which I hope will not have much weight with this House. I hope that this House will consider the question of the Poor-laws with reference to the benefit to be conferred upon Ireland, and upon Ireland alone, by their introduction; and that the argument which he has used to show that the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland would be beneficial to England, by preventing the annual influx of Irish labourers into this country; and that the appeal which he afterwards made on the same topic to English Members—I say I hope that this argument and this appeal will not have much effect. Nothing can be more unfit, nothing can be more unworthy of English Members, than that they should vote for a measure for Ireland, not because it would be beneficial to Ireland, but because if would be beneficial to England. The hon. Gentleman has made a most extraordinary statement on this subject, and I should wish to caution the House against supposing, that because great distress exists in Ireland, it therefore follows as a matter of course that the introduction of Poor-laws there would remedy that distress, and prove of the highest advantage to Ireland. The hon. Member says, that the effect of the Poor-laws in this country has been most beneficial; that they have separated virtue from dissoluteness, and industry from idleness. I am sorry to say, that the experience we have had of the Poor-laws in England has rather shown the reverse to be the fact. I admit, that this has not been the necessary consequence of the Poor-laws themselves. I am inclined to believe, that a great deal of the evil has been caused by the faulty administration of those laws. As they are at present administered, the effect of them certainly is to take away the inducements to industry, and to place the industrious on the same footing as the idle. The hon. member for Wicklow who seconded the Motion said, that he would join the hon. and learned member for Dublin, and cry out for a Repeal of the Union, unless Poor-laws were introduced into Ireland. I shall only observe upon this, that if they join in their object, they certainly will not agree in their reasons; for the hon. and learned Member does not pretend to put the want of Poor-laws forward as one of 869 the grounds on which he has raised the question of the Repeal. The object that I have in addressing the House thus early, is to request that they will not rush hand over head into the adoption of this measure; that they will not declare Poor-laws expedient for Ireland, without first making due inquiry—without ascertaining what will be the effect of the Poor-laws there—what will be the means of preventing abuses in them, and, above all, whether there are not, at this moment, institutions possessed of funds to a considerable amount, which, by law, are applicable to the relief of the Poor. All these points ought to be inquired into before we adopt this Resolution of the hon. Member. It is desirable, too, that we should inquire into the state of the poorer classes in Ireland—how far the poorer classes of people are differently situated in the two countries—and to ascertain whether the effect of such difference is to the disadvantage of the poorer classes in Ireland; and if so, whether those disadvantages might be removed from any system of Poor-laws that we should think; proper to introduce into Ireland. Although I am not prepared to say, that Poor-laws ought not to be introduced into Ireland, I do feel considerable doubt and hesitation as to the question whether the introduction of such a measure would be beneficial or not. The effect of the system here appears to have been to lead the labouring classes to trust to the Poor-laws for their ultimate support, and not to exert sufficient industry or providence to maintain themselves. If I am right in the idea which I have formed of what the lower classes of the population of Ireland are, I do not think that they would be less likely to trust to the support to be afforded them by the Poor-laws than the population of England. On the contrary, I believe they would be more likely to do so, and that the effect of the introduction of the Poor-laws into Ireland would be to induce the poorer classes in that country to be even less provident than they are said to be at present. Indeed, I think that they would conceive a sort of imputation on their discernment and skill, if they did not contrive, by some means or other, to get frequent assistance from them. There are two or three modes by which we might proceed in making the inquiries I propose to institute. We might appoint a Committee of this House for the purpose of inquiry, but there are many and great objections to such a Committee. one effect of it would be, to bring evidence from Ire- 870 land at a considerable expence, and, after all, it might possibly be said, that that evidence had been brought, because it was in accordance with the particular opinions of the Gentlemen who had sent for it. The hon. Gentleman has expressed himself dissatisfied with the inquiry instituted in the year 1830, and other persons might, in like manner, be dissatisfied with an inquiry of the same kind now, and we should not attain the end which we all desire. I think, therefore, and the Government, taking all the circumstances into consideration, are of opinion, that the inquiry should take place in Ireland itself; and for that purpose I intend to move as an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member, that an Address be presented to the Crown, praying that a Commission may be appointed. In drawing up that Motion—having stated, as I have, my own doubts upon the subject, and my wish that the House should remain unpledged till full information is laid before them—I shall endeavour to word it in such a manner as not to give any opinion whatever as to the propriety or impropriety of introducing Poor-laws into Ireland. The Amendment I shall move is this—"That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he will be graciously pleased to direct a Commission to issue, to inquire into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland, and into the various institutions at present established by law in that country for their relief." I do not think it right to call upon them to report their opinion as to what is expedient to be done. All that I should require from them is, that they should lay the case fairly before this House—that they should state what is the condition of the population in Ireland, in order that the House might have the case brought fairly before it, and may be able to determine whether Poor-laws should be introduced into Ireland; and what alterations should be made in the English system to adapt it to Ireland. If the House should come to the conclusion that no Poor-laws should be introduced in Ireland at least, it would have the means of deciding that question with a degree of authority; and of showing, that it is not from a want of humanity—not from a want of sympathy with the Irish people—that we so decide it; but because, looking at their best interests, we have felt compelled so to act. This is the proposition which I have to make; I hope it will be sufficient to satisfy the hon. Member, and that he will not wish to press the House to adopt a posi- 871 tive Resolution, but will be content to wait until we can get this information which I propose to procure by the means of this Commission.
said, that he wished to be permitted to second the Amendment of the noble Lord. In making that offer, the house would perceive that he intended to convey his humble approbation of this mode of proceeding. He did come down to the House determined to trespass upon the patience of the House, perhaps, to exhaust it, by making observations at some length upon the proposition of the hon. Member. The proposition which had been made by the noble Lord had dispensed with a great deal of what he had intended to say, especially with that part of it which he meant to urge in favour of delay and of full inquiry before they plunged into what seemed to him the horrors of the Poor-laws. No man had a stronger personal interest in supporting Poor-laws than he had. By recommending them, he should obtain the affectionate confidence of a class of men whom he esteemed most highly—he should get a great deal of approbation from the Catholic Clergy of Ireland, who were strongly disposed to favour the introduction of the poor-laws, coming in contact, as they did, with the misery of the people, and being naturally anxious to find some tangible relief for that misery. If he could bring his mind to think that the Poor-laws would be advisable, and if he were to state that to be his opinion, there would soon be a cry for them in Ireland that would be irresistible. If he were disposed to agitate Ireland for purposes that would lead to the shaking of the foundations of society, and that would tend to revolution and to the insecurity of property, he did not know one subject more likely to influence the minds of men, particularly of the uneducated, than this subject of the Poor-laws. He could, by means of this subject, influence all those who were most reckless of life when in pursuit of objects that they thought would be beneficial to them, but he was thoroughly convinced that he could not do so without a sacrifice of principle, and he must seek his private advantage by a violation of what he esteemed a conscientious duty. So far as the hon. Member had spoken of the distress of the people of Ireland, the case he had brought forward was most fully made out. There was no doubt of the distress of the country, and instead of being diminished, it was increased—increased too by the strong arm of the law. He was 872 not going to discuss the Coercion Bill, but he must say, that the strong arm of the law encouraged bad landlords, of whom he did not pretend to speak with forbearance, to act with greater rigour than ever towards their tenants. There were more notices to quit served from the 25th of March and the 1st of May than there had been for twenty years past. There was not any demand upon the peasantry that was not now rigorously enforced, and the result was such, that he was sure the Government would require the same Act next year, in order to repress those heart-burnings that the misconduct of bad landlords, acting under the protection of the present Bill, had occasioned. It was said, that the Poor-laws would assist in putting an end to the disorders among the peasantry. He did not entertain that opinion. The Report of the Commissioners on the Poor-laws of this country did not show that to have been the case here, where the burnings of ricks had taken place, not in the spirit of what the Whitefoot called the wild justice of revenge, but in a spirit which the Irish peasantry had never manifested. The Whitefeet committed murder from a thirst of vengeance not from a spirit of plunder. When the hon. Member talked of this country being in a state of subordination in consequence of the Poor-laws, had he forgotten the frightful disturbances which prevailed within the last two years? England was far from being tranquil at the present moment: within the last week he had read in the newspapers an account of 400 head of cattle having been burnt alive by the act of some wretched incendiary. The hon. member for the county of Wicklow found fault with the Report which had been presented from the Poor-law Commissioners. He talked of the evidence being partial or garbled. This was a serious charge. Now who were these Commissioners?—the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Chester, Mr. Sturges Bourne, Mr. Senior, and Mr. Coulson. It had been stated that the Poor-laws had had the effect, in this country, of protecting property, and of preserving the public peace. What evidence had they of that? Was it in the incendiary burnings that had spread horror through the country a-year and a half ago? Did the Poor-law Commissioners authorize any such statement? No such thing; they showed that through the operation of the Poor-laws, in many parts of England, the moral feeling of the lower classes of society had been deeply injured. He would refer 873 to the Report of those Commissioners, if they talked of the beneficial operation of these laws. If ever there was a book of authority published on any subject, it was this Report. This afforded a sufficient number of cases, illustrative of the working of the system in England—a system, which, he hoped to God, would never be introduced into Ireland. No one had yet ventured to contradict a single case stated in this book, and there were Members who would be sufficiently ready with refutations, if they could adduce them. When he read the horrid detail of cases stated in this Report—when he found what had been the fruits of the Poor-laws in England; that they had gone far to sap the very foundations of society—that they had destroyed the best feelings of the human breast—that they had torn asunder all the ties of social life—that they had set fathers against their children, and children against their fathers—that they had implanted a principle of brutal selfishness in the breasts of those who came within their baneful influence—he turned with horror from the idea of introducing such a system into Ireland. This Report emanated from a body of men, incapable of deception, who could have no possible motive for deceiving parliament, and who, at the same time, had a thousand eyes upon them, ready to detect any error into which they might happen to fall. This book afforded undeniable evidence, that these laws destroyed all motives to industry that they created habits of improvidence—that they held out premiums to vice in a thousand ways—that they encouraged marriages based upon the most sordid, and shameful, and degrading motives—that they operated as a constant incentive to crime, by destroying everything like a sense of moral feeling. This volume closed with a description of the operation of the Bastardy Laws, which he would not then enter upon. It was sufficient to say, that the destruction of female virtue was generated by the system; and that prostitution was rewarded by the Poor-laws. When, therefore, he heard hon. Gentlemen contend that all these evils arose from the abuse of the Poor-laws, he would ask them to get rid of the abuse, and to show him that such evils were not the natural fruits of the system itself. He entreated them not to send over a system of laws to his country which would produce such effects as were described in this Report. It was said, however, "we do not wish to introduce the English system of Poor-laws into 874 Ireland;" but the hon. member for knaresborough, during the whole course of his speech, dwelt on the blessings which he alleged to have resorted from the English system of Poor-laws—he put them forward as the glory and boast of England—and said that the tranquillity of the country was mainly to be attributed to their operation. The hon. member had not pointed out—he could not point out—how those evils which the Poor-laws had produced in England, could be avoided under any other system. Then, again, it was said, that the introduction of the Poor-laws into Ireland would prevent the annual influx of Irish labourers into this country. It would have no such effect; but, on the contrary, when the Irish landlords found they had to support the family of the poor Irish peasant, they would find it their interest to send the man himself off to England; and as he would not have, as now, to save money for the support of his family, he would be able to work at even a less rate of wages than at present. But surely that was not to be a reason for agreeing to the Poor-laws for Ireland; and if their poor came here to make labour cheap, surely the evil was balanced by their rich coming here to make labour dear, and to expend in this country the money produced by the industry of the Irish labourer in his own country. It must be recollected, also, that the Irish supplied the manufacturing towns with cheap food. If there were a resident gentry in Ireland, the food would still be sent to England, for manufactures or money; but now, instead of the produce of the sale of the Irish corn and cattle being sent back to Ireland, it was spent here, by the Irish landlord. God had blessed Ireland with a most fruitful soil; but the inhabitants did not gain by it in consequence of the system of misgovernment to which they had been so long exposed. He would tell them, the British House of Commons, that they were responsible for this state of things; and not the people of Ireland. It was too much, then, to say, that the English labourer should be benefited at the expense of the Irish labourer. If the English had grievances, let them get rid of them; but not by removing the burthen from their own shoulders, to place it on those of men whom they had already so deeply injured. What was to become of the Union between the two countries, if those labourers whose hands had cultivated the wheat and corn, and reared the cattle, which were annually sent to this country for the rent of the 875 absentee landlord, were to be shouted back to their Irish parishes lest they should interfere with the English labourer. The hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this question, had alluded to the effect of the introduction of Poor-laws in the reign of Elizabeth, and said, that at that period pauperism—which had spread far and wide—was effectually stopped by them. Nothing could, in his opinion, be more fallacious than the argument of the hon. Gentleman. The 43rd of Elizabeth was the year 1601. About that period, England established no less than eight colonies in North America. This afforded a vent for a large body of her population; and about the same time, an impetus was given to commerce all over the world. At the end of fifty years, a civil war broke out in this country, which occasioned a great waste of the population—first in England, and subsequently in Ireland. The destruction of human life, during that war, was very considerable in England; but, according to Sir William Petty, the population of Ireland was reduced by it from 3,000,000 to a 1,500,000; and Englishmen and Scotchmen were sent to fill up the vacuum thus created. Therefore, the argument of the hon. Gentleman, as to the effect of the Poor-laws in England, during the seventeenth century, was not of much weight. Since that time, the country had greatly increased in commercial wealth; and various new manufactures had been discovered; and for a few years after the breaking out of the French war, the country was so rich that the Poor-laws might rather be considered a charitable fund than as a means of relief, to which the poor man was entitled to resort. But now only the evils of the system came upon the country when stag-goring under a load of debt; having to bear an enormous taxation; and when its manufactures were competed with by those of other nations. Now only the result of the Poor-laws appeared in the state of society which he had alluded to; and which, God forbid! should ever exist in Ireland. He trusted that the House would never consent to try the experiment of the Poor-laws in a country so situated as Ireland. He would ask any advocate of this proposition whether he thought that the adoption of the Poor-laws would make Ireland richer, or that she would gain an additional guinea by them? This question could not be answered in the affirmative. The Poor-laws could not be regarded as a prize in the lottery of legislation; and Ireland 876 would not become richer by their adoption. The truth was, that the Poor-laws would only create a different distribution of property. He was not desirous of putting an end to fever hospitals, or infirmaries, or institutions of that description; on the contrary, he trusted that means would be adopted greatly to enlarge the field of their utility. This, he hoped, would be one of the objects of inquiry involved in the proposition of the noble Lord. He was willing to join with any man in making those institutions more useful, but he would never consent to any measure which went to give relief in the shape of alms to the able-bodied labourer, as he was satisfied that the only result of this system of relief would be, to hold out a premium to idleness. But it might be said, "why not give relief to the labourer who is unable to obtain work? If there be no labour for him to perform, and he is unable to obtain food, he would soon become a proper object for the infirmary." In reply to this, he would observe, that no man would go into the infirmary as an excuse for idleness; but if money were given to the able-bodied man, a temptation would be held out to all other men to abandon their work. This was a very different order of things from that which would exist if relief were not given to those able to work. How very easy it was to be imposed upon by a man who was too lazy to work. It was quite certain if a man could not claim relief as a right, that he would work if he could get employment; and he would make every exertion to do so. If he could claim relief from the parish, and obtain the means of subsistence without labour, it was equally certain that he would avail himself of them. The love of ease was a principle of human nature; no man would labour for his food if he could obtain it without. But it was said, that the abuses complained of had originated in the maladministration of the Poor-laws; and that if proper persons were got to administer them, all the ills that at present resulted from them would cease. It appeared, then, that all that the present system of English Poor-laws required was, proper persons to carry them into effect. It was, however, not merely necessary that a man selected for such office should be extremely intelligent and industrious, but he must also be removed above the influence of human passions—he must be indifferent to the affectation of appearing humane—he must be a man who would take the trouble, in every case, to get at the truth, and be per- 877 fectly indifferent to the applause or censure of the rest of the world. If they could get such men to conduct the administration of Poor-laws, then, indeed, they might avoid abuses; but if such men could be procured, Ministers should resign their own offices at once, and leave the administration of public affairs to them. But was the charge just, that the Poor-laws were badly administered in England? He contended when he considered those who administered the Poor-laws—that the fault did not he with their administration, but in their system; in that system, so contrary to all sound principle, which gave one man a right over the property of another. The present administrators of the Poor-laws were the Magistrates and the country gentlemen of England. They were men spoken of in the highest terms by all; and, taking them as a class, no body of men, undoubtedly, could exceed them in humanity; while, at the same time, they were remarkable for their attention and care in the administration of the law. Such, then, was the class of persons who had the administration of the Poor-laws, and yet it was said, that the evils were not in the system. In reply, he would ask, before it was resolved to introduce such laws into Ireland, either to find out a better set of administrators than they had in England, or to devise a system of Poor-laws which was not liable to the objections which were urged against that of this country. Was it true, that the English gentry had neglected their duty, and had been so indifferent to their own interests as to allow a state of things such as existed at present to grow up? A state of things under which the agricultural population had become demoralized, and under which, in many parts, the land had been thrown out of cultivation, as it would not bear the charge of the Poor-laws? He must deny that the fault rested with the gentry—it was in the system itself; in that system which involved the solecism of political economy, the giving one man a right in the property of another. He knew he should be told, when he saw the effect of these laws in England, that the non-introduction of them into Ireland was an act of inhumanity! This he would deny; and he was satisfied that no laws could be devised better calculated to destroy the feelings of humanity in the breasts of the population, than this system of Poor-laws. These feelings, he was happy to say, yet existed ill Ireland. God had planted them deep in 878 the hearts of that people; and the voice of revealed religion, at least told him that it was a duty to perform acts of charity—that if he expected reward hereafter, he must wipe away the tear from the eye of the widow and the orphan—and that he must relieve those who were in affliction and distress. Thank God! the feeling was general in Ireland, to afford relief to those who were in distress. They had had constant religious feuds; but, in times of want and distress, the differences of the Orangemen and the Catholic were forgotten, and they joined to afford equal and ready relief to their fellow-countrymen, without any reference to their religious differences. He was not guilty of any exaggeration as to the degree in which that feeling prevailed. He knew that it existed in Ireland and Scotland; and was checked in England, only by the feeling, that if charity was distributed in a parish, it operated as an inducement to other paupers to resort there; and that thus a man, by distributing alms to the necessitous, might do an injury to his neighbours by increasing the Poor-rates. Reference had been made in the course of the present discussion to the state of the poor in Scotland, and the authority of Fletcher of Saltoun, was quoted in support of the position, that the condition of the people of Scotland afforded good proof that Ireland should be subjected to the influence of a Poor-law. Now, both from Fletcher of Saltoun, and from the evidence of Dr. Chalmers, it was plain, beyond the possibility of dispute, that the peace which ensued in Scotland at the time to which they referred, was owing, not to the establishment of a provision for the poor, but to the removal of all causes of religious discord. There was at that time an end to the persecutions of the Episcopalians—it was not a Poor-law, but liberty of conscience, which gave quiet to Scotland. He would then mention that Dr. Chalmers and others, had shown that the feeling of attachment between parents and children was very strong both in Ireland and Scotland, but the evidence collected by the Poor-law Commissioners proved, that among the poor of England that feeling was almost unknown. Dr. Doyle said, that the want of affection on the part of children in Ireland was amazingly rare. The Commissioners proved, that in England its existence was a greater rarity. The hon. and learned Gentleman read an extract from the Report of the Commissioners to prove his assertion. There was one other subject connected with 879 the Poor-laws to which he had not yet adverted, but respecting which it was impossible to be silent; he alluded to the demoralizing influence of the laws affecting bastardy, which arose out of the provision for the poor, as it existed in England. It was, as the House well knew, in some parts of the country, an extremely good speculation for a man to marry a woman who had had two bastards. Good God! could he be then speaking of Englishmen? He did not for a moment mean to insinuate that Englishmen did not naturally entertain as just a sense of personal propriety and domestic honour as other men; but, merciful Heaven! how they must have been degraded and demoralized by the Poor-laws, before they could have sunk to such a depth below the moral dignity of other nations, as thus to speculate for subsistence upon a double prostitution, and live upon the produce of their wife's dishonour! They might impose what restrictions they thought proper on the unfortunate Irish—they might, in the exercise of the power intrusted to them, abuse their authority, and make Ireland the subject of the severest and most tyrannical regulations which the perverted ingenuity of man could devise; but, do what they might, let them, above all things, not destroy the sense of personal independence which still remained in that country. The hon. and learned Member concluded by seconding Lord Althorp's Amendment.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
observed, that if what the hon. and learned member for Dublin said, was founded in fact, and sound in reasoning, it would amount to this—that though he (the member for Dublin) had all his life been protesting against the tyrannical government of Ireland—though he had ever been disclaiming against the cruel and arbitrary laws imposed upon the Irish people, and the desolation which those laws spread over the land, and the degraded condition to which the people were in consequence reduced—yet now he came forward to picture to them the moral beauty, the propriety, and the rectitude, which, if they were to take his representation for the fact, showed that Poor-laws were not only not wanted in Ireland, but would be positively mischievous. The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was as much directed against the Amendment of the noble Lord as the proposition of the hon. Member, for, according to the hon. and learned Member, inquiries even were not necessary. The abject of the Government 880 was manifest. It wanted to get rid of a troublesome and difficult subject, and throw it on the shoulders of Commissioners. They had no plan of their own—they were, perhaps, incapable of forming a plan, and they thought that they might slumber on in their places doing nothing, if they delegated part of their power to a few well paid Commissioners. The hon. and learned Gentleman, by his arguments, lent himself to the doctrines of the political economists, who treated man as if he was a machine, or an article of merchandise, and who would apply to human beings the rules of supply and demand, and contend that these intelligent beings could be subjected, as if they were bales of cloth or barrels of sugar. He regretted that the hon. and learned member for Dublin, possessing, as he did, so much influence in Ireland, should lend himself to opinions so adverse to the commonest feelings of humanity, and so opposed to every right that man could claim of society. It was not then, he hoped, a matter to be discussed, but to be taken for granted, that the people of every country were entitled to subsistence—that the rich were but the trustees of the poor—that the fee-simple of the land was in the children of Heaven, the great body of the people. In Ireland at various times, the people, in consequence of some periodical famine, or its uniform follower, pestilence, were seen upon the roads or in the ditches by thousands; and was it to be endured that appeals on behalf of human beings so circumstanced should be met by the dry calculations of political economy? The history of past centuries had shown them that there could be no security for property until something like a provision for the poor had been established; and were they to be told that the first objects of humanity, and the most obvious dictates of prudence, were to be set at nought for the sake of fine theories? The English system of Poor-laws had been grievously decried; but he would put this question—had not all the evils which they produced arisen within the last thirty years? The legislation of recent years, and not the Act of Elizabeth, had been the fertile source of the disorders which were the cause of what he admitted to be well-founded complaints. He asserted that the 8,000,000l. paid under the name of a Poor-rate was not a Poor-rate in reality; it was wages belonging to the labourer, which, by various contrivances, had been carried to the Poor-rate, in order to relieve those who ought to pay, and throw 881 the burthen on those who ought not. If the poor man was to receive no succour from the law, let him then not he oppressed by the law. Make the necessaries of life cheap to him, and do not tax the bread which he eats. The poor would be quite willing to give up the 8,000,000l, they received in the shape of Poor-rate, if the landlords would only forego the 15,000,000l. they took from the poor by raising the price of their bread. He did not think, that the powers given to the Commission proposed by the noble Lord were comprehensive enough, but he trusted it would be an honest one. He thought they ought to be directed to inquire into the state of distress existing among the labourers, and to explore its cause. Was it to be wondered at that so much crime existed in Ireland when no steps were taken to relieve it? If they deplored the amount of crime in that unhappy country, why, he asked, did they make it? He contended that a poor man could only preserve his existence in Ireland by becoming a criminal. That was the only moans left him of asserting the integrity of his nature, and his right to a subsistence. In his opinion no very great difficulties existed to the introduction of a Poor-law into Ireland. The ground was clear; there was nothing to do away—no deep-rooted prejudices to remove; and he thought that, instead of waiting until they regenerated their own Poor-laws, they should at once apply an improved plan to Ireland, and adapt whatever advantages might be discovered in its operation to the English system.
§ Mr. Slaney
thought, that the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had adopted the only practical course, under all the circumstances of the ease, and he felt confident that the Commission to be appointed would be an honest and a comprehensive one. He was opposed to the application of the English Poor-law system to Ireland; and he thought that there was a marked distinction between the title which the able-bodied man, impoverished by his own imprudence, had to relief, and the right possessed by the aged and afflicted. He did not object to the immigration of the Irish poor into this country, but as the effect of that was to depress the English labourer, he thought that a fair ground existed for entering into a calm inquiry how far provision might be made for the poor of Ireland. He should support the appointment of the Commission, because, if the establishment of a modified system of Poor-laws 882 were not recommended by it, some useful measures for ameliorating the condition of the people would be suggested.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
said, the present Motion, which was one out of twelve which stood on the books referring to the distress of the people, had been brought forward with the view to relieve the people of Ireland; and how had it been met? The noble Lord had proposed as an Amendment the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the subject. The Amendment not only affected the present Motion, but also the Motions of which notices had been given by his hon. relative, the member for Wicklow, and by another hon. Gentleman. Thus, then, after all the investigation which the state of the peasantry of Ireland had undergone, it was to be made a subject of renewed investigation by a Commission. But was not Government bound to apply a remedy to the crying evil at once, as well for the sake of the people of England, as for the suffering population of Ireland? He was convinced of the fact,—that most of the objections which had been started to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman arose from ignorance. What had been the main objection of his hon. and learned friend the member for Dublin? He had taken the extracts from the Reports of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state and administration of the Poor-laws in England; and said, "that the reading of it had satisfied his mind as to the impolicy of introducing Poor-laws into Ireland." By this observation he had proved, that he had altogether mistaken the meaning and object of that book, which was to point out the evils that had arisen from the departures that had taken place from the principle of the Poor-laws. But he would remind his hon. and learned friend, that not one of those who advocated the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland desired that the English Poor-laws should be adopted. The hon. member for Colchester, had truly said, that they did not wish to carry this system of laws into Ireland, but to have such a system established there as would enable the poor and destitute to obtain relief. The industrious and peaceable peasant had a right to demand support, rather than be suffered to starve. His hon. and learned friend, in the course of his impassioned speech, raked up the evils which had been superinduced on the good principle by the bad system followed in the south of England, and exclaimed—"Good God! will you introduce such a state of things into 883 Ireland?" He would refer his hon. and learned friend to the able and unanswerable letters of Dr. Doyle. That reverend gentleman was anxious for the adoption of a system of Poor-laws in Ireland; and he pointed out the nature of the system which should be adopted, and by which all those frightful evils that had been caused by the mal-administration and perversion of them in this country might be avoided. But what was the result of the want of a system of Poor-laws in Ireland? In the first place, the people of England were injured by the constant immigration of the Irish; the rate of wages was reduced, the English labourers were thrown out of employment, and became chargeable to their parishes. Secondly, the peasantry of Ireland were deeply interested in the subject. Thirdly, under the present state of things, many of the great landed proprietors of Ireland never contributed one shilling towards the relief of the poor on their estates. He would answer, therefore, the hon. and learned Gentleman, that not only on the ground of humanity, but on every principle of common justice, some measure of this sort ought instantly to be adopted. The supporters of this proposition did not re-quire a system of Poor-laws similar to that now acted upon in this country, but a measure—to use the emphatic words of the Act of Elizabeth—for "the necessary relief of the poor, impotent, old, blind, and such other being poor and not able to work." All the abuses that at present existed, as regarded the Poor-laws, had been grafted on the Act of Elizabeth; and the Government and the Legislature, by sanctioning amendments in the Poor-laws, which amendments had been directly contrary to the spirit of that Act, had incurred an enormous load of responsibility. He considered it to be a moral duty in the House to compel the landed interest of Ireland to contribute to the support of the poor. They were told that all sorts of evils would arise from the introduction of a system of Poor-laws into Ireland. But the fact was, that, at the present moment, there was a Poor-rate in Ireland, but it was paid by those who ought not to pay it. It was paid by the poor themselves, and not by the rich. The rich man built a wall round his domain, and excluded the pauper population; but the poor, among whom they dwelt, could not escape; the poor man's house was open for every supplicant for charity to enter. Surely that House could not be aware of the 884 conduct of those who possessed the largest incomes in Ireland to the pauper population on their estates. Nearly all the large landed proprietors were absentees, and seldom contributed one shilling towards the relief of that distress which their own heartless conduct occasioned. He knew an instance of a person, possessing property to the amount of 80,000l. a-year, who, on being pressed to give something to relieve the starving population on his property, gave the paltry sum of 80l. On another estate of great value, the proprietor of which refused to give anything, he had himself seen children perfectly naked in their parents' cabins who were preserved, with the utmost difficulty, from absolute starvation. These unhappy persons might rather be said, to repeat the phrase they had heard that night, "to breathe rather than to live." He concurred in the opinion of the hon. member for Colchester, and contended, that every man had a natural right to support. So long as the land produced anything, no one should be allowed to starve. He would refer to the evidence on the Table of the House on the state of Ireland, to demonstrate the absolute necessity of doing something for the permanent relief of the population. All the witnesses examined before the Committee of last year had given it as their opinion, that the existence of peace in Ireland depended on relief being given to the poor; and they were consequently advocates for the introduction of a system of Poor-laws, With such evidence, was the House to be told, that any interference with this subject was pregnant with mischief? Were not hon. Gentlemen aware that the good order of the State depended on the well-being of the people; and that with a starving population it was impossible to have peace? Every day's experience tended more and more to convince him, that the peace of Ireland, and the integrity of the empire depended upon the adoption of a system of Poor-laws for Ireland. He had taken the trouble to look over the Reports of the Commissioners on the Crown Lands in Ireland, with a view to learn the state of the population on that property, and he would merely refer to the counties of Longford and Monaghan. In the former county, the farmers and peasantry on those lands who could not give money, gave provisions and lodging to no less than 500 destitute persons. In the county of Monaghan number of poor were supported. He had no hesitation 885 in saying, that, on the Crown Lands in the counties of Monaghan and Longford alone, the farmers and peasantry provided food and lodging for upwards of 2,000 of the poor and destitute inhabitants of the country; while the gentry and owners of the soil did not contribute one shilling for that purpose. Thus it was, that the Poor-rate was paid by the poor instead of the rich. And, therefore, he would repeat, that it was the duty of the Legislature to take care that the subsistence of the poor be paid for by those who ought to pay it. Reference had been made to the period when Poor-laws were introduced into England. It must be recollected, that they were adopted in this country in consequence of the poor having, in many districts, been deprived of that aid and assistance which they previously derived from the numerous religious institutions. Previous to the Reformation, there were various hospitals and monasteries, in all parts of the country, where the poor obtained food, and where beds were provided for travellers. With the Catholic Church, all these charitable institutions were abolished; and it became necessary to find some substitute for them. The poor and destitute were formerly supported out of the property of the Church; and the Church should be made now to contribute, as it formerly did, to the support of the poor. He trusted, that the hon. member for Middlesex would take up this point, and press it upon the attention of Parliament, as he could do so with much greater ability and power than he (Mr. Grattan) could pretend to. He trusted, that he would, in the course of the discussions on the affairs of the Irish Church, induce the House to make some provision out of the property of that Church for the pauper population. The Legislature was now about to make a new settlement of Church property; and if they neglected to make the clergy do what their predecessors did, to that extent they would be guilty of a dereliction of duty. Hon. Gentlemen might express doubts as to whether the poor were maintained out of the property of the Church; but he could adduce irrefragable evidence on that point. It would be seen, by reference to a book recently published, entitled The Irish Gentleman in Search of a Religion, the writer of which turned out, to the surprise of every one, to be the author of Little's Poems, that the principal fathers of the Church—for instance. Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome—maintained, that the Church was bound to 886 contribute to the support of the poor. He had himself known, that live Coroners' Inquests had sat, within a short period, on the bodies of persons who had died from starvation; and when be was Member for Dublin, the number of persons who were to be seen in that city in a state of starvation and nakedness almost exceeded belief. He had been a member of the Mansion House Committee appointed to distribute the funds raised for the relief of the poor of Ireland, and he could assure the House, that facts of such a deplorable nature were disclosed before that Committee, that they had not the courage to publish an account of the inhumanity of their own countrymen. If England and Ireland should ever be separated—which he trusted in God they never would be—the separation would be caused by the Government of England persisting in its error, and in its excluding the people of Ireland from those good and equal laws under which it was the good fortune of the people of this country to live.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
said, that the powerful speech of the hon. member for Dublin had gone far to persuade the House that the object of the present Motion was to impose upon Ireland, not only the English system of Poor-laws, but also the almost incredible abuses which of late years had been grafted upon that system. He appealed to those hon. Members, who had heard the speech of the hon. member for Knaresborough, whether that, or anything like that, was the case? He contended that it was matter of right that the poor, who could not provide subsistence for themselves, should have subsistence provided for them by the State; and, such being his opinion, he was prepared to go further, and say, that it was incumbent upon the House to make a legislative provision for the poor in Ireland. The noble Lord had met the proposition of the hon. member for Knaresborough with a proposition for inquiry, which, to be effectual, he thought should be wider than the noble Lord at present seemed prepared to make it. He was decidedly of opinion, that if this Motion had been taken into consideration at an earlier period, it would have done more to quiet the minds of the people of Ireland, and to remove the disturbances which prevailed among them, than any resolution to which the House could now come. If the English Poor-laws were so objectionable as some Gentlemen represented them to be, why should they not apply to Ireland the 887 Scotch Poor-laws, which gave relief to the old and infirm, but refused it to the able-bodied labourer?
§ Mr. Hume
was sorry to see so great a difference of opinion upon this subject in the House, and was surprised to find that hon. Members were inclined to consider the facts contained in the Poor-law Report as unworthy of attention and credence. He was himself friendly to the poor, but he should be guilty of a dereliction of his duty, if, believing, as he did, in the existence of the evils arising out of the Poor-laws in England, he should consent to the introduction of the same laws into another country which was sufficiently afflicted with evils of almost every sort at present. He concurred with the hon. member for Colchester in saying that, from the day the Corn-laws were passed, the deterioration of the peasantry of England commenced; but he could not concur with his hon. friend in asserting, that every man who wanted food ought to be allowed to help himself to it from his neighbour's food or his neighbour's house. It was the disposition of all classes, high as well as low, to indulge themselves at the expense of others. Now, nothing conduced more to the happiness of a state than to make the people trust to themselves, and depend upon there own industry. The principle which had just been laid down by his hon. friend, the member for Kirkcudbright, was decidedly opposed to this maxim, and, if followed up, would lead to the destruction of every species of property. He believed that if the Poor-laws of England were not speedily amended, they would demoralize the whole country. The present was a question with which it was the duty of Government to grapple; but he hoped that they would not grapple with it until they were in possession of full information, or at least of fuller information than any which they had at present. He suggested to the noble Lord the propriety of sending a Commission to Scotland, in order to collect the same information in the parishes of that country which had been recently collected in the parishes of England. The report presented by the General Assembly of Scotland proved, that in proportion as the English Poor-laws had been introduced into the south-western parts of that country, they had aggravated the distresses and increased the numbers of the poor. He was happy to say, that in the north of Scotland, and particularly in the county in which he was born, the principle of giving food to able-bodied labourers had never been ad- 888 opted, and thus none of the evils were known there which now afflicted the south-western parts of Scotland, and reduced them to the same degradation in which many parts of England were unfortunately involved. If the Government appointed such a Commission as he had suggested, he was certain that they would collect a mass of facts which would make the House pause before it ventured to apply to Ireland the Poor-laws of England. He supported the Amendment of the noble Lord, because it would collect information; and the collection of information would, he was quite sure, convince the House of the impolicy of assenting to the original Motion.
§ Colonel Conolly
said, that the proposition of the hon. member for Knaresborough was so vague and indefinite, that he did not see how any rational man could support it. He gave the hon. Member full credit for the best possible intentions to remedy the evils under which Ireland laboured; but as, in legislating on a great and important question, it was necessary to have some fundamental proposition upon which to act—and, as the proposition submitted by the hon. Member was devoid of all distinctness—however benevolent he might think the hon. Member's intentions (and nothing was further from his wish than to detract from his motives), he must vote against the Resolution. He would beg to ask, what benefit had the system of Poor-laws conferred upon England? Were they, he would ask, attended with such advantage to this great country, as to warrant the House in extending the system to Ireland, where a total want of the necessary machinery by which to work them existed? A great deal of the misery of Ireland arose from the want of a resident gentry; and how could any system of Poor-laws be worked beneficially, or with any prospect of success, without a resident gentry? Could the House, he would ask, expect to see the system conducted in Ireland with the same beneficial results as in Scotland, where, not only the spirit, but the letter of the law of Elizabeth was maintained? If he thought the Poor-laws could be introduced into Ireland with anything like similar results, he should be ready to adopt them. But, as it appeared to him that there was no evil already existing in Ireland that they were not calculated to increase—that there was no one moral good they were calculated to achieve—that, as they could not be conducive to the welfare of Ireland, but, on the contrary, as, in his opinion, they would 889 tend to aggravate the state of demoralization in which that country was at present plunged, he was bound to oppose the Resolution of the hon. Member, and support the Amendment of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The object of the noble Lord was simply to inquire into the state of the poor. To that he could not object; but carrying such a Resolution as that proposed by the hon. Member would, in his opinion, be a direct invasion of property, which he was bound to resist to the utmost of his power. It was necessary to disabuse the public mind of an impression which appeared to be entertained—namely, that the effect of extending a system of Poor-laws to Ireland would be to relieve England from the influx of Irish labourers, of which such complaints had been made. Hon. Members never laboured under a greater delusion than to suppose that it was the inert portion of the population, which travelled to England in search of employment. No such thing—it was the most industrious and laborious class of persons on the face of the earth that periodically arrived in England. And so far from a system of Poor-laws in Ireland checking what had been termed an invasion of this country by the Irish peasantry, they would rather have a contrary effect. In agreeing, on the present occasion, with the hon. member for Dublin—and as it was a circumstance of very rare occurrence—he could not help paying his tribute of praise to the eloquence he displayed, and of thanking him for the assistance he afforded in rescuing Ireland, from what he could not but consider one of the greatest afflictions by which it could be visited. Having expressed himself so strongly against the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, he felt it necessary, on his own behalf, to say, that he was most friendly to a power being given to parishes to assess themselves for the maintenance of the poor—he would not go the length of saying the destitute—for he feared that would embrace many who were able to work; but he would say, the physically destitute; and he would add, on the part of the body of the gentry of the county which he had the honour to represent, that they were most anxious to assess themselves for the relief of those whom nature had deprived of the means of helping themselves. Such a system would not engender pauperism. The Poor-laws, relieving able-bodied men, did engender pauperism—and for that reason he opposed the introduction of them into Ireland.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, as there appeared an almost unanimous disposition to agree to the Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would merely observe that he found himself placed in the peculiar situation of agreeing in the sentiments uttered by the hon. and learned member for Dublin; while, at the same time, he assented to the proposition of the noble Lord; he was satisfied that the more the matter was inquired into, the more would the House and the country be convinced of the entire inexpediency, if not the utter impossibility, of introducing Poor-laws into Ireland. The great fallacy which pervaded the arguments of the hon. member for Knaresborough (Mr. Richards), and those who supported him, was, that they assumed the introduction of Poor-laws would necessarily relieve Ireland from the poverty which it was admitted on all hands existed. Now, his (Mr. Shaw's) opinion was, that they would considerably aggravate that poverty, and only increase the evils that already afflicted that country. The only argument in favour of the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, which appeared to be of any force, was that of assimilating the laws on the subject in England and Ireland. Now, he (Mr. Shaw) had no objection to extending such laws as were good to Ireland; and, if assimilation was the object, let those laws which were found to be injurious in their effects in England be abolished. He believed it was of the essence of the Poor-laws to engender poverty and crime, and that they had already that effect in England—besides having, in many instances, driven the owners and cultivators of the soil to abandon their properties to the devouring appetite of pauperism. He, therefore, for one, would never consent to extend such a system to Ireland—calculated as it was, also, to wither the sources of true benevolence, and dry up the streams of real charity. If Poor-laws were established in Ireland, he was persuaded that the whole labouring population would be reduced to a state of legalized pauperism, and that scarcely a single individual could earn his bread independently. He had, however, no objection to inquiry; and as he considered that the tendency of the noble Lord's Amendment would not be to introduce such a system, but the contrary, it should have his support.
§ Lord Acheson
could not overlook the fact, that England had, under her system of Poor-laws, enjoyed a long career of prosperity still, as the question was, whether 891 such laws should now be introduced into Ireland, he could not but have some doubts on the subject. He should wish, however, to see a modified system of Poor-laws introduced into Ireland. The parishes ought to be allowed to tax themselves, and then it would be seen how the system worked. Certainly, he wished that more information should be obtained on the subject, and therefore he supported the noble Lord; but he trusted the inquiry would end in recommending a modified system.
§ Lord Sandon
only desired to say a few words from the peculiar situation of the town which he represented. That town was greatly interested in the question; and a public meeting had lately been held there on the subject. The question, it must be admitted, was doubtful, for they had the hon. and learned member for Dublin on one side, and the learned Dr. Doyle on the other. The House must not take up the opinions of the Poor-laws Commissioners, without reflection. Their inquiries were all partial. He would as soon form his opinion of the animal economy from a description of disease, as form an opinion of the Poor-laws of England from the Report of the Commissioners. They were ordered to select and inquire into the most remarkable cases, not into the general system. He admitted that the Report gave a correct view of the abuses which prevailed in the southern counties of England; but those abuses were not the general characteristics of the system. He denied that they dried up the sources of charity; for there was no Country more charitable than England. But charity itself led to many abuses, and that was no argument against charity. They were not to argue from the abuses of a system to its uses. He certainly was ready to support inquiry; but he wished it to be conducted without prejudice. It was impossible, he believed, to maintain two different systems in the two countries. In order to get correct information, he would suggest, that some of the gentlemen who had been employed to inquire into the operation of the Poor-laws in England, should be employed to inquire into the state of the poor of Ireland.
§ Mr. Clay
denied that this was a mere Irish question, as had been asserted—it was essentially an English question. If the produce of Ireland was allowed to enter into competition with the agricultural industry of this country, without any protection to the latter—but that, on the con- 892 trary, England was to have to support the paupers of Ireland, as well as her own—nothing but ruin would follow. He regretted to see any opposition in the House to Poor-laws in Ireland, however modified.
§ Mr. Barron
was an advocate for the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, at the same time he would, for the present, prefer that an inquiry, such as the noble Lord's Amendment proposed, should precede any legislation on the subject, for he was sure that the more inquiry was made, the more the House and the country would be convinced of the necessity of the application of some system of Poor-laws to that country. He did not mean that system of Poor-laws which the hon. and learned member for Dublin seemed to apprehend, but a system which, adopting the principle of giving relief to the destitute, would avoid the evils of the present Poor-laws of England. He contended, that if Poor-laws were established in Ireland, the poor would not emigrate to this country, as some hon. Members seemed to apprehend; nor did he think that it would have the effect of destroying the rent of land. On the contrary, it would be a security to the landlords of Ireland. Would the House, he would ask, allow the peasantry to take forcible possession of the property, for that must be the consequence of having no provision made for them? If the House denied to the landlords the protection which a modified system of Poor-laws would afford them, it must lead to their inevitable ruin. He did hope, that in any system of Poor-laws which might be applied to Ireland, the Church would not be forgotten,—that they would remember that monstrous robbery and plunder of the poor which had been committed on the poor, in applying the property of monasteries, from which the poor had derived so much benefit in former times.
§ Mr. Estcourt
would be glad of the introduction of any measure which would tend to mitigate the evils of the poor in Ireland, and which would also remove some of the evils which their poverty had entailed on this country, which were severely felt in the county in which he resided. On these grounds he was disposed to give his support to the Motion of the hon. member for Knaresborough; but when he found so many members for Ireland opposed to that Motion, which they seemed to suppose would pledge the House to the introduction of the Poor-laws of England into Ireland, he hesitated to accede 893 to it; though he owned he did not see why many of the evils of the present system might not he avoided in the application of the principle to Ireland. He was, therefore, disposed to concur in the Amendment of the noble Lord, if it went far enough; but it appeared to him as if the object of the noble Lord was to give the "go-by" to the question. If the noble Lord would consent to add these words to his Amendment, he would support it—'and to inquire and report whether it is expedient to make any, and what further provision, by raising sums of money, by law, to provide for the lame, the blind, and the impotent, and those who are not able to work.' In this he used the words of the Statute of Elizabeth.
§ Lord Althorp
had before stated, that he did not think it desirable to give to the commissioners the right to recommend any particular course, or to do anything more than to collect information by which Parliament might be enabled to judge for themselves. He could assure his hon. friend that it was not his intention, by his Amendment, to give the "go-by" to the question.
§ Mr. Richards
, in reply, contended, that his former arguments had not been refuted. One of the most strenuous of the opponents of his Motion was the hon. and learned member for Dublin. Now, he held a paper in his hand containing a report of the proceedings of a meeting held in Dublin a few years ago on this very subject of the application of a system of Poor-laws to Ireland. At that meeting, Lord Cloncurry presided; and the meeting was addressed, amongst others, by a Mr. O'Connell (he did not know whether it was the same hon. and learned Gentleman who was now opposed to his Motion). That Mr. O'Connell declared that he was in favour of a system of Poor-laws for Ireland. He said, that the poor must be supported, either by voluntary contributions, or by the Government, and that it was the first duty of a well-regulated government to provide for the poor. That hon. Gentleman went on to say, that he would have a well-regulated system of Poor-laws for Ireland; and he thought that such a system was necessary, particularly in the then circumstances of Ireland. In the conclusion of that speech, the Mr. O'Connell whom he quoted, apologised for having detained the meeting so long, but as a convert to the opinion which he then entertained, he came to the question 894 with all the fervour of a renegado. He did not know (supposing that it was the same Mr. O'Connell who had made that speech, and who had to-night opposed it)—he did not know which opinion he (Mr. Richards) should prefer—whether he should have the opinion of the renegado of that day from a former opinion, or the renegado of the present from that opinion. He supposed he must let the one neutralize the other, and come to the conclusion that both were worth nothing. His object was not to injure either Ireland or England, but to raise the peasantry of the former country to the level and condition of those of England. As to the Amendment, he had so much respect for the character of the noble Lord who proposed it, and so much confidence, that it was really meant to lead to a measure of relief for the poor in Ireland, that he would not press his Motion to a division, but he hoped that, in the appointment of the commission, the noble Lord would not select any political economists—those whom the hon. member for Middlesex seemed so much in love with—but that he would select men who would collect facts without any prejudice for one side or the other, and submit them without any comment.
§ Sir Robert Peel
hoped that they would not proceed to legislate on this subject without the most ample information before them, which was within their reach. He would suggest to the noble Lord, that much valuable knowledge might be obtained through the foreign ministers resident in this country. They would be able to give, or procure, information respecting the laws in their countries applicable to the relief of the poor. It would be important to know what were the laws applicable to the relief of the poor in large cities, or in rural districts, and what provisions existed for the relief of sudden and extensive distress amongst that class. Foreign courts would, he was sure, be ready to afford every information on those subjects.
§ Original Motion negatived, and the Amendment of Lord Althorp as follows, was agreed to. Resolved,—'That an Humble Address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that a Commission do issue, to inquire into the condition of the poorer classes of his Majesty's subjects in Ireland, and into the various institutions at present established by law for their relief.'