§ Sir Richard Musgrave
rose to move the second reading of the Irish Poor-laws' Bill. He was aware of the great difficulty which there was in pressing on a Bill which had not the sanction and support of the Government; and how much more forcible he felt that difficulty when the Administration were adverse or indifferent to it, he thought he need not say. But, considering the condition of the poor of Ireland, he deemed it his duty to have the opinion of the British Legislature on it recorded, and he should, therefore, press the Motion for a second reading of the Bill. There was nothing to deter him from so doing in any argument which he had as yet heard used, and there was nothing which should impede English Members from voting for his measure. Unless any hon. Member should rise in his place, and state that the Reports which, from time to time, had been laid on the Table of the House respecting the manifold and great distress of Ireland, were no proof of its existence—unless it was denied that crowds of starving Irish paupers were annually driven by the direst distress from their own country, and discharged upon this—unless it were contradicted that the poor-rate of England was infinitely increased by the maintenance which was afforded them, or the expenses of their transition back to their own country—or by the support of reduced labourers of this country, unable to compete with the desperate poverty of the Irish labourer—unless all this were done, there was no argument in anything which had been said on the subject against the necessity of a system of Poor-laws for Ireland. As, however, none of these things were denied, none of them contradicted, he felt he was fully justified in the course he had adopted, and in which he was determined to persevere, of bringing the matter before the British Legislature. Every one who lived in Ireland, knew what crowds of wretched paupers were supported by voluntary contributions in that country; and every one who had made any inquiries into the actual condition of the poor was, he was satisfied, aware that nearly as many more pined and 309 perished in the shameful obscurity, which even their wretchedness could not compel them to breakthrough. In the country, the destitution was very great; but it had some alleviation in the hospitality of those only a degree removed from paupers themselves. In the cities and towns it was appalling. Crowded together in the smallest space possible for human beings to live in, amidst filth, and hunger, and disease, they continued to drag on a miserable existence, until some friendly pest, cholera or typhus, or other malignant disorder, swept them off by hundreds. Then the fear of a further extension of the contagion stimulated inquiry; and a faint effort was generally made to relieve the survivors. He had been a member of the Cholera Committee in a city contiguous to his residence in Ireland, and he could safely say, that the greatness of the misery he saw everywhere about him, during an investigation into the proximate causes and prevention of that dreadful disease, was awful. The first duty of the Committee was to provide straw for the wretched beings who dwelt in the hovels; not alone for those who were dead, but for the living also, to lie on. In some of these pestilential dens, there were not more than two or three rooms; and yet every one of these rooms was peopled with as many families, all huddled together on the ground, without bedding and without covering. Famishing and destitute of every necessary of life, the poor Irish pauper, notwithstanding, saw the corn and cattle, produced in such abundance by his country, shipped off for other shores. To aggravate the misery, it appeared that numbers of the peasantry had been ejected from their miserable tenement: by their landlords, and cast on the wide world, either to plunder or perish. Humanity should be no longer outraged; some provision should be made by the Legislature, for such a fearful and revolting occurrence. The hon. Member then read an extract from the Report of the Committee of 1823, on Irish Poor-laws, in corroboration of his view, and since that period the condition of the people of that country had undergone no change, except for the worse. It stated that it was impossible for words to convey any idea of the distress which existed in Ireland—that the pauper population of the country, dispossessed of their holdings, were compelled by sheer want to take refuge in towns; that this increased the mass of misery, already too great in these places—and that every 310 description of vice was the consequence of their desperate poverty and hopeless destitution. It also stated, that a vast number of them perished annually from mere want of the necessaries of life. It was naturally to be expected that persons in that desperate state of wretchedness should catch at anything which would either temporarily relieve them or offer a chance to that effect, and accordingly, in any popular commotion, or other outbreak of a similar nature, they were always found the most forward and the most violent. But the evils arising out of such an unnatural and deplorable state of things did not stop there? It appeared by the criminal records of almost every Assizes which took place in Ireland, that many of those miserable, infatuated men, having no hope of redress from the law, seeing destruction staring themselves, and, what perhaps was dearer to them, their helpless families, in the face, formed themselves into Committees for the purpose of murder, and actually deliberated and decided on the destruction of those whom they deemed falsely or otherwise, their oppressors and persecutors. One of the most remarkable cases of that description on record was the case of Mr. Sheehy. That gentleman was well known to him (Sir Richard Musgrave), and he had come to live on the borders of Tipperary (the county he inhabited). Having had some quarrel with his tenantry, respecting a portion of land which he wished to take under his own management, he was murdered a short time subsequently. The murderers were tried at the Waterford Assizes, and it was clearly proved in the course of the trial, that his death had been decided on by a Committee, of which the murderers were a portion. There was a more recent case of equal atrocity, that of Mr. Dawson in Limerick, which he was sure was familiar to every one interested in the state of Ireland, but which he should not disgust the House by detailing. His hon. Friend (the Member for Stroud) had wished to introduce a system of Poor-laws into Ireland analogous in every particular to those which had lately been in force in England, and his reason for wishing to introduce them in that shape was the analogy which he deemed to exist between that country and England at the period of their enactment for the latter. But his hon. Friend had mistaken the remedy as he had mistaken the analogy. The Poor-laws of Elizabeth would not do for Ireland, more than for England, without a thorough 311 amendment, such as they had recently received. From his own experience, as well as from that of many friends whom he had consulted, he was convinced that the plan of Poor-laws proposed by his hon. Friend would not be sufficient for the actual condition of Ireland. Acting on that belief, he had introduced the Bill before the House. It appeared to him that the best mode of relieving Irish pauperism was by encouraging industry—by employing the active and the able-bodied on public works—and by providing legal support for the aged and the infirm. The principal employment in the way of public works in Ireland was on roads for which presentments were made by Grand Juries; but these were comparatively few, and the quantity of employment afforded by them was wholly insufficient for the exigences of the wretched people. It was to encourage these works, as well as to create and set on foot new ones all over the country, that he brought in the measure under discussion. One portion of it went to provide funds for public works, and the other for the support of the aged and the infirm; the rate in aid of which was to be levied partly on the landlord, and partly on the occupying tenant. It might be said, he was aware, that the support of the aged and the infirm would be better left to their relatives; but every one knew that many of these wretched beings had no friends or relatives in existence, while it was a fact as notorious, that the low wages of the labourer in Ireland were quite insufficient for his immediate family of wife and children, still less for the additional burthen which would be thus thrown on them. He proposed, that each city or parish should be placed under the direction of a Committee, who should divide it into districts, to be superintended by sub-Committees chosen from among them. That the duty of each sub-Committee would be to make accurate lists of the aged and infirm in each district, and, having verified them by every means in their power, return them to the Mayor. By the Mayor and the Common Council the rate for their relief was to be fixed; the rate to be founded on the valuation at present going on in Ireland. Three fourths of it were to be payable by the landlord, and one-fourth by the occupying tenant. That, combined with the other principle, of providing labour for those able to work, would obviate such scenes and occurrences as were now daily taking place in the county of Mayo, and other 312 spots on the West coast of Ireland. By another clause power would be given to parishes and cities to afford assistance to Mendicity Institutions where they at present existed, which was very necessary, in his opinion, as those who were best able to afford it would not subscribe, while the burthen of supporting fell solely upon the humanity of a few. There were other clauses which he should not enumerate. He should barely state, that it was a fearful—a horrifying—thing to see the Irish poor travelling about from one part of the country to another, nearly naked and almost starved, exposed to every inclemency of the season, and a prey to every disease incident to distress and to destitution of the extremest character. To hear their complaints, and to witness their condition, were quite sufficient to make any man of the least feeling blame and condemn the Legislature for allowing any of those whom it was instituted to protect, relieve, and cherish, to be reduced to such a state of misery, and for not interfering promptly to save them from inevitably perishing. He hoped, however, that the vote of the House on the second reading of the Bill before them, would record the sentiments of sympathy and the desire to alleviate their distress entertained by the Legislature. The hon. Member concluded by moving, "That the Bill for the Relief of the Poor in Ireland be read a second time."
§ Mr. James Grattan
said, though the subject was without doubt embarrassed by many weighty and serious considerations, he should notwithstanding press it on the attention of the House, because of the magnitude of the evils which it went to remedy. It was not a question of party or of faction—perhaps if it had been, it would have long since received more attention—but it was one which concerned the poor of Ireland alone. Notwithstanding the indisposition shown on all occasions to entertain any Bill like the measure before the House, the subject of Poor-laws for Ireland would ultimately, from the importance of its nature, force itself on the attention of any Government who might hold office, be their opinions what they might. There was another measure which would have the effect of accelerating that force, which was the ample and excellent Tithe Bill of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland. It would be unfair to consider that Bill, without at the same time considering, as in connexion with it, the poor of Ireland. It was a fact, though, perhaps, 313 one not as generally known as from its important nature it ought to be, that the poor of these kingdoms were legally entitled to relief from the funds of the Established Church: yet so it was. And, in pursuance of the assertion of that title, it was his intention to move in the Bill for the regulation of Tithes in Ireland, a clause containing a provision for the Irish poor out of the property of the Church. With respect to the Motion before the House, he was aware that it might be urged that the question it involved was brought forward prematurely, and that it was unwise precipitately to press it on until the Reports of the Irish Poor Law Commissioners should be laid on the Table. But whoever else had need of information on the wretched state of the Irish poor, he had none. For the last ten years he had attentively considered the subject, and he had been engaged in vain efforts to induce the Legislature to interfere effectually for the relief of the poor of Ireland, and now he was not to be told that he should wait for further information. But even if he had not possessed the means of knowing personally the condition of the Irish poor, he had no occasion to wait for the Report of the Commissioners. He held in his hand a Report made by one of them—a pamphlet written by one of them—detailing the scenes he had witnessed and the remedies which he thought best fitted to obviate the dreadful distress of the poor. Nothing but a system of well-organised Poor-laws would be effectual for the distress of Ireland, and he (Mr. Grattan) was bound to say, that even the abolition of tithes would be ineffectual to that end, if the landlords were not compelled to contribute to the support of the starving population of their estates in one way or in another, in food or in employment. Until that was done, it was idle to say a well-disposed peaceable gentleman, of no party, could live in Ireland. There never would be safety for property or for life until the Irish landlords acted to their tenants in the same manner as the English landlords did. He should be sorry to have bread himself, and to see his tenants want potatoes; but he was sorry to say other men were not so. It was a well-known fact, that the people were peaceable in Ireland in proportion to the degree of kindness shown them by their landlords. With respect to the necessity for some provision for the Irish poor, all the Committees of the House which sat on the subject since 1823 were of opinion that the greatness of 314 he distress called for some strong remedy. It was, therefore, the duty of the Legislature to grant the relief required; and not to suffer itself to be deterred by the interested opposition of landlords. It had been urged by the opponents of Poor-laws in Ireland, that in no country in Europe or America were they in existence save and except in England; but since that time, a Report of the foreign Poor-laws had been printed, and it appeared that they existed in every State of the American Union except two, and that nine States on the continent of Europe had them in full operation. Where the laws in operation were not analogous to the system in England, there were, as in Holland, charitable institutions for the reception and support of the poor and destitute, the management of which cost much more than that of the English system of Poor-laws. Unless some effectual measures were taken, the poor of England would soon be reduced to a level with the paupers of Ireland. Such at least had been the doctrine held in that House; but he would say that if Irish rents did not come over to England, there would be no necessity for Irish labourers to cross the Channel. He referred hon. Members to the work of Mr. Inglis, which fully bore out the view he took of the subject. He trusted that the Bill would be allowed to go into Committee, and that the House would have the benefit of the voluminous and invaluable papers which the hon. Mover had collected upon the subject.
§ Viscount Morpeth
said, that he rose early, in order to communicate to the House the course which he intended to take upon the subject. His hon. Friend who had brought forward the Motion had consulted him upon it, and he had begged his hon. Friend to defer all proceedings until such time as the House should be in possession of the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the state of the poor of Ireland. He had then told his hon. Friend, that in a month he hoped to be able to lay the Report upon the Table of the House, and he had been able to fulfil his expectations, for a month had elapsed precisely on that day: and he had that day brought up the voluminous Report of the Commissioners, and had laid it on the Table. The House had not had an opportunity of reading the papers, but he knew their contents, and he was sorry to say that he could not hold out to the hon. Mover a hope of any practical benefits that 315 could arise from carrying his Motion. The papers before the House did not contain the whole of the evidence that had been collected, nor did they contain the opinion of the Commissioners on this most important and complicated of subjects. In the course of the next Session the whole of the evidence would be completed, and the Report would be laid before Parliament and the country. It would show but little acquaintance with the duties of the most important office which he had the honour to till, if he did not at once state his conviction that no subject connected with Ireland approached in importance the question of the propriety of introducing a system of Poor-laws into Ireland; but, at the same time he took no shame to himself for adding, whatever handle it might afford to reproach or misrepresentation, that a subject so wide in its reach, so complicated in its bearings, and so permanent, whether for good or evil, in its results, could not be beneficially struck out by a Government newly formed, during the progress or before the completion of an inquiry by Commissioners to whom the Government had especially delegated the task of providing them with the grounds for legislation. Certain it was, that whatever were the evils, and he was the last man not to feel them, of the present state of the destitute class in Ireland, any ill-conceived, or ill-digested, or partial, or Immature attempt to remedy them would increase those evils tenfold. His hon. Friends who had moved and seconded this question, had alluded to a Commission now also sitting on the subject of public works, and the feasibility of introducing a plan to carry on those works on an increased and extended scale. He hoped that the result of the labours of the Committee would permit of something practicable being undertaken in the course of this Session; and as to the larger question of the Poor-laws in general, he had no hesitation in repeating what he had said in reply to the hon. Member for Tipperary the other evening, that he felt convinced the whole subject was one to which both Government and Parliament would be called upon to address themselves in sober earnest in the course of the ensuing Session; but then, with a view to do even that successfully and efficiently, until all the opportunities of information were before the House which Government themselves had appointed, until all the means which they had thought proper to make preliminary to legislation should be at their disposal, it was better, 316 wiser, safer, and fairer, to reserve and suspend the expression of all opinion. He had every reason to believe that the same Government which did not shrink from encountering the difficult question of the reformation of the English Poor-laws, would also be in no way inclined to shrink from taking that part in the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland to which a sense of their duty might lead them. Under these circumstances, he did not pretend and he did not wish to offer any opinion upon the measure which the hon. Member for Water-ford had that night brought he fore the House. He only wished to express his gratitude to the hon. Member for having put the House in possession of the results of his benevolent labours and exertions. He wished to express his gratitude for every assistance that could be taken to facilitate the course of Government in Parliament; but feeling that no good, but rather harm would be encountered by any piecemeal and merely experimental attempts on this great subject, which ought to be well digested, and only to be brought forward on the responsibility of the Executive Government of this country, on whom only the onus ought to fall, he hoped the hon. Member would not be inclined to press the House to give a formal or premature decision on the subject. If the hon. Member did, he should be under what would be to him the painful necessity of moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He hoped, however, the hon. Member would Have him from the appearance of offering opposition to him personally, or expressing an opinion contrary to the objects he had in view. He would say the same respecting the Motion of the hon. Member for Stroud. He hoped that both hon. Members would enable Government and Parliament to take advantage of their united labours. He was inclined to look favourably on the circumstance that two hon. Members, one a Member for an English town and the other a Member for an Irish county, had brought forward this subject. He hoped that when the time came for discussing it, it would be felt that inhabitant as well as native, Jew as well as Samaritan, were actuated by one common feeling of doing whatever was suggested by a spirit of enlightened benevolence to ameliorate the condition and alleviate the sufferings, which undoubtedly prevailed amongst the great bulk of the Irish people.
§ Mr. Richards
was of opinion that Ministers could not do otherwise at so late a 317 period of the Session than pursue the course which had been followed by the noble Lord who had just sat down; but at the same time Ministers might have come forward to assure the House that they approved of the principle of the Bill they were then discussing, and that next Session they would propose some definite measure to the House. The condition of the Irish poor imperatively called for some measure of relief. The bad effects of the Poor-laws in England had arisen, he believed, in a great measure, from the alterations in the value of money, and from other causes than any inherent evils in the laws themselves. The Scotch had at first expressed the same indisposition to receive Poor-laws as many of the Irish did at this day, and it was not until after repeated proclamations that they had consented to the introduction of Poor-laws. According to the testimony of Dr. Chalmers, only seventeen years after the introduction of Poor-laws into Scotland, that country, as if per saltum, from a state of misery and destitution, became peaceable and obedient to the laws. He could not help stopping to advert to the indecent laugh which he perceived on the countenance of the hon. and learned Member for the city of Dublin (Mr. O'Connell.) tie had come down that night to the House in hopes that the hon. and learned Member would, have exercised his great abilities in suppport of a Motion that was to make some provision for his poor countrymen. He had expected that the hon. and learned Gentleman would on the present occasion have been the warm advocate of his country; but so far from these expectations being realised, he had witnessed the hon. and learned Gentleman treating, the subject with an indecent laugh. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed disposed to interrupt his speech, but he would beg him to say openly whatever he might have to object to in what he was addressing to the House. He possessed a property in Wales, and for twenty years he had never seen a beggar in that country, except once, and that was an Irishman. He had never in that country seen a single instance of a native Englishman or Welshman asking alms, and yet the Poor-laws on his estate did not amount to more than 13d. per acre. Owing to the establishment of the Poor-laws, there was security for life and property throughout England, but no such security existed in Ireland, nor could it exist until relief was afforded to the poor of that country. All that Ireland wanted was a due, and regular, and legal provision 318 for the poor, and to that provision the poor, were entitled, on the ground of humanity, as well as of policy, and of self-interest to the rich. Did we want any other facts to account for what was called the poverty of Ireland? Did we want any other fact than the absence of that due and legal provision to which the poor of that country were entitled? If, however, hon. Members were not prepared to vote for this Motion on the ground of humanity, let them, support it on the ground of policy—let them support it from regard to their own interests and safety, for their interests and safety were involved in making a legal provision for the destitute poor of Ireland. He was not one of those who would prevent the free ingress of labour into this country; but if Ireland was to remain the officina operum, which it now was—if ingress was allowed into this country, it must reduce the price of labour in the two countries to a common level, and that level must be the state in which we found it in Ireland. He hoped that hon. Members, on the ground of policy, out of regard; to their estates, their rents, their wives, and families, and everything that was dear to them, would come forward to support the proposition of the hon. Baronet—a proposition which he was astonished to see received so coldly by the House—by suet empty benches. [There were few Members on the Opposition side—the Ministerial, Benches were full.] If there was any thing which hon. Members were bound to attend to, it was the happiness of the community of which they were Representatives. As a specimen how little to be relied on, and how imperfect was a voluntary provision, he would mention, with regard, to the Mendicity Society in Dublin, that out of 11,500 houses only 2,000 contributed anything whatever in support of this institution, and the inhabitants of Dublin came forward soon after that, and implored the House to provide some legal means by which those who did not contribute any thing, should be compelled to join in the labour of love, humanity, and justice, which the other inhabitants had agreed on. It was not now asked to introduce a new principle into Ireland, but merely the legislative principle which already existed in England. Let the hon. Member for Dublin come forward in his manly and eloquent way and support this proposition—if he did not come forward, then would he (Mr. Richards) say, non equidem invidio miror magis. That hon. Member had expressed 319 himself a convert to the necessity of making some provision for the poor in Ireland. If he was a convert to the necessity of making some legal provision for the poor, then let him come forward with those powers which nature had given him, to support this Motion, or give some substantial reason for opposing it.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham
said, that looking at the state of the poor in this country, he thought it dangerous, unless upon good grounds, to introduce Poor-laws into Ireland.
§ Mr. Hume
was as much alive to the importance of the subject of Poor-laws for Ireland as any of the hon. Members from that country could be, and he considered the question to be of equal importance to English Members as the subject of their own Poor-laws. He had for twenty years exerted himself on all occasions to expose the system of misrule and wrong-doing towards Ireland, from which so many of her evils sprung, and which he was of opinion had wholly caused her present destitute and wretched condition, and he must say, that he at one time was very much disposed to believe that the only remedy would be to apply the Poor-law system to that country, as it had been done here. But when he came to consider the causes of that misery and destitution, owing to the pertinacity with which English Ministers adhered to the maintenance of all the abuses which had existed for ages in Ireland, and which had cramped the industry and thwarted the views of those who would have employed their capital in the encouragement of manufactures and public works, he must say, that he did not think the introduction of any system of Poor-laws, however perfect, would be attended with success, unless the predisposing causes of the evils to which he had referred, were altogether, or partially removed. For this reason he was not disposed to view the question in the light in which many hon. Members had attempted to place it before the House. The proposition of the hon. Member for Wicklow, for affording the destitute poor of Ireland relief by setting them to work, and paying them for it, was of all plans the only one likely to succeed, and it was also the most rational. But the consideration presented itself whether Ireland had ever been in a situation to warrant the employment of capital; and he answering this question in the negative, would also affirm that until the present system of misrule was changed to a better and more liberal system, there 320 would be no chance for bettering her by the means pointed out. It seemed, however, that the Government were at length determined to alter their plan of ruling Ireland, and one of the means to be resorted to for pacifying and ameliorating the condition of her inhabitants, was to give every man in every class of life, and of every persuasion, fair play. And when the House considered that the mode of accomplishing this was proposed to be done by removing from the people at large the burthen of supporting an Established Church to which they were inimical, and which had for so long proved such an intolerable evil, he was of opinion that the Government also ought to have fair play, and that the Parliament ought to try the effect of that relief before they adopted so strong a measure as that proposed by the hon. Baronet's Motion. He would very readily agree to any proposal for assessing the property at large of the Irish landlords, as soon as it was apparent how far the contemplated reforms fell short in relieving the miseries and necessities of the poor; but he really did not consider that the present was a time when that ultimatum ought to be pressed forward. The Parliament ought to act towards Ireland as they had done to Scotland, first tranquillize the people by removing the glaring abuses which afflicted the nation at large, and then, as a matter of course, capital, of which millions were now ready to be employed, would find its way into the country, as it had done into Scotland. The introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland would retard and not accelerate this result, and this was one reason why all well-wishers to that country would put that measure off, as the very last to be resorted to when all others had failed. For these reasons he entreated those who were desirous to see Ireland extricated from out of her present difficulties, not to interfere at this moment by pressing forward a Motion like this, but to wait the result of the Government measures, which he trusted would be attended, not only by the removal of the burthen of tithes, but also by the more equal Administration of Justice, and the selection of a better race of Magistrates.
§ Mr. Poulett Scrope
felt satisfied that the maintenance of the impotent and the infirm Irish poor was not sufficient, but that one of the main principles in any system to be adopted ought to be, that employment should be furnished to those who were destitute of it. The latter he 321 importance as the former. It was not sufficient to state, that they would give food to that portion of the poorer classes that were infirm, but they ought to prevent those who otherwise would be able-bodied from becoming so. There were societies in several parts of Ireland—and he would mention Reffart as a place where such a society existed, similar to the Mendicity Society in London, which supplied certain classes of the poor with food, but they were wholly inadequate to supply the wants of the people. He was satisfied that the first principle to adopt towards improving the condition of the Irish people was to give employment to the able-bodied poor. Capital would not be safely invested in that country, nor would manufactures be extensively established there, until they adopted this principle. The chief thing to improve the people was to give them employment, and until that was done on an extensive scale, little good could be expected. Could anything be more distressing than the present state of the Irish poor? They had evidence on their Table to show that crimes had been committed by many persons, with a view of getting into gaol that they might obtain food. In the greater portion of France, as well as in most of the continental states, some system or other of Poor-laws existed. The condition of the people of France was far superior to that of the Irish people. In the former country, out of a population of 34,000,000, there were several hundred thousand landed proprietors, while in Ireland the number was comparatively small. He had no hesitation in saying, that four-fifths of the Irish population were the slaves of the landed proprietors. If they offended the landlords, they were turned out of their miserable habitations to starve, as they could not get residences in other places. He would ask them, was their condition superior to that of the slaves, when they could be deprived of the means of existence at the caprice of the landlords? As long as the Irish landlords possessed the power they now did, it was not at all surprising that they exerted themselves to prevent the adoption of any system of Poor-laws in Ireland. He contended that the property of every land-owner in Ireland should be made liable to the charge of providing for the maintenance of the poor as well as that of the owners and occupiers of the land in England. Similar powers should be given to Commissioners 322 in Ireland for the establishment of a system of Poor-laws that had been conferred on the English Commissioners. A great deal of misapprehension had prevailed as to the state of the people in Ireland, and this had been increased in consequence of the statements made in that House. In the debate on the Union last year, the right hon. Gentleman, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, contended that there had been recently great improvements manifested in the Irish manufactures, and among other places he referred to the state of Kilkenny as a proof of his assertion. On looking, however, to Mr. Inglis's work on Ireland, he found that the statement that had been, made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not borne out by the authority of that gentleman; on the contrary, he gave a very different account of the state of things in that place. "I wish," said Mr. Inglis, speaking of the people of Kilkenny, "I could have contemplated their situation with as much complacency and pleasure as I did the city itself, and the natural beauties that surround it; but I am compelled to say, that I found the most widespread and most aggravated misery. The population of Kilkenny is about 25,000; and I am enabled to state, after the most anxious inquiry and close personal observation, that there were at the time I visited Kilkenny, upwards of 2,000 persons totally without employment. It chanced that I was at Kilkenny just after the debate on the Repeal Question, in which, the prosperity of Ireland was illustrated by reference to that of Kilkenny, of whose prosperous manufactures honourable mention was made, condescending even upon the number of water-wheels at work, which were said to be eleven in number; and the carpet manufactory, too, was spoken of in such terms, that it was said to be owing to its success that the weavers of Kidderminster had petitioned for repeal. I visited these prosperous factories immediately after the account I have mentioned was received; the principal of these factories used to support 200 men with their families: it was at eleven o'clock, a fair working hour, that I visited these mills, and how many men did I find at work? One man! And how many of the eleven wheels did I find going? One; and that one, not for the purpose of driving machinery, but to prevent it from rotting. In place of finding men occupied, I saw them in scores, like spectres, walking about, and lying about 323 the mill. I saw immense piles of goods completed, but for which there was no sale. I saw piles of cloth at 2s. a-yard, with which a man might clothe himself from head to foot for 10s., but there were no buyers; the poor of Kilkenny are clothed from Monmouth-street. I saw heaps of blankets, enough to furnish every cabin in the county, and I saw every loom idle. As for the carpets which had excited the jealousy and fears of Kidderminster, not one had been made for seven months; it was but an experiment, and had utterly failed; and, just to convey some idea of the destitution of these people, when an order recently arrived for the manufacture of as many blankets for the police as would have kept the men at work a few weeks, bonfires were lighted about the country; not bonfires to communicate insurrection, but to evince joy that a few starving men were about to earn bread to support their families. I speak warmly on this subject; but how can I speak otherwise than with warmth? Surely, I need not say that I do not accuse any one of false invention or wilful misrepresentation; but I accuse some one of having furnished to the advocates of the Union lies in place of truth. Their views required no such props; and I, who am no Repealer, regret that an argument should be thus furnished to the Repealers. The supporters of the Union advance as an argument against the Repeal of the Union the prosperity of Ireland, and Kilkenny is quoted as an illustration of that prosperity. The statement turns out to be utterly false; and thus the Repealers boast that they have a stronger case." One of the most powerful arguments which had been urged in favour of the Repeal of the Union was the ignorance of the Legislature with respect to the condition and the wants of the people of Ireland; and yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer had quoted the improved state of Kilkenny to show there was no necessity for the Repeal of the Union. He was convinced that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he would look to the state of Ireland, would find that the feeling in favour of a system of Poor-laws in that country was daily increasing; and if some measure of the kind was not granted, the feeling in favour of repeal would increase. The hon. Member for Middlesex had contended that the English Poor-laws were founded on a bad principle, and led to the infliction of much misery; but the Commissioners who had 324 been appointed to inquire into their operation entertained a very different feeling on the subject; for they declared that the principle on which they were framed was good, and that all the mischief which had arisen from their operation had resulted from the principle on which they were founded being departed from. The maladministration of the Poor-laws dated from the year 1796, and until that time the original measure, passed in the reign of Elizabeth, had been acted upon, and no evil whatever had resulted from it. He had given notice of a measure on this subject; but he did not intend to persist in it, but should give his support to the Bill on the Table. It was very well for the hon. Member for Middlesex to ask the House to wait to see the result of the measure respecting the Irish Church before they adopted the system of Poor-laws; but arguments like that had repeatedly been urged on former occasions: they had been asked to wait to see what the Government would do, and in the meantime the interests of the poor had been neglected. Whatever, therefore, might be the fate of the measure for affecting a change in the present system of tithes, he should persist in supporting this Bill; and he trusted that the majority of the House would support it. He admitted that great advantages would result from the Bill introduced by the noble Lord; but they would not be of such a nature as would justify the House in refusing to pass a measure for relieving the present condition and promoting the permanent welfare of the destitute Irish poor. If, however, the measure now before them should that night be defeated, he would take care, in the course of the Session, again to bring the subject under the attention of Parliament. The interest of the English agricultural population, as well as that of the English landlord, made it necessary that some measure of the kind should pass, however much the feelings of Irish landlords might be opposed to it.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
would not have addressed the House at that moment, had it not been for some not very candid observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Stroud. The hon. Gentleman had adopted rather an extraordinary tone in the course of his speech, and had been pleased to assume that hon. Gentlemen who were connected with Ireland differed with him as to the view he took of the subject, because they 325 were Irish landlords. He never recollected, during the long period he had been in that House, arguments assumed of a more extraordinary nature than those urged by the hon. Gentleman. He should be perfectly warranted, adopting the tone of argument of the hon. Gentleman, in making the assertion, that the hon. Member, as well as others who supported the Motion, were rather influenced by English than by Irish feelings. He only mentioned this, to point out the impropriety of adopting this style of argument, and at once to reject and repudiate it. In considering questions like that before the House, they should be swayed and actuated by only one feeling, namely, how they best could improve the condition of the great bulk of the Irish people. Without further exordium, therefore, he should proceed to discuss the question on its general merits, passing by the observations of the hon. Gentleman as beside the question. As, however, he had been addressed almost personally, he could not help observing, that the hon. Member, in appearing to think that an individual connected by birth with Ireland, and residing there many years of his life, and also connected with it by property, and having been for many years the representative of a place of great commercial importance in it, knew nothing of the state of the country, and of the matters most deeply touching its welfare, did not exhibit any peculiar courtesy in his remarks, but rather assumed a tone of dogmatism that was by no means common in that House. Let the House inquire into the subject with reference alone to the interests of the Irish poor themselves. He would put it on no other ground; he would not mention the interests of the landlords. He would assume that the exigencies of the case were such, that even if the whole race of landlords were to perish by one stroke of inadvertent legislation, yet if it were possible to restore the great mass of the population of Ireland from the depressed condition in which they all admitted they were placed, by one experiment, that experiment should be tried. Let them now inquire whether the present measure was likely to produce the desired effect? The inquiry which had been instituted into the subject had been a long time in progress; he had hoped some general Report would have been made before; for that Report he was most anxious; 326 and notwithstanding the attack of the hon. Gentleman he should wait until he had ascertained from its contents that the course he proposed was justified by circumstances, or likely to succeed. The House had not even ventured to amend the English Poor-laws—a system which had been established since the reign of Elizabeth—until they had laid before them all the information that could possibly be collected; and yet now, without any information or evidence whatever, they were called upon to take a much greater and far bolder step, and affirmed a system of Poor-laws in a country where they had not previously existed. Hon. Gentlemen had asked what the Government intended to do upon this subject in the course of the next year. Again he said, that to enter into any detailed account of what they intended to do, would be to anticipate the result of the pending inquiry; but he would tell the House what he for one was perfectly prepared to do. Upon this point he wished to be clearly understood. Hon. Gentlemen advocated Poor-laws in general terms, and yet there were no two individuals who, if they were called upon to define what they meant by that expression, would agree in their definition of it. He could not have a better example than that of the two hon. Gentlemen who were charged with these two Bills. One of them advocated the compulsory support of the able-bodied; the other rejected that principle altogether. This in itself was sufficient to show that until they arrived at some precise definition of what was meant by the expression Poor-laws, they did not know the very elements on which they were about to operate. Now, because he resisted the over-hand work and hasty work, he was supposed by the hon. Member for Stroud, and others both in and out of that House, to be indifferent to the well-being of Ireland. What was the definition in the present Bill of the classes of poor deserving and requiring relief? It enumerated the helpless poor paupers above the age of sixty, or orphans tinder the age of fourteen, the maimed, the diseased, the idiot, the lunatic, the blind, and the deaf and dumb. With respect to the maimed, the diseased, the idiot, the lunatic, the blind, and the deaf and dumb, he was prepared to go to the full length of providing, to any extent that could be required, for their relief. Tax his property; tax the 327 rental of the country to any extent they pleased; so far from remonstrating against that, so far from opposing such a proceeding, there was no individual in that House who was more ready to act upon the principle to the fullest extent than he was. Take another great element in the improvement of the social condition of a people—he meant the education of the young. There was no extent of taxation to which the landed property of Ireland could be subjected with this view, to which he, as a landed proprietor himself, was not prepared to render a hearty assent; believing, as he did, that it was a species of taxation which could only be administered for the public good. Where, then, it might be asked, was he prepared to draw the line? The distinction he took was plain and intelligible. He would afford relief in every possible case of distress, where the relief given was calculated to remove distress, without creating more distress than it was intended to remove; he would consent to any legislative engagement to carry such views into effect which the hon. Member for Stroud could frame; he would be a party to any legislative pledge the Legislature had the means of redeeming; but he would show the hon. Gentleman, that he proposed a fraudulent and swindling obligation upon the part of the Legislature—quite unconsciously, he was certain—for he knew no man in the House more unlikely to lend himself wilfully to any such proceeding. The hon. Gentleman proposed to bind the Legislature to a promise it could never redeem—he meant the interminable power of giving relief to all classes of persons. With respect to the orphan, that might be an exceptive case. If it could be shown to him that an orphan had no immediate relative to take care of and educate him as a useful member of society, then he admitted that the State stood in loco parentis, and was bound to provide for his necessities. To apply his principle, no person would die the more if provisions were made for the relief of orphans; but did not the House think that many persons would work the less, if the State, by undertaking to provide for the orphans with whom they were connected, relieved them from the moral responsibility which would otherwise attach to them? The condition of the Irish poor deserved, he admitted, the most serious and searching consideration. He did not mean to deny that the intro- 328 duction of cheap labour into this country had a tendency to reduce the wages of labour; but he wished to invite the attention of the House to the discussion—whether the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland would be likely to diminish the periodical emigration of Irish labourers to this country? First, let him consider the provisions of the measure under consideration. It contained a provision for the relief of the poor, not being able-bodied, of every class. Now, if they undertook to provide for the family of the Irish labourer, for every young person, for every sick person, for every diseased person of every class, by a compulsory assessment as the Bill proposed, he put it to the common sense of the House whether it was likely that there would be a less disposition on the part of the Irish labourer to come over to this country, and seize upon the advantages held out to him by the English market? On the contrary, was it not to all intents and purposes certain that if the State contracted the obligation of providing for his family in his absence, he would be much freer than he ever was before to come over to England for the specific purpose of obtaining the highest reward he could in return for his labour? It might be said that his was not a fair mode of meeting the Question; he might be referred to the alternative of providing for the Irish poor, and teaching them to work at home. What effect had the existence of a provision for the able-bodied poor had on the wages of labour in England? Let the House compare the state of things in the north of England, where that principle was not known, with the state of things in the south, where it was in full operation. In what part of England were the wages of labour highest? It was matter of perfect notoriety that they were higher in the north where the able-bodied poor had not been supported at the public expense, than in the south, where the principle had been acted upon to the utmost extent. [An Hon. Member, "that is the result of manufactures."] Manufactures! Now his hon. and learned Friend should not take that ground. Let the House compare the agricultural parts of Northumberland in which manufactures did not prevail, with any part of England in which the wages of labour had been partly paid out of the Poor-rates, as had been the case in many parts of England, and especially in one which was at no great 329 distance from the manufacturing districts he meant the county of Wilts. They would find that in precise proportion as a part of the wages of labour had been paid out of the Poor-rates, the rate of wages had fallen. If the system had produced this effect in England, must it not produce a similar effect in Ireland? Let them take either case. If they provided for the non-effective labourers, did they not hold out a great inducement for the effective labourers to repair to this country; and if they provided for the relief of the effectives, would not they hold out an increased temptation to the non-effectives to glut the English market? The objection might be removed by merely raising the wages of labour in Ireland; but if a Poor-law Bill for that country passed to-morrow, would the amount of capital in it be greater, or would the rate of wages be increased? The hon. Gentleman had said that he would employ the fund to be raised by the Bill in labour. Did he mean profitable or unprofitable labour. [Mr. P. Scrope: Public works.] Very well; but to judge of the profitable nature of public works, they must be discussed on their own merits—not considered generally as an auxiliary on the Question of Poor-laws; and if any such offered that would command a profitable return, it stood to reason that a capital would be employed in it, without any Poor-laws at all. It was quite in vain to expect that property could or would be profitably employed until some security were afforded for a due return. In considering a proposition of this nature, the whole circumstances of the country to which it was to be applied must be considered also. It was not by cases of individual outrage that the morality of a country could be determined; if any body took up the Newgate Calendar, or even the papers of the day, they would perhaps meet with specimens of atrocity, which for cruelty and barbarity could not be exceeded in Ireland; still he admitted—indeed he apprehended no one could deny—that Ireland was not in the same state of civilization as other countries that had been referred to, more especially as England. The hon. Gentleman had said it was impossible to introduce any effectual system of Poor-laws without accompanying it with an alteration in the law of settlement and the law of removal. To both there were the strongest objections. The law of removal was open to this incon- 330 venience and hardship—if a man went to the north of Ireland from any other part of the country, and behaved himself ever so well for many years, immediately on his requiring parochial relief through sickness or old age, the hard taskmaster—the overseer—would be on the alert, and he would be at once carted into some parish waggon to the place he had left years and years before, to drag out the remainder of his existence in a place where he had no ties, to which he was bound by no associations, and in which he could only regret the scenes he had left. The law of settlement was open to the objection that it confined labour within a certain and defined locality—a system productive of evils which he believed no one would be inclined to dispute. The hon. Gentleman had announced three points as the objects he sought to attain. The first was, the suppression of mendicancy and vagrancy. To attain this end, the hon. Gentleman must enact the old penal code against vagrants, and render it compulsory on them to leave their abodes and repair to the parish workhouse. He then proposed, by a compulsory assessment, to afford relief in cases of sickness and helplessness. Let the hon. Gentleman define the cases in which this relief was to be afforded, and he would readily concede the principle. The other object was the relief of the poor able-bodied; and to it he had already adverted. One provision of the Bill was, that in periods of general distress there should be a power vested in the Government to advance, for the relief of the people whatever sums they pleased from the Consolidated Fund, to be afterwards recovered from the rates and assessments to be levied by the Bill. He would not deny that cases might arise—nay, that cases had arisen—in which Parliament had so interposed; it had done so in the case of our colonial possessions; it had done so most liberally for Ireland; but he would take upon himself to say, that this was the first case in which it had ever been proposed to recognise, on the face of an Act of Parliament, the principle, that in case of a general distress, under any circumstances, or arising from any cause, Parliament should have the power of taking from the public purse an unlimited supply for the relief of those who might stand in need. A more fertile source of abuse—a more formidable source of evil—a more fruitful and abundant source of 331 jobbing and corruption, even as it affected the poor themselves, could not be conceived. Let them take the case of two landlords—the one a grinding, hard, mercenary man; the other kind and lenient to his tenants. The first, after grinding his dependants to the very last penny, refusing to relieve their distress, would be enabled to borrow of the Consolidated Fund to what amount he pleased; the other would be actually taxed to repay the amount of the loan in exact proportion to the extent of his endeavours to improve his estate and render his tenants happy and contented. He wished, before he sat down, again to call the attention of the House to the practical proposition before it. If they were of opinion that cases of distress, sickness, and all classes of infirmity were not likely to be increased by providing the relief afforded by the Poor-laws, he was for them. He was willing, ready, and anxious, to give legislative force to the affirmance of that principle; but he was not willing, prematurely anticipating information which was not now before the House, to rush into hasty legislation upon a subject from which he knew retreat to be impossible. Attempts had been made for more than forty years to remedy the abuses of the Poor-laws in England. Mr. Pitt had shrunk from the task; Mr. Whitbread had failed to give effect to it; the benevolence of Mr. Sturges Bourne had proved of no avail; and they had existed and increased until the passing of the Bill of last Session. If he could have believed that the Motion under consideration would have produced the effect desired, he would have been as ready to second it as the hon. Member for Wicklow; but not being able to arrive at such a conclusion, he completely and entirely acquiesced in the views of his noble Friend.
§ Mr. William S. O'Brien
said, that he had heard much in favour of the Bill, and nothing against it; for the right hon. Gentleman who last addreseed the House had gone the whole length of admitting the leading principle of the Bill. He had said he would give relief to the sick, diseased, maimed, and impotent. The Bill scarcely went further, and he called on the friends of the principle to help its promoters to arrange in the Committee the machinery by which its principle might be carried out. His hon. Friend proposed to refer it to a Select Committee for the purpose of ascertaining how far 332 that object could be gained. What objection could there be to that course? The noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) said that the present Bill might tend to facilitate future measures; but how did the noble Lord know that thirty or forty Gentlemen to whom the Bill might be referred might not be able to suggest many important particulars, which would be found very useful in a future measure? With respect to the question of immigration of Irish labourers into England, he did not think the present measure would much affect it one way or the other; but if it should have the effect of raising the price of labour in Ireland, it would also have the effect of keeping the Irishmen at home, for it was well known that Irishmen would not leave their own country if they could get as good wages there as in England. As to the contrast which the right hon. Gentleman had made between the rate of wages in some parts of the north of England, where wages were not paid out of the Poor-rates, and the rate in the south of England, where they were so paid, all that could be said was, that it arose rather from a maladministration than a defect in the principle of the law, but it would not be contended that a law might not be passed, adapted to Ireland, without embracing those defects. One of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman was, that the money would find its way into the pockets of the labourers just as well without a Poor-law as if it had been taken from the pockets of the farmers for that purpose. On this he must remark that, according to a petition complaining of the distresses in the county of Mayo, it was stated that out of a rental of 7,000l. per annum, 5,000l. a-year was sent out of the country. But all that money should remain in the country rather than have the people reduced to the state of distress which they had been in. An efficient Poor-law would put an end to that bad system, and he, as an Irish landlord, would say, that he knew of no right he had to sit down to dinner with more than the common necessaries of life while his tenants were starving. He owned that he could not agree with the hon. Member for Stroud as to the introduction of the principles of settlement and removal into any system of Poor-laws for Ireland. That, however, was a point into which he would not enter at that time. With respect to mendicancy, he thought that if 333 it could be removed from Ireland, it would, as a matter of police, be a great national benefit. Other objections had been made to some of the details of the Bill, into which he would not then go, because these might fairly become the subject of consideration in the Committee, but there was one point upon which there seemed to be no difference of opinion in the House—that was, that the present state of the peasantry of Ireland was disgraceful to this country. For his own part, he was convinced that there never would be peace or quiet in Ireland while the greater portion of its inhabitants were from year to year, and for a great portion of every year, in want of the commonest necessaries of life.
§ Mr. Sharman Crawford
was of opinion that even a more extensive system of Poor-laws was necessary for Ireland than that proposed by the present Bill, but that was no reason why they should reject the present measure. In that part of Ireland with which he was connected there had been established several mendicity societies, from which the poor of the neighbourhood had derived great relief; but now these were failing from want of the power to assess the districts in which they were located, and that was the principle for which the present Bill contended. He, therefore, gave his support to the Bill, though in doing so he had no wish to take any step that would embarrass the Government.
§ Sir Edmund Hayes
hoped that if the present Motion were carried, the Bill might not be referred to a Select Committee. He thought it would be much better to have it discussed in the whole House. In voting against the Motion, he wished to be understood as not being opposed to the principle of a Poor-law, but to him it appeared that to remain as they were would be much less objectionable than to enter upon a bad system, and as no two Gentlemen seemed as yet agreed upon the kind of system that should be adopted, he thought that if they legislated in their present unprepared state, they must do so improperly and injuriously. It was to be regretted that some Gentlemen, who were disposed to take an active part with respect to Irish Poor-laws, had not made themselves better acquainted with the necessity for them, and the probable operation of those laws in Ireland. He was led to this observation 334 by what had fallen from the hon. Member for Stroud, who stated that the White-boy system in the south of Ireland arose from a want of Poor-laws in that part of the country. Now, the reverse of this was the fact, for it was well known that those who were most active in that system in the south were by no means the most distressed portion of the community. Without being, as he had stated, hostile to the principle of the Poor-law, he did feel that one effect of a general system of Poor-law would be to destroy those kindly feelings which existed between the richer and the poorer classes in that country.
§ Mr. George F. Young
could not concur in the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that capital would not be increased by a Poor-law in Ireland. It was well known that, a great portion of the capital of Ireland consisted of rent, and the greater portion of that rent was sent out of the country, and employed in foreign or English labour; it was clear if that capital were kept at home, a great portion of it would be employed to buy Irish labour, and would then give work to a considerable number of labouring Irish who now sought to find labour by emigration, they following the capital, in fact, to have their share of it. The outrages that had been committed in Ireland were, in his opinion, chiefly caused from want of food arising from want of employment. That prevented English capital from going into the country, and took out of it much Irish capital which would otherwise remain. In his opinion, a wise and prudent provision for the destitute poor would be the means of restoring tranquillity to that country, and would thus correct the two evils with respect to capital which he had just noticed. He regretted the present measure had not been introduced in the shape of Resolutions rather than a Bill, and he must say that the present Bill was in some respects rather clumsily concocted, and contained provisions to which he could not assent, but at the same time he must protest against negativing a principle which was in itself so just as the leading principle of that Bill. All that was in fact required was to extend to Ireland the principle of the Statute of Elizabeth freed from its defects. If the Government had come forward and stated boldly that it would be ready to grapple with this measur in the next Session, or if it had 335 stated what course it intended to take in urging the question of Poor-laws forward, (for he thought it was impossible to prevent some system from being now adopted) he had no doubt the hon. Member would not press his Bill; but as the right hon. Gentleman had not stated what the intentions of Government were, he felt it his duty to support the Motion.
said, that it was clear that the hon. Member did not understand the Statute of Elizabeth. The abuses of which he spoke flowed necessarily out of that Statute; for the principle of the Statute of Elizabeth was, that the labourer who had employment should contribute a portion of his labour to the person who had no employment. The necessary consequences of such a principle was, that abuses grew out of it. He had come down to the House with the intention of voting that the Bill be referred to a Committee, and he had been determined in that intention not by the speeches which he heard in favour of the Bill, but by those which he had heard against it. The hon. Member for Knaresborough had amused him not a little. He had called upon him to give some arguments in favour of the introduction of Poor-laws in Ireland. Now the only reason which he (Mr. O'Connell) would give for their introduction was this, that although the system of Poor-laws was a bad one, still they were driven by necessity, not by choice, to do something for the relief of the indigent poor of Ireland. They were driven to it even at the expense of the property of the country. The hon. Member for Knaresborough by his speech drove them to this. [Mr. Richards said, he did not know what the hon. and learned Gentleman meant.] No one had less right to interrupt him than the hon. Member for Knaresborough, for the hon. Member had addressed almost all his remarks to him. The hon. Member had addressed him half with flattery and half vituperation, and he freely admitted that he preferred the vituperation to the flattery. The hon. Member had spoken of him as a renegado. Renegado, indeed! He threw back the insinuation upon the hon. Member for Knaresborough. The hon. Member talked too, of Scotland, which he said had obtained tranquillity by means of the introduction of Poor-laws, and in supporting that view he even made Latin quotations. The hon. Member was as classical as he 336 was consistent. He said, that Scotland had arrived at her tranquillity per saltum. Now the fact was, that Scotland had arrived at tranquillity in spite of the Poor-laws, for it was proved that in some parishes in Glasgow, where the Poor-laws were in full force, that tranquillity was annihilated, while in those parishes where they were not introduced, the people were flourishing. Ireland was in a miserable condition, and it would seem that nothing was to be done to relieve her but the application of the paltry quack remedies of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Knaresborough having disposed of his Welsh tenantry, proceeded with his French mendicants to Dublin, and complained that he did not find the hon. Member for Dublin among the supporters of the Mendicity Society in that city; but that society cost him more than any system of Poor-laws could, he was a subscriber to that society, though he did not approve of the application of the funds, because the paupers were employed at a rate of wages which deprived the healthy and efficient labourers of employment. That Ireland was in a wretched state, no man could doubt who had read the petition from Borrishoole, and he would defy any set of political economists to say the time had not arrived when something must be done to alleviate the sufferings of the Irish people. The fact was, Ireland was now suffering from misgovernment, and from the misgovernment of that party to which the hon. Member for Knaresborough had recently attached himself. He wished that party joy in having such a political economist as the hon. Member for Knaresborough at their back. The people of Ireland had been misruled for the last 700 years; they had been misruled by the Tory party: and had the late Government remained in office for nine months longer there could be no doubt that their mode of governing Ireland would have produced a sanguinary insurrection in that country. The hon. Member for Knaresborough would give to the people of Ireland a system of Poor-laws, while he denied them justice—they asked for bread and he would give them a stone. The people of Ireland were by no means anxious to join with the hon. Member for Knaresborough in this experiment of Poor-laws. What they desired was the experiment of fair and regular Govern- 337 ment in Ireland. At present the condition of Ireland was terrific. There were to be seen persons desolating the land by decimating the country of the tenantry. Landlords were recommended by the Orange party to get rid of their Catholic tenants, and the result was, that the miseries described in the Borrishoole petition would speedily extend all over Ireland if something were not done to arrest them. In considering this question he must confess that he had been obliged to give up logic and resort to feeling. He therefore should concur in voting to-night for going into Committee on this Bill, but he would not do so if something worse even than Poor-laws did not exist. He wished them to read the Bill a second time, in order that this subject might undergo inquiry by a Select Committee during the remainder of this Session, and he hoped that they would arrive at some proper course to be pursued. Looking at the history of Poor-laws throughout Europe it was well known that misery had increased wherever they were adopted. This must be apparent to any one who read the book of that intelligent but wrong-headed man Mr. Nassau Senior. Before they proceeded to lay down any system of Poor-laws for Ireland, they should look at the example of foreign countries. If there existed any system by which the tranquillity of Ireland could be restored, how was it that it had not been discovered? He did not think that the hon. Member for Knaresborough understood anything of the circumstances which led to Whiteboyism; if he had, he would not have made the observations he did on that part of the subject. Whiteboy Acts were for the most part perpetrated by sturdy, lazy, fellows who were unwilling to work, and if Poor-laws were introduced into Ireland, and they were refused relief when they applied for it, their next step would be to burn the workhouse? ["No, no!"] No! He asked whether such Acts had not been committed in this country, and whether, in many places, the poor population were not almost in a state of rebellion against the new Poor-law Act? He asked whether they wanted to add to the other incentives to Whiteboy Acts that which would be given to them by a system of Poor-laws? Though he was averse to Poor-laws, he still felt that something must be done. But he would not proceed blindly, or do more than he felt was inevitable. The state of society in Ireland 338 was such, that he did not think there could be found there the materials for forming local authorities to administer a Poor-law. In three of the provinces—in Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, the chief part of the population were Roman Catholics; and the consequence would be that the funds would go into hands in which the landlords would not confide, and they would be applied to purposes of which the landlords would not approve. This, he contended, would have the effect of throwing an additional fire-brand between landlord and tenant, and rendering them more hostile than they were now towards each other. Talking of the north of Ireland—there were in the province of Ulster, 781,000 more Catholic than there were Protestant inhabitants, and even there all the objections he had stated would apply, so that the result of the introduction of such a system would be to involve that country in one scene of trouble and discord. It was said, however, that though Poor-laws in Ireland might be injurious to that part of the Empire, they would be beneficial to England. He had always thought there was something at the bottom of the recommendation, more especially when he saw some particular newspapers—The Morning Herald was one—advocating the introduction of such laws into Ireland. This he considered a great mistake; in his opinion the adoption of the system, instead of serving, would injure England quite as much as Ireland. He would take his own parish for the purpose of illustration. If a man had a wife and several children, the course that would be taken was this: The man would have ten shillings given to him to carry him to England, and they would tell him that he should work for whatever he could get here, and in that way endeavour to lighten the burthen at home, while he pressed on the labourers of this country. Thus, instead of diminishing, they would increase the influx of the Irish labourers into this country. The petition from Borrishoole, proved the country to be in a dreadful state. It was a shocking thing that people should be famishing, when the fields around them were teeming with produce; but all this he attributed to bad Government. He concluded by saying, that if something was not done to ameliorate the political condition of Ireland, certainly something ought to be done to relieve the people of that country from the star- 339 vation with which they were threatened.
§ Mr. Bennett
considered the effects of the measure as regarded England to be quite a minor matter. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had told them (as he had often told them), that all the evils of Ireland were to be attributed to bad, or in the terms used by the hon. and learned Member, Tory Government. Now he agreed with the hon. and learned Member entirely, and that one of the chief causes of that misgovernment was the absence of the Poor-laws. He remembered making motions for Committees to consider the propriety of making some legal provision for the poor of Ireland, and those motions for Committees had always been refused by Tory Governments. He had voted in many minorities upon those motions against a Tory Government, and he had rarely known a Whig Government refuse those Committees. But it was rather surprising to hear the hon. and learned Member for Dublin saying (although he had made the strongest possible speech against Poor-laws in Ireland) that he would now vote for the Bill being read a second time. He knew full well that a Committee was the way to get rid of the question altogether. He contended that it was a most pressing question, he put it upon much higher grounds than the benefit which would accrue from it to England, or to Ireland—to this country, or to that—he put it upon this: that it was an act of justice towards those persons who, being in society, should be able to live in society. He contended that it was an act of justice that those persons who were born into the world should be able to live by their labour, and by the sweat of their brows. It was the duty of the state to enable them to maintain themselves, that was the principle upon which he called upon the House to decide the question before them. It was of a much higher description than the benefit which was expected to result from the measure to England, by relieving her from the superabundance of Irish labour. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had also stated another point, in which he (Mr. Bennett) believed him to be much in error, viz. that, wherever the Poor-laws were introduced, there followed misery and wretchedness. The hon. and learned Member had taken the cause for the effect of the Poor-law system. He was not advocating the particular system which was before the. House, which he did not 340 altogether approve of. But as he well knew the improvements which Bills always underwent in the Committee, and as he contended for the principle, as beyond dispute, he should, for those reasons, vote for the second reading with a view to the committal of the Bill. It was evident that hon. Members who opposed the Bill were not agreed in their opposition. Some said that it went too far, others, that it did not go far enough; they could not, therefore, it was evident, hit the nail in the right place for every one. He thought that the only way in which the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Musgrave) could proceed was by moving for a Bill—that Bill they had now before them, and all that was asked for it was a fair consideration. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin, had said that he subscribed liberally to mendicity institutions in Dublin. He considered he was right in so doing, not from show, but as there were no other societies, from duty. The hon. and learned Member might be liberal, but then the principle of those societies was, that people should subscribe, not according to their ability, but their charity. Upon the grounds he had stated, he would support the Bill most cordially, hoping that it would come out of the Committee in a much better condition than when it went in.
§ Mr. Anthony Lefroy
regretted that the hon. and learned Member for Dublin should have introduced such a tone and spirit of party into this discussion as must tend to defeat the object which he presumed they all had in view—some improvement in the condition of the people of Ireland. He was glad to hear the opinions which had fallen on this subject from the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman. The Bill he did not consider a good one for the object in view, but, at the same time, he would say that if any measure could be devised for the relief of the really distressed, the sick and impotent, it should have his support, but he was opposed to giving any claim for relief to the able-bodied poor.
§ Mr. Sheil
thought enough had been admitted on all sides to induce the House to send the bill to a Committee. The Bill, it should be recollected, did not make it obligatory on a parish to borrow funds or to assess its inhabitants for the relief of the poor—that was left optional, and the power would be used only in cases of emergency. The noble Lord had stated 341 they should wait for the result of the inquiry; they had already nearly the whole of the evidence before them, but they had no report of the Commissioners, and he understood that the differences of opinion amongst those gentlemen were such that they were not likely to agree in any report.
§ Mr. Aglionby
would consent to send the Bill to a Committee for the purpose of striking out any Clauses to which he objected, though he owned he at present saw very few Clauses of which he could approve. By this Bill, if the House assented to it, they would be bringing the Government into collision with the people of Ireland. He could not support this measure, because it was a partial one; but he would willingly support any general measure to mitigate the great distress of the unfortunate poor in Ireland. He implored the House to consider what would be the general state of Ireland supposing that only two or three parishes adopted this Bill. The poor of other parishes would flock into those parishes which adopted its provisions, and the consequence would be that the resources of those parishes would soon be devoured, inasmuch as the Bill gave no power of removing casual poor. He should certainly give his vote against the proposition of the hon. Member behind him. In order that it might not go forth to the public, that in voting against this Bill the House were voting against the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, he hoped that the hon. Member would withdraw it, or that, if he would only move that it be read a second time, for the purpose of letting it go before the public now, and perfecting it afterwards, when the Government should have received the report of the Irish Poor-law Commissioners.
§ Mr. Barron
said, that if the Bill were pressed to a division he must vote against the Motion of his hon. Friend, as there were portions of it to which he could on no account give his assent. He hoped, however, that his hon. Friend would not place him under that unpleasant necessity, but would of his own accord withdraw his Motion.
§ Sir Richard Musgrave
was understood to say, that in the present state of public business he could not rationally expect to get the Bill through the House during the present session. He wished to have the Bill read a second time, to have it amended 342 in Committee, and then to let it stand over till another session.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
spoke amid the general impatience of the House. After deprecating the inhuman sentiments so often expressed by the political economists on the subject of Poor-laws, the hon. Member proceeded to express a wish that the hon. Member had turned his Bill into a Resolution declaring the necessity of introducing a well-regulated system of Poor-laws into Ireland. In that case he had no doubt but that the hon. Member would have had a majority of the House in his favour. If such a system of Poor-laws were given to Ireland, that country would undergo a great and immediate beneficial change. The peasantry which inhabited it were not idly disposed, on the contrary they were most desirous to obtain employment; still, though he had rather have had a resolution declaratory of the necessity of introducing Poor-laws into Ireland, he did hope that this Bill would not be withdrawn.
§ The Bill was read a second time.