HC Deb 19 March 1835 vol 26 cc1206-31
Mr. Smith O'Brien,

in bringing forward a Resolution which would pledge that House to relieve the aged, helpless, and infirm poor of Ireland, felt the disadvantage under which he laboured, by the Commissioners who had been appointed to inquire into this subject not having yet reported. This objection he knew would have a great weight with some, but it would have none with those who, like him, thought that every hour which they delayed in passing a law to give relief was an unnecessary postponement of a measure necessary to the peace and tranquillity of Ireland. The objection would have no weight with those who knew, as he did, that there were thousands, tens of thousands, he might say hundreds of thousands of human beings living for the last seven years in a state of the most absolute destitution, and this, too, was happening while that House was deliberating, was appointing Committees, and was nominating Commissioners to ascertain questions which it required no inquiry to solve. At various periods the question of Poor-laws for Ireland was before that House, but it was always baffled or postponed. In 1829, Mr. Villiers Stuart brought forward a Resolution sanctioning the principle of Poor-laws for Ireland; it was met by the previous question. In 1830, a Committee was appointed, and that was given as a reason for not acceding to Mr. Sadler's Motion. That Committee afterwards reported upon every conceivable subject except the subject for which it had been specially appointed. In 1831, he had the honour of introducing a Bill upon this subject; it was met by repeated delays on the part of the Government, and it was at last postponed until the dissolution took place. The Bill then fell to the ground by his ceasing to be a Member. In 1832, the same thing occurred; there was another postponement; and in 1833, Mr. Richards's Motion was met by the appointment of the Commission, as a new argument, why the House could not come to a conclusion. The Commissioners in Ireland were anxious to ascertain the state of the poor; while it was notorious that the wretched state in which they were was disgraceful to the Government. That great ornament of the Catholic Church, Doctor Doyle, had long since contended for the necessity of a provision for the Irish poor, and an extract from the work of an intelligent English traveller, Mr. Inglis, who had visited Ireland last summer, accurately described their condition. I spent a day, said Mr. Inglis, in visiting those parts of the city where the greatest destitution and misery were said to exist. I entered upwards of forty of the abodes of poverty; and to the latest hour of my existence, I never can forget the scenes of utter and hopeless wretchedness that presented themselves that day. I shall endeavour to convey to the reader some general idea of what I saw. Some of the abodes I visited were garrets—some were cellars: some were hovels on the ground-floor, situated in narrow yards or alleys. Let the worst be imagined, and it will not be beyond the truth. In at least three-fourths of the hovels which I entered, there was no furniture of any description, save an iron pot; no table, no chair, no bench, no bedstead—two, three, or four little bundles of straw, with, perhaps, one or two scanty and ragged mats, were rolled up in corners, unless where these beds were found occupied. The inmates were some of them old; some crooked and diseased some younger, but emaciated, and surrounded by starving children; some were sitting on the damp ground, some standing, and many were unable to rise from their little straw heaps. In scarcely one hovel could I find even a potato. In one which I entered, I noticed a small opening leading into an inner room; I lighted a bit of paper at the embers of a turf, which lay in the chimney, and looked in; it was a cellar wholly dark, and about twelve feet square; two bundles of straw lay in two corners; on one sat a bedridden woman, on another lay two children, literally naked, with a torn rag of some kind thrown over them both. But I saw worse even than this; in a cellar which I entered, and which was almost quite dark, and slippery with damp, I found a man sitting on a little saw-dust; he was naked; he had not even a shirt; a filthy and ragged mat was round him. This man was a living skeleton, the bones all but protruded through the skin; he was literally starving. In the place of forty hovels I might have visited hundreds;—in place of seeing, as I did, hundreds of men, women, and children in the last state of destitution, I might have seen thousands. I entered the alleys, and visited the hovels, and climbed the stairs at a venture. I did not select, and I have no reason to believe, that the forty hovels which I visited, were the abodes of greater wretchedness than the hundreds which I passed by. He could himself bear testimony to the accuracy of Mr. Inglis's description. He accompanied the Poor-law Commissioners last year through Limerick, and he could truly say, that no language could describe nor the imagination conceive, anything equal to the frightful reality of the scenes he beheld. He was afraid to state the actual amount of the poor of the city of Limerick, lest he should be supposed to exaggerate; but there were at least several thousands in that city, while the charitable institutions could not afford relief to more than 400 persons. In Dublin, there were 30,000 persons living in the greatest destitution. Every village in Ireland was encumbered by its numerous poor; and this was occurring in a country from which the exports to Liverpool alone amounted annually to four millions and a half; and the entire of the agricultural produce exported to this country was probably little short in value of 10,000,000l. When they saw the population living in this state of wretchedness in a country so productive, could they be surprised that it was disturbed? Should not their surprise be rather, that it was not infinitely more disturbed? But let them see how the poor lived in Ireland, or how they were supported. In Ireland, it was extremely well known that the poor were supported by the poor. The farmer, who was himself struggling, never refused food to the mendicant. The landed proprietors, with a few honourable exceptions, contributed, what was, in amount, a most insignificant sum. The classes in Ireland requiring re- lief were the helpless, the orphan, the widow, and the unemployed labourer. He would make a distinction between them. He would insist upon relief for the helpless, the orphan, and the widow; while, as regarded the able-bodied poor, though it seldom happened there was sufficient occupation for them in their respective parishes, yet they might be engaged in different districts upon works for the public advantage and utility. An objection might be made by persons in high favour in that House, that there was a rapid improvement in the condition of Ireland, and might call on them to let Ireland alone, and it would arrive at the climax of prosperity without the assistance of Poor-laws. He did not deny, that in particular places there was an improvement, that production had increased, and that the number of persons in comfortable circumstances had increased; but there could not be a doubt that the aggregate mass of misery in Ireland was greater now than ever it was, and that this had been caused, in many instances, through the cruel practice of turning poor persons out of their little holdings, for the purpose of consolidating larger farms; by the abolition of the forty-shilling freeholders, and by the working of the Subletting Act. He would ask those who talked so much of prosperity, if half the labouring people of Ireland were employed, or were in the possession of the means of subsistence. Multitudes were, in fact, living in the most helpless state of destitution, and yet it was said their condition was prosperous, and the nation was prosperous. Another argument against the Poor-law would be, that it would destroy the sympathies of all human beings for one another, and the feelings of charity of the poor towards each other. But if a man were rich, he should not be allowed to throw his poor relations on the sympathy of the poor. He would be most ready to grant a remedy against that person; but for the poor to support the poor, who had no claim upon them, was so far from being an objection, that it was a strong argument in favour of a Poor-law. One fact could not be denied, that such a law would at once put an end to what could not but be considered an evil:—indiscriminate relief to the poor. There was another class of persons who, although they admitted the practice and the principle of Poor-laws, declared it would be impossible to avoid the abuses of the English Poor-law. He was not prepared to say, that a plan could be submitted which was free from objection; but he would prefer the chance of a contingent danger, to the endurance of the present evils. He had no hesitation in saying that the badness of the Administration of an English Poor-law was the cause of their not having a better state of things in Ireland. But then it was said they had not in Ireland a sufficient machinery for working the Poor-law—it could not, he thought, be denied that they had as good materials for them as England possessed in the reign of Elizabeth. The management of the Irish gaols and hospitals would certainly bear comparison with the management of any in England, and if they had the power of uniting parishes, he had no doubt but that a Poor-law could be brought into beneficial operation. He would state the outlines of his Bill, although it was his intention to leave the matter in the hands of the hon. Member for Waterford (Sir Richard Musgrave), who would draw up a Bill, and whose intention it was to move that it be referred to a Committee to prepare the details. What he wished to propose was, that every parish in Ireland should be called upon to assess itself for the relief of the helpless poor. The poor entitled to relief should be strictly defined, and they should be only the impotent and the helpless. A Committee should be appointed annually to administer the Poor-law; and as it was said, that the poor-rate would absorb the rental, he did not mean to impose more than a shilling in the pound. A certain portion was to be paid by landlord and tenant—those proportions to be determined by the Committee; but let it be said, the landlord should pay twothirds, and the tenant one-third. He proposed also to tax the absentee landlord—which could not be objected to by any one; for it would not impose upon him more than any other holder of property; but it would compel him to give something to relieve that distress, which he now disregarded and increased by his absence from the country. It was also desirable that the Legislature should make some provision to suppress vagrancy, instead of the cruel statutes now in force. In looking over the papers laid before Parliament, he was surprised to find, that in 1830, not less than fifty-seven persons had been transported for seven years for vagrancy. He would tell the House that until they diminished the sufferings of the poor of Ireland, they could not expect security in that country. Those who felt that the laws were of no benefit to them who offered the labour of their hands to sustain life, and could not find employment, would care little for transgressing the laws and disturbing the public peace. If they treated Ireland, not as a dependency, but as a part of the empire, they could govern it, not by military force, not by the baneful policy of encouraging factions, who promoted discord, but by the blessings of good laws, and good institutions. The hon. Member concluded by moving, "That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that a provision should, without delay, be made by assessment upon property in Ireland, for the relief of the aged, infirm, and helpless poor in that kingdom."

Sir Richard Musgrave

seconded the Resolution. The hon. Baronet, after referring to the Report of the Committee of 1831, appointed to inquire into the question of giving Poor-laws to Ireland, and stating that that Report was of itself a sufficient ground for legislation, said, that, without going into Ireland, no one could imagine the state of want and destitution which prevailed in that country among the poor. The wretched inhabitants, who had wandered about all day in ragged garments, were frequently obliged to pass the night without any other covering. Charitable individuals endeavoured, in some measure, to remedy this evil by supplying them with clothes, but this was ineffectual for the purpose, as they were after a short time compelled to sell them to save themselves from absolute starvation. Cases were frequently brought before the Magistrates of breaches of the law, committed in consequence of the pressure of extreme want, and the privation of the actual necessaries of life. The Magistrates were unwilling to punish such offences, but as the law compelled them to punish, they visited the first offence, with a slight fine; necessity, however, soon drove the offender to repeat the offence, and then he was sent to gaol, where he was provided with food and lodging, and was better off than when at liberty. The poor man might be fined 5l., but he might as well be called upon to pay the national debt. It was most painful to him as a Magistrate to commit persons to prison for breaches of the law under such circumstances. The present Resolution went no further than to relieve the helpless and impotent poor. He doubted whether a measure for the relief of the able-bodied poor could at present be carried into effect. The design of the original institution of property was to incite men to industry. He recommended that more employment should be given to the poor on public works. The public were hardly aware of the great advantages attending employment on the public works, but there ought to be an improvement in the management of them. They ought to be managed by permanent boards. It was, he believed, the intention of the noble Duke (now Secretary for Foreign Affairs), when he was at the head of the Government, to have introduced a great extension of the public works. He hoped his Majesty's present Government would follow up that plan. He feared that at present any other general plan of employment would be ineffectual. He had, on the first day of the Session, given notice of his intention to bring in a Bill for the relief of the helpless poor, drawn with the greatest care and attention by a Gentleman of great experience, and if the House would allow him to bring it in, he trusted that he should be able to prove that its provisions would be effectual.

Mr. O'Connell

felt it is painful duty to offer his opposition to the Question brought forward by the two hon. Members who had spoken before him. No man in that House could appreciate more fully the motives and the feelings of humanity which had induced these hon. Gentlemen to propose the remedy of legislative relief for the evils which oppressed Ireland, but he apprehended that their very desire to relieve the distress might mislead them as to the means of doing so, and he hoped, that in endeavouring to get rid of a temporary depression, they would not introduce a permanent evil into the country. He trusted that the House would, therefore, pause before they pledged themselves to a resolution like that which was brought before them upon this occasion. He would beg of hon. Members to observe, that this was not a motion for the introduction of a Bill. If it were, the House would have several opportunities of considering the question. The principles of the measure might be considered on the Motion to bring in the Bill on the first reading, and on the second reading, before they went into Committee, to consider its details; and even if the Bill were to pass the first reading, the House would not be pledged to agree to its principles. But the present resolution took the question per saltum: it pledged the House that it was expedient to make a provision for the aged, helpless, and infirm poor of Ireland. He objected to their making such a pledge, in the present state of their information upon the subject. What was the meaning of the Motion? What was meant by the word "helpless?" It did not mean the infirm only; for among the helpless must be included all who could not earn as much wages as would support them. And he would say, that there were none more helpless than that man who, with a large family and a good appetite, could not obtain as much wages for his labour as would feed the one or stay the other. He feared that the effect of the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland would be to make youth careless, and manhood reckless, if there were a certainty that old age would be provided for. It would, he was apprehensive, be the cause of depriving poverty of its remunerating quality, of loosening the close ties of social life, and inducing callous hard-heartedness to the necessities of relations. At present, the poor of Ireland were remarkable for their attention to their aged and infirm parents, and a man would rather incur any reproach than have it said of him, "You have neglected your old father or mother." The present Resolution would go far to do away with this moral feeling, and it would be as in England, where a son or a daughter would be found battling with their father or mother for sixpence or a shilling. It was proposed, first, to bind the House by a resolution to legislate on the subject, and then to bring in a Bill, then to refer it to a select Committee, who would collect evidence, and report to the House their opinion on the measure; and as it was impossible but that a great deal of time must be taken up in the inquiry, the Session would be thus wasted away. But while the House was thus consuming its time, there was a commission actually at work on the subject; the Report had not been prepared, but a great deal of evidence had been collected; he had seen some of that evidence, and it disclosed the most extraordinary fact, that the poor of Ire- land were supported by the poor themselves. The gate of the rich man was barred, but the door of the unfortunate cottager and small farmer was never bolted against the poor. He should wish that the evidence taken before the Commission were laid upon the Table of the House before they undertook the consideration of the subject, in order that they might have an opportunity of seeing their way, and of considering if it were possible to do anything to afford relief to the Irish poor, without, at the same time, introducing the immorality which attended the administration of the Poor-laws in England. He would not trespass any further on the patience of the House at that time, but he hoped that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division. He considered that a measure of this important nature ought not to be introduced upon individual responsibility, nor should its adoption depend upon the persuasive talents of any individual. He submitted to the House whether so important a question as the subject of the Poor-laws in Ireland ought to be left to the management of individuals, or to the persuasive manner of an hon. Member, or whether it ought not rather to be brought before the House under the sanction, and upon the responsibility, of the Government? The Poor-law system had, after all, not succeeded so well in England itself. They had no reason to be proud of the effects of its operation. A great experiment had been made last year, with a view to improve it; but it was impossible, at present, to say whether that experiment would succeed or fail. Ireland had better wait till it was seen whether the system worked well here. If England, with all her wealth and intellect, was still labouring under the effects of that system, great caution should be manifested in applying it to Ireland. At any rate, it would be most unwise to place the House, in the first instance, in a decided position till they had seen the practical effect of the alteration of last year. He did not wish to meet the question with a negative, as that proceeding would be not consistent with the respect he felt for the hon. Member who supported the resolution, but he should move the previous Question.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

said, that while he was perfectly aware that the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, in common with many other persons, was not friendly to the introduction of Poor-laws in Ireland, he still believed that the poor of Ireland were desirous of some provision being made for them; and he should have liked the hon. and learned Gentleman to have suggested some means by which this object might be accomplished. He held that all crimes in Ireland arose from, and were attributable to, the fact of no provision. The hon. and learned Gentleman affected to be at a loss as to the construction of the word "helpless." The man who could not procure labour would be looked upon as helpless, he said, and hoped that the provisions of the Bill would be more explicit. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the evidence, in respect to the poor, was most frightful; and when he said, that it was the poor who were called upon to support the poor, would the House believe that the whole amount paid by them was at the rate of sixteen per cent.? He was not disposed to leave this measure to the hands of the Government under any circumstances, and still less so from his recollection of the speech of the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) upon the occasion of the introduction of the measure of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. That right hon. Baronet then proposed that a Commissioner should go into every foreign country as well as to Ireland, to prosecute an inquiry respecting the poor. From that moment he saw that the right hon. Baronet was averse to it. Many Magistrates had told him that, in all their experience, they had never known a man earning his eightpence a day brought before them on any charge. The hon. and learned Member had done justice to the peasantry of Ireland when he spoke of the spirit which animated them in supporting their relations and poor neighbours. But he would put it to the House, whether these persons ought to draw on their own resources, when that House should legislate for them? And when the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the system of Poor-laws in England, and the impropriety of introducing them into Ireland, he would observe, that it might be recommended to amend the present law in England; but was it because the existing law was inoperative in England that some system should not be made applicable to Ireland? The hon. Member had also complained, that the Motion was not brought forward in a more specific manner; but he (Mr. O'Connor) thought it was as specific as it could be. They were told, too, the Session must pass away before evidence could be collected to enable them to legislate upon the subject, but he disputed the probability of this event. The introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland was as much an English as an Irish question. The English labourer complained, that he could not get employment in consequence of Irish paupers coming over here. But let them look at the Irish labourer rising from his bed of straw, willing, but not able to get work, and then let them say, whether he was not only an object of compassion, but a subject for relief. Then, unable as he was to get work in his own country, the moment the Irish labourer left his home to seek for employment during the harvest in England, his wife and children were thrown entirely on the charity of their poor neighbours. Would it not be too bad to take them out of the market for labour, and refuse them relief of any kind? As long as Ireland was in a state of desolation, so long would it be at the mercy of every agitator. His object was to make the Irish amenable to the law, which they never would be while they were so extremely poor. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin, though powerful on other occasions—and he (Mr. O'Connor) was glad for the interest of Ireland, and the cause of liberty and justice, that he was so powerful—yet, with all his power he was quite powerless on this question. That hon. Member would find himself borne down by the force of public opinion. He trusted, for the interests of his country, that the hon. Member would go on with his Motion, and press the consideration of this important question again and again on the attention of the House. The present Bill only proposed to grant relief to the aged, to the infirm, and the helpless young; but that relief was not enough to settle the present disorganized state of Ireland. He (Mr. O'Connor) would go much farther. He would not limit himself to this species of partial relief, to be extended to particular portions of the people. He would have a classification of society in Ireland, and without this there could be no good effected for that country. Yet he would take all that he could obtain, though that might not amount to the full demand of justice he was entitled to make. He knew, that many Irish landlords, who had been before hostile to the introduction of poor-laws into Ireland, had changed their opinions lately, in consequence of the growing necessity for that measure. Many of those landlords had declared, that they would sooner surrender their property than retain it under the circumstances of the present misery, and consequent demoralization and turbulence, in which the wretched poor were forced to exist. If it were true, as had been repeatedly stated, that the relief must eventually come from the pockets of the Irish landlords, would it not, he would ask, be an advantage to the landlord to be relieved from a tax of at least sixteen per cent, which the present poverty of the country imposed upon him for the relief of the surrounding paupers? At present, every farmer's house was a poor house. Let not that House talk of agitation or social disorganization. The poverty of the Irish—the absence of poor-laws—was the fruitful source of both. Neither let them speak of giving wholesome laws, and granting wholesome measures of legislative liberality, while the people wanted wholesome food. While the people were famishing they would be discontented, and there would not be found persons wanting to foment this discontent, engendered by poverty. He had intended to bring in a Bill on this subject, but the hon. Member had taken it out of his hands; and he was glad of it, from the superior mode in which the hon. Member could deal with it. The present misery of Ireland was to be traced to the system of dividing land into small farms, and subletting with all the concomitant evils. It was asked on the other side, why should we at once rush to a conclusion? He did not want that, he did not require they should jump to a conclusion. He only required, that they should proceed gradually, but steadily and safely. He hoped Ministers would give some pledge, that they would take up this question. Last year the Irish Secretary gave as his reason for not adopting any measure of relief, that the Commissioners had not reported. That support was not yet made, and he supposed never would be. He only asked for relief piecemeal; with that he would be satisfied. But some relief he should have. Whenever that Report were submitted to the House, he was sure he should be able to make out a case, that would force the House to grant some remedy. He trusted some Member would bring forward the question again if the present Motion were lost. In consequence of the opposition of the hon. Member for Dublin, he had now stated his approbation of the Motion. He had deeply considered the question, and from his boyhood he was anxious to support a measure for the relief of the poor.

Mr. Poulett scrope

said, that he had ever taken a very great interest in this question, but had failed in his object; and happy he was, that he had so failed, because it had been brought forward by hon. Members, who, from their large stake in the country, would have some chance of prevailing with those who were similarly circumstanced to look at this question without prejudice. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin, in opposing the Resolution, told them to wait for the Report of the Commission. If he had told them that there was a chance of this being received in the present Session, and that there would then be time to legislate, he would have joined in deprecating this early proceeding; but, as he had every reason to understand, that there was no chance of such Report being laid on the Table of the House in time for the discussion of the question, he would say, that they had no other plan to pursue than to bring it forward, and to take the opinion of the House on a question of an abstract nature—so simple as to require no evidence. What were they sitting in that House for, but to provide for the safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the three kingdoms? What were they to do for Ireland? He did not ask whether the people were comfortable, happy, or prosperous, at the present period; but he would ask, whether they were able to have any security for their existence? This question might be viewed in several lights—as a question of humanity, of Christian charity, of police, or of abstract justice. On all these points it was impossible to come to any other conclusion. As a matter of humanity, or of Christian charity, it was clear, that no inhabitant of a country should be permitted to starve. Doctor Doyle's evidence proved, that a large number of persons were in a state of daily starvation in Ireland, and it was asserted, that such was their reduced condition, that their blood was coloured yellow from the weeds on which they fed. It was as notorious as that the sun shone in the heavens, that distress and starvation overwhelmed the country. In times of famine, instances of actual starvation were not unusual. The reason why they were not more common was, that the poorest individual would and did share the very last thing he had with a fellow sufferer, rather than allow such a person to die from sheer want. Establishing a system of Poor-laws in Ireland, so far from injuring the landowners, would materially benefit them. If poor-laws were not to be introduced, what was to be done with Ireland? Was it the intention of the right hon. Baronet to move this Session again, that the Coercion Bill should be passed for another year? If such a proceeding was contemplated, without bringing forward some measure of relief, the right hon. Baronet might rest assured, that with the present House of Commons such an attempt would fail. So long as so many persons were starving in Ireland, so long as hundreds were travelling up and down the country in search of employment, and unable to meet with work, so long would it be absurd to talk of remedying minor grievances. He was persuaded, that crime was increased in Ireland to a very great extent, owing to this state of starvation; indeed, when fathers were unable to feed their children, and mothers had infants dying at their breasts from nothing but want, anything else was hardly to be expected. This question deeply affected, not only all who were interested in any way in Irish property, or the state of Ireland, but also the whole of England and Scotland. English landlords were not only obliged to support the poor of their own country, but a great portion of the Irish, in consequence of that portion of the Irish population not being able to reside in their own country. The consequence of so many Irish labourers being here also, made worse for the working classes of the English, because it occasioned the price to be given for labour to be considerably less than it otherwise would be. The Irish landlord was likewise able to send over his produce here, as well as his live stock, to be sold at a lower rate than the English landlord could afford to sell his produce, in consequence of the remuneration for labour in Ireland being so very much lower than it was here. Two centuries had been allowed to pass away, without anything whatever having been done for Ireland. If the Report of the Commissioners was about to be brought forward, he might not object to support the Amendment that had been moved, for then he might have some hope that something would be done for Ireland during the present Session; but otherwise he should feel bound to support the original resolution.

Mr. Secretary Goulburn

took a different view of this subject, from that which some of the hon. Members on the other side of the House seemed to take, although he was not less anxious than any of them to afford relief in an effective manner from the evils complained of. Although he felt it to be his incumbent duty, on the present occasion, to vote for the previous question, rather than in support of the original Motion, this was not because he had formed any opinion either adverse to the relief of the poor, or in favour of any particular mode of relief, but because, at the present moment, he found himself labouring under that incompetency, which he was sure must affect the greater number of the Members of that House, to come to any definite decision as to the course the House should take on so great and important a question. He was, for one, unable irrevocably to pledge himself, that he would immediately assess all property in Ireland, for the relief of the poor of that country. He should, under any circumstances, object to deciding such a question by a mere Resolution of the House. He thought, that a point so important to the empire at large, and involving the interests of every class of the community, ought not to be prejudiced by any single opinion of one branch of the Legislature. Those who were favourable to the Resolution, ought rather to be desirous that the subject should remain over until some enactment could be proposed and brought forward, upon which a full discussion could take place, and upon which the opinion of all the branches of the Legislature could be obtained, than to have the question prejudiced by such an attempt as this. There were many objections to coming to a decision in favour of this Resolution. It could not be done consistently with any former proceeding of the House, in regard to the question of Poor-laws in Ireland. An hon. Gentleman opposite had said, that such Motions as this had failed on former occasions, on the ground of its having been necessary to obtain information through inquiries that were then instituted; but if that were so, when Committees merely were sitting to investigate into the state of the poor, how much more forcibly did that argument apply at present, when, having found the insufficiency of inquiries by Committees, —having found that Parliament could not proceed upon the evidence to be obtained from Gentlemen before those Committees, the Crown had been advised to appoint a Commission to examine into the whole of the details of this important subject, and which it was doing with a minuteness and accuracy that no Committee could ever hope to attain. That Commission had now been in active operation for some time past in Ireland, and he had been assuredly informed that the Commissioners had applied themselves to the collection of every information that could bear upon the subject, with a diligence and assiduity that no one would attempt to question; indeed, if he understood the hon. Mover of this Resolution, he himself seemed to think that that Commission had conducted the inquiry in a way that was likely to convey a most accurate knowledge of what the real facts were. If that were so, what argument could be adduced by any Gentleman against deferring a decision on this important question, until after all the information was before the House, that that Commission could afford? Although many Gentlemen, from their local knowledge, might be able to give very valuable information, yet it would be surely much better to have all the facts from those who were engaged in collecting them in the most impartial and accurate manner. He was aware that a considerable time had elapsed since this Commission had been appointed, but the House could not expect that upon a great question like this, involving so many branches and so many separate inquiries, it was in the power of any set of men, however diligent and effective their labours, to make a report within a very limited time. He had, however, been informed by the Commissioners, who had been intrusted with this Commission, that with respect to one branch of the inquiry, the evidence was complete, and in the course of printing; and that, upon another branch of the inquiry, the inquiry had made great progress. He must object to any evi- dence that was at all likely to be partial, but he thought that could not be imputed to anything that would be laid on the Table of that House, from the Commission to which he had alluded. The hon. Gentleman who had spoken last, had said, this was a Resolution with a view to assist the helpless, the impotent, and the infirm. That did not remove the objection to this proceeding at present. The right hon. Gentleman could not consider this as disconnected from the great question, whether there should or should not be a Poor-law established all over Ireland. The decision upon the question of relief to all who were helpless and infirm involved necessarily the whole question of Poor-laws. He was not prepared, without the completion of the inquiry by the Commission, to declare that there should be a compulsory assessment on all the property in Ireland, even for the benefit of the helpless, undefined as that term had been. He hoped the House would remain quiet on this subject, until the whole of the evidence that could be collected was before it, because then, and then only, would it be likely to arrive at a decision calculated to do away with real grievance, instead of perpetuating by a rash proceeding, existing evils, or, perhaps, causing other and worse evils, which might endure for generations to come.

Mr. William Roche

Sir, the excellent spirit in which this subject has been discussed, together with the very pleasing and promising exposition and announcement of the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, who has just sat down, justify me in narrowing the observations which my estimate of the importance of that subject might, otherwise, induce me to make, and therefore to limit, which I am always disposed to do, my trespass upon the time and attention of the House. My hon. Friend, who so calmly and efficiently brought forward this Motion, has very pointedly and very properly adverted to and depicted the condition of the lower classes of the people in the city of Limerick, which place I have the honour to represent. Sir, I regret to say that the more deplorable that description, and deplorable his description was, the more accurate and characterestic of truth, the deeper—nay, the darker the shades of the picture, the nearer to reality; for, as I remarked a few nights ago, in consequence of some observations which fell from the hon. Member for Coventry, on a similar subject, thousands in the old parts of the town of Limerick are living in a condition scarcely to be envied by the beasts of the field. Groups of poor people congregating together in houses so neglected and unsafe as to be scarcely fit to exist in, consistently with public safety, but nevertheless thus inhabited because of the unfortunate inmates either paying no rent, or a rent next to nothing—a few pence per week for each family; and you can easily judge how much in unison with these habitations every other accompaniment of misery is. So helpless and hopeless is the condition of the poor there that however miserable the food must be, procurable at three-half pence per day, yet hundreds supplicate for admission into the Mendicity, or rather anti-Mendicity Institution in that city, to avail themselves of even this miserable support, and yet hundreds are of necessity rejected, because it is found impossible to maintain by voluntary contribution a fund adequate to their support. Sir, we have also, there, a House of Industry most benevolently superintended, where 500, otherwise forlorn individuals are congregated together, and where from the want of commensurate accommodation, three are obliged to sleep in one bed—and yet I have known persons who had seen better days, crave admission there in order to rescue themselves from utter starvation or destitution—solicitations which the benevolent and gratuitous superintendant of it has been oftentimes obliged to refuse, because the consequence would be the ejectment of inmates just as unfortunately circumstanced. Sir, when acting as a magistrate, I could not sometimes discover an assignable motive for the commission of an offence beyond the preference given to, and the consequent courting of even a jail allowance of food; and crimes punishable by transportation are, I believe, not unfrequently perpetrated by persons anxious to relieve themselves from the pressure of existing misery. This is evidently a state of things and a mass of misfortunes not confined to Limerick, but widely spread over at least the whole south and west of Ireland, and a state of things utterly inconsistent with the healthy or safe position of the body politic, as it is either with humanity or christianity. The celebrated Swift once remarked that he did not know what the paupers of England did with their cast off clothes till he went to Ireland; and really, were he still in existence, the same remark might apply—for the greater part of the poor in the cities of Ireland are clad by the refuse clothing of this country. These observations, Sir, sufficiently indicate my feelings on the subject; but I nevertheless think it would be wiser of my hon. Friend to postpone the matter, and not press it, now, to a division, but wait, at least a little longer, when the labours of the Commissioners appointed so long back to collect information on this subject, may be expected to be laid on our Table, and therefore enable us to approch it with all the advantages which information must afford—and further, because I feel, however indispensable protection be to those whom the almighty has, by age or disease, rendered incapable of providing for themselves, that we will not reach the root of the evil without some system for the employment of the people, which, too, will, I trust, form a branch of our future inquiry, were it only on the principle that prevention is better than cure. Sir, as the whole subject is thus likely to be brought before the consideration of the Legislature more comprehensively and efficient, with, too, I trust, the co-operation of Government, I think my hon. Friend will act more prudently by not pressing it at least for the present, feeling gratified, as he must be, by the sympathy his Motion has elicited, and the determination evinced of, ere long, taking it up with I hope, conclusive effect; for, Sir, the promotion of employment is the best source of public prosperity, and the diminution of poverty constitutes the best security of property.

Mr. Richards

hoped the hon. Member would not press the subject at present further; but, if he did, he certainly should divide with him. He deprecated the course pursued by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, who had argued, from the abuses which had grown up in the system of the Poor-laws, against the principle of those laws. As well might he argue from the acknowledged abuses in Government, in religion, in the army, in the navy, and in science itself, against those necessary institutions. The lion. and learned Member who was so sharp upon our abuses, should really condescend to look narrowly, and without prejudice, on the contrast which this country, with its Poor-laws, presented to his own country, without those laws. We had been accustomed to the principle of our Poor-laws, and that system had now, for above 200 years, worked well for the peace of society. The hon. and learned Member would do well to look at their effect here, in the order, peace, and security which prevailed throughout England, and compare these indications with the turbulence, disorder, and cruelty which disgraced the sister kingdom. The truth was, as had been recorded by the ablest historians of the time, that previous to the passing of the 43rd of Elizabeth, which was our Poor-law, the condition of England was very much like the state of Ireland now. The poor went about in bodies, levying contributions on the industrious farmer, often by intimidation of numbers, and sometimes not without offering violence, in order to extort relief or money. The cause, perhaps, of most of the outrages in Ireland might be traced to the state of destitution of the poor, hopeless as they were of any relief from a certain source. Several petitions were last Session presented to Parliament, numerously signed by landowners, merchants, and others in Ireland, in favour of the assimilation of the law in Ireland to the Poor-law of England, so that he believed that a system of Poor-laws would be considered, even by persons of property in Ireland, a boon to that country. He recommended the postponement of the Resolution, in order to enable Ministers to meet this important and all-absorbing subject with the attention it deserved.

Mr. Sheil

argued that, to obviate objections which had been made by some hon. Member to-night, it would be best to frame the Resolution so as to embrace only those whom age or imbecility rendered objects deserving of charitable relief. There was a striking difference in the legislative history of the two countries. It was this:— After the abolition or confiscation of the monastic property, by Henry VIII., it was discovered that the fund for the maintenance of the poor was absorbed, and to remedy the evil, the 43rd of Elizabeth was passed in the next reign but one. In Ireland the same confiscation of monastic property took place, but most unjustly for the interests of the poor no provision was made even out of the tithes transferred to another hierarchy. He hoped shortly some measure of justice would be dealt out to the people of Ireland in this respect.

Mr. Hume

differed materially in opinion from the hon. Member for Knaresborough, believing, as he did, that the state of the administration of the Poor- laws was the cause of almost all the evils of which the people of this country complained. He compared the effects of assessment to the practice of contribution adopted by the heritors and proprietors of land in Scotland. This was the general practice in the eastern part of Scotland, but in the southern counties the practice was more nearly assimilated to the compulsory assessment of this country. The vice of the Poor-laws was that it was made a fund for the relief, indifferently, of the indigent through accident or affliction, and the reckless, the extravagant, and the idle, who, becoming poor, applied, as of right, for relief from a fund which ought to be sacred to misfortune. These laws, unfortunately, banished too often provident care and prudent habits from amongst the lower orders. It was but just that casual misfortunes should be relieved, but all habitual dependence on the part of the poor upon this fund should be discountenanced; and he firmly believed that extending our Poor-law system to Ireland would be productive of much misery, instead of giving substantial and general relief. He thought this Resolution and the discussion upon it were premature. He did not see that Government was prepared to throw, or had thrown obstacles in the way of the anticipated Report being laid before the House. It was his firm conviction that to establish Poor-laws in Ireland would only add to the woes of that distracted country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that, in consistency with the views entertained by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, he ought to have abstained from entering into the details which he had suggested to the consideration of the House, because in the greater part of his speech he had spoken against the principle altogether of a system of Poor-laws. The hon. Gentleman said, that it would be better to leave the industrious poor to rely solely on their own exertions, inasmuch as that course afforded much greater security for their industry and good conduct, than would exist if Poor-laws were provided: but the hon. Gentleman himself declared that some qualification was necessary of that broad principle. The hon. Gentleman admitted that, under certain circumstances, the principle he had laid down ought to be departed from, and that it would be wise to provide, at the public charge, temporary relief. Now, if it were necessary, in laying down a general principle, to make so wide a qualification as that, he begged to put it to the House whether it was expedient, under the present circumstances, to affirm a resolution of the nature of the one that had been moved? The question never would be brought before the House in the shape which the hon. Gentleman to whom he had referred imagined, viz.—whether the Poor-laws of England, with the whole mass of abuse that had accumulated round them, should be applied to Ireland. Every one would be prepared at once to negative such a preposition. But the real question was, could they apply the original principle of the Act of Elizabeth to Ireland, and could they accompany that principle with a practical provision to secure against its abuse? That was a question to be hereafter discussed; and he must express his hope, that the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Brien) did not mean to force them to the negation of that proposition. Had not the hon. Gentleman better withdraw his resolution, than oblige the House to take a course which might imply a negative of his proposition. He thought it impossible for the House to consent to affirm that proposition. The hon. Gentleman asked the House, in the present state of the question, to affirm that it was expedient, without delay, to make, by an assessment on property in Ireland, a provision for the relief of the aged, the helpless, and infirm poor of Ireland. If he did not believe that the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his motion, he should think himself called on to move as an Amendment a Resolution, that leave be given to the Member for Limerick to bring in a Bill on the subject. Such a motion was not usual; but he certainly should have moved an Amendment to that effect, and asked the hon. Gentleman to bring in a Bill embodying his own conception of what the details ought to be. Because, if it were right that without delay they should make a provision for the poor, the hon. Gentleman ought to be prepared to follow up his Resolution with a practical measure, and let the House see the provisions by which he proposed to execute his Resolution. The hon. Gentleman said, that it should be by an assessment on property in Ireland. Did he mean real property, and personal property also? Did he mean a parochial assessment, and that the relief should be distributed by Commissioners, or by parochial authority, or by some authority in districts which he would point out? These were matters of importance, with respect to which the House ought to have some intimation of the views of the Mover, before the hon. Gentleman asked them to affirm his Resolution. He should be sorry to take a course that might appear to be either adverse to the principle or to giving a fair consideration to the subject. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Feargus O'Connor) who he certainly thought had been watching with a sort of parental anxiety over the fate of this Motion—an anxiety of which further evidence was afforded by the warmth of the speech he made—had represented that when the proposal was made by Lord Althorp to appoint the Commission, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) recommended that the Commission should be extended to every country in Europe. Such was not the fact. It was, however, at his instance that the Commission was appointed for Ireland. He had observed, that there were debates on the subject day after day, and yet nothing conclusive was done; therefore, he suggested that it would be better to appoint a Commission which should go to Ireland, and procure that local and practical information which he thought they stood in need of, and which he must say, he expected the House would have possessed before this time. He certainly should have thought that there was some main and leading principles established which might have been reported before now. But instead of attempting to force the Government by such a Resolution as was proposed, if the House were dissatisfied with the delay in furnishing the Report of the Commissioners, he would suggest to them that the more logical course would be to move that the Commissioners should report forthwith. He did not think that the best way of forcing the Report was to force the House to affirm a proposition which that Report might considerably qualify. Perhaps, the House would not object to leave it to the Government to call on the Commissioners to make a report of their progress; and, if it should turn out that the delay was occasioned by an inquiry into minute matters which did not bear particularly on any great principle, though they might be important in themselves—for example, he did not see that any great principle was involved in inquiries respecting infirmaries or other public charities—if this were the case, he did not think it necessary for the house to wait till the inquiry was complete. Should the inquiries of the Commissioners as to the great branches of the subject be completed, there was no reason why they should not have a Report on the leading principles laid on the Table of the House, which would allow of those principles being taken into consideration, and the consideration of the details might be postponed. The hon. and learned Member for Tipperary said, that if they inserted the words "helpless poor," he was not certain whether they would not affirm this proposition, that every child capable of earning its subsistence by labour should have a claim to support. Now surely it was important to ascertain that. It was important to ascertain what construction was to be put on the words "helpless and infirm poor." There was nothing so dangerous as to affirm a general proposition of that nature, without seeing the regulations by which it was to be carried into effect. The hon. Gentleman said, he would not afford relief generally; he would give it only to those who were infirm; but how were they to draw the line between the infirmity of actual discase and the indisposition caused by scanty living in consequence of not having any employment. The hon. Gentleman's Resolution appeared to imply a claim on the part of the whole poor—it would grow to that; it would lead to all the difficulties that had resulted from a departure from the original principle of the English Poor-laws. At present, he could not judge of the practicability of the Motion before the House. Until some specific mode should be placed before the House, which should honestly administer the proper kind of relief, he never would affirm the proposition now before them. If he did affirm such a proposition, he might be establishing some measure which would absorb the whole of the landed property of the country; he might be constituting an agrarian law of the worst possible description; he might be sacrificing the industrious and moral habits of the people, unless a due regard was had to the wholesomeness of the measure proposed. The hon. Member for Cork had mentioned a moral ground far supporting some such measure, namely, the necessity of teaching the Irish people to eat; but he would venture to say, that to allow them to provide food for themselves by their own industry, would be much better. He would then leave them to unassisted nature, as a better instructress. He hoped the hon. Member (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) would not press his Motion. A Commission having been appointed for Ireland, he had every reason to believe that a Report would shortly be made. Let them have facts sufficient before the House, before they affirmed the proposition. The present course was only calculated to prejudice the question, and for that reason the Motion ought not to be pressed.

Mr. Finn:

To the statement which had been made, that the poor were supported by the class immediately above them, he would give his contradiction, as also to the statement, that relief was forced by intimidation. He was glad the discussion had been supported with good temper, and considerable advantage would be reaped from it. The proceedings of the Commissioners had been dilatory—from whatever cause he knew not. The House was quite in the dark as to all their proceedings; indeed, it almost seemed as if the Commission had been appointed to prevent any result. He thought, however, it was necessary to wait for the Report before they proceeded further.

Mr. Wyse

assented to the propriety of waiting for the Report. He had to congratulate the House on the statement made by the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), that he had no objection to the introduction of Bills which would enable them to come to some conclusion before the end of the Session, and from which hon. Gentlemen would judge of the details. The question of the Poor-laws was divided into two parts—one as regarded the sick and infirm, and the other as regarded the able bodied. There were other reasons why he should at present be unwilling to decide upon the nature of the relief. Until some organization was introduced into Ireland—until a general system of education had been established—until the Board of Public Works had been regulated—until the Question of the Irish Church had been fully and finally settled, he, as one of the people, could not consent to any further assessment on the property of the country.

Mr. Smith O'Brien

was satisfied with the discussion of the question, which no one but the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had contested. He was delighted with the declaration of the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), and he would be extremely glad if the Government would take up the question. Believing he should prejudice the question by now pressing it, and believing that the object he had in view would be aided by the delay, he had great pleasure in adopting the suggestion of hon. Members, and withdrawing the Motion; more especially as he was given to understand, that the evidence would be before the House at an early period. He hoped that the Bill would then be allowed to be brought in and fully discussed at the second reading.

Motion withdrawn.