I confess that it has been my most anxious wish to address the House upon this subject at the earliest possible period of the discussion. The regulations of the French Chamber would be more suited to my object than the rules and orders that prevail in this House. There the speakers are divided into those who speak for a measure, against a measure, and upon a measure. My intention was not to speak upon this measure. I am not for it. I do not think that it is likely to succeed. My own deliberate judgment is, that not only it will not succeed in mitigating the evils to be found in the present state of the poor of Ireland, but that its tendency will be to aggravate them much. Therefore I cannot advocate the measure. I do not mean to vote against it. I think it has now become inevitable, that we must have some measure of a Poor-law for Ireland. I yield to the necessity, while I regret it. There has been, for some time, an opinion prevailing in England, that a Poor-law in Ireland will prevent the evils arising from the emigration of the Irish labourer, and mitigate the misery of the English poor. Many men, too, in Ireland have taken up strong opinions lately in favour of a Poor-law, whose opinions formerly were in opposition to it. Several of the Catholic clergy too, are anxious for the measure. There are also many influential persons who heretofore imagined that political ameliorations would produce improvements in the state of the peasantry generally, and are now disposed to make this experiment. I confess that I am not decidedly opposed to it. It is, I know, an untried experiment. I am deeply convinced that Ireland never can obtain prosperity until she has a legislature of her own. That is my thorough, that is my decided conviction. The people are disposed to try whether that is a mistaken conviction: so am 361 I. I find it is impossible to have the people of England consider that the experiment has been fairly worked out, as long as that portion of the experiment which relates to Poor-laws is untried. For these reasons I yielded to this Bill. I do not mean to vote against it at any stage. I will not vote against it—if necessary, I shall vote for it. I repeat it, I yield to the necessity without being at all convinced. In looking to a measure of relief for the poor of Ireland, the first course for the House to pursue, is to understand the nature and extent of the distress that prevails there. The noble Lord who introduced this subject to the House, omitted that topic altogether. He made a speech, which was an extremely perspicuous one in all its details, and having the very best quality of a speech, it being impossible for any one who attended to it, not to understand the subject from one end to the other. But then he rather took for granted the distress than described it. It was not difficult for him to assume, that great distress prevails in Ireland. He entered into none of the details. He stated that there was overwhelming distress; but he did not at all trace out any of the causes that have produced the distress in that country. And yet it is impossible to find out the proper means for putting an end to the prevailing distress, unless the causes of that distress are first ascertained. I know how wearisome it must be to the House to enter into a subject of this description; but we are now making a new experiment in the administration of Irish affairs, and before we do so, we are bound deliberately to look to the causes—to trace them to higher sources than any that are immediately before our eyes. I do distinctly say, that this ought to be done, because I am convinced that it is my duty to trace the evil to its source. The poverty and distress that have prevailed in Ireland for ages in my opinion are owing to political causes. If any one remembers the nature of the Government in Ireland, this must be admitted. I need not go far back. It is unnecessary for me to go farther back than the last century and a half; and, looking at that, no one can be surprised to find Ireland in the state that she is in. I allude merely to two heads of those which are called the penal laws. By two distinct branches of those laws, ignorance was enforced by Act of Parliament, and poverty was enacted. Such were the effects 362 of the penal laws. I will mention the statutes. By the 7th William 3d. chap, iv., sec. 9, and 8th Anne, chap, iii., it was enacted, that no Roman Catholic should teach or have a school in Ireland. Such instruction of youth was prohibited. No Roman Catholic could be an usher in a Protestant school; it was an offence punishable by confinement until banishment. To teach a Catholic child was a felony punishable by death. The Catholics were prohibited from being educated. For any child receiving instruction there was a penalty of 101. a-day, and when the penalty was two or three times incurred, then the parties were subjected to a prœmunire—the forfeiture of goods and chattels. To send a child out of Ireland to be educated was a similar offence; to send it subsistence from Ireland was subjected to the same forfeiture; and, what was still more violent and unjust, even the child incurred a forfeiture. By these laws there was encouragement given to ignorance, and a prohibition imposed upon knowledge. I am not now to be told that these laws were part of ancient history—they were in full force when I was born. Another part of this code of laws prohibited the acquisition of property. No Roman Catholic could acquire property. He might, indeed, acquire it; but, if he did so, any Protestant had a right to come into a court of equity and say, "Such a man has, I know, purchased an estate—such a man is a Roman Catholic; give me his estate;" and it should be given to him. To take a lease beyond thirty-one years was prohibited; and even if within, thirty-one years, and the tenant by his industry made the land one-third in value above the rent he paid for it, it could be transferred to a Protestant. These were laws that were in force for a full century. For a full century we had laws requiring the people to be ignorant, and punishing them for being industrious—laws that declared the acquisition of property criminal, and subjected it to forfeiture. For one century ignorance and poverty were enacted by law as only fit for the Irish people. The consequences of a system of that kind are still felt. Nobody can say-that this is exaggeration. It has been said, you have to address yourself to the poverty and ignorance of Ireland; and we know that no ingredient can be so fatal in the history of a country—no greater impediment can be discovered to its improve- 363 ment. When you see that you are at once shown the source from which such misery has flown. There are sufficient political causes for the present state of Ireland. I now wish to bring the attention of the House to the effect of some statistical facts with respect to Ireland. They may not, at first, appear to bear directly upon the question; but they afford the materials for thinking, and are likely to lead, you to a just conclusion. Then documents show you accurately the political economy of that country. First, then, as to the contrast between England and Ireland. In England there were 24,250,000 cultivated acres. In Ireland, the quantity of acres under cultivation is 14,600,000. The proportion is not more than two to one of cultivated acres. The agricultural labourers in Ireland are, 1,131,715; the number of agricultural labourers in England, is 1,055,982. This gives an excess to Ireland of 75,733 agricultural labourers The value of the agricultural produce of England is 150,000,000l.; the value of the agricultural produce of Ireland is 36,000,000l. The quantity of hands in Ireland is two to one as compared to England; the quantity of produce by England is four to one as compared with Ireland. England produces four times as much as Ireland, although she ought only, considering the fertility of the soil of Ireland, to produce twice as much. Agricultural produce is the source of wages to the labourer. In England the wages paid to the labourer is from 8s. to 10s.; in Ireland the wages paid is from 2s. to 2s. 6d. This shows that agricultural produce is the source of wages. Let it be recollected that this is the state of Ireland—this is the state of her agricultural produce, when she ought naturally to produce comparatively more than England, because the soil of Ireland is more fertile comparatively than that of England. If there was an equality of cultivation, Ireland would produce much more, according to its extent, than it now produces less. The diminution of its produce, that by which it is so much less than it ought to be, is to be attributed to the want of capital to be expended in cultivation—it is to be attributed to the poverty of the proprietors of the soil; it shows that there is a diminution where there ought to be an increase in the quantity. You are not to be surprised that there is not that capital. You perceive that there is not a sufficiency of 364 capital to have that produce what it ought to be. It was pot to be wondered at that such a country as this should be in such a state of destitution. In Ireland it appears that there are 585,000 heads of families in a state of destitution—persons who, for more than seven months in the year, are without employment. This is the number of the heads of families, and comprising on an average to each family, not less than 2,300,000 individuals. It has been said that destitution has been created by the undue bidding for land. The competition for land has been declared to be one of the great causes of the present destitution, and it has been said that if you could diminish that competition you would diminish the destitution. Accordingly, the Secretary to the Poor Law Commissioners has been publishing pamphlets and declaring that he has found out the secret of Irish destitution. All, he says, that is to be done, is to take away the demand for land, and that the moment you do so you will give relief—that by putting an end to the exorbitant rents now demanded you will afford relief to the destitute. See how little foundation there is for such an assertion. Because there are 585,000 heads of families in a state of destitution he would thus relieve them. Now there are not less than 567,441 of these persons who have not an inch of land; they, then, were not poor by reason of the competition for land; and he would only give relief to 17,000 heads of families that have land. Without, then, referring to a Poor law, there were 567,000 who had no land; these persons were to be swept away before they could come to the panacea to prevent the competition for land, and which could only affect 17,000 persons. I state these facts because they can be no longer disputed. I wish to show the state of society in Ireland. There is this overwhelming excess of agricultural labourers in this miserable state—there is this inferiority of agricultural produce—there is this attributable to the poverty of the landlord and the tenant equally. Let it be recollected, (although I have not the document here to prove it) that it has been calculated that the landlord receives 50s. in England for every 20s. that the Irish landlord gets. I have now presented facts to you to show the situation of the peasantry, and to prove to you that they are in the most extraordinary state of destitution. I have the 365 evidence of this fact from every county in Ireland. I begin with the—COUNTY ANTRIM.—"Doctor Forsyth observing a poor man's cabin blocked up on Sunday, he was induced to make inquiry, and found that he had not risen from his bed during the day, having nothing to eat.The Rev. Mr. Brennan states, it would make your blood run cold to hear the tales of woe and misery that are told me in my confessional—the hardships of the poor are beyond endurance."—First Report, p. 401.COUNTY WESTMEATH.—"Instances have been known of persons having committed trifling offences for the purpose of being sent to prison, in order that they might obtain food and shelter."—First Report, p. 408.COUNTY CLARE.—"At all times of the year a large body of able-bodied men are out of work, but in summer there is the greatest scarcity of employment. The poor are then reduced to the greatest extremity, and are obliged to put up with just as much food as will keep life and soul together. Many is the man who thinks himself well off at that time with one meal a day.The following case gives an idea of the distress to which these poor women are reduced when the cholera hospital was established. Notwithstanding the dread which was entertained of the disease, three poor widows feigned sickness to get admittance."—First Report.COUNTY LONDONDERRY.—"The widows are frequently reduced, with their children, to six pounds of potatoes a day. Spinning is the only employment to which they can have recourse."—First Report.The habits are as follows:—Two or three families occupy one room. We have found four families in a room; in one corner a woman who had just been delivered, lying on a little straw; no other straw in the room."—First Report.COUNTY ANTRIM.—"Many cases of death arise from starvation.COUNTY CORK—"Doctor Fitzgibbon is disposed to attribute much of the disease, which is at all times prevalent, to the use of bad food, and to the miserable state of the poor as to bedding and bed clothes. He has often found sick persons lying with a little damp straw between them and the ground."—First Report, p. 323.The huts that labouring people live in are often such that they have scarcely a place to lie on, on account of the rain.In point of clothing the state of a great portion of the labouring class is very wretched. The clothes, or rather rags, of many labouring men are utterly insufficient to protect them from the cold; many have no blankets, but make use of the clothes they wear during the day for the night covering.The hon. Member next referred to a 366 return from the county Carlow, showing the destitution of the small class of farmers, and observed, that it was intended by an Act of Parliament, to tax that class of persons, and make them pay poor-rates. He next referred to the—COUNTY MAYO.—"Numberless instances were known of families, being unable to procure straw, cutting rushes for beds; still more, that for want of bed clothes they lie in the clothes they wear by day. Independent of rain from the roof, they cannot but be damp from their situation, as the most valueless (that is, swampy) piece of land is always selected to build them on, for fear of wasting any that might be profitable."—First Report, p. 292.The Rev. Mr. Hughes mentions a case in which he was called on, about three months ago, to administer the rites of religion. The family had been attacked by the fever: he found the father and four out of the five children sick, and altogether on one bed of moist rotten straw: their only covering a single fold of what is called a poverty blanket, half wool and half tow."—First Report, p. 292.In the parish of Burrishoole, in a population of 10,553, 3,931 were men and women destitute of necessary raiment; 9,553 of the total population were lying at the best on straw; and of those 7,0T0 were on the cabin floors."—First Report, p. 375.In the parish of Kilmore Erris (Mr. Lyons says), according to a census which I made, there were 751 men who had no shoes; and out of a population of 9,000, 3,136 persons, male and female, who within five years had not purchased any article of clothing. According to the same census, of 1,648 families in the parish 388 have two blankets each; 1,011 have one blanket each; and 299 have no blankets at all. You may well be surprised at this; it surprised myself, although many years resident as parish priest."—First Report, p. 386.Now look to the effect of a Poor-law in one parish of the county of Mayo, the parish of Burrishoole:—Statement showing the Acreable Extent, the Population, distinguishing the number without employment, and those unable to work, and the Rental and Tithes of the Parish of Burrishoole, County of Mayo, deduced from the evidence in the First Report of Commission of Poor Inquiry (Ireland), session 1835—(369) pages 375–6.
ACREABLE EXTENT. Number of acres of arable and pasture land 16,000 Number of acres of reclaimable mountain and pasture land 15,000 Number of acres of irreclaimable land 15,000 Total Number of acres 46,000
§ Number of persons capable of labour without employment seven months in the year, 7,078.
§ Number of persons destitute and unable to work, 434.
§ Population in 1834, 10,534.
|RENTAL AND TITHES.|
|Rental.—Amount paid to absentees or mortgagees||£4,796|
|—Amount paid to the resident landed proprietors||2,176|
|Amount of tithes as compounded||350|
|Total amount of rental and tithes||£7,322|
Estimates and Inferences drawn from the foregoing Statement, assuming that relief was to be entirely drawn from the land, and that at the lowest possible calculation, without reference to the expense of workhouse, or management, &c.
§ "Of the amount it would annually take to provide support for the destitute unable to work, at 2¼d. per head per diem, 1,953l., or more than one-fourth of the rental and tithes.
§ "Of the amount it would annually take to provide for the persons left without employment seven months in the year, at 3d. per head per diem, 18,579l.
§ "Of the amount it would annually take to provide for both classes, those destitute and unable to work, and those seven months in the year out of employment, 20,532l., or nearly treble the rental and tithes.
§ "Proportion per acre on the cultivated land it would annually take to provide for the destitute unable to work, 2s. 5d.
§ "Proportion per acre on the cultivated land and that reclaimable it would annually take to relieve both classes, 13s.
§ "Proportion per acre on the cultivated land it would annually take to relieve both classes, those unable to work, and those seven months in the year out of employment, 25s. 7d."
I mean to read but one other statement. I assure the House I am confining myself to a few of the many extracts I have made upon this subject:—
COUNTY LONGFORD.—"Those who have a plot of early potatoes dig them before they are half grown; they often have dug them out when they ought to be beginning to ripen: eating these unripe potatoes causes sickness; many men are put to their graves by this bad food; they are pounded with salt and vegetables, to give them a substantial body, otherwise they could not be eaten, they are so wet and tasteless; they are soft as mushrooms."—See First Report.
COUNTY KILDARE.—"It is matter of frequent occurrence to find able-bodied persons
committing offences for the purpose of being sent to gaol, and of getting food and shelter there."—First Report, p. 400.
There are at least 200 families without straw to lie on, and without any potatoe-ground, and, as they get little employment, it is a miracle how they live.
COUNTY TIPPERARY.—"The poor have been known to live on phrarragh (yellow-weed), or on unripe cabbages or potatoes. Even in ordinary seasons no small number of labouring men are compelled to allow their wives and children to have recourse to begging."—Report, p. 453.
§ I suppose there is not a civilised country in the world, except Ireland, where such details of misery are to he found. It is heart-rending. It is so extensive as to be almost incredible. But let it be recollected—let the House remember—that this evidence has been collected by gentlemen of intelligence and humanity; that the Lord Archbishop of Dublin, that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, that Mr. Blake aided by a number of assistant Commissioners, vouch for the accuracy of those statements, which underwent investigation on the spot. There was a Report published in 1830—sec what a description it gave—the report on the state of the poor of Ireland in 1830. Like the report of 1830, Mr. Nicholls, who paid a flying visit to Ireland, reported that there were great and encouraging prospects of the happiness and comfort of the Irish. The report of 1830 stated it was gratifying to them to notice the progress of improvement. Mr. Mahony declared that "the state of the peasantry was improving very rapidly," and that "the peasantry were now better clothed than formerly." Then there was Mr. Wayne, of the Woods and Forests, who said that every corner in Ireland was rapidly increasing in prosperity. There was, too, Mr. Wigans, an English land agent, stating that there was very great, improvement in Ireland within the last twenty-two years. He stated that he conceived there was even an improvement in the morality of the people! This was the evidence in 1830; but I have been reading for you the evidence in 1835. There you find that these prospects of improvement all end in this miserable display of wretchedness! I assure the House I have shrunk from half the selections I have read. The Report says, that the population is increasing rapidly. I know that it is generally believed that the increase in the Irish population is greater than in that of the English. The fact is not so. The population increases more rapidly in England, 369 than in Ireland. The ratio of increase from the year 1821 to 1831 in England has been 16 per cent, in Ireland, in the same period, it has been 13 per cent. This ratio shows that it is totally false that the great increase in the population can be made fairly accountable for the distress that exists. You see the pictures of misery that Ireland presents—you behold it in its present condition—that condition is attributable to the most frightful code which a Satanic imagination could have invented. That is the condition of a country blessed by nature with fertility, but sterile from want of cultivation, and whose inhabitants stalk through the land miserable wretches, enduring the extreme of destitution and of misery, living upon bad potatoes, feeding upon wild weeds seasoned with some salt, with no blankets to cover them, no beds to lie upon, nothing to shelter them from the rain, exposed to the worst ills of life, and without any of its consolations. Did we govern ourselves? Who did this? You Englishmen, I say you did it. I say that the domination of England did this. You—you cannot accuse us. This horrible poverty is all your doing. It is the result of your policy and your system of Government in that country. The blessings of Providence to Ireland are superior perhaps to those bestowed upon any other country. Recollect her navigable rivers—recollect the extent of her harbours—recollect her situation for commerce; then add to that her fertility, and then regard her wretchedness; it is not an imaginary picture—it is taken on the spot, the portrait is painted from living subjects. This, then, is the natural consequence of your rule. Agricultural produce has been comparatively decreasing—the number of labourers comparatively increasing. There is a great debt due to Ireland. I have no hesitation in saying that the real remedy which the Irish people have to look for is self-government. In the discussion of that question I had to encounter columns after columns of figures which were displayed against me. They were commented upon to show the increase of wealth in Ireland. What now becomes of the columns of figures contrasted with the evidence of the Poor-law Commissioners? They remark at once—political causes have reduced the country to its present condition. I come not here to make a polemical or political speech. I wish only to state facts—to trace the causes of misery and destitution that are unequalled on the face of the globe, To be sure, it 370 may be said, that I am making a case for a Poor-law. Certainly I am for a provision for the poor, and affording to them relief; but whether that is to be by a Poor-law is another question. I am here making a case to interest your humanity; I am here making a case to excite your compassion and to afford every possible stimulant to assist me in taking Ireland from the situation in which you have placed it. You know now what is the condition of Ireland at present. It is crying out for a remedy. I ask you for the remedy. What remedy do you propose? We require some remedy. It is admitted upon every hand that the case calls for a remedy. What do you propose? You gave 20,000,000lto the negroes or to their masters. Will you give 20,000,000l. to the Irish? Twenty millions would do a great deal. Will you give a grant, or send money over to Ireland, or will you give an annuity or the twenty millions? Will you give 600,000l. a-year, and apply it to the benefit of the Irish people? No; but you come out upon me, and say, if you have your five shillings in one pocket, we will give a shilling out of one pocket, and put it into the other, in order that, according to the proverb, you may not say you are poor, having "money in both pockets." You say to us, we will give you leave to tax: yourselves. This is the mode in which you will relieve our misery and distress. The Carlow farmer, who is dying from not being able to have a refreshing draught to wet his lips in fever—that man is to be taxed: you will compel him to give relief to support wretches who are not perhaps half as miserable as he is himself. I believe that you ought to bethink yourselves whether or not you will give to Ireland some annuity. Will you form a proper system of emigration. Emigration is now going on. The noble Lord has very properly remarked that the expense of emigration is now defrayed by emigrants themselves, and that, if the system were altered, those persons would not go without assistance from Government. Why not take the waste lands of Canada? Why not dispose of them in such a way as to promote an effectual emigration? Why not take the colonial waste lands as the American Government does? Why not make them a fund? Nobody would miss them: such a step might perhaps put an end (to a certain extent) of the Land Company; but it would enrich the Canadian people by sending out to them great numbers of healthy, able-bodied labourers. There would be something in that: but you do 371 not talk of doing it. What is it that you propose to, do? Do you mean to given public works? I know the noble Lord told us, that no permanent good could result from public works undertaken merely for the purpose of giving employment for the time. I admit that; but are there no public works of a different description that might be undertaken? Read the Report, and then tell me whether there are not public works from the undertaking of which there might not follow an increase of revenue and of national prosperity. I do not propose to dig holes one day and fill them up the next, as was once proposed by a celebrated statesman in this House. I propose works of public utility. I propose the construction of roads and means of communication through mountains and bogs. I propose the drainage of lands where the capital required goes beyond the means of individuals to supply. My hon. Friend near me suggests the opening of the Shannon. Perhaps that might come within the works I should propose. But you have nothing for me except this Bill. I have already shown you that it is not competition for land that makes the misery of Ireland. Then what is it that causes the distress and wretchedness of the country, and of what value is this Bill to remove them? I will not now canvass any of its details, which may be more suited for discussion in Committee. I take only its great principles. In the first place, it is founded upon Mr. Nicholls's report. Ought any Act of Parliament to be founded on that man's report? I find it impossible to speak of that report in the terms one ought to use in this House. It is impossible, with due regard to the decorum of Parliament to speak of it in terms of execration in which it ought to be held. What did Mr. Nicholls do? On the 22nd of August, being in London, he fits himself out for his Irish expedition, deliberately takes his way to Ireland, and by the 15th of November has prepared his report, and safely returned to London. This report is drawn up entirely from his own observation; for, with contemptuous indifference, Mr. Nicholls cast aside altogether all the in-formation that could have been afforded by the Poor-law Commissioners who had been sitting upon the subject of Poor-laws in Ireland. Mr. Nicholls having spent rather more than two months in his survey of the state of Ireland, certainly begins 372 his report in rather a comical manner; for, says he, remembering of course the weary period he had engrossed in the service, "it is only by personal inspection that the state of Ireland can possibly be known." After a personal inspection of six or eight weeks, Mr. Nicholls actually advances an opinion that Irish women were chaste! Of a truth, he must be a mighty keen observer; but I agree with him that it is by personal inspection only that Ireland can be known; though it would perhaps have been well if the personal inspection of Mr. Nicholls had been carried somewhat further before he cast aside from him as wholly unworthy of observation or regard the Report of the Irish Poor-law Commissioners. I have inquired a little of Mr. Nicholls's mode of proceedings whilst he was in Ireland; and I understand that although several of the Commissioners were resident in Dublin during the time he was there, he only thought it worth while to seek out one of them, Mr. Vignolles, upon whose experience and understanding he might certainly have put implicit faith. Disregarding, however, any information he might have received from that gentleman, Mr. Nicholls decides upon establishing in Ireland one hundred Poor-houses. That is the scheme to relieve Ireland from all her distress and all her misery—one hundred workhouses! I will canvass this scheme a little more particularly presently. Mr. Nicholls, with his one hundred workhouses, talks of giving relief to 80,000 persons. Now, you will recollect that the Irish Poor-law Commissioners reported that there were 385,000 heads of families in Ireland without one single acre of land amongst them. Mr. Nicholls proposes to relieve this mass of poverty by boxing up 80,000 poor persons in a hundred poor-houses. Is not this preposterous? Is it not much worse than preposterous? I will not insult the good sense of the House by dwelling upon it; I will not pursue Mr. Nicholls through all the absurdities of his scheme, but I will call the attention of the House to the charities that now exist in Ireland, and, comparing the number and extent of these charities with the misery that exists with them, and in spite of them, I will then ask the House how far the confinement of 80,000 poor persons in a 100 workhouses is likely to alleviate the sufferings of my unhappy and destitute countrymen? In the city of Dublin alone 373 the sums annually granted by this House towards the support of charitable institutions amount to 44,450l. There are, be-besides, a number of other charities supported by private subscriptions, of which the annual amount is 29,360l. 19s. 10d.; and beyond these there is another series of charities, the amount of which, in pounds, shillings and pence, has not been exactly ascertained; but including all the sums distributed by the sisters of mercy and sisters of charity in Dublin, the annual amount cannot be less than 30,000l. So that in the city of Dublin alone the sums given in charity by Parliament, by private subscription, by collections at Protestant churches and Catholic chapels, by religious and charitable societies, amounts in the aggregate to 103,800l. per annum. And, with all this, is the destitution of the people relieved? Is there no misery—no wretchedness in Dublin? Is there a city in the world where there is so much wretchedness, or so much misery? Then, if 103,800l. a year be insufficient to relieve the distress of one city, how can it be supposed that 312,000l. the estimated expense of the 100 workhouses, will be sufficient to relieve the distress of the whole country; recollecting, too, how many sources of private charity will be dried up the moment a general measure of this kind is passed? I will put this fact in another point of view. I have in my hand the statistics of the medical charities of Ireland. It seems that there are in the provinces 482 dispensaries, sixty-seven fever hospitals, thirty-six county and city infirmaries, eleven district lunatic asylums, including that at Cork, and in Dublin, eight infirmaries and six hospitals, making a total of 610 establishments for the distribution of medical charity in Ireland, supported at an annual expense of 164,994l. This is equal to one-half of the sum calculated by Mr. Nicholls as the annual amount of the money to be distributed under the provisions of the Bill now before us. The average number of persons admitted into the infirmaries and fever hospitals in Ireland amounts to 40,000, and the expense as I have already stated amounts to 164,994l. a year. Do you suppose by doubling the number of persons to be relieved, and the sums to be employed for that purpose, that you will include all who stand in need of relief in Ireland, or that you will have sufficient pecuniary means to remove all the distress 374 of that country? Stopping the sources of individual charity, do you suppose that by simply doubling the amount now expended in medical charities, you will be increasing to the people of Ireland the aids they at present receive. Have I not described to you the distress that exists everywhere in Ireland? Have I not at the same time given you the amount of the charities that are maintained in that country? Have I not shown that upwards of 250,000l. a year are annually expended in charitable institutions and medical establishments? What, then, becomes of Mr. Nicholls's calculation that 312,000l. a year is to do everything for Ireland? It is a dream—a wild dream—312,000l. a year will do nothing. I tell you that this law must be confiscation or nothing. Make your minds up to that—make the experiment if you please; but prepare to take the consequences. I should mention, that Mr. Nicholls put in a postscript to his report. It is said, that the material part of a lady's letter is generally to be found in the postscript. Mr. Nicholls, being a man of gallantry, thinks this, I suppose, a proper mode of following the example of the ladies, and accordingly he puts in his most important calculations by way of postscript, "The population of Ireland," says he, "being about 8,000,000, I assume that workhouse accommodation may occasionally be required for one per cent., or 80,000 persons," and then in a foot note he remarks, by way of illustrating his proposition, that "in Kent, Sussex, Oxford, and Berks, the amount of in-door pauperism, as returned on the 29th of September last, was just one per cent, on the population. These four counties were among the most highly pauperised, have been longest under the operation of the new law, and are provided with most effective workhouse accommodation." Yes, one per cent of the population are relieved in the workhouses; hut Mr. Nicholls forgets how many are relieved out of the workhouses—he omits that altogether—he totally forgets it; and it is upon this man's report that you are going to act—upon such a report you propose to Legislate for the relief of a nation. Would it not be wise to pause? Before you proceed would it not be wise and well to ascertain the correctness of the grounds on which you are required to act? I have in my hand a calculation of the amount of in-door and out-door relief afforded in the 375 four English counties mentioned by Mr. Nicholls. I have heard the amount of that relief rated much higher; but I will confine myself to the statements contained in the document before me. It will be recollected that Kent, Sussex, Oxford, and Berks are the counties which Mr. Nicholls describes as having been longest under the operation of the new law, and provided with the most effective workhouse accommodation. Well, then, the calculation I hold in my hand demonstrates clearly that instead of one per cent, on the entire population, as calculated by Mr. Nicholls, the proportion relieved in-doors and out of doors is five per cent.; and therefore proceeding on Mr. Nicholls's own data, it follows, that not one hundred, but five hundred, workhouses would be required; that 400,000 persons, and not 80,000 persons, must be accommodated; and that the amount of the annual charge must be l,560,000l. instead of 312,000l. Will the House be content to proceed upon calculations which I prove to be so grossly fallacious? But why does Mr. Nicholls make the workhouses the test of destitution? What the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) stated was, that the able-bodied poor were to be relieved in Ireland, and that the Bill should not be limited, as the Irish Poor-law Commissioners had suggested, to the relief of the sick and maimed alone; and then the noble Lord, applying Mr. Nicholls's test, said, "It will be a proof of destitution—of such destitution as demands relief—if they go into the workhouses we propose to establish?" Do you then want proof of destitution in Ireland? Is the wretchedness of the people a matter of doubt? Do you require proofs, such proofs as these, that they are starving? Such language sounds strangely indeed on the ears of those who know anything of Ireland. But in England it was said that the Poor-law system was so defective that until the new law was adopted nobody could dream of introducing it into Ireland. What did the Poor-law system produce in England? It produced laziness, dissipation, want of care; it took away habits of thriftiness and industry, it engendered profligacy, and made men destitute from their own in-caution; it produced all these consequences in England. They became at length intolerable, and you said, "We will redress them, and in order that we 376 may find out who are really destitute we will adopt a test which none but the destitute will abide; we will separate the idle and vicious from the honest and industrious; we will relieve those only who stand the test we apply to them." Accordingly a sort of prison discipline was invented for the government of all the English workhouses; a discipline, no doubt, to which none but the really destitute would be willing to submit. But do the Irish people require any stimulant of that kind to keep them from idleness or to induce them to work? Does even Mr. Nicholls say, that the Irish people are idle and will not work? Is there any people on the face of the earth so anxious to procure wages by labour? Is there a civilised, or a cultivated, or a cultivatable spot in the wide world where Irishmen are not found performing the heaviest and most incessant labours? What works are there requiring great physical strength and un-relaxed exertion where Irishmen are not the chief labourers? Must you imprison them, then, to make them work? No, no! the people of England would never have required such a stimulant for their industry, if you had not first demoralised them by your Poor-laws; and till you have demoralised the people of Ireland, by the operation of a like system, you need not threaten them with imprisonment to make them work. The system of poor-houses, as proposed in this Bill, may hold out to the Irish landlords the delusive notion that there is an extent beyond which the rate for the relief of the poor will not go. Such a notion may for a time be entertained by the landlords, but it will be fallacious. It is, indeed, a delusion you are practising upon yourselves, if you think you can with such a paltry sum do anything for the substantial relief of the people of Ireland. I would implore you before you plunge into this Bill to consider this—by adopting such a measure do you deprive the people of Ireland of nothing? Do you take from the poor of Ireland nothing? Your Report shows that the Irish poor receive at present in alms an annual amount varying from 1,000,000l. to 1,500,000l. They do not receive it in coin, but in kind, and this is easy to the farmer who affords the relief. Has any farmer in Ireland told you that he would rather pay money than the produce of his land? No. Your humanity to the farmers is delusive—your inhumanity to the poor is obvious. You take 377 away from them the 1,500,000l. of charity they have at present, but do you take away from them nothing else? Do you take away from them no kindly feeling? Do you know the evidences which have been given of strong filial and parental affection in the Irish? Have you read nothing of their habitual kindness and consideration for all of kin to them? I have a multitude of passages in my hand, extracted from the Report of the Commissioners—passages which do the greatest credit to the affections of the unfortunate Irish poor. They are in misery and distress; but their kindly feelings never freeze under the chill hand of poverty and destitution. There they are, the son supporting the mother, the daughter supporting her aged parents—nay, with the latter it is often a speculation to marry young that they may have a partner to assist them in the office of maintaining those who can no longer support themselves. There is not a higher testimony to the moral qualities of the Irish poor than the evidence that has been placed before us relative to their condition. Do you wish to take all these away? You know it is a very natural thing for a son to say, "Why should I diminish my own means to support my infirm father when there is the union workhouse to receive him? Why should I exhaust myself with labour to maintain my mother when there is the same refuge for her? Why should I assist my blind cousin, or lend a helping hand to my lame uncle, is there not the union workhouse to receive them? This is only a natural train of argument. You will deprive the Irish poor, therefore, of the charity they at present have,—you will extinguish in their bosoms those kindly feelings and generous emotions which are beyond all price, and you will reduce them to the same miserable and degraded condition out of which you are now seeking to raise a considerable proportion of your own agricultural poor. Again, then, I implore you to hesitate before you plunge into this measure. I have mentioned many reasons that should induce you to do so. Are there no others? In Ireland you have around the poorest and most destitute class a broad margin composed of men who are not actually paupers, but who are scarcely able, by dint of the strongest and most incessant exertions to eke out a livelihood. All these are for the future under the operation of 378 this Bill to become rate-payers—every man rented at 5l. a-year is to become a rate-payer. This will include every man who at present just saves himself from begging. There are multitudes of this class. I would have you recollect, then, that when you are taking away from the beggar the charity he at present receives, you are at the same time taking from the small farmers the means that hitherto have prevented them from becoming beggars also. Is there not another consideration? What is it that supports the Irish labourer at present? What fund is there in Ireland for the payment of wages? There is not capital enough to pay for labour in Ireland. Do you want to take away part of the funds that now exist? Is not every shilling levied for poor-rates a shilling taken from the means of paying the wages of labour? By imposing a rate, therefore, you will destroy the inadequate means that even now exist for the payment of wages. But it is said (and this no doubt would be a great boon if it could be accomplished)—it is said, "a measure for the relief of the poor will tranquillise Ireland—there will be no more insurrectionary movements in the country when the people find that their wants are supplied." To accomplish that end you must carry your calculations much further than you propose to do by this Bill—you must go the full length of the 1,500,000l. of charity, which you will be putting aside if you hope to give permanent tranquillity to Ireland. I confess that the measure, as it now stands, does not appear to me to be calculated to give tranquillity to that country. How does it proceed? There is to be no parochial relief. All relief is to be given in the workhouses. Perhaps Mr. Nicholls, in his sagacity and wisdom, will make rules for the government of those houses. What will be the consequence? You will give to every man whom you refuse to relieve a cause for prædial agitation. The man you refuse is the very man to resent in the worst way the refusal; he will go to others, and induce them to adopt his quarrel: perhaps to avenge what he conceives to be his wrong. Thus, instead of tranquillising Ireland, you will only be giving to her people another source of discontent. Am I speaking imaginary things when I refer to the operation of a system of Poor-laws as a cause for prædial agitation? Was there not a period, and a recent one, when the rural districts of 379 England were nightly illumined by the torch of the rustic incendiary? Am I, then, Speaking only of imaginary things when I say that this law, instead of affording a protection against prædial agitation, will become only a new source of irritation and exasperation. If it do not it will be only from the extreme extent of the relief you give. I conjure you to consider whether, to make your relief substantial and beneficial, you must not make it equal in amount to one-half, or, at any rate, one-third of the rent-roll of Ireland. If you enter upon this course Of policy at all, you must not do it piece-meal—you must not dole out your charity in small driblets. Let it be as extensive as the evil, or do not attempt it all. This, too, must be recollected: in the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland you do not propose to establish any law of settlement. Now Poor-laws have been recommended for Ireland as tending to make landlords careful of the tenants on their estates, because, not taking care of them upon their estates, they would have to support them by paying rates. But if you establish no law of settlement you will not affect the landlord in that way. It is the union and not the landlord who will have to pay for the support of the poof wherever they are found; and whatever the burthen Upon the landlord, it will only be shared by him in common with his neighbours. Thus the inducement to the landlord to take care of his tenantry will be wholly lost, unless the Bill be accompanied by a law of settlement. Yet I am not asking for a law of settlement. I know the difficulties that would attend the introduction of such a measure. Mr. Nicholls, to be sure, thinks it would be easy enough, because, says he, there would be no difficulty in procuring a certificate of births from the clergyman. That applies only to the Protestants; but how are the Roman Catholics, whose priests succeed each other with great rapidity in almost every parish—especially those that are sickly—how are they to obtain certificates of their birth? I mention this only to show of what materials Mr. Nicholls's mind is composed, when he says it would be the easiest thing in the world to do this or that. I approve of not introducing a law of settlement into Ireland, because, though there may be a prima facie case in favour of the introduction of such a law, the Report of our own Poor-law Commissioners, as well as the experience of all foreign 380 countries where a law of settlement obtains, proves that the effect of it is to enslave the paupers by tying them to the soil where they are born, and hunting them like rats if they venture to remove from it lest they should obtain a settlement elsewhere. Instances of this have been abundant enough in London, where women actually in labour have been trundled about from parish to parish by the overseers, each anxious to prevent the child from being dropped within the precincts over which he presided. A law of settlement cannot be introduced into Ireland; yet by not introducing it you prevent your Poor-laws from affording to the poor that security against the severity of the landlord which you say you are anxious to establish. There is another point for consideration. Any attempt to make labour productive by raising a poor-rate will be abortive and end in disappointment. A labour-rate has failed wherever it has been tried. I wish this to be fully understood before we proceed with the present measure. I have felt it to be my duty to spend a considerable portion of my time in reading every thing I could get on Poor-laws, foreign and domestic. Perhaps my inquiries have led me into error. If so I must certainly say, that I have adopted my errors upon the most deliberate consideration that my mind is capable of bestowing upon the subject. To me it seems that no proposition has been so fully demonstrated both by theory and practice as this: that you cannot make labour productive by means of any fund you may raise for the purpose, where that labour has not been rendered productive by the enterprise of private and individual speculation. In America the price of labour is 5s. or 6s. a day. The poor-houses are full. Why do they not send their paupers out to labour? Because it is found that slave labour nobody will buy. A man labouring upon compulsion takes a pick-axe and employs himself with it for half an hour, making a hole large enough perhaps to put in his finger. The Americans have now gone back from the old system of Poor-laws, and remedy the evils of poverty and distress, not by levying a poor-rate on the industrious, but by turning out the idle from their workhouses, and leaving them, if they like, to perish, which no man in America need do if he be willing to work. It is an idle dream to imagine, that you 381 can produce productive labour through the agency of a poor-rate. Neither can you produce a paradise in the midst of a wilderness, by establishing colonies of the poor where there is an inch of fertility. The attempt has failed in Holland as well as in Belgium. No, you may give relief in poor-houses, but never endeavour (for it is vain) to make labour productive at the expense of any poor-rate whatever. I have addressed the House at great length, greater perhaps than I ought to have clone, but I feel a deep concern in the question. I have shown a case of great misery and distress in Ireland. I have traced it to political causes. I think, before you introduce your Poor-law, it would be wise to see whether, by other political measures you may not do something for the good and prosperity of Ireland. I do not wish to introduce anything polemical into the discussion, but I ask you to pause and to consider, whether by other means you may not do more good to Ireland, and would conjure you in the first place to try the effect of an enlarged system of emigration. If you will not do that, I will implore you to go back to what is called the evidence of your forefathers; go back to the reigns of the Plantagenet And Tudors, when it was enacted, that every man having an estate in Ireland, and not living half the year there, should be liable to a fine of 6s. 8d. in the pound on the gross amount of his rent-roll. Come out with an absentee law, and give me 6s. 8d. in the pound on the rent-roll of all absentees. This may be called a dream, yet after all I believe it would give more permanent and more substantial relief to the poor of Ireland than your proposed Poor-laws. I know full well that some political economists have talked of absenteeism as not being a mischief to Ireland; but the doctrines of those men are now, I believe, derided by all. The nobleman whose rent-roll amounts to 50.000l. a year, in the course of twenty years draws 1,000,000l. from the resources of Ireland, no part of which he ever returns. To procure this sum for him all the corn, all the cattle reared upon the soil of which he is the lord must be sent to foreign markets. In the regular course of things the value of the corn and the cattle so exported should be brought back again. But it is not so in Ireland; no part of the price of her produce ever re- 382 turns; and as well for these districts who had to support absentee landlords would it be if the ships which bore their produce from their shores sunk half channel over. This, after all, is the dreadful feature in the domestic economy of Ireland—nine-tenths of the rent-roll of the country are spent abroad. We have all the degradation and misery of a province, without the benefit of provincial protection. But I will trespass no further. I will close by saying, that I have a very strong conviction upon my mind, that you will find it as much in vain to attempt to create Act of Parliament charity in Ireland, as it has been to create Act of Parliament piety. I do not think you can generate virtues, and make them spread by Act of Parliament. I have certainly a strong impression, that a Poor-law has never done good to any country where it has been adopted. I make that avowal frankly. I look at the Poor-law in England: I see it reducing wages to half the amount they were before; yet I know that it has been introduced under the most favourable circumstances and in the most prosperous times—in the reign of Elizabeth, when the recent discovery of the western hemisphere opened a source of the most extensive and most wholesome emigration, and at the same time furnished the means of establishing a solid and secure currency in such quantities as the exchange of an active and enterprising people required. Yet the Poor-law of England, introduced under these favourable circumstances, arrived at length at such a pitch of abuse as to compel you, in spite of all the clamour and popular cry which even yet have not died away, to make a strong movement, and to repeal a considerable portion of that law. I do not hesitate to declare, then, that my own individual opinion is not favourable to a Poor-law; but least of all is it favourable to such a law as this which you propose to give to Ireland. I would only implore you, before the step is decisively taken, to have it fully, maturely, and deliberately considered in all its bearings—to give nothing to the unholy cry of those who hold themselves out as the especial patrons and friends of the poor because they are favourable to these laws. I entreat you to yield to no clamour of that kind, but fully and maturely to consider the Bill in every stage. Then, be the result what it may. 383 I shall feel that I have done my duty. I have not (I own it) moral courage enough to oppose a Poor-law altogether. I yield to the necessity of doing something; but I am not deceitful enough to prophesy that you will reap any lasting or solid advantage from the introduction of such a law into Ireland.
§ Mr. Sharman Crawford
agreed with the hon. and learned Member in his objection to the Bill now before the House, but he did not agree with him in the proposition that a Poor-law was not necessary for Ireland. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member, that England had been the cause of nearly all the evils under which Ireland laboured; but he would assert, that if there was one thing which had been more prominently the cause of those evils than another, it was the permitting the private appropriation and settlement of land in Ireland to take place without being accompanied by a Poor-law. It had been alleged, that a Poor-law was unjust, as it took the means and profits from the industrious man. Most certainly, he would never promote or permit (if he could prevent it) the enactment of a law calculated to produce such an effect. He considered the principle of a Poor-law was to make a provision against the injustice done to the poor man by the monopoly of the land. He knew that it was necessary to society that that monopoly should exist. Still the poor man must also exist; and as his existence depended on the produce of the earth, a Poor-law was essential where-ever a monopoly of the land was permitted. When they considered further, that the monopoly of the land was aggravated against the poor man by the operation of the Corn-laws, it was rendered more imperatively necessary that some measure of protection for him should be adopted. Neither a monopoly of the land, nor a Corn-law should be allowed, except protection were, either directly or indirectly, afforded to the poor man against the power of the landlord. If they did not directly interfere with the letting of the land, then they must indirectly interfere, by procuring that alternative which the well-being of the poor required. With regard to other species of property, money, for instance, the Legislature interfered and controlled the use of it. It determined that a man lending money should not charge an exorbitant interest for it, nor take advantage of the necessities of 384 the borrower. Considering also the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, where the land was obtained by forfeiture and conquest, it became even still more imperative that protection should be afforded to the poor man. In all those parts of Ireland where the mass of the people were in a state of poverty, he believed it would be found that that poverty was traceable to the nature of the relation existing between landlord and tenant. It was indispensable, therefore, that any Poor-law to be introduced into that country should be so constructed that it might re-act upon the proprietors of the land, and make them feel an interest for those from whose labours they derived their property. From the moment that the landlords were made responsible for the welfare of those from whom their property was derived, the greatest cause of pauperism would be done away with. It had been alleged, that pauperism in Ireland arose from overpopulation; but the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny had shown that this was not the case, and that the population did not exceed the proportion which the country could very easily maintain, if there did not exist other causes for the pauperised state of the people. Subdivision of farms had also been assigned as a cause of pauperism in Ireland; but in the county of Down the people were in a state of comfort and enjoyment superior to almost any other part of Ireland, and yet there was no county in Ireland where the farms were more subdivided than in the county of Down. Why was this? Because the relation that existed between landlord and tenant was upon a more kindly footing there than in any other part of Ireland. One reason why he objected to the Bill now before the House was, that it did not recognise the principle of settlement. Not being based on that principle, it entirely subverted the responsibility of the landlord. What would be the consequence if they were to determine upon granting relief without some description of settlement? They would give encouragement to wandering paupers all over Ireland; they would give a right of relief, without its being accompanied with any discretionary power to those who would have to dispense it, or without any proportion being observed between the amount of taxation to be levied and the number of the population in any particular district. He could not conceive, a greater evil than 385 such a system; and however anxious he might be to see a Poor-law in Ireland, yet he would much rather throw out the Bill altogether, than take it under the condition of establishing such a system. He also objected to the system of poor-house relief being made a sine quâ non. It might be necessary for a certain description of paupers, but for the great majority of paupers, or for that class who were the most difficult to be removed, and were at the same time the most numerous, if the poor-house system were conceded, it could not be rendered serviceable in practice. The great mass of poor persons in Ireland were the small holders and proprietors of land. If they were to compel the poor man to go from his holding into the workhouse, how could he ever make any exertions to improve his circumstances? His small farm must go into a state of desolation; and he could never after look to any means of advancement in the world. Such would be the result of having a Poor-law in Ireland without a law of settlement, and of having the relief of the poor confined, without any kind of discretion, to a system of relief in the workhouse. He also objected to the formation of large unions on the same principle that he had objected to the exclusion of a law of settlement, namely, because all responsibility would by that means be taken from the individual landed proprietors; it would discourage all exertion on their part to prevent pauperism, it would increase favouritism, and the amount of taxation in the unions. In short, he objected to the principle of unions, because it was attempting to apply the same system of relief to all parts of Ireland. This, he conceived, to be a very hopeless attempt. He thought the best way of dispensing relief in Ireland would be to allow the proprietors in each parish to elect guardians, and provide for their own poor according to the circumstances of each district. In that part of Ireland in which he resided, institutions were established for the relief of the poor, and those institutions were conducted with the greatest benefit to the district. The subscribers were also guardians, and they gave relief to the poor in the most beneficial way to them and in the most economical manner to the proprietors. Each of the poor was relieved at his own house at the rate of 3l. or 4l. a-year; how is it possible that the poor could live in the workhouse at so small a cost? It was 386 alleged that they were to argue from the failure of the English system, that a system of relief not by means of workhouses, would fail in Ireland. But the system of relief, in England had failed not from the want of workhouses, but from other causes. It failed because the distribution of the rates was not left in the power of the rate-payers. If the rates were left to the disposal of the rate-payers, there would be but little danger of failure from that cause. Another important defect in the English system was the want of attention to the education of the people. If they were to educate the people at the same time that they relieved them, they would elevate their minds and improve their conduct in industry and forethought. But beyond these, there was another cause which greatly tended to the failure of the English system—namely, that the right to relief (as we understood the hon. Gentleman, who was, however, occasionally very indistinctly heard in the gallery, and what he said might have been, the rate of relief,) was too extensive. These were the chief causes of the failure of the English system, and not, as he had said before, the want of the workhouse system. The question before the House, he conceived, was not whether the poor of Ireland should have relief or not; not whether Ireland should have a Poor-law or not; but whether the Bill which they were now discussing was the proper measure to be adopted for that country. The hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny had described the distress and misery that existed in Ireland in the absence of a Poor-law. But had the hon. Member proposed any remedy? One only, extensively expatriating the poor. He confessed that was not the remedy which he looked for. He Was willing to admit that emigration was highly useful in many ways; but he would assist the poor man to supply his wants in his own country, and not render his support by relief dependent upon any system of emigration. He would not, while conferring a small benefit, make it a conditional preliminary that the pauper should submit to what he might feel to be a great evil. Surely it was necessary that the state should take some means to rescue the population of Ireland from that distressed condition in which the hon. and learned Member had most justly described a large proportion of the Irish people to be at this moment placed. It was impossible 387 that they could relieve themselves from their present position. So truly destitute were they of the common necessaries of decent clothing, that on the Lord's Day they were known to exchange dress with one another, in order that some might go to a place of worship in the morning, and others in the evening. Justice demanded that the state should relieve them from this unhappy condition. He was satisfied that a very small degree of relief, administered in the way he had proposed, would render the great mass of the people comparatively independent, who were now in a state of pauperism and misery. It was said that landlords were poor. He admitted it. But why were they so? If the landed proprietors would anticipate their means, and involve themselves in debt, was that any reason why the unfortunate and distressed poor of Ireland should be deprived of relief? The hon. and learned Member had talked of confiscation, but of that he was in no dread. If the landlords would take the proper means for improving their estates, they might afford relief to the people without any loss of property to themselves; on the contrary, the improved condition of the people would tend greatly to their own advantage and profit. But if the landlords could not by themselves adopt these means, then there ought to be some mode devised for enabling them to raise rates for that purpose. It was said, that the poor farmers would be taxed by the operation of a Poor-law Bill. No doubt they would; but did not those small farmers at the present moment bear all the burthen of relieving the poor according to the irregular system by which that relief was now administered? It was certainly intended to put a proportion of the tax upon the small occupiers, but still a larger proportion would be put upon the landlords. He considered that the tenant and the landlord should be taxed each according to his profitable interest in the land. The hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny had spoken of the benefit of a home Legislature as one of the means of improvement in Ireland. But surely the hon. and learned Member must recollect that while Ireland had her own Legislature no less than six attempts were made by the Irish Parliament to establish Poor-laws in that country. A Bill for that purpose was passed in the Irish Parliament in the year 1641, which afterwards received the royal 388 assent, but the Bill was never promulgated. Mr. Peter Gale found the Bill among the records of the Court of Chancery in Ireland; and if that Bill were re-enacted at this moment, it would be, in his (Mr. S. Crawford's) opinion, a better measure than that which was now proposed. He objected, first, to a Poor-law without a law of settlement; he objected, in the next place, to limiting relief in the workhouses; he objected, thirdly, to the system of unions; and he objected to various other provisions of the Bill, to which, however, he would not then more particularly advert, as a more suitable time for doing so would be afforded him when the Bill should be committed. He objected, moreover, to the absolute power which was vested in the guardians; and to the whole being placed under the English Commissioners. He would not trespass longer on the time of the House than to say, that it was his intention, when the Bill went into Committee, to propose amendments of the nature of those objections. If by those amendments, or any others, that Bill should be rendered effective for giving relief to the poor of Ireland, he should then support it: but if, on the third reading, it should remain in its present state, he should then oppose it; because he believed that the passing of that Bill would be one of the greatest evils that could befal the country. Having been an advocate for a Poor-law for Ireland, he would not take upon himself the responsibility of producing that evil which he conceived would be inflicted on that country by the passing of a measure with such provisions as those contained in the Bill now before the House.
was of opinion that the noble Lord was entitled to the thanks of the House and the country for introducing the measure now under discussion. The existence of deep and dire distress in Ireland was admitted by the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny; and yet that hon. and learned Member declared that he was hostile to a Poor-law for Ireland. But the hon. and learned Member forgot that there was a Poor-law in that country already. The question therefore was—not whether Ireland should have a Poor-law or not—but whether that which now existed was the best that could be adopted; or whether the Legislature ought not to devise an amended and more useful measure. By the hon. and learned, Member's own 389 howing, no less than one million of money was administered yearly by the present irregular mode; a mode which, from its very nature, necessarily begot mendicancy and insecurity to life and property. The question, therefore, was, ought that system to be continued? The hon. and learned Member proposed that it should, and that Ireland should be left with that insufficient, that vicious Poor-law. But would the House place any confidence in a speech, however eloquent or however specious, that advocated such a Poor-law? The hon. and learned Gentleman had complained of the want of capital in Ireland, but so long as the present insecurity of life and property existed there, it was impossible that capital could flow into that country. But it was not the want of capital alone that the hon. and learned Member complained of, he also complained of absenteeism; but the main cause of absenteeism was likewise the want of security to person and property. He had received a pamphlet which had been sent to him, as he believed, by the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny, and, if he was not mistaken, written by that hon. Gentleman, in which those principles were advocated which the hon. Member had that night put forth as to a system of Poor-laws drying up the kindly feelings of the people. He would ask whether in England, where they had had Poor-laws for so long a period, there was not as much kindly feeling, and as much given away in the shape of private charity as in any country in Europe? The hon. and learned Member, indeed, admitted that something must be done, as Ireland was in such a miserable condition; but he had not suggested any efficient remedy. He admitted that both the Catholic priesthood of Ireland, as well as the people, were in favour of a system of Poor-laws, and he also stated that he should vote for the Bill in all its stages, but he had delivered such a speech as was calculated to deter the House from proceeding with the Bill. He should now proceed to make some observations on the report of Mr. Nicholls, and the plan which had been founded on it. He did not deny that great mischief had resulted from the mal-administration of the Poor-laws in England, by giving an unrestricted power to the magistrates to order out-door relief; and there was no doubt but that the existence of these abuses had led to 390 the introduction of the Poor-law Amendment Act. The state of Ireland, however, was essentially different from that of England, and required a totally different system of Poor-laws. The chief complaint in Ireland was the extensive system of mendicancy that prevailed there; he would not propose, with the view of getting rid of this, the adoption of a system of imprisonment. He was satisfied that the Irish people would have great reluctance to be confined in the workhouses, and be excluded from their friends and relations, and be subjected to a state of discipline which would be enforced in those buildings. Such a state of things he was sure would be odious to them. But the number and nature of the workhouses proposed under this Bill would not be nearly adequate to the wants of the people, and if they did not go into the workhouses they were to have no relief whatever. The workhouse system might be good in England, but it never could be extensively acted upon in Ireland without rendering the Parliament and Government of England odious to them. The system pursued in the Mendacity Society of Dublin was that which he should propose as the model for framing a system of Poor-laws for England. One of the regulations of that system was, that the house of the society should be open to all applicants during the day, and that no person should be refused work and relief who applied; but the work given was not of the most agreeable nature; there was, therefore, an inducement to remain there as short a time as possible. According to Mr. Nicholls's plan, the persons who took refuge in the workhouses, would be lodged, clothed, and fed there; but they would be permanently confined, and not allowed to go out and seek work. He should propose that instead of having a workhouse placed in every twenty miles square, one should be built in every square of eight miles, and that they should be open all the day for the reception of every destitute person who applied for relief; that work should be afforded at somewhat below the current rate of wages in the neighbourhood, and the inmates would then not stay there longer than they could help; and thus there would not be an injudicious interference with the market of labour. Mr. Nicholls's plan would probably destroy the market for labour, for it went to make men habitual paupers, to create paupers for their life, and would accustom 391 those who would receive relief to live constantly in the workhouses. It was also an unnatural plan if it was the same as the English system of workhouses, for it would separate husbands and wives, and mothers from their children. Again, such a system of workhouses would be most expensive in a country like Ireland, and would cost infinitely more than adopting such a plan as was acted upon by the Mendicity Society of Dublin. This was also an entirely new system for Ireland, whereas the plan he had just alluded to was already extensively acted upon in Dublin, Limerick, Cork, and many other places. He had never met with any persons who administered the Poor-laws of England nearly so well as the managers of the mendicity institutions in Ireland conducted the affairs of their societies. He would not go into the question as to whether it was preferable to give out-door relief instead of resorting to the workhouse system, for that would be better done in Committee; but at the same time he must observe, that he thought that it would be rather desirable that the matter should be left to the discretion of the guardians of the poor or other superintendents of the working of the system. At the very outset of the present measure the people of Ireland were insulted; for they were told that they were not able to conduct their own affairs, as the whole management of the administration of the Poor-laws was to be left to the despotic power of three or four persons in London. This appeared to him to be a monstrous proposition, and, above all, coming as it did from the Government, who were constantly talking of the benefits of self-government and the blessings which institutions for that purpose would confer on Ireland. He denied that there was any necessity for interfering in this way in matters purely Irish. He knew many of the gentlemen who superintended the management of the affairs of the Dublin Mendicity Society, and without intending to speak with the slightest disrespect of the Poor-law Commissioners, he must say that the gentlemen he had just alluded to would much better understand the working of a system of Poor-laws, and would be better able to carry it into effect, than any persons residing in London. If his plan were acted on the doors of the asylums would be open during the whole day for the relief of destitute persons; if that were done, he was satisfied that peace would 392 follow, and the consequence would be, that capital would flow into the country, and a better social system would ensue. In conclusion, he thanked the noble Lord for having taken the first step to introduce a system of Poor-laws into Ireland. This was doing much, however strong some of his objections to the present plan might be; he therefore gave the noble Lord credit for his intention. He trusted, however, that the Bill would be so remedied in Committee as to get rid of many of the objections which he had stated to it.
§ Mr. William S. O'Brien
said, in listening to the speech of the learned Member for Kilkenny—a speech in which he has displayed even more than his usual ability, the House must have been much struck with the touching and affecting picture which he drew of the miseries and privations of the Irish poor. I wish it were in my power to say this picture was overdrawn; but although he concentrated your attention upon the gloomiest part and excluded from your view the brighter portions of the scene, I cannot call his statements exaggerated, because they contained nothing, which, from my own observation and experience I am not able to confirm. After this successful appeal to the sympathy and compassion of the House, in behalf of our poorer fellow-countrymen, one would have imagined that the very last conclusion at which he could have arrived, would have been that which he has endeavoured to induce you to adopt. Indescribably disastrous, he says, is the present condition of the Irish poor. In the next sentence, therefore, we might have expected to hear him declare, that no experiment could be tried which could aggravate their wretchedness—and that it was our bounden duty to recur to experiment after experiment, until we had redeemed our country from the stain and the reproach which the continuance of such a state of suffering humanity had deeply engraven upon its government and legislation. But no! He tells you that for the remedy of these evils you must look to the operation of political measures—measures which, if beyond question beneficial, and if conceded in the largest spirit of liberality, could not possibly work out the effect which he ascribes, and justly ascribes, to good government, in a less period than twenty or thirty years. Will the passing of the Municipal Reform Bill, or the Irish Tithe Bill—measures the 393 importance and excellence of which no one feels more strongly than I do—will they feed the hungry and clothe the naked of the present generation? And when he speaks of emigration and an absentee tax, in opposition to a Poor Law, he seems to forget that the application of public money to enable the destitute labourer with his family to emigrate, is, pro tanto, a provision for the poor—and that an absentee tax applied to the wants of the poor, is nothing else than a very coercive Poor Law. Both these measures I would with him adopt. But it is against an assessment upon property in Ireland that the whole power of his persuasion is directed. He tells you that the Irish farmer is unable, to bear taxation for the relief of the poor, yet in the same breath, he states, that the farmers of Ireland voluntarily tax themselves in private charity to the value of from one million to one million and a- half sterling every year, a tax which we propose should hereafter be shared between the occupier and the landlord, so that it shall no longer be allowed in Ireland, the poor alone shall support the poor, while the rich man and the absentee, and the uncharitable, contribute little or nothing to their relief. And he has omitted to observe, that the million thus given away by the poorer and middling classes in Ireland is for the most part spent not only unprofitably, but injuriously to society—that it is given not more often to the real objects of compassion than to the idle, sturdy vagrant, who vends his blessings for halfpence and for potatoes, and who leaves his curses upon those who refuse them; and next he calls upon us to beware how we impair the kindly feelings which at present exist in Ireland between the poor towards each other, as if there were not field enough for human sympathies, without interfering with the duty of society and the province of legislation. It is quite true that there is no people so remarkably distinguished as the Irish are for the tender and kindly feelings which they entertain towards each other in all the more intimate ties of domestic and social relations. But the substance of the hon. Member's argument leads to the following result, which the House will scarcely admit:—There are two persons, one possessing 500l. and the other 5,000l. per annum. The former, from humane and kindly feelings, voluntarily taxes himself in private charity to the extent of 394 one-tenth of his income; the latter gives nothing to benevolence. According to the learned Member you must not impose a tax of 5 per cent, for charitable objects upon the incomes of both lest you should impair the kindly feelings of the man of 500l. per annum. And with respect to the danger apprehended that the poor, instead of relieving their relations will send them to the workhouse, I cannot form so low an estimate of human nature as to believe that a provision for the poor, will induce the great body of the humbler classes to neglect the most sacred duties which belong to human existence. The man who would send his aged father to the workhouse, would turn him out of doors if there were no workhouse. But the Bill before us prevents such violations of social duty, by enacting that wherever the claims of kindred are a sufficient cause for throwing upon one person the burden of maintaining, legislation shall reinforce the suggestions of nature. Under the Bill the parent becomes liable for the relief of his child, and the child of his parent. These, Sir, are a few of the observations which have occurred to me upon listening to the speech of the learned Member for Kilkenny, but I confess that I did not come down to the House prepared with an elaborate argument in defence of the principle of a Poor-law. I did not expect upon this occasion to hear that principle contested, and I was anxious to have addressed the House solely for the purpose of offering a few remarks upon the general features of the Bill now before us. I understand the noble Lord, the Home Secretary, to invite criticism upon it, and indeed the circumstances under which it has been prepared and submitted to the House are such as to justify the most rigorous criticism. For what has been, the course of proceeding with regard to this measure? In 1833, a commission was appointed consisting of some of the ablest men in the kingdom, aided by a large staff of assistant Commissioners—men for the most part of no mean ability. They spent three years in a laborious inquiry, conducted at an expense to the country of above 30,000l., and ended by-producing an elaborate report, which, to my humble judgment at least, appears to contain a great number of useful and practical recommendations. Instead of adopting their suggestions, however, either 395 in whole or in part, their report was carefully laid upon the shelf, as a record to future generations of an amount of human wretchedness such as the civilised European world never elsewhere saw, and Mr. Nicholls, one of the triumvirate of Somerset House, was appointed sole lawgiver for the people of Ireland. Mr. Nicholls is, I believe, an excellent man, of unquestioned ability, and of the most humane intention; but if I am informed rightly, utterly unacquainted with the condition of Ireland, previous to his arrival in that country. After a six weeks' tour in Ireland, during which he visited a considerable number of public institutions, he produces his report—the recommendations of which have been implicitly, I might almost say, slavishly, followed in this Bill. The Commissioners had recommended a variety of measures, calculated in their opinion to improve the condition of the Irish poor. Among other schemes, they had considered the propriety of establishing the workhouse system in Ireland, and for very sufficient reasons had decided upon rejecting it. Mr. Nicholls, on the contrary, rests the whole of his measure for the relief of the poor of Ireland exclusively upon the workhouse system. The workhouse, he says, the workhouse, and nothing but the workhouse! Young and old, the orphan and the widow, the aged man, and the strong man, the maimed and the diseased—you must all go to the workhouse, there to have your different degrees of poverty subjected to the test of pauperism, to use the approved phraseology of Somerset House. But it will naturally be asked, if poverty in Ireland be as extensive as it is represented, you will require a great deal of workhouse accommodation. How many workhouses do you propose to build, and how many persons are they to contain? Room for 80,000 persons, replies Mr. Nicholls. I assume, and for this assumption he seems to be entirely indebted to his own imagination, as with the data before him he might with equal propriety have assumed, that 50,000 persons, or that 500,000 persons would have claimed workhouse relief. I assume, he says, that you will require accommodation for 80,000 persons, and the expense shall not exceed 312,000l. per annum. This estimate of numbers, too, is put forward in connexion with a reference to the state of pauperism in England; although by 396 the last report of the English Commissioners, it appears that in three counties in which the Poor-law Amendment Act had been brought into full operation, from one-thirteenth to one-fifteenth of the whole population, had received parochial aid to a greater or less extent. The Irish Poor-law Commissioners had arrived at a very different result. They compute that not less than 2,300,000 persons are in a state of severe distress during thirty weeks every year. Now, this appears to me to be an exaggeration, and to English Members not acquainted with the state of Ireland is perfectly incomprehensible; because, if an English labourer were out of work for thirty weeks of the year, he must either receive parish relief or starve. But if we consider the peculiar situation of the Irish labourer, we shall understand, that although this estimate may be somewhat exaggerated, it is not so far from the truth as a first view would lead us to suppose. The Irish labourer depends for his subsistence, not upon wages but upon land; and in this respect the learned Member for Kilkenny conveyed an erroneous impression to the House, when he said that there were above 560,000 heads of families in Ireland without land. Every one connected with Ireland knows, that it is the almost universal practice of the Irish labourer to take each year from half an acre to an acre of land, according to the number of his family, and after having planted potatoes upon it, to trust for his sustenance throughout the ensuing year to the crop which it produces. The rent is paid partly by the sale of his pig, or partly by his labour. If the crop be good, and if he can obtain employment throughout the year, he is in a state of comparative comfort. If, on the contrary, the crop fails, and he cannot procure work for more than five or six months in the year, he is reduced to a state of the greatest privation, is unable to procure the common necessaries of life, and his family are often reduced to live upon one meal a day, at particular seasons. Now, it cannot be denied, that in the most favourable years, a very large portion of the labouring population, probably above one-half, are unable to procure employment for more than five or six months in the year. But although the estimate of Mr. Nicholls limits the number of the poor requiring relief in Ireland to 80,000 persons, the Bill contemplates no such 397 limit. Under this Bill powers are taken to provide workhouse relief for the whole population of Ireland, if it should be necessary; and this is my main ground of objection to the Bill in its present form—namely, that it vests the most unlimited and undefined discretionary power in three or four gentlemen residing at Somerset-House, who, neither directly as Irish rate-payers will feel the practical operation of the measure which they administer, nor will even be within the reach of that indirect influence which arises from personal observation, and from the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the opinions of others. By the Bill, as it at present stands, the Commissioners are invested with a discretion, which, if directed against the interests of the rich, would enable them to confiscate the whole property of Ireland, and if directed against the interests of the poor, would render this measure entirely inoperative, and a mere dead letter, as regards their condition. They are empowered either to build 10,000 workhouses, or to build ten—they may levy a rate of twenty shillings in the pound, or only of one halfpenny in the pound—they may convert the whole of Ireland into one union, or they may constitute a single parish an union; and if every board of guardians does not implicitly obey—(for obey is the word used in the act)—does not obey their instructions, they are liable to be superseded and replaced by paid agents, who, being appointed by the Commissioners, will naturally be objects of special favour and patronage; and further, if every person in the community does not aid and abet the Commissioners in establishing this despotism, the persons so obstructing or not assisting the operation of this act, are liable to be fined or imprisoned. I would not confer powers so undefined and unlimited upon any body of men, even if they were perfect as angels, still less would I bestow them upon a board, which, in the administration of the English Poor-laws—whether the system they pursue be bad or good, I will not pronounce—have contrived to excite throughout England a very great amount of discontent and dissatisfaction—but, least of all, would I establish such an uncontrolled despotism in Ireland, where the influence of public opinion does not act as it does in England, directly and immediately upon legislation; for we know in Ireland, by sad experience, 398 that a law may be universally condemned by public opinion, and yet that we may find it extremely difficult to remove it from the statute book. For these reasons I trust that, before the Bill leaves the Committee, the powers and duties of the Commissioners will be accurately and strictly defined. Another feature of this measure, as it was explained by the noble Lord, which appears to me liable to objection, is the proposal that it shall only at first be brought into partial operation in particular districts. Now, I think a very little reflection will convince the House, that the most grievous injustice may arise if the Bill be not brought into simultaneous operation throughout the whole of Ireland. For what could be more unjust than that our country should be called upon to build workhouses, not only for the reception of its own poor, but for the poor of every other part of the world, whilst from the burthen of maintaining similar establishments, another country should be exempt? It is suggested by some Gentlemen, that in order to meet any difficulties which may arise from this source, it will be expedient to introduce into this Bill the enactment of a law of settlement. To me it appears, on the contrary, that its framers have acted wisely in not at present, at least, complying with it a law of settlement. Litigation, expense, complexity, are the necessary accompaniments of a law of settlement; and another not less dangerous consequence resulting from it is, that it interferes with the free circulation of labour. A law of settlement only becomes necessary when you give to the poor man a legal title to relief in a particular district, and, as by this Bill it is not proposed to give such a legal title to the poor, a law of settlement is for the present unnecessary. In the practical working of the system, each board of guardians will give a preference to the poor of their own district, and thus in the exercise of their discretion, the effects of a law of settlement will be obtained without its inconveniencies. There are several of the minor details of the Bill which appear to me open to objection; but I shall reserve for the Committee any remarks which suggest themselves to my mind respecting them. I now wish to advert to those means of relieving the poor which have been omitted in this Bill, and which, if they have not been entirely overlooked, have not, at least, been brought forward as concurrent measures, 399 forming a part of a great system. Unless I much mistake the character and habits of the labouring poor of Ireland, they will submit to all their present privations, rather than go into the workhouse. If this be so, the Bill will do nothing towards improving the condition of the able-bodied labourer in Ireland. Now, it seems to me that it is in the power of legislation materially to ameliorate the position of the destitute labouring classes, by establishing a more healthy ratio between population and capital than at present exists in Ireland. Without denying, that if property were distributed in a different manner—if the gentry and nobility staid at home, and expended their incomes in improving their estates, the resources of Ireland would be amply sufficient to maintain in comfort its present population—I think it is equally undeniable that, under its present circumstances, the population is redundant, as compared with the means at present available for its employment. Let that redundancy be removed, and you improve the condition of the remainder. Foremost among measures having this effect is a well-regulated system of emigration. Fortunately there is now no prejudice in Ireland against emigration—on the contrary, thousands are panting to join their more successful comrades, who have gone before them in the field of adventure—and if a free passage to the colonies were offered to the destitute labourers of Ireland, tens of thousands would this very spring gladly avail themselves of this opportunity to remove to a country where the labourer earns the fair reward of his toil. The expenses of emigration are now so inconsiderable, when compared with the expenses attending any workhouse relief that could be offered, that, upon the grounds of economy as well as of regard to the interests of the labourer, there can be no hesitation in giving a preference to emigration; and, considering the heavy taxation which we are now, for the first time, about to impose upon the people of Ireland, for the relief of the poor,—considering, too, that colonization is an object of national concern;—it is only reasonable that the expenses of emigration should be defrayed, either in whole or in part, out of some national fund;—whether that fund can be best raised by the sale of waste lands in the colonies, or from any other source, it is for the Executive Go- 400 vernment to determine. Another resource, open for the removal of the redundancy of the labouring population, would be afforded by home colonization. The result of a Commission of Inquiry, appointed some years since, was—to show that there were, in Ireland, 5,000,000 acres of land in a state of nature, the greater part of which was reclaimable. That amount has, probably, by extended cultivation, been considerably diminished; but there still remain several millions in an uncultivated state. I know of no mode in which the reclamation of a portion of these lands, say 200,000 or 300,000 acres, could be undertaken with so much advantage as in the establishment of home colonies upon such tracts. In this way, several thousand families might be taken out of the labour market, and placed in a condition of comparative comfort. There is nothing in the experience of the poor colonies of Holland which should deter us from, at least, making the experiment, as the circumstances in the two cases would be wholly different. I am persuaded that, under good arrangements, the whole cost of the settlement might ultimately be repaid by the labourers, and by permitting them to purchase in fee their small allotments, say of ten acres each, they would have a stimulus to labour which the poor man seldom knows in Ireland; whilst the ultimate result would be to create, in the more unimproved districts of Ireland, a class of small proprietors in fee, which, in itself, would be no trifling advantage in a country in which small fee-simple estates are almost unknown. There remain, besides, as means of providing employment for the destitute labourer, the public works undertaken by the counties of Ireland, and public works of a national character. Measures, also, enabling the Irish proprietors to improve their estates under circumstances which, at present, operate as prohibitions to such attempts, ought to be brought forward concurrently, as a means of providing employment for the poor, and it is for the Government to originate these various legislative enactments, as symmetrical parts of a great system, for the amelioration of the condition of the labouring classes. Having by these means provided employment for the able-bodied poor, it will then only remain to make arrangements for the maintenance of those who, from utter inability to save their own sustenance, are 401 compelled to throw themselves upon the compassion of society, and are relieved either by voluntary charity or by a compulsory provision. For this class of objects different modes of relief might be adopted. In each county or district there ought to be an asylum for persons afflicted with incurable diseases, requiring medical supervision. For the maintenance and education of orphans, there ought to be separate institutions—for the idle vagrant, and impostor, a workhouse is the proper receptacle—to the aged and infirm, the option might be given either to go into a poor-house, or to receive domiciliary relief. In administering such a provision it will be found desirable to have larger and smaller districts; and I can see no difficulty in engrafting the recommendation of the Irish poor Commissioners upon Mr. Nicholls's proposal, to divide Ireland into large unions, containing 80,000 persons each on an average. The smaller districts, called by the Commissioners "relief districts," should be so formed as to contain a population not exceeding a given number—say 10,000, or 8,000, or 5,000 persons. In each relief district let a Committee be appointed by the rate-payers, one or two of whom should be guardians in the union district: and if you are afraid that the Committee in the "relief district" would give assistance from the poor-rate to improper persons, let their duty be limited to the task of recommending those persons whom they think fit objects for public charity, and let it rest with the board of guardians, after full inquiry into the circumstances of each case, to determine what amount of relief should be given; and also whether relief should be given in money, in time, or in the workhouse: whether a poor labourer should be sent to the public works of the barony, or whether he should be placed in a poor colony, or enabled to emigrate. There does not appear to me any sufficient reason for departing from the recommendations of the Commissioners in regard to the appointment of the poor-rate between the landlord and the tenant. After the fullest consideration they determined that the landlord ought to pay two-thirds of the rate, and the tenant only one-third. Considering that the tenant now pays the county rate, which in many instances has been doubled during the continuance of the existing leases—that he also pays the tithe, and that many tenants are left, 402 after the payment of their rent, but a very inadequate sustenance, I do not think this an unreasonable apportionment of the burthen between landlord and tenant. This adoption would also have the good effect of rendering this measure more acceptable to the poorer and middling classes of society in Ireland, a consideration not unimportant when we are imposing a new tax which political economists tell us, whether paid directly by the tenant or by landlord, is ultimately a deduction from the rent of the land. I have now, Sir, frankly and freely stated my opinion respecting the leading features of this Bill; but I can assure the House, that the objections which I have offered, are urged in no captious spirit—and that so far from wishing to thwart the measure, it shall have my most earnest and anxious support. With a few modifications in Committee, I believe it is capable of being rendered a most efficient and useful enactment—and I do implore the noble Lord, that he will not allow himself to be tempted by any solicitation, however influential the quarter from which it proceeds, to abandon or postpone his project. Every step that we take in legislating for the relief of the poor, is a step taken in the right direction, and if the Bill of this year, which must be to a certain extent experimental, should be found faulty, or inadequate, it will be in our power in a future year, to remedy its imperfections and deficiencies. Before I sit down, I beg to offer the humble meed of my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, and to the Government, for having at length grappled with the most difficult subject—I offer them my thanks not only as an Irish representative, and in that capacity as a trustee for the poor, but also as an Irish landlord, under the fullest conviction, that in this matter the claims of the poor are not at variance with the interests of the rich! but, on the contrary, are we certain that every thing which is done to improve the condition of the poorer classes is a new guarantee for the security of the properties and persons of the wealthier classes, and one which will tend to promote the well-being, the comfort, and the happiness of every portion of society.
§ Viscount Morpeth
had heard the hon. Member's concluding remarks with particular satisfaction. The principles on which this measure was founded were now sufficiently established; namely the fright- 403 ful distress which prevailed in Ireland, and the extending conviction of all parties, admitted even by the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny, that the time was now come when a decided experiment must be made for relieving that distress. With a view to supply this so much required remedy, two chief courses were open to his Majesty's Government. One of these courses was to improve and extend the existing institutions in Ireland for the reception and relief of the destitute, impotent, infirm, and lunatics, to open asylums for the aged and the young, to provide for the able-bodied poor public works of improvement, and to provide on a large scale for emigration. This was the course recommended by the Commissioners of Inquiry into the question of Poor-laws for Ireland, of whose labours and character he begged to be understood as speaking with the utmost deference and respect. Both their philanthropic feelings and their enlarged views, however, were greatly shared by Mr. Nicholls, and he could not refrain from expressing his opinion that the remarks which the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny had made in reference to that gentleman were unjustifiable and unworthy. As to the course of proceeding he had pointed out, it had been foreseen by Government that to open so many sources of legislative experiment would be to meddle with everything without the certainty of doing anything in an effectual way. The other course open to them, and which they adopted, was to lay down the broad and clear principle of a Poor-law, to provide relief for all destitute persons, but to provide it on such terms as all but the really destitute would decline to accept. In connexion with this measure, and subsidiary to it, Government was perfectly ready and prepared to do all in their power to provide the fullest facilities to persons desirous of emigrating from Ireland to our colonies abroad, and also to find work for the able bodied in' public works. With these views some Bills had already been laid on the table of the House by the hon. and learned Member for Galway, which were calculated to be of signal use in working out the objects of the present measure. It was further his intention to propose, concurrently with the Poor-law Bill now on the table, a Bill to extend, regulate, and improve, the system of medical charities now existing in Ireland. One argument against the measure was the alleged in-Snffieiency of the Workhouses to the ac- 404 commodation of the persons likely to apply for admission. It was said, "what is the use of providing accommodation for 80,000 persons only, when it is stated by the Commissioners of Irish Poor-law Inquiry that there are in Ireland not fewer than 2,300,000 persons destitute at one part of the year or another?" Now, to set about providing accommodation in workhouses for 2,300,000 persons was altogether out of the question, nor was such the object contemplated. The Commissioners themselves distinctly stated that, in reporting such to be the number of persons destitute in Ireland at one part of the year or another, they did not mean to imply that the extent of workhouse accommodation must be proportionately great; for they declared their belief that the able-bodied labourers and their families would, in most cases, endure any misery rather than make the workhouse their domicile, no doubt it was the object of the measure to afford the utmost possible relief to all destitute persons in Ireland; but it must be remembered that a permanent relief provided for 80,000 or 100,000 persons was equal to occasional relief given to an infinitely larger number. If, after the experiment had been tried a short time, it was found that the verge of relief could be extended, no one would be more rejoiced than himself. The experiment was a very hazardous one, with all the precautions that could be devised. The great object was, in the present instance, to provide relief, as far as possible, for that distress which was most crying and most complete. One of the most material points for consideration in a question like this was the question of settlement. Upon this subject it was not his intention to enlarge on this occasion. It appeared to him that to admit of a settlement in this case must act so as greatly to promote mendicancy. They could not, without the greatest inhumanity, preclude persons from soliciting alms to keep themselves from starving on their way backwards and forwards to their places of settlement. There were many other grounds of the subject which he should reserve for a future state of the Bill. What he had to entreat of the House on this occasion was simply to sanction the establishment of a legal provision for the poor of Ireland. That this was a most momentous and critical experiment he readily admitted, but it was an experiment guarded by the most maturely-considered precautions. 405 Whatever difference of opinion might exist in the House on these topics, he trusted that he did not vainly entreat of them to come to a unanimous declaration on this most important subject.
§ Colonel Conolly
could not understand how it was that, after a description which harrowed the feelings of every Gentleman present, of the frightful distress, which prevailed in Ireland, the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny could turn round and ask the House to suffer that distress still to exist. As to himself, however deeply he had ever sympathised with the sufferings of his countrymen, he must confess that at first he had come into the House filled with the most serious apprehensions as to the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland; but his objections were founded on what he saw of the operation of the English Poor-law as it then existed. The alteration which had since been effected in the English system, and the happy effects of that alteration, had, however, relieved his mind in a great degree from the fear he had formerly entertained, and he should not withhold his consent from the experiment, though he should watch its progress with great anxiety.
§ Debate adjourned to Monday.