HC Deb 01 December 1837 vol 39 cc477-502
Lord J. Russell

I rise, Sir, to bring before the House a subject, the great importance of which has been universally admitted. I shall not go into the question in detail, but refer particularly to those parts of the measure which may be better considered in Committee. But as it is a question of vast consequence—as it is a measure which, if carried, must have great influence on the future destinies of Ireland—I think it fitting that I should state the reasons upon which I conceive its propriety and policy are grounded. With respect to the general principle of measures to be adopted in reference to the poor, I think there has prevailed an almost universal and unfortunate confusion of ideas. It has been generally supposed that there is a sort of royal road by which the prosperity of a country can be ensured by means of legislative enactments. The view which I take of a poor-law rests on entirely different principles. I maintain that the general comfort of the poor, their general prosperity, and the maintenance of due wages, by which they are enabled to live, depend, indeed, on general government or general legislative enactments, but not on especial laws framed for that particular purpose only. For instance, the general principles on which the prosperity of a country, and of the classes in question more particularly depends, are, that there shall be security for life and security for property; that there should be full freedom of choice of occupation or profession; that the road to distinction shall be open to all; and, finally, that there shall be no monopoly, either of sect, or class, or race, which shall forbid any person to expect the due reward of meritorious exertions. These, Sir, are the principles on which the main prosperity of a country must depend, but they are not the principles on which a law affecting the relief of the poor ought to be founded. I think it has been but too general an opinion—and I am not now speaking in reference to Ireland—it has been but too general a belief, that by some law especially directed to that end it is possible to make the condition of the labouring classes so secure and so advantageous, that sufficient wages can be given to every man in the community. It is owing to a mistaken policy of this description that nearly all the abuses of the poor-laws have arisen, and this fallacy has induced different nations from time to time to imagine that by the adoption of various schemes, under one name or another, they could provide by means of the State, or by legislation for the due support of every member of the community as an independent member of the community. I wish, therefore, to state at the commencement, that the measure which I shall propose has no such object in view; and when I state that I have no such object in view, I m well aware that I am disappointing the views of many who, considering the condition of Ireland—who, considering the numerous classes there are, the hundreds of thousands of persons who are insufficiently maintained in that country—have supposed that by some law, in the nature of a poor-law, these evils can be remedied, and the unhappy persons now so distressed be placed in a prosperous social condition. If I refer to the example of England, while insisting, as I certainly should, on the benefits which this country has derived from her poor-laws, yet I should by no means maintain that it is to that poor-law, however well-contrived and properly directed, that the prosperity of the country is owing. It is to the general protection of the Government, to that security of life and property which its Government affords, to that freedom which enables every one to look for the due reward of his meritorious exertions, to that absence of political and religious monopoly which enables men to exert themselves with a prospect that they may eventually raise themselves to the highest condition, not only of wealth, but of rank and station— it is in causes such as these that we must seek for the main sources of the prosperity of this country. But admitting all this, and stating all this, as I am disposed to do, there remains another question—a question affecting, no doubt, very deeply the tranquillity of the country and the condition of the labouring classes, but affecting them in a different degree from these main questions of Government and Constitution. In every country which is recovering from a state of comparative social want to one of increased prosperity there must always be a vast number of persons in a state of utter destitution. The question arises, what provision can be made for this class? If you make no provision at all—if the State says, "We hold it to be entirely irreconcilable with principle to make any provision for such persons," I think you cannot with justice say, as I observed on a former occasion, that such persons have not the right, which seems to belong to them by nature, of receiving from their more charitable neighbours the food and raiment which is necessary to their existence; but if you do not deny them this right—if you say on the one hand that you will make no provision for them in a State measure, and on the other hand that you will take no steps to prevent mendicancy—you thereby leave in the State a vast number of persons, some of whom exercise fairly, and from their utmost need, the right of asking for alms, but many of whom are impostors and voluntary beggars, who, under the pretext of asking for alms, prey on the rest of the community. But beyond this, it leaves one department of police entirely neglected, and gives to those persons who are at one time beggars, a pretext at another to become plunderers and pilferers; it leaves, in short, a vast shoal of persons without the means of regular occupation or ordinary subsistence, and who do not come under the social laws which regulate either the order or the subsistence of the community. Having made these preliminary observations respecting the general principles by which a law of this kind should, in my opinion, be administered, I come now to the statement of what I conceive should be its application in reference to Ireland. I do not wish, as far as I can avoid it, to enter into any disputed or controverted points; but still it cannot be denied that till a very late period, indeed till towards the latter end of the last century at least, there did not prevail in Ire- land that general communication to all its inhabitants of the benefits of a free constitution, that general participation in the rights and liberties which we in England have enjoyed. It is stated, that the consequence of this has been, that for centuries past Ireland has been always misgoverned. I do not wish to enter into that question one way or another, except to state what has been, according to the best evidence we can procure, the condition of the poorer classes in that country, and how it has happened, as far as we can trace it, that the condition of these classes has not improved as the condition of the people of England has improved from the time of Queen Elizabeth to the present day, but that, on the contrary, there are now existing in Ireland great masses of people in respect to whom we have to consider, not their rights and liberties, but actually as to their physical condition, and how it may be improved. The first authority I shall quote is Sir William Petty, who gives the first authentic account of the population of Ireland at the time of the Protectorate. Sir William states in 1672:— The number of people now in Ireland is about 1,100,000, namely, 300,000 English, Scotch, and Welch Protestants, and 800,000 Papists, of whom one-fourth are children unfit for labour: and 75,000 of the remainder are, by reason of their quality and estates, above the necessity of labour, so there remain 750,000 labouring men and women, of whom 500,000 do perform the present work of the nation. The said 1,100,000 do live in about 200,000 families or houses, whereof about. 16,000 have more than one chimney, and about 24,000 have but one. All the rest, being 160,000, are wretched nasty cabins, without chimney, window, or door, even worse than those of the savage Americans, and wholly unfit for making merchantable butter, cheese, or the manufacture of woollen, linen, or leather. Such is the appalling description given us by Sir William Petty of a population of upwards of one million persons. We have no very accurate accounts of the increase of population for a long time after that. In 1695, Captain South estimated the population at 1,034,102, but this is of doubtful authority. In 1731, Mr. Dabbs published an account of the number of houses in Ireland in the years 1712, 1718,1725, 1726; for which an estimate of the population has been inferred (allowing six to each house) to have been in 1712, 2,099,094; and in 1726, 2,309,106. An inquiry instituted by the Lords in 1731 made the population of Ireland only 2,010,221; but this is considered entitled to little credit. Ireland, however, was then essentially a grazing country; and to such an extent was this carried, that in 1727, under Primate Boulter, a law was made to compel every occupier of 100 acres, to cultivate five acres at the least. No very great increase seems to have been made in the population of Ireland in the reign of the first princes of the House of Hanover. The following estimates have been formed from the returns of the hearth-money collectors, allowing six inhabitants to a house, viz.:—

In 1754 2,372,634
1767 2,544,276
1777 2,690,556
1785 2,845,932
If we could conceive that sufficient laws had been introduced, and that the people had been well united as one community—if the causes of dissension, which have since unhappily, though perhaps necessarily, prevailed, could have been avoided, there is no reason why the increase of population should not have been accompanied by an increase in the comforts of the people, and the general improvement in their social condition—that population and improvement should not have gone on hand in hand. But there were several causes, of which I shall only enumerate a few, which seem at that time to have produced very considerable and rapid increase in the population, without leading to a similar increase in the comforts of the people or the nature of their condition. One of these causes was the particular encouragement given by the Parliament of Ireland to the cultivation of arable land. An export duty of 3s. 4d. per parcel on the exportation of wheat and other grain was enacted in 1784 by the Irish Parliament. Another cause, as it appears to me, was the practice, which grew up immediately after the conversion of pasture into arable land, of very much dividing properties, and of both landowners and farmers sub-letting small parts of their property, and thus, by giving to every small proprietor the means of having a cabin and a small piece of land, increasing greatly the population, without, at the same time, increasing the comfort of the people, or improvement in their habits and condition. Another cause which is a political cause, may be found in the law of the Irish Parliament in I793 respecting the right of voting for Members of Parliament. I think, that if any one could dispose of the history of the country according to his own wishes—if any one had considered the slate of Ireland under the Government of this country in the last century, and wished that state could have been changed to one of equal laws, such as that established by the law of 1829—I say, that I believe such a person, looking calmly and impartially at that state or condition of things, would say, that the best way of proceeding would have been, that the higher classes of Roman Catholics should have been first admitted to the privileges granted by the British constitution to their Protestant neighbours, and that these privileges should afterwards have descended until they embraced the whole community. The course, however, which the Irish Legislature followed, was one of a precisely different description. The first privilege granted to the Roman Catholics was that of voting for Members of Parliament. It enabled the Roman Catholics to vote, but it did not change the general state of legislation in the country as respected the relationship between the Roman Catholic and Protestant population. The consequences were, as has been stated to the Committee of this House in 1825, that nothing was more usual than for the great proprietors to manage to have a vast number of small freeholders on their estates, whose votes they considered themselves altogether masters of, and whom they brought up to the poll and used as mere instruments for their political purposes, rather than as conducing to the welfare of their estates, or, still less, to the welfare of the community itself. These are the causes which have tended to produce a great increase in the population of Ireland, without any commensurate increase in the capital of the country, or in the improved social condition of its community. Since 1785, the population has increased with wonderful rapidity. In 1805, Mr. Newenham estimated the population at 5,395,456. In 1821, the first complete census was taken, by which it appeared the population then amounted to 6,801,827; in 1831, 7,767,401. The population at the present time has been fairly calculated at upwards of 8,000,000. Thus we have, in the short comparative space of fifty-two years, a population increasing from 2,800,000 to upwards of 8,000,000, without its being possible to say that all the sources of industry have been at the same time opened, or that there has been, as in England, a general corresponding increase in either mercantile, commercial, or agricultural occupations, and in the general well-being of the community. This, Sir, is, as I conceive, the present state of Ireland, without going into the details of the report of the Irish Poor-law Commissioners. These Commissioners went with very great labour, and at the expense of a considerable portion of time, into the consideration of the subject of a Poor-law for Ireland. But I certainly do think, that in the result of their labours, on the report which they have presented to Parliament, they have confounded two subjects which ought to be kept quite separate. It appears to me, that they have bestowed too great a degree of consideration on the question—by what means, by what state measures, you can improve the general welfare of the country, and have not confined themselves entirely to the question as to the destitute classes, which was more particularly put into their hands. With respect to the improvement of the general condition of the community, I certainly still think, that that must come in the main from the general government and legislation of the country. I conceive, that you cannot expect, by any special laws, declaring that the state shall set up public works in one place, or drain a bog in another, or start a company in a third—I do not think that by any means or contrivances of this sort you can interfere with the general progress of the community with any great and decided benefit, though you may remove obstacles and give facilities. An hon. and learned Friend behind me has introduced bills into this House on this subject, and proposes to remove obstacles and take away some of those obstructions which have prevented the application of capital in Ireland; and so far I think I shall be doing good service if I aid my hon. and learned Friend in his endeavours, but I think it would be a perilous task for us as a Government to hold forth any hopes that by any immediate arid direct measure of ours we could improve the state of the Irish population. I am con- vinced for my part, knowing the industry of the Irish people, knowing their many high qualities, I am convinced, I say, that if we can give them a full participation in the enjoyment of freedom, and the security of property, the Irish people will make prosperity for themselves. But when I speak thus of the report of the Commissioners, I must beg also to call the attention of the House to some particulars in which I think these Commissioners are mistaken, and which must induce us to pause before we act on their recommendations. I will mention now only one sample of what they have thought proper to advise. They deem it expedient with respect to mortgages to advise us to tax mortgages, although it is evident that the mortgagees have lent their property on the security that, having nothing to do with the privileges, or the dignity, or the enjoyment of land, they will receive their due from it free of taxation. The Commissioners, however, contrary, as I think, to all just principles, deem it advisable that mortgages shall be taxed. Sir, with respect to other parts of their recommendations, and which belong more immediately to the subject, there is, I think, insuperable difficulty in adopting their recommendations. They have stated that great evils would flow from the adoption of the workhouse system. They have stated that vast numbers in Ireland (the numbers I will afterwards revert to) are in a state of great distress; that the workhouses would overflow with the numbers; that restraint would be impossible; and they propose, therefore, that only the sick and the blind, and persons totally unable to work, should be received into the workhouses. With respect to this division of the subject, had Ireland been in the condition of Scotland I think we might have said, as was said by those who framed the Scotch law, that the able-bodied should not receive relief in the workhouses; because the population of Scotland falling rather short of what was needed, there was security in the disposition of the able-bodied that they would not become a burden upon the community. But when such a claim is likely to be made, when we have a superfluity of labour, I do not see how, having a workhouse you can shut the door of the workhouse, to the able-bodied. One comes and says, "I am old and a cripple, and unable: longer to work; I have nothing to sustain me; admit me to this house, where I understand you give raiment, and food, and shelter; and let me pass the rest of my days protected against entire destitution." That person is admitted. Well; another comes and says, "It is impossible for me to obtain work; I have looked everywhere to find employment; I cannot obtain land—there is not any one who will let it to me; I cannot obtain hire for my labour; I am therefore in a state of complete destitution, and I ask you to receive me into the workhouse." Now, is it an answer to that man to say, "It is very true that you must starve if you are not received into the workhouse, but you have strength of limb, you are able-bodied, and we can-not receive you." Is not the one man who is able to work, but who cannot obtain labour—who cannot obtain a single twopence for his labour—is he not in a state of as great distress as the man who is prevented from obtaining work by infirmities and age? I say, that in a state of society such as that of Ireland, in making that distinction you make a distinction which is untenable. But there is another proposition in the Report of the Irish Poor-law Commissioners which requires consideration. I allude to their recommendation to establish a system of emigration, and have dépôts where certain persons are to be received, whether able-bodied or not, for the purpose of emigrating. Now, I must say generally, with regard to emigration, that though it is a wholesome resource in some respects, those who propose it ought not to look only to the wants and convenience of this country; they ought not altogether to overlook the wants and convenience of the place the emigrants are to be sent to. If you say "these men are not needed in this country, and, therefore, are to go abroad," you must at the same time, admit that those persons who are resident in your colonies have a rig-lit to say "We are very much in want of persons who shall occupy themselves either as labourers or as artisans in this colony, but if you tell us that you will send none but persons of bad moral character—persons who are physically unable to work—persons who are unfit to be members of your community, we say, on the other hand, do not let them be members of ours." I think that this claim on the part of the colony is a fair claim, and that in considering the advantage to the mother country you must at the same time consider the disposition and wants of the colony. But what would have been the effect, such a view being taken by the colonies, of amassing in these dépôts, in these workhouses, without regulation (for such in fact they would have been), a number of persons with no other title to admission than that they were candidates for emigration. They would not have been subject to regular rules—none could be laid down to them; and when the ship for which they had been waiting was ready to take them, a number of them might say that they were not willing to embark, and the agents for emigration, might protest against receiving the scum of our population for their colonies. So that, while the Poor-law Commissioners have put a negative on workhouses, in proposing these dépôts they propose a worse kind of the same establishment, and one which I think would lead to great evil. Such were the reasons which induced us to think that a further inquiry must be made; that further deliberation must take place before any scheme or plan of poor-laws could be introduced under the authority of Government. I must now advert to the calculations which have been made by the Poor-law Commissioners, in so far as they will assist the scheme which I had the honour to propose to the last Parliament, and which I am about to propose to-night. I do think, certainly, that the Commissioners have overlooked many circumstances in the calculation they have made. I have already stated, that I think it is the business of the Government, with respect to a poor-law, thus to frame a provision for the destitute; and in framing a provision for the destitute, let it not be thought that we accomplish a trifling or unimportant advantage. In furnishing relief for the destitute, we do, in the first place, afford to all coming under that denomination, the security of food, raiment, and shelter, which, considering the misery which must exist in any country deprived of poor-laws, must, by every humane person, be deemed a very high advantage. In the second place, we thereby obtain the power of preventing and punishing mendicancy. We are enabled to provide a better police, you have the means of establishing a greater security for property, we can establish better order in society, and we thus promote civilisation and a general improvement throughout the country. In the third place, we connect the interest of the landed proprietors with the state of the labouring classes. The effect of there being, at any moment, a great number of persons out of employment, leads to the consideration on the part of the landowners as to whether it is better for them to have those persons employed at wages, and doing some profitable work, or is it more advantageous to have them in workhouses where their labour is of no avail? With respect to the number for whom the Poor-law Commissioners think that provision ought to be made, I find they say in their Report, "We cannot estimate the number of persons out of work and in distress, during thirty weeks of the year, at less than 585,000, nor the number of persons dependent upon them, at less than 1,800,000, making in the whole, 2,385,000." That is the general estimate of the Commissioners; but, if it be analysed with care, it seems not to rest on any sufficient data. With respect to the particular towns or villages to which they refer, their estimate does not seem to be borne out. I will not, however, go into the details, but endeavour to show, generally, that their estimate cannot be maintained. They do not state that those persons are in a state of destitution for thirty weeks in the year. In a pamphlet written in opposition to the Report of Mr. George Nicholls, and the plan proposed by the Government, it is stated, that the meaning of these persons being in distress, was, that during the thirty weeks in the year, they had not more than one meal in the day. I ask, could that fact be known to any individual, even by the most careful investigation? There may be individuals in Ireland, who, for a certain time, have only one meal in the day, but without the most accurate and searching of investigations from day to day, from hour to hour, and even from person to person, I don't think it could be said that there is any precise number of individuals in that particular state. I imagine, what was meant was, that this number of persons, though not in a state of destitution, are in a state of comparative distress, and have insufficient means of subsistence. I have no doubt but there are a great number of persons with insufficient means of subsistence. I think, however, that there are several deductions of great importance to be made from the estimate of the Commissioners. A gentleman of Dublin, Mr. Stanley, has taken great pains to analyse the population returns, and other statistical documents respecting the condition of Ireland, and from him, and on his authority, I will state one or two very important deductions which must be made from the Commissioners' estimate. One is as to the number of persons who are employed partly in manufactures. There are statements made in the population returns with respect to the landowners, which would appear to show, that there are very few persons employed in trade, and that great numbers are employed in agriculture. Now, this refers to the calculations that, have been made with respect to the number of persons dependent on agricultural employment. In the census returns for Ulster, it appears that the number employed in the linen trade, was only 8,859; but when the British Linen Company made their return respecting the value of the unbleached linen sold in 1824, they stated it to be 2,109,309l. In the county of Armagh, 1,683 adult males appear to have been employed in every branch of manufacture, but the return states the quantity of linen sold to have been 568,799l. In 1831, there were in Ulster, 189,087 landholders, not employing labourers, and only 29,301 employers of labourers. Now, I think it is obvious, that there is a considerable number employed in manufacture in Ulster, besides those employed in the cultivation of the land, and that the population derives profit partly from the one and partly from the other. This, I say, forms a considerable deduction from the general estimate by the Poor-law Commissioners. There is another point which appears to me to have been overlooked, and it is one of no little importance, as it affects the income enjoyed by the labourers of Ireland, as the produce of their labour. Many of the labourers come over here every year in great numbers, and are engaged in gathering in the harvest. It is stated, that from Dublin alone, 20,000 come over to this country annually, and carry back with them from 5l. to 15l. each. The amount of the earnings of the Irish labourers in Great Britain was inferred from the fact, that a bank in Lincolnshire (that of Messrs. Handley and Sleaford), pays about 8,000l. annually for the labourers employed in that district. When we take into our calculation the whole of the produce of the labourers of Ireland and the whole of their income, we ought not to forget the sum obtained by their labours in England, because, whether engaged in any preliminary occupation, or whether in assisting at our harvest, their occupation equally tends to the increase of their income; and whether the money be earned in Ireland or from English employment, it is clear their carrying over this 10l. or 15l. each, is an income for the benefit of themselves, and for the general advantage of the labourers of Ireland. I think it cannot be calculated that less than 500,000l. is earned by the Irish labourers in this country every year. And let me observe with respect to the habits of the Irish people, that I do think it speaks very much for their industry, for their foresight, and for their prudence, that they make this long journey every year, and carry back the money they have earned in order to pay their landlords their rent. I know that in instances in which Englishmen are engaged in the army, the navy, and as casual labourers, or as manufacturers, it often happens that if they receive 5l. or 10l. at once, they spend it in three or four days, and instead of laying it out profitably, waste it in dissipation. Whereas these men from Ireland, coming over in great numbers every year, carrying back with them what they have received through the banks of England, and placing it in the banks of Ireland, is great proof that they are not that improvident, or careless, or indolent people that some persons suppose. I say, then, that if many omissions have been made by the Poor-law Commissioners, it is necessary that we should endeavour to come to some more correct conclusions, though we cannot come to any that are perfectly free from doubt with respect to the number of the destitute poor in Ireland. It has been calculated by Mr. Stanley, upon various data, with respect to Dublin, on information supplied to him from every accessible source, that the total number of destitute poor in Dublin, throughout the year, is precisely two per cent. on the population, or 5,646. Taking one per cent. for the rest of Ireland, we should have 82,806; or, were we to take one and a halt per cent. for the rest of the population, we should have 121,386. Without placing faith in this calculation as entirely correct, I think we may safely consider that it is founded on better data than those given by the Poor-law Commissioners. It should be remembered, with regard to the num- ber of persons to be provided for by a Poor-law of this kind, that though there are a great many in a very bad condition in life—though their cabins are very miserable, and their food is of a very mean kind, yet there are persons who would rather remain in that condition than receive alms or go into a workhouse. There is certainly a remarkable difference with regard to the statistics of Great Britain and Ireland with respect to this subject. It is stated by the Poor-law Commissioners that in Ireland there are 884,000 families (in round numbers) for 15,000,000 of acres, while in Great Britain there were 901,000 families for 34,000,000 of acres. The difference is to be found chiefly among the landowners not employing labourers, the employers of labourers in Ireland being as 95,000 to 187,000, or nearly as one to two—a proportion not differing very greatly from the proportion of fifteen to thirty-four: but the landholders not employing labourers are as 564,000 to 168,000, or more than three to one. In like manner the families wholly dependent on hire are in Ireland 224,000, and in Great Britain 605,000—not more than one to upwards of two and a half. The landholders not employing labourers may, I think, be reckoned as persons in a low condition of life, but still not among the destitute persons for whom the Poor-law ought to be provided. I said at the commencement, that I did not intend to moot the various points which may be matter of discussion in the progress of the Bill which I have the honour to propose. In the first place, I wish to state the general principles on which the Bill is framed, and then the general nature of the evils against which it is intended to provide. The Bill is founded, as I stated last year, on what in England is called the workhouse principle; it does not propose to provide out-door relief. I think I should not be justified in proposing out-door relief. With respect to the workhouse system, there is the testimony of various persons—of the governor and deputy governor of St. Peter's Hospital Bristol; of Mr. Weale, the assistant Poor-law Commissioner; of the vestry clerk of Birmingham; of the clerk of the Liverpool workhouse; of the governors of the Birmingham workhouse; and of others employed in districts to which the Irish resort; and these persons declare that the repugnance of the Irish to enter into a workhouse is as great, if not greater than that of the English. This, then, will form an answer to the opinion that there will be shoals of those persons, who could obtain labour if they pleased, ready to enter into the workhouses in Ireland. But while we prove the existence of the repugnance on the one hand, on the other we establish the fact that greater means will be at our disposal for the relief of the needy, and when we afford wholesome and good food and raiment and shelter to the necessitous— when it cannot be said that the means of existence are denied, no man will have a right to become a common beggar, or to prey on the property of the community. I am well aware, that with respect to a part of this evil, the relief of the destitute, there are other resources that must be looked to; but as I said before, I should not think it expedient to place on them any great reliance. As regards certain parts of the country, no doubt there exist evils which cannot be cured unless the means of emigration are provided. Taking that view, we have thought it proper to introduce into this Bill a clause nearly the same as that in the English Poor-law Bill, which allows means to be taken, with the consent of the Commissioners, to provide for emigration. Though, however, this power is given, I do not hesitate to say, that it must be exercised with caution—it must be used with great care; those to whom it is confided must never think of exporting to the colonies the dregs of the population, or persons who are unfit to remain in this kingdom; it must be considered rather as a drain by which a certain portion of the population may be taken off. We are in justice bound not to excite the jealousy of the colonies by giving them reason to suppose that we are about to export to them those whom we think unfit to live among ourselves. With respect to public works, no doubt they may be useful, but it is not in instances where the work begins and ends in the work itself: it is only where it leads to increased means of communication; it is only by opening fresh channels for the profitable employment of capital that public works can be rendered permanently useful. I will not now enter into the various disputed questions, and that most justly disputed of all, the question of settlement, which must be raised in the course of the further discussion on this Bill; my object is to state the general principle, viz., that the Act is intended to provide relief by means of the workhouse, and, further, to provide for the relief of the destitute only. Sir, I would not lend myself to the belief, I would not encourage the persuasion that by means of this we are about to raise half a nation from a state of distress to a state of affluence and prosperity; but I think it one of many improvements, by which the security of property may be increased—by which order may be maintained—by which poverty may be relieved—and by which the various classes in Ireland may be better united—the landlord with the peasant, the man of capital with the man who depends wholly on his labour. Sir, it is for this Parliament to endeavour to devise means by which the condition of Ireland may be improved. It would be absurd to think that evils which are of long continuance—some of which may be said to be centuries old, others being of a more recent date—it would be ridiculous to suppose that such evils will be cured in three, four, or ten years by means of legislation: but this I do believe, that Ireland being now in possession of nearly all those political and civil rights which she ought to have—I say, in possession of nearly all those political and civil rights which she ought to have; because I think that those which still remain will—nay, must soon be granted—Ireland being in that condition, it appears to me she has a career before her in which the genius, the talent, and the industry of her native population will raise her to that degree of prosperity for which her soil and her country are fitting. Let us endeavour that all our measures shall aid and promote this tendency. Let us endeavour to act in a fair, impartial, and benevolent spirit towards that part of the people whom we represent as fully as we represent any other portion, thus aiding by our measures the promotion of that prosperity which from themselves must have its chief source. I maintain that if we act thus we shall perform our duty to that country, and we may look forward, not in a short time, but as the ultimate result of our labours, to the period when we shall have no reason to be ashamed of the condition of Ireland. I beg to move for leave to bring in a Bill to provide relief for the destitute poor of Ireland.

Mr. Shaw

said, that as that was only a motion for the introduction of the Bill proposed by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) he (Mr. Shaw) would not trouble the House at any length. He was not disposed to discuss the various generalities, upon which the noble Lord had dwelt with reference to the former state and former Government of Ireland—though he could not avoid expressing his acquiescence in one sentiment of the noble Lord on that subject, and it was that, if Parliament and the executive Government ensured to the people of that country the enjoyment of rational freedom, and security for their properties and persons—they would soon work out their own prosperity. He would confine the few observations he had to make to the consideration of the present as a practical measure for the relief of that mass of destitution amongst the people of Ireland, which both sides of the House admitted and deplored, and for which it must be the desire, as it was both the duty and the interest of all parties to provide to the utmost extent that it was possible a legislative remedy—and he rejoiced that they could approach that one Irish subject free from political animosity, party bias, or personal bickering. A great part of the speech of the noble Lord had been in the nature of an attack upon the report of the Poor-law Commissioners, and inasmuch as they had been appointed by the Government with which the noble Lord was connected, it was rather unreasonable that the noble Lord should throw their defence upon him—at the same time, he must say, that he agreed with them on some points on which the noble Lord had dissented. He certainly thought that the Commissioners had formed rather too high an estimate of the amount of destitution, while on the other hand, he was persuaded that Mr. Nicholls had fallen into the opposite extreme. He felt, however, that the country was greatly indebted to both for the ability and labour they had applied to the subject, and he wished to treat the opinions as well of the Commissioners as of Mr. Nicholls, whether he agreed or differed with them, with every deference and respect. He entirely concurred with the noble Lord that "outdoor relief" should be excluded from the present plan. In a country circumstanced as Ireland then was, he could apprehend nothing but the most ruinous consequences from a system of out-door relief. It must absorb all independent labour. The whole Irish population, as was observed in Mr. Nicholls's second report, would become a mass of paupers. Relief beyond the limits of the workhouse would soon degenerate into the allowance system, which had produced such evils in. England; and in a country where population so abounded, and the wages of labour were so low as in Ireland, would speedily work a virtual confiscation of the whole landed property. He was apprehensive of the effect of holding out too large an expectation of relief, and approved of the Commissioners recommendation that it should be limited to the aged, the infirm, and the impotent—and that they alone should be received into the workhouse or asylum. He was aware that there were difficulties on this point in preventing abuse and nicely defining the age or infirmity which should entitle the party applying to relief—but still where there was no right to relief given and an ample discretion vested in the Commissioners he thought those difficulties were to be overcome; and that on the other hand they should ever bear in mind that they were not, as in England, dealing with an old existing system, but introducing an entirely new one in Ireland; they could not therefore proceed with too much caution. Let them not encourage expectations which they could not realise. It was easy to advance in concession, but impossible to draw back, and in answer to an objection of the noble Lord's, as to refusing the able-bodied relief, recollecting that all you were giving was a boon, it was to be considered, that in providing for the sick, the aged, and the infirm, you were removing, pro tanto, a pressure from the able-bodied poor who now had to support them. In his view of the case, it was very important, too, that ancillary measures should be taken to assist the able-bodied labourer, and he was glad to hear from the noble Lord that some provision for emigration was to be made in the present Bill; he knew emigration was a question of difficulty, but still he did not think the particular difficulty suggested by the noble Lord on the part of the colonies was likely to arise; for surely where we had a surplus, and they an inadequate population, the benefit would be reciprocal, and he must own that he would greatly prefer that a considerable emigration of the able-bodied destitute poor of Ireland, should be substi- tuted for the spontaneous emigration of those who are now, as it were, pushed out from that country for want of room, but who are too frequently the most enterprising, intelligent, and well conducted of our own population. He also felt that useful public works would be an auxiliary, and fully acquiesced in the general principle of public works stated by the noble Lord, that they should not be such as merely to afford temporary employment and then throw back the labourer on the labour market, but such as, by facilitating communication and opening the internal resources of the country, would conduce to the general and permanent advantage of the community. The noble Lord had not stated whether the new Bill was to contain a provision for the general establishment of the measure, in the first instance by the simultaneous opening of the workhouses or not. The simultaneous introduction of the system, so far as it was practicable, he thought very desirable, and that it would greatly tend to its ultimate success. It would also have the advantage of obviating what he had been pressed by last year as the strongest argument in favour of a law of settlement, for clearly the most difficult period to dispense with such a law would be during the partial and experimental introduction of the measure and he still held the opinion he had expressed in the discussion of the Bill of last year; that it would be simpler, and, in all respects, better, that there should be neither a law of settlement, or a right to relief; the terms were not quite convertible—but still he thought it easy to show, that the law of settlement, and the right to relief, were so inseparably connected, that the adoption of the one must inevitably lead to the establishment of the other. He felt some difficulty on the subject of the immediate suppression of mendicancy by positive enactment. The questions of rating assessment, and, above all, the of the local administration of the system, would open a wide field for future discussion; but he would not detain the House by entering upon them then —or further, than to express his anxious expectation that every Irish Member, of every shade of politics, would unite with the Government and those who take an interest in the subject, to surmount its intrinsic difficulties which undoubtedly were considerable—and, in obedience to her Majesty's gracious injunction, which had that night been read at the table, consult together upon the establishment by law of some well-regulated means of relief for the destitute poor in Ireland—But one word more, and he had done. The same speech from which he had just quoted asserted the prevalence of domestic tranquillity throughout her Majesty's dominions. He trusted that as regarded that less favoured portion of them for which they were then legislating, the present measure might be accessory to an end so devoutly to be desired; but he was sorry to be obliged, and this was the first opportunity he had, to enter his sincere and solemn protest against the statement—that domestic tranquillity at present prevailed in Ireland.

Sir Charles Styles

was favourable to the establishment of a Poor-law in Ireland. He considered that workhouses would afford a sufficient test that none but those who were really destitute should receive relief. Looking, he said, to the expenses of the Poor-law in this country, where the number of poor was comparatively low, he calculated that when a Poor-law was brought into operation in Ireland, the expenditure certainly would not be less than 2,000,000l. a-year. In order to limit the expense a discretion ought, he thought, to be given to the Poor-law guardians. It was his opinion, that if it were only intended to give relief to the aged and the sick, the machinery proposed must be more expensive than the necessity of the case could require; but if, on the other hand, it was intended to relieve the whole mass of destitution now in existence in Ireland, then the landed proprietors should be prepared to raise 2,000,000l. a-year; but which ever was intended, it was absolutely necessary that relief should be insured.

Mr. French

should not trespass on the House for any time. Indeed as far as the Bill about to be introduced was concerned, he had been anticipated in all he was anxious to say, by his right hon. Friend, the Recorder of Dublin; he perfectly agreed with him, that if they were to have a Poor-law in Ireland, the safest test of destitution that could be applied was the workhouse system, and his views of the necessity of placing some limit to the power proposed to be vested in the Commissioners, whether that limit was to be as to the amount to be levied under their authority, or as to the description of persons to whom relief was to be afforded, remained unchanged since last Session. He was in accordance with what seemed to be the wish of the House, content to postpone discussing the several provisions of this measure until the Bill went into Committee. But he could not refrain from alluding to two parts of the speech of the noble Lord, which had not been touched on by his right hon. Friend. He begged the House to remember it was of the utmost importance, as far as the interests of Ireland were concerned, to know whether the estimate of the Poor-law Commissioner or that of Mr. Nicholls, a to the amount of destitution, was the correct one; it was indeed a vital question to them, whether the number of persons likely to require relief were two millions three hundred and odd thousand, or but 80,000, for such was the extraordinary difference between the two statements. The noble Lord concurred in Mr. Nicholls's view, but gave no data beyond stating his opinion that the Commissioners had confounded poverty with destitution, that would lead others to do so. In support of his view he read some extracts from tables prepared by Mr. Stanley, the accuracy of which he had no reason to doubt, as he was aware he was a gentleman of considerable talent, who had devoted much time to the subject; but it must not be forgotten that on the other side there were high authorities. Dr. What the Archbishop of Dublin; Mr. Blake, and others, who were, not with standing Mr. Nicholls's report, not yet convinced of their statements being incorrect. For his own part, he could not believe, he could not bring himself to imagine, that 80 or 100,000 persons could be a correct estimate of the number that would probably seek for relief under this Bill. He assured the noble Lord that one item in his calculation of the resources of Ireland was perfectly erroneous—that of 500,000l. being the annual amount brought to Ireland from England by the harvest labourers; in place of the average amount as calculated on by the noble Lord brought back by each individual, being from ten to fifteen pounds, he confidently asserted, from his own knowledge, having for years been in the habit of making inquiries on this subject, that in a favourable season the average did not exceed three pounds, and that if the weather was broken, or that the harvest did not come in together, it seldom varied from one to two pounds, and that for this sum, independent of the labour performed, upwards of six hundred miles was walked. He had in some instances been aware of the unfortunate creatures having performed a journey of this length, and their expenses having exceeded their earnings. The noble Lord had stated there was a clause in this Bill relating to emigration, and alluded to it as a new matter. This he could not admit, as although there was not an gave clause in the last Bill, it was distinctly stated that a separate Bill for the encouragement of emigration, should be introduced as a concurrent measure. Nothing had been said by the noble Lord about the two remaining measures, which had been promised at the same time, and both of which had been actually introduced in Parliament last year—the Medical Charities' Bill, and that for the promotion of public works; the first of these he would not say anything about, as it was the intention of his noble Friend, the Secretary for Ireland, to again bring it forward, but the second he could not lightly pass over, and begged to call the attention of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, to the statement he was about to make—it involved a serious principle—whether a Treasury order was to supersede an Act of Parliament or not. Last Session a Bill was carried through both Houses for the encouragement and promotion of public works in Ireland, and declared by the noble Lord who introduced it into the other House, to be a measure in connexion with the Poor-law; what statement had been made in that House he could not say, as he was in Ireland when it was brought in; this Act placed at the disposal of the Board of Works in Ireland the sum of 50,000l., and enabled them to grant half the estimated cost of important public works, on an application being made to them by the magistrates and cess payers at special Sessions, to be called for that purpose. Several Sessions were held under this Act; amongst others, in the barony where he resided, certain works were approved of, and a demand for the assistance specified in the Act duly made; an engineer of professional eminence was sent down by the Board of Works, who reported favourably on the utility of the works, and recommended the assistance being afforded. After some delay, a communication was received from the secretary of the board to the effect that the treasury, considering the Act to be intended to give relief to temporary distress, which distress was passed, did not purpose putting the Act in force. He denied there was anything in the Act which entitled them to give it this construction; it did not contain a single word about famine or temporary distress, and was in direct contradiction to the statement of the noble Lord to which he had alluded. He considered the line that had been adopted neither politic nor just, and had moved for a return on the subject, when he should again bring it forward. At present he alluded to it for the purpose of she wing the noble Lord, that last Session it had been deemed advisable to introduce accompanying measures with the Poor-law Bill, and to press on him the necessity of adhering to the same course, as he was convinced without it this Bill would neither prove popular nor efficient.

Mr. Lucas

had heard with great satisfaction the statement of the noble Lord. He begged, however, to observe to the noble Lord that any statement which could be made as to the linen trade in 1824 was not at all applicable to the same trade in 1837, as the linen trade had greatly diminished since 1824. He hoped that this question would never degenerate into a party one. As to a law of settlement, he begged to say that he would bring forward a motion on that subject similar to that which he had submitted to the House last year. He wished that a point of so much importance should be again considered, in order that it might receive the solemn decision of a new Parliament.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

, in reference to what had been said by the hon. Member for Roscommon,(Mr. French) explained that an act had passed last year, to enable the Government to advance, in cases of great emergency, the public money under the superintendence of the board of works. It would, he thought, be a most unfortunate lesson to teach to the people of Ireland, it would be most unfortunate for themselves, if they were to expect that in every case of distress, they were to calculate upon receiving money from the Government. A case of very great and extraordinary emergency could alone justify such an application. The Act of last year was intended to apply to such a case, and for the purpose of doing so, it actually passed over the functions of the grand jury. The application to which the hon. Member for Roscommon had referred was considered by the treasury not to come within the objects of that Bill, and, therefore, it was refused.

Mr. O'Brien

contended the Act did not bear the meaning given to it by the right hon. Gentleman, and that it never was intended as a temporary measure nor was there anything in it that could justify such a supposition, and trusted the benefit that would derive from its being carried into effect would not longer be withheld from the country.

Mr. Lynch

, as a lawyer, had no hesitation in asserting the act did not bear the construction put on it by the Chanceller of the Exchequer; he could instance several cases similar to that stated by his hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon, and joined with the hon. Member for Limerick, in hoping a line of conduct which really could not be justified, would not longer be persevered in.

Mr. John Young

hoped, that when the Bill had been read a second time, as he supposed it would be without opposition, the noble Lord would not pass it through the Committee, immediately after the recess. Time should be allowed for receiving and weighing observations and suggestions from Ireland, especially from the grand jurors, who would probably begin to assemble the last week in February. He hoped the Committee would be fixed for after that period; the more information afforded on the subject, the more discussion that took place, the better—they would facilitate the introduction of the measure, and exaggerated anticipations of mischief on the one hand, and of indefinite and impracticable good on the other, would be dispelled. Indeed, Mr. Nicholls's second report presented that morning stated the public mind of Ireland was now much better informed on the subject than formerly. The hon. Member concluded, by saying, he was not sorry to hear that the further consideration and more extended inquiry they had afforded the question, had confirmed Ministers in their adherence to the main features of their former measure — to an absolute rejection of a law of settlement, and an exclusively in-door system of relief.

Lord Clements

remarked that Mr. Nicholls had, in his last report, referred to the county of Donegal, and had remarked that there were two points necessary to be attended to before it could be expected that a poor law would work well: they were, the facilitating of emigration, and the affording of employment to the people. He agreed with Mr. Nicholls upon both these points. He also thought that a Poor law never could be efficient unless the people had the means of taxing themselves for the purpose of carrying on public works. The rate-payers ought to have a direct control over their own money, and to be afforded the means of opening the resources of their country. There was, he declared, no man more anxious than he was to have a Poor-law, if the Government would only apply to Ireland the same improvements which had benefited England so much, and give to the rate-payers a control over their own expenditure.

Mr. Slaney

said, that the state of destitution which existed in Ireland was such as ought not to exist in a Christian country. This was not an Irish question only; the people of this country were deeply affected by the state of the people of Ireland. It would be useless to endeavour to raise the condition and tone of feeling of the people of this country, if they did not at the same time elevate the condition and moral tone of their brethren in Ireland. It was a matter of great congratulation to him that on one Irish question there was not any difference of opinion, and he entertained strong hopes that this would greatly contribute to the success of the experiment.

Sir Edward Sugden

said, he was glad to be able to concur in the proposition of the noble Lord. With respect to the subject of out-door relief, he thought it was utterly impossible to think of extending it to Ire land. He was not in favour of the workhouse system if they could find a better; but in Ireland he thought they must be content with this system, and the only object was to see that it was well applied. He entertained a strong opinion against the law of settlement. He thought that, if possible, it ought to be avoided, and he was not certain that it could not be avoided. There might be times when there would be such a pressure of population in a particular district as really to swamp all the means of supply, if there was not a law of settlement. He thought that it would be found necessary, unless there was a law of settlement, to have a simultaneous provision made for all the unions; because without this was done, and without a law of settlement, every man would go to that union which was nearest to him. He would give his best attention to the details of the measure, and if he could afford any assistance in the further progress of the Bill he would do so with the greatest possible pleasure.

Lord John Russell

said, he was very glad his proposition had been so fairly received. It was his intention to propose the second reading before the holidays, as he did not anticipate that on the second reading there would be any difference of opinion, and he hoped to be able to go into Committee rather early in February. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir E. Sugden), he would not enter upon the questions referred to; he would merely say that he considered that if there was no law of settlement they must either have unions established simultaneously, or make some provision for the unions first established until the others were established. This was a point well worthy of the consideration of the House, and, he must add, of the Government and the Commissioners.

Mr. F. Shaw

inquired, whether there had been any provisions made for establishing the unions simultaneously.

Lord John Russell

said, no provision had been made.

Mr. D. Roche

said, he hoped that the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Lucas) would persist in the motion of which he had given notice when the Bill came forward, as if there was not a law of settlement the Bill would have an injurious effect on the state of society in Ireland.

Leave given, Bill brought in and read a first time.