HC Deb 02 June 1837 vol 38 cc1162-9

The House went into Committee on the Poor-law (Ireland) Bill.

Mr. Barron

proposed, after the words "hire any land," to omit the words "not exceeding twelve acres imperial measure,' from the 36th Clause.

Lord J. Russell

would not insist upon those words being retained in the clause.

Mr. O'Connell

suggested, that there should be some limitation fixed in the clause as to the number of acres which the Commissioners might hire for each workhouse.

Mr. Lynch

agreed with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kilkenny, and thought that the limitation should be fixed at fifty acres.

Mr. S. O'Brien

thought, that the Commissioners ought to have a discretionary power to fix the number of acres to be hired by each workhouse.

Mr. Lennard

would not object to a discretionary power in the Commissioners as to the number of acres to be employed in cultivation by the inmates of each workhouse, provided that a limit was put so that they should not exceed twenty acres.

Mr. Hume

hoped that the noble Lord would reconsider the subject, and not adopt the suggestion of employing the poor in the cultivation of land. He had seen experiments of that kind tried in Holland, and in every case in which money had been advanced by the government for the purpose of such experiment; the moment the money so advanced was expended the experiment failed.

Mr. Poulett Scrope

did not see how, in a country so agricultural as Ireland, the poor could be employed except on land. He would not limit the power of the Commissioners to the purchase of less than 100 acres.

Captain Jones

said, that the amendment would be useless, for there was no provision in the clause to compel paupers to work on the land, or any where except in the workhouse. Instead, therefore, of giving large tracts of land to be cultivated by pauper labour, he should feel disposed to limit the number of acres to much less than those proposed in the Bill.

Mr. Barron

said, that his proposition had been altogether misunderstood. His object was, that the men in the workhouse who were able to work should be employed in some useful labour, rather than be supported in idleness. He did not mean to assert that the labour of such men would be as valuable as that of men out of the workhouse. All he contended for was, that power should be given to the Commissioners and guardians to employ the able-bodied paupers who might from time to time be in the workhouse. He urged this as an experiment, which might be tried on a small scale, and if it did not succeed it could easily be given up. His great object was to prevent those vicious habits which must be engendered amongst men who were supported in idleness.

Mr. S. Crawford

said, the only Poor-law which could be efficient for the relief of the Irish poor, would be that which would so re-act on the landlords, as to make it their interest to employ the poor, The workhouse system, as it was proposed in this Bill, would fail of that object. Why should the hands of the Commissioners and the guardians be tied up from giving relief to the poor out of the workhouse? If the workhouse was to be the sole relief to the Irish poor, then it would be necessary to increase the amount of land to be put into cultivation, connected with the workhouse; but if relief were given out of the workhouse, then the land would not be necessary.

Lord J. Russell

said, it was now evident that a greater number of Members favoured the plan of having no land at all attached to the workhouses, than the proposition by which a large portion might be assigned for that purpose at the discretion of the Commissioners. He confessed that, for his part, he should feel better satisfied to let the clause remain as it was.

The Committee divided on the amendment:—Ayes 3; Noes 71: Majority 68.

Mr. Richards

thought it would be a great and material improvement on the present measure, if it contained a provision assigning a district of eight miles square as the space within which the jurisdiction of such workhouse was to take effect; he should also propose, that no able-bodied person be received in such workhouse as a lodger. Amongst the grounds upon which he objected to the application of the workhouse system to Ireland, was this—that if once the poor of that country obtained the advantage of decent beds, of sufficient shelter from the inclemency of the weather, of food in moderate quantity, and of the other accommodations which even the workhouse supplied, there would be no possibility of inducing them to keep away from those asylums. If they received persons into their workhouses as lodgers, they must provide them with sufficient apartments, with beds, and with all things belonging to lodging rooms. Now, according to the plan which he proposed, the workhouses would be open all day and merely closed at night, the parties applying for relief there going home at the end of each day, and being at liberty to return, if necessary, on the following morning. His plan had the advantage of cheapness, and it was quite obvious that the poor would leave the workhouse as soon as they could get employment elsewhere. The Mendicity Society kept their house open all day, and kept those who came to them at work; at night they gave them a penny each towards providing a lodging, and dismissed them till the day following. That institution, as the House must be aware, was maintained by voluntary contributions from persons occupying 2,000 out of the 11,500 rated-houses in the city of Dublin. The Mendicity Society in that metropolis, had done much service; and yet no rate was levied for its support. At an expense of 9,000l. a-year, the population of Dublin, being 240,000 persons, was preserved from the evils of mendicity; according to the same rate, the whole of Ireland might be relieved at an annual expense of 300,0001l.; and yet the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny had computed that five times that amount— namely, a million and a-half—wasannually given in mere alms. The hon. Gentleman concluded, by proposing, as the first part of his amendment to the clause, that after the word "thereon," in line 40, be inserted the following words—"Provided always, that one of every such workhouses that shall be erected, shall, in country places, be provided in every eight miles square."

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the amount of the subsisting subscriptions in aid of pauperism in Ireland, appeared to be underrated; and that this was a subject of which hon. Members should not lose sight. The population of Dublin amounted to 240,000, and it was quite a mistaken notion to suppose, that its pauperism could be disposed of by levying rates to the amount of 9,0001l. a-year. It was true, that the sum subscribed in aid of the funds of the Mendicity Institution last year, was no more than 6,0001l.; but he (Mr. O'Connell) was ready to show, that the entire amount subscribed during that year to the relief of the poor of Dublin, was not a farthing short of 105,0001l. Of this amount, there was upwards of 29,0001l. contributed in the shape of private subscriptions; and 44,0001l. by Act of Parliament. So that, during the past year, there was upwards of 70,0001l. subscribed in this way, independently of the various parochial funds which were raised for the relief of the poor in the Dissenting as well as in the Established Church.

Amendment withdrawn.

Clause agreed to; also the several Clauses as far as 41 inclusive.

On Clause 42,

Mr. S. O'Brien

moved an amendment, namely, to insert at the end, these words: —" That until such workhouses shall be erected, or in cases where they shall be found to be insufficient for the purposes required, it shall be lawful for the guardians, under the control of the Commissioners, to make such other provisions out of the rates as they shall think fit."

Mr. Lynch

opposed the amendment, and contended that the beneficial effects of the working of the English Poor-law Amendment Act, by the abolition of outdoor relief, ought to warn Irish Members from adopting, as this amendment proposed, a principle which had been productive of so much evil in this country.

Mr. H. G. Ward

admitted, that the system of indiscriminate out-door relief had been the cause of all the evils which the country had felt in respect to the administration of the Poor-laws; but he denied, that the state of Ireland was such as to admit of the workhouse system of relief alone. There was no analogy between the condition of the population of this country and the population of Ireland. Though the extent of destitution had, he admitted, been greatly exaggerated in the reports, still there was such an amount of destitution now as to make the relief proposed by this Bill wholly insufficient. Even admit 80,000 persons into the workhouses as proposed, and yet it would be totally incompetent for the relief of Ireland, and, therefore, whatever might be his objections theoretically to out-door relief in this country, still he could not see why any person could refuse to admit, that out-door relief ought to be introduced into Ireland. He had but little hope of any efficient system of Poor-laws being established in. Ireland, until means were first taken to make the proportion of employment more equal to the extent of the population.

Mr. Wakley

observed, that English Members who attempted to speak on this question were met by the cry "Oh! you know nothing of Ireland; you have not been there." If they alluded to the English Poor-laws, they were told that those laws were not applicable to Ireland. If they talked of the question of out-door relief in the abstract, they were advised not to trouble the House with abstract questions. He was ready to support the amendment, but he complained that it did not go far enough. Every impartial person who had investigated the matter, must be thoroughly convinced that it would be impossible to maintain a system for any length of time which denied all out-door relief to the poor. Even the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, who was wedded to the new system, would not go so far as that. He knew that it would be said, as it had been said before, that out-door relief would be given in some cases. But would out-door relief be given to the able-bodied poor? Was not the very principle of the new measure this— that no relief should be given out of the workhouse? It was so; and yet he believed there was scarcely an hon. Member in the House who would contend for the rigid enforcement of that principle, because they would consent, for instance, to the allowance of medical relief, as in the case of a labouring man who meets with an accident. He could not but regard the present measure as delusive. The people of Ireland had no law of settlement, and it was now proposed that they should have no out-door relief; in fact, the Bill gave no right of relief, and therefore it was nothing but a mockery, although it was dignified by the false title of a Bill for the relief of the poor in Ireland.

Mr. Sheil

thought it would be dangerous to admit, in the first instance, the principle of out-door relief. Why should they, by adopting this amendment, at once plunge into extremes, from which it would be impossible after to retrace their steps? Let them begin by a judicious system of in-door relief as proposed by Government, and if that were not found efficacious, in the course of two or three years they might have recourse to some further measures.

Lord John Russell

thought there was something in the proposition which had been calculated to excite considerable alarm. It should be considered, indeed it could not well be denied, that this Bill was only an experiment. The subject of Poor-law legislation was altogether new in Ireland, the whole constitution of the boards was altogether unknown; and the question was, how could they give that discretion in affording relief which had been suggested? It was proposed to give them the power of administering to any extent, under the orders of the Commissioners, out-door relief; and he, for one, could not help thinking there would be very great danger in such a state of things. The board of guardians would not be able to exercise any sound discretion; they would be forced into measures, even against their own opinions, which would lead to very alarming consequences. Let hon. Members reflect on the alarming amount of destitution in Ireland. It was difficult, if not impossible, to form any adequate or correct estimation of it. The Commissioners, however, had estimated the number of the destitute at no less than 2,300,000; and if out-door relief were given, it would be impossible to find means sufficient to relieve those who would apply. The proposition of the hon. Member for Limerick went to assert an absolute right to relief in every inhabitant of Ireland; it asserted a right to relief not only in those immediately claiming it, but bound them to recognize the right in those paupers to many and impose the burden of supporting their families from generation to generation on the property of the country. They never could refuse relief to any one of them, if that relief were to be considered as an absolute right. The effect of affirming such a principle would be to transfer the right of property from those who now possessed it to the paupers of Ireland. He could not lend his sanction to that principle. In his opinion, they were bound to look to the mode of making an experiment on this subject, as the right hon. Baronet, the Member of Tamworth had suggested on a former occasion, in the safest and most cautious manner; and if the amendment were adopted, giving the guardians the power of administering indiscriminate out-door relief, the experiment would be fraught with the utmost peril, and they would soon be obliged to retrace their steps, and repeal the Bill altogether.

Mr. O'Connell

felt very much inclined to move that the Chairman report progress and ask leave to sit again, for this most important point had not been sufficiently discussed. He had listened to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) with the most painful anxiety, and he must say, he had used no argument to induce the Committee to agree to the clause as it now stood. He should vote for the amendment of his hon. Friend, the Member for Limerick, looking to the state of Ireland as most likely to serve the purposes of benevolence, and the cause of peace and social order in that country. They did not require workhouses or imprisonment to stimulate the Irish to work, they were eager to obtain it. This Bill, which was supported by English Members with the view of tranquillizing Ireland, so far from producing order and tranquillity, would increase irritation and agrarian disturbance. Would it console the people to imprison them in a workhouse? If so, let them have enough of it, and instead of 100, let them at once build 600 workhouses? A million of money was now distributed in charity among the poor of Ireland; this Bill would put a stop to all voluntary charity, and thereby aggravate the evils complained of. There would either be increased irritation, and an additional cause of agrarian disturbance, or confiscation of property, if, abolishing private charity, they did not substitute compulsory relief to a sufficient extent. It was admitted they must come to that by and by; but the great danger was in the transition. He complained that this Bill had been introduced without the slightest communication with any Irish Member. The amendment was a most. proper one; it left the execution of the law under the Commissioners and Guardians, and only enabled them to go beyond the prison house to meet the exigencies of want. Without this relaxation of the principle of the Bill, it would produce greater evils than at present existed.

The Committee divided.

On the amendment: Ayes 50: Noes 138: Majority 88.

House resumed. Committee to sit again on Monday.