HC Deb 11 May 1837 vol 38 cc806-15

Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Poor-law (Ireland) Bill.

The House went into Committee.

On the 15th Clause,

Mr. Sharman Crawford

proposed an amendment, with a view of making each separate parish or town-land responsible for its own poor.

Viscount Morpeth

said, the proposal of the hon. Member would, if carried into effect, assimilate the practice in Ireland to that of England, and introduce the separate rating of distinct parishes into that country. The circumstances of the two countries being different,—in the one a Poor-law having been in operation, in the other a Poor-law being about to be introduced,—it would be inexpedient to adopt the same system. It was, however, to be recollected, that the English Bill was more favourable to the combined system than to the separate; for it gave the power of forming unions. He hoped that the House would pause before it foisted on Ireland the laws of settlement which had proved a prolific source of dispute, discussion, and litigation in England. He thought that it was but prudent to take a district of fair size and diameter as the representative of the really existing distress. He could not believe that it was desirable to adopt the proposition of the hon. Member; he was of opinion, that if applied to Ireland, which was a new field for the operation of the Poor-laws, its effects would be prejudicial; and therefore he could not consent to it.

Mr. Goulburn

thought, that the House should come to a decision as to the practicability of making a Poor-law, which had no provisions for settlement, work well.—Should the House determine that the principle of settlement must be adopted, he was willing to consider the schemes which might be proposed.

Mr. O'Connell

was of opinion, that the Government had excluded settlement from their Bill. Those who wished for settlement should bring forward their views in the form of amendments. If the House could introduce the law of settlement, it would hesitate to do so after its experience of the mischief which it had effected in England. It might make the landlords attend more to their estates, but the advantages which that argument held out were encountered by the fact, that it gave rise to a series of litigation which would ultimately exhaust the land.

Mr. C. Buller

was of opinion, that there could be no efficient system of Poor-laws without a law of settlement; without a law of settlement, every such system would be a complete delusion. Local settlement and local charges were the prime points of the Poor-law.

Lord John Russell

wished that some definite proposition should be brought forward, on which the House might decide. It would be unfair to ask hon. Members to decide on the principle of settlement at once, when they might afterwards find that insuperable objections existed to every scheme of carrying that principle into effect.

Sir James Graham

was sorry to add to the difficulty in which the House was placed. This, however, was the marrow of this most difficult subject. Mendicancy, it was admitted on all hands, was the great evil of Ireland. It was decided by the Bill, that destitution did not give an absolute claim to relief; and in the 42nd clause, the distribution of relief was left to the discretion of certain authorities. If there must be a settlement, he should prefer the Scotch system; if the system to be adopted were the parochial one, he should prefer the scheme of unions. But the real question was, should destitution, or should it not, constitute a claim for relief?

Mr. S. O'Brien

admitted, that the right hon. Baronet had put the subject on the right ground. He hoped, however, the Government would not permit a law of settlement to be introduced.

Lord John Russell

thought, that his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham) had not added to the difficulty of the question, but had facilitated the solution of it. It should be recollected, that if a right to be relieved somewhere were conferred, a right to removal to that particular place would follow. His right hon. Friend, or some other hon. Member might bring forward a distinct proposition to the desired effect.

Mr. Shaw

was prepared to move some limitations to the relief which this Act would afford; he wished its operation to be confined to the sick, the infirm, and the aged. If destitution were made the test of just claims to relief, many difficulties would be the consequence, for each person who was destitute would imagine himself possessed of an equal right with others to relief.

Sir Robert Bateson

was aware of the evils which had followed on the law of settlement in England; but he feared that greater evils would ensue if it were not introduced into Ireland. The opinion of the town of Belfast had been alluded to; it would, however, be recollected, that there was a great influx of Irish paupers on their road home from England into that town; and that there was some apprehension lest they should settle there. His wish was to tax the absentees, whereas, without a law of settlement, the taxation for the purposes of a Poor-law would affect the residents only.

Lord John Russell

observed, that the Members of the Government had made up their minds long ago, and, indeed, he had stated so two months ago. He was ready to consider any proposition on the subject then or to-morrow, as might be agreed on. He did not, however, think that the motion of the hon. Member for Dundalk was a fit one for the discussion of the matter. It would be better for him not to press his motion then, and to discuss the law of settlement to-morrow.

Amendment withdrawn.

Mr. O'Connell

wished to prefix some preliminary words, to the effect that "the Commissioners who might be appointed to carry the Act into execution, should be styled the Poor-law Commissioners for Ireland, and sit in Dublin."

The Chairman

observed, that the hon. and learned Member was moving a specific Clause, which must be reserved till the end of the Bill.

Lord Stanley

wished to move an amendment, in conformity with that of the hon. Member for Dundalk, for the purpose of bettering the discretion vested in the Commissioners. The Commissioners were to be endowed with the power of declaring districts to be unions, without reference to existing civil or ecclesiastical divisions. He, however, must object to their being empowered to interfere with the limits of property, and he thought that the extent of rate-paying ought to be conterminous with the boundaries of property. A proper centre for unions should be fixed, round which the other places might lie. The boundary of town lands was observed in estates; the same practice was followed in unions. If leave were given to the Commissioners to alter the boundaries, their parallelograms would, no doubt, appear very neat on paper; but the effect of the arrangement would be mischievous, for the property of the same individual might be parcelled out into different unions. He was in favour of the law of settlement; if the right to be conferred were a local one, then there should be a local assessment; if the right were a national one, then should the assessment be national also. He was for the local system, because it would give to every man an immediate interest in keeping down pauperism. He should now move that the words after "declare" should be omitted for the purpose of inserting the words "to unite such and so many town lands or towns for the purpose of making such union as they may think fit."

Lord John Russell

admitted, that there would be a great advantage in adopting the division of town lands. He would not then object to the amendment, reserving always his right to oppose it,

Mr. Lucas moved, "That no district to be separately rated under this Act shall exceed, in extent, twenty square miles, unless the population in that extent shall fall short of 6,000 souls." The unions proposed by the Government would be totally unmanageable. They would require paid officers, whereas persons should be induced to undertake voluntarily the office of guardians of the poor. Considering this plan in a financial point of view, he thought it was very desirable in point of economy. The population of Ireland was 8,000,000 of souls; and the average population of an union comprising 400 square miles, would be 100,360 persons. But if, instead of the average of all Ireland, a district was taken where the population was more dense, as in the province of Ulster, the population contained in the district over which the union would extend, would be increased as much as fifty per cent. Take, for instance, the county of Monaghan. An area of 400 square miles in that county, would con-lain 154,000 souls. Another consideration, and a very important one, which suggested itself, was, that if the rating was commensurate with the size of the union, they would remove all incentives to individual exertion in lowering the amount of the rate. If, on the other hand, the union were confined to an area of twenty square miles, and a farmer were able, by his personal exertions and superintendence, to diminish the rate even a halfpenny or a farthing in the pound, he would have a motive to attend to the working of the system and scrutinize its details. The consideration as to voting, was also a very important one. If the right of voting was to be maintained according to the provisions of the Bill, he should show how great a number of voters would be brought together. An area of 400 square miles for an union on the average of Ireland, would contain 26,633 families. He would not, however, take the average of all Ireland, but would go to particular places. He knew, that if this plan were adhered to in certain estates with which he was acquainted, the proportion of 51. voters for such an union would be from 18,000 to 20,000. He wished to show, on the other hand, what would be the scale of voters in an union of the extent which he proposed. On the average in Monaghan, there would be about 1,000 persons who would have a fright to vote, He con- ceived, that that number was quite enough, and that a larger body of voters would be unmanageable. Upon these grounds, without troubling the House at any greater length, he should move his amendment.

Lord John Russell

thought, that this was a very inconvenient restriction to be imposed upon the Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman would perceive, that the Bill did not propose any particular limit for the extent of the union, but left that to the discretion of the Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman's proposition would confine the Commissioners, where there was a population of 6,000 persons within the area he suggested, to a space, the limits of which would be less than two miles and a-half from the workhouse, and which would hardly contain a sufficient number of persons fit to form a Board of Guardians. There were forty unions in England, of which the population exceeded 10,000 persons, and they were very much better managed than those unions which had only 3,000 or 4,000 inhabitants. There was another consideration to which he begged to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman, which pointed out the wisdom of leaving a good deal to the discretion of the Commissioners. The Bill proposed, that relief be given in the workhouse. Now, if relief were given in the workhouse only, the business of the guardians would be far more simple, and would require far less attention and time, than was the case in England. The guardians in England had to consider the different rates levied, or to be levied, in the different parishes of the union, the claims of poor and infirm persons, and other matters, which occupied many hours in the day. But if relief were given in the workhouse only, the time of the guardians in Ireland would be very little occupied. If, however, the Committee should come to a different opinion, and say, that relief ought not to be confined to the workhouse, and that out-door relief should be given, then the Commissioners might come to a very different opinion as to the extent of the unions; but in either case, it would be far better to leave the rule to the discretion of the Commissioners. For these reasons, he hoped the Committee would not assent to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and would leave the point undecided.

Lord Stanley

was inclined, on the whole, to agree with his noble Friend opposite, that it would be better not to confine the Commissioners in the exercise of their discretion. He thought, however, that a district which, according to the proposal made by the Commissioners, would contain about 80,000 persons on the average, would be much too large. But, at the same time, he was not insensible to the advantage which would be gained where the extent of the union was large, from the greater facilities of obtaining efficient and working men as guardians of the poor. The point to hit was this—that the union should extend so far that, from its extreme limits, persons might come without inconvenience to the workhouse for relief, and at the same time so widely, as to obtain with great combination in the management, the highest degree of economy. An area of twenty square miles was, in his opinion, infinitely too small for these purposes. The local management, in these cases, would fall into improper hands. At the same time, if it was the opinion of the House that a law of settlement ought to be introduced into Ireland, he was not prepared to say whether, as regarded the local management, with the view of individualizing the burthen and responsibility, it might not be advisable to subdivide the unions for the purpose of rating. He would give to each individual district a reason to interest itself in the management of the whole union, in a manner analogous to the system prevailing in England.

Lord Clements

quite agreed with the general remarks which had been made by the hon. Member for Monaghan; but he could not concur in his conclusion. In matters of this sort it was best to look to experience, he admitted; but, when one of the Poor-law Commissioners recommended an area of 400 square miles for an union, he turned to see whether there was anything of the kind in England. He had extracted the accounts of the number of square miles in the area of the twelve largest unions which at present existed in England, and he found that not one of them equalled 300 square miles. He thought, therefore, that it was necessary for the House to express some opinion as to the size of the unions in Ireland. He should, therefore, move the following amendment—"Provided always, that in every case where the proposed union exceeds an area of 150 square miles, and the population in such union exceeds 25,000 persons, the Commissioners, at the time of the formation of such union, shall make a special report to one of his Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, forty days before the declaration of such union, which special report shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament after the commencement of every Session."

Mr. Lucas

observed, that he owed every deference to the suggestions which had been made by hon. Members, and if the House had agreed with him as to the propriety of his amendment, he should have proposed that each district should be separately liable for its proportion of the expenses of the workhouse. However, as the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, had indicated a wish to localise the expenditure of each union, he was quite content to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Lucas

withdrew his amendment. The Chairman put the amendment proposed by Lord Clements.

Mr. Wyse

was understood to say, that the House had not yet provided proper machinery to work the Bill. He was afraid, therefore, that they would get into difficulties.

Viscount Howick

hoped the noble Lord, the Member for Leitrim, would withdraw the amendment which he had proposed, because there was no good ground for restricting the discretion of the Commissioners. If they were to insert a proviso in the Bill to the effect that these unions should not exceed a definite limit, the Commissioners, under whatever circumstances might arise, would probably meet with great difficulty and opposition in any attempt which they might make, by increasing that limit, to adapt it to the exigencies of a particular case.

Lord Clements

was of opinion, that none of the arguments which he had heard from hon. Members, affected the principle of his proviso. If no limit were assigned, he could not see any thing to prevent the Commissioners from making the unions of far too great an extent to be practically beneficial. For his part, he was not at all desirous to confine the Poor-law Commissioners in the exercise of their power, in any way which could be justly considered harsh or irksome towards them. All he sought, was the establishment of such an arrangement as would be productive of the best practical relief, and he trusted, in this matter, to have the support of the Irish Members, who were now in Committee.

Mr. James Grattan

could not concur in opinion with the noble Lord upon this subject. His noble Friend's proposition wag of too expensive a nature. He would, in effect, treble the number of poor establishments. Moreover, in his opinion, if the limits of the unions were narrow, the class of persons who would fill the office of guardians, would not be of the most respectable description. He thought the proposed Poor-law Bill would work exceedingly well; at all events it would put a stop to jobbing—a calamity by which Ireland had been proverbially afflicted.

Mr. P. Thomson

thought, that the question was decided by the observation which had fallen from the hon. Member for Wicklow—namely, that in unions of a limited extent, it would be difficult to find persons properly qualified to act as guardians. It was quite clear, that the Commissioners would make the unions of the size which circumstances would render most desirable; and to their decision he trusted the noble Lord would leave the matter.

Sir J. Graham

denied that the management of the Poor-law establishments in England had been proved to be good, in proportion to the extent of the unions. He was disposed to think, that the more they concentrated local knowledge, the more they would conduce to the advantage of the paupers generally. By increasing the area, they would increase the difficulty of attendance at the Board of Guardians, particularly of those whose attendance would be most desirable.

Mr. Lennard

differed from the right hon. Baronet. No matter how extensive the district, no applicant could make his appearance before the Board of Guardians, of whom some member of the board would not possess some knowledge.

Mr. Sergeant Woulfe

said, that they were now about to try an entirely new experiment in Ireland. They were about to introduce into that country, a system which had been hitherto untried in any part of the empire. While they established a system of taxation for the relief of the poor, they acknowledged, on the part of the poor, no right to this relief, except according to the discretion and good will of the persons who laid on the rate. With respect to the Amendment, he believed, that it would be found wise and politic to give to the Commissioners as large powers as they possibly could. There was much less chance of the Commissioners abusing their power by the performance of erroneous acts, than there was of the House now committing serious mistakes, by making legislative restrictions beforehand.

Lord Clements

withdrew his amendment.

The Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

On the 19th Clause (Commissioners may divide unions into electoral districts)

Mr. O'Brien

suggested that no electoral district should contain more than 6,000 inhabitants. Such a number would be as many as could be attended to.

Lord Stanley

proposed that these words should be added to the clause:—"that any such union shall be divided in such a manner, that no townland comprised within an union shall be divided." By adopting this rule they would adhere to some certain and recognised boundary in the divisions of unions.

Lord John Russell

objected to the amendment on the ground that the adoption of such a principle would be attended with considerable inconvenience.

The Committee divided on the Clause: —Ayes 69; Noes 47: Majority 22.

The Clause agreed to.

On the 20th Clause,

Mr. Sharman Crawford

moved as an amendment, that for 3,000 inhabitants there should be at least one guardian.

Lord Morpeth

said, it would be better to leave the matter to the discretion of the Commissioners.

The Committee divided on the amendment:—Ayes 11; Noes 77: Majority 66.

List of the AYES.
Bellew, R. M. Ruthven, E.
Chapman, L. Sheil, R. L.
Clements, Viscount Wyse, T.
Evans, G. Young, G. G.
Hindley, C. TELLERS.
Maher, J. Crawford, S.
O'Conner Don O'Brien, W. S.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Callaghan, D.
Archdall, M. Cooper, E. J.
Ball, N. Corry, rt. hon. H.
Baring, F. T. Damer, G. L. D.
Blake, M. J. Dillwyn, L. W.
Bodkin, J. J. Dunbar, G.
Bowes, J. Duncombe, T.
Bridgeman, H. Ebrington, Viscount
Brotherton, J. Ferguson, Sir R.
Browne, R. D. Finch, G.
Bruen, F. Fitzsimon, C.
Forbes, W. Parrott, J.
Fox, C. Perceval, Colonel
Goulburn, H. Philips, M.
Graham, Sir J. Ponsonby, W.
Grattan, J. Ponsonby, J.
Hamilton, G. A. Price, Sir R.
Hayes, Sir E. S. Pryme, G.
Howard, R. Pryse, P.
Howard, P. H. Pusey, P.
Howick, Viscount Russell, Lord J.
Jephson, C. D. O. Scrope, G. P.
Jones, T. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Lennard, T. B. Smith, V.
Lennox, Lord G. Stanley, E. J.
Longfield, R. Stanley, Lord
Lowther, J. H. Steuart, V.
Lucas, E. Talbot, C. R. M.
Lynch, A. H. Tennent, J. E.
Maule, hon. F. Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.
Morpeth, Viscount Townley, R. G.
Murray, J. A. Vigors, N. A.
Nagle, Sir R. West, J.
O'Connell, D. Westenra, H. R.
O'Connell, J. Westenra, J. C.
O'Connell, M. J. Woulfe, Sergeant
O'Connell, M. Young, J.
O'Ferral, R. M. TELLERS.
Palmerston, Viscount Labouchere, H.
Parker, J. Steuart, R.

The House resumed.