HC Deb 09 April 1838 vol 42 cc538-41

The order of the day for the further consideration of the report on the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill having been then read,

Mr. Poulett Scrope

rose to move the introduction of a clause enabling boards of guardians to give relief to able-bodied paupers, by employing them on public works. He had refrained from interfering at an earlier period to move the introduction of the clause which he now proposed, from a wish to see the Poor-law adopted, for he was of opinion that any Poor-law for Ireland, in whatever shape it might be, would be most beneficial for that country. With regard to the measure now before the House, he was of opinion that it contained the three elements necessary to secure its provisions being properly carried out, and he thought that, the principle of the Bill once adopted, its details would soon be agreed upon. The three elements secured by this Bill were, the establishment of a central board of control; of efficient local machinery in the boards of guardians; and the building of workhouses; without which no Poor-law could work well without abuse. He did not conceive that relief should be confined to that which was given in the workhouses, and if he thought so in reference to England, he was still more so with regard to Ireland, where the mass of destitution was so much greater than in this country. The main difficulty in the present Bill was, that no out-door relief was given, and especially to the able-bodied poor, and the workhouse relief was totally and lamentably insufficient. Mr. Nicholls, in his calculations upon this subject, had, in his opinion, improperly taken the English system as the basis on which he founded his speculations, and it was ascertained, that during the two years for which the law had been in operation, in the 210 unions which had been formed, no less than one-twelfth part of the population of the country, calculated upon the census of 1831, had received relief either in or out of the workhouses. The calculation, however, upon the census of 1831, was inapplicable to the present period, and therefore the probability was, that in reality one-tenth part of the population had been relieved. Now, taking this as the groundwork, he found that the workhouses proposed to be built in Ireland would contain about 80,000 persons, a number infinitely smaller than they would be required to accommodate, when the enormous amount of destitution in the country was considered, and, in fact, it would most probably be found that one million or more would be the real number whose situations would call for relief. Now, no workhouses could be constructed which could contain so many, and therefore his proposition was, that the surplus paupers should be relieved by means of work being provided for them in the public establishments or manufactories. The framers of the Bill had admitted, that there would be a surplus population unprovided for, when they introduced the clause enabling the boards of guardians to find funds to promote emigration; but he was of opinion, that however desirable that mode of disposing of them might be, the plan which he suggested was infinitely preferable. His clause, it must be observed, only introduced the principle of the English Poor-law, for it was in evidence before the Committee, that in the manufacturing districts it was sanctioned by the Commissioners, when the workhouses were full or pressed upon, that the paupers should be relieved by their being employed in public works and in manufactories. The case of Ireland, then, was precisely similar, and abundance of hands would be found to carry his proposition into effect. It was not proposed to give the board of guardians unrestrained powers, but they were to exercise the authority proposed under every possible check, by which means the possibility of a job would be prevented. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following clause:— And whereas several works of public utility are being now, or may hereafter be, carried on in Ireland, by, or under the direction of, the board of public works, or of the county or baronial surveyors, and by means, or with the aid of, funds raised by general or local taxation, and that such works may afford the means of employing some of the able-bodied destitute poor of Ireland; be it enacted, that the guardians of any union shall be and are empowered (subject always to the control and directions therein of the Commissioners) to make such arrangements as they may think fitting with the board of works, or with any surveyor, engineer, or contractor, engaged in the execution of any public work, for the employment upon such work of any of the able-bodied destitute poor who shall apply to the said board for relief, and to pay such sums as may be necessary for defraying the cost thereof out of the rate raised by them for the relief of the poor in their union, anything to the contrary in this Act contained notwithstanding. Provided always, that every such arrangement be sanctioned by the board of guardians at two successive meetings, and that a written notice be sent by the clerk of the union to each guardian of the union of such intended proposal, at least six days before the last meeting at which such arrangement is finally to be determined.

Mr. W. S. O'Brien

had much pleasure in supporting the proposition, because it was similar to one which he had himself before introduced, and he was of opinion that it was highly necessary to secure the successful working of the Bill.

Clause read a first time.

On the question that it be read a second time,

Lord John Russell

said, that he should object to the clause on the grounds which he had before stated when a similar provision was proposed. He considered, that the clause, if agreed to, would carry into effect the principle of out-door relief by the guardians, and he was of opinion that it would be far safer that this Bill should not sanction that principle. The system in England could not be properly carried into effect without great difficulty, and in Ireland its operation would produce still greater abuses. The reasons for which he was of opinion, that the clause should be opposed had already been exceedingly well stated to the House by an hon. Member when a similar proposition was formerly made; but he thought that the strongest ground was, that those should pay the wages of the poor by whom the fruits of their labours were enjoyed, and it would be found that this principle would speedily be acted upon, for when a man found that he was paying for the support of an able-bodied labourer in the workhouse, he would rather employ him and obtain the benefit of his services. But if the board of guardians were to have the power of employing labourers, although in this country particular circumstances rendered such a course necessary, a most dangerous principle would be introduced into a new law, the omission of which would be much safer.

Clause negatived.

Mr. Redington

then proposed the following in lieu of clause 15, contending that it was most important that the measure should be introduced throughout the country at the same time:— And be it enacted, that it shall be lawful for the Commissioners, and they are hereby required, at one and the same time, by order under their seal, to divide the whole of Ireland into such and so many unions for the relief of the poor as they may think fit, to be styled by such names as they shall in such order direct.

Clause negatived.

Mr. Redington

then proposed the following clause:— And be it enacted, that every person begging or gathering alms, or placing himself for the purpose of receiving or gathering alms, or setting any child so to do, within any union in which the Commissioners shall have declared a workhouse to be fit for the reception of destitute poor, shall, on conviction thereof before any justice of the peace at petty sessions in open court, either by confession of such offender, or by the evidence on oath of one or more credible witnesses, be committed to the common gaol or house of correction, there to be kept to hard labour for any time not exceeding one fortnight for the first offence, and not exceeding one calendar month for the second offence: Provided always, that no person shall be liable to be so convicted who shall have applied to be admitted to the workhouse of such union, and been refused admittance thereto by the guardians or other officers of such union workhouse, by reason of their inability to accommodate such person or child; and provided also, that no person shall be so committed to such gaol or house of correction (if it be the first offence), who, not having applied for admission to the workhouse previous to his conviction, shall then express his readiness to enter such workhouse; and no such conviction shall under any circumstances take place unless such workhouse shall at the time be capable of receiving such person.

Clause negatived.

Sir Robert Bateson

proposed the following clause:— That the majority of the guardians and rate-payers in each parish shall have a power to levy a rate, not to exceed one shilling in the pound on the government survey and valuation, for the support of the aged, the infirm, the lame, the blind, the widow, the orphan, and the really destitute poor, who have been resident in such parish for three years; and that when such voluntary assessment is made, that the Poor-law Commissioners shall have no power over such parish or union of parishes.

Clause negatived.

The Bill to be engrossed.