§ Lord Eliot
rose to move the second reading of the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill. He trusted the House would allow him to make a short explanatory statement of its principal provisions, which he was sorry to say had been greatly, he would not say wilfully, misrepresented. He hoped he might also be permitted to say in passing, that he thought hon. Members would do better to state their objections to legislative measures in their places in Parliament, rather than abandon the position they had undertaken to occupy, and canvass them at public meetings, where there was no opportunity of meeting them. Great pains had been taken to collect opinions on the subject of the working of the Irish Poor-law, from gentlemen who were most conversant with the subject this bill was the result of a careful collation of those opinions, and he felt he might undertake to say, on the part of Ministers, that they would he prepared to give the fullest and fairest consi- 1319 deration to every suggestion that was offered by any hon. Member in the committee. The first alteration which the bill in effect made in the existing laws was contained in the fourth clause—which proposed to rate the owners, or rather the immediate lessors of tenements of less value than 4l., or in certain populous towns and cities than 8l.,instead of the occupiers of them. The true principle was, no doubt, that every occupier and holder of property should be rated, and should pay in respect of it; but every one acquainted with the practical working of the clause, as it originally stood, would have no difficulty in attributing a great portion of the dislike that prevailed to the measure to the very fact, that persons were called on to contribute to the rate who, from their position, were utterly unable to bear that burthen. He would read a few examples of the mode in which it operated on the poorer classes in Ireland. He held in his hand a return of such cases in different places in Ireland. In Monaghan, for instance, there was an old woman's case, in which the valuation was 15s.; the rate she was called upon to pay was 3½.4l. She was unable to pay, and a distress being put in her house she gave an old shawl to get rid of it. There was the case of a man named Snell; the valuation was 15s. the rate 3½d. There were six in his family, and they all went out to beg for the amount. Another man was rated at the same amount, 3½.d. He was supported only by charity, and having been confined to his bed for a long period was unable to pay the rate. He could multiply such instances almost to infinity, but the consequence was the collection of the rate in such instances became almost impossible. The collectors, where they were humane men, gave up in many instances the whole of their poundage in paying small amounts of rate rather than proceed to extremities. There was great difficulty in getting men to undertake the duty. One humane collector threw up the office, declaring he would not undertake it for 5s. in the pound instead of 6d. Another effect of this system was, that it inflicted hardship and expense on the other ratepayers. The poundage which was calculated at 6d. now amounted to between 1s. and 1s. 6d., and it was impossible to get persons even then to undertake so painful and laborious a duty. But it might be said, that the exemption of these parties would cast a very large burthen on the lessors, who would be called upon to pay for them; he 1320 found, however, that with few exceptions, such would not be the case. In the Lurgan union there were 13,569 ratepayers, of whom 9,050 were valued under 5l.; in Newry there were 18,327 ratepayers, of whom 10,706 were valued under 5l. in the Monaghan union there were 10,537 occupiers, of whom 4,075 were valued under 67.; in the Banbridge union there were 17,961 ratepayers, 10,083 being valued at less than 5l.; in the Kilkeels union the total number of occupiers was 5,813, of whom 2,898 were rated under 5l., and in the Ardee union there were 3,996 occupiers, of whom 1,437 were valued under 5l. In Enniscorthy there were 11,643 persons rated to the poor-rate, and of this number 2,420 were rated under 1,525 persons were rated at more than and less than 2l.; there were 3,945 persons whose valuation did not exceed 2l., 2.289 whose valuation was between 2l. and 5l., and the total number of persons whose valuation did not exceed 5l. was 6,234. He would not at that late hour go into detail upon this point, but believed it would be found that the number of persons rated at these small and insignificant amounts was very large, and the amount of rates paid by them was comparatively trifling. He was quite aware that in the western districts, especially in the counties of Mayo and Donegal, the proportion was much larger; but he believed it would be a most beneficial arrangement, with regard to two-thirds or three-fourths of the country, to exempt the tenants under the annual value of 5l.. He might observe that a similar exemption already existed with regard to the grand jury cess, in the case of premises under the value of 5l. The amount of value to which this exemption was to be limited, whether 3l. 4l., or 5l. might be discussed in committee: but he believed that it would be most advisable to rate the owners or lessors, who were generally much better able to pay the rate than the occupiers themselves. It was open to the Government to take one of two courses—either, as they proposed, to rate the lessor instead of the occupier, or to entitle the occupier to deduct the rate from the lessor. It might appear immaterial, at first sight, which of these courses was adopted, but he believed that, by adopting the former plan, the difficulty of collecting the rate, to which he had already alluded, would be in a great measure obviated. The next provision of the bill to which he would direct the attention of the House 1321 was the 5th clause. This was not, however, of any great moment. It merely enabled landlords and tenants, where the annual value exceeded 5l., to substitute the name of the lessor in the rate, instead of that of the lessee. There might be cases in which the landlord and tenants might be desirous of doing this, and he thought that facilities should be afforded them for making such an arrangement. The 7th clause enacted that so person in the occupation of any rateable property, and primarily liable to pay the rate made in respect of such property, should deduct from any rent which he might be liable to pay more than one-half of the entire rate paid by him. This provision was intended to counteract any disposition on the part of the boards of guardians—which might be excited by the present law—to lower the valuation. At this moment the valuations were very low, not only below the rack rent, but below the fair letting value. The 8th clause enabled the commissioners to do that which he believed was the intention of the law to have given them power to do before—namely, in cases where the board of guardians declined to appoint a fit and proper person to make the valuation, to give the commissioners power to make appointments themselves, and enabled a person so appointed to enter premises at all reasonable times, for the purpose of making or revising his valuation. There could be no doubt that by the 66th clause of the present act this power was vested in the commissioners; but some doubts had arisen upon the wording of that clause, as to whether the valuators so far appointed by the commissioners, and not by the boards of guardians, had the power of entering premises for the purpose of making their valuations. One object of this clause was to compel the guardians to adopt a valuation thus made as the basis of the rate. At present, although such a valuation might be made, the guardians could not be compelled to adopt it. The next clause of importance was the eleventh, in which an attempt was made to define the residence necessary to render a pauper chargeable to any electoral division. No new principle was involved in this clause. As the law at present stood, a pauper resident in a particular electoral division was chargeable to that electoral division, and not to the union at large; but there was no definition in the existing law as to residence. Almost every board of guardians had taken a different view of this question, and had 1322 applied a different rule. Several petitions had been presented on this subject, and he might especially allude to one from the board of guardians of Ennis, in which they stated, that they had experienced great difficulty in the working of the Poor-law act, from the unsatisfactory state of the law respecting residence; and that they had been unable to avail themselves of the advantages which it was supposed the measure would confer, on account of the difficulty of agreeing upon such definition of the word "residence,'' as would render the pauper chargeable to the electoral division in which his poverty originated. The effect of this clause would only be to charge a larger proportion of the paupers to the union at large than to any electoral division. Many representations had been] made to the Government, pressing the expediency of charging all paupers upon the union at large, and showing the hardships to which some electoral divisions were subjected; but he thought less injustice would be done by adhering to the present law, and by defining the meaning of the word "residence," than if the whole of the paupers were thrown upon the union at large. The 12th clause provided that, if the guardians of any electoral division upon whom a pauper was made chargeable, considered the decision of the board of guardians to be unjust, they might appeal to the assistant barrister. He did not think this provision would be productive of any great amount of litigation, for unless the guardians thought they could make out a case which would satisfy the assistant-barrister, they would not be likely to saddle their electoral districts with the costs of such proceedings. The next clause, the 13th, provided that the guardians might send any destitute poor deaf or dumb or blind child under the age of sixteen to any institution for the maintenance of the deaf or dumb or blind, which might be approved of by the commissioners, and might pay the expenses of its maintenance from the rates. This was, he thought, a very beneficial provision, for deaf and dumb children, who would otherwise have remained for life a burthen upon the rates, might, by means of the instruction they received in such institutions, be enabled to obtain their own livelihood. The 16th clause gave additional powers to the guardians to raise a rate for the purposes of emigration, and this provision applied not only to the actual paupers residing in the union, but to any 1323 destitute poor person who had been an inmate of the workhouse. He thought that this clause would afford great facilities for relieving parishes from able-bodied paupers and inmates of workhouses, especially females. A considerable number of women had been transferred from the house of industry to the union workhouses in Dublin, and they still remained chargeable to the poor-rate. Great difficulty was experienced in obtaining situations for them, and their number was gradually increasing; it had, therefore, been deemed advisable to give guardians power to provide the means of removing such persons, especially women, from the country as emigrants. By the 17th clause it was proposed to increase the number of ex officio guardians to one-half the number of elected guardians. He thought it was desirable that the House should understand clearly the real intention of this clause. It was unnecessary for him to remind the House that in England there was no restriction upon the number of ex officio guardians. He had observed that it had been stated at public meetings in Ireland that such restrictions did not exist in England, and that the framers of the bill wished to do in Ireland what they did not attempt to effect in England. There was in England no restriction on the number of ex officio guardians. In Ireland, from the much greater extent of the unions, if all the magistrates were appointed ex officio guardians, the number of ex officio guardians would exceed that of the elected guardians. But it was proposed by this clause to increase the number of ex officio guardians from one-third to one-half the number of elected guardians. Suppose there were in a union thirty elected guardians, it was proposed that there should be fifteen ex officio guardians, the whole number would then be forty-five; so that the ex officio guardians would only constitute one-third of the whole board, and not one-half, as had beer, erroneously supposed. He believed that, if this clause were adopted, it would have the effect, in almost every instance, of including the great body—if not all—of the resident magistrates in the board. Some objections had been urged against the 20th clause, which provided that no person who had within five years been removed by the commissioners from any office, or had been convicted of felony, fraud, or perjury, or was otherwise disqualified, should be capable of being elected, or appointed, or of acting as a 1324 guardian. This clause was, in fact, transcribed from the English bill of last year, and no objection had been taken to it by any hon. Gentleman on either side of the House. He had now, he believed, directed the attention of the House to all the principal amendments which it was intended to introduce into the existing Jaw. He believed the adoption of these amendments would have the effect of removing many of those impediments which now clogged the operation of the law, and would render the Irish Poor-law Act capable of fulfilling the benevolent intentions—he had no hesitation in using the term—of the noble Lord opposite, and of the Government by which that measure was introduced. The noble Lord moved the second reading of the bill.
§ Mr. F. French
said, before he brought forward the amendment of which he had given notice, he thought it advisable to say that he was favourable to the principle of a poor law. He was one of those who thought that both humanity and policy called for a compulsory provision for the poor. Political economists, having solely in view the production and distribution of wealth, might be opposed to such enactments; but the House of Commons should take a more comprehensive range, and consider the nature, production, and distribution of human happiness. He contended that man should not be dealt with as a mere machine for the production of wealth, and that in no community, where there were means to prevent it, should their fellow-creatures be suffered to perish through want of the means of subsistence. Nature would vindicate her own rights if legislative enactments attempted to contravene them, and the inevitable result of leaving the great mass of the people to misery and destitution, must be disaffection, turbulence, and bloodshed. With the most benevolent intentions, and the most sincere desire to promote the welfare of the Irish people, he believed the present poor-law to have been introduced. It was, however, unfortunately founded on the mere assertion and on the inaccurate calculations of Mr. Nicholls—assertions so unfounded and calculations so inaccurate as, but for the ruin they had wrought, to be subjects only fit for derision. Under it the country had been covered with workhouses, many of them unnecessary-some without water, several without sewerage, all of them incommodious and unhealthy calculated from their formation, 1325 to forward the spread of contagious disease amongst their unfortunate inmates. This had been effected at a cost of 1,300,000l.—a sum neither contemplated nor sanctioned by the legislature. Mr. Nicholls, in the 26th page of his first report, statedThat in all probability the number of workhouses would not materially, if at all, exceed 80; that in aid of this number the houses of industry, mendicity, and other establishments, would become available at probably a small expense.And even admitting that, in place of 80, 100 workhouses would be required, Mr. Nicholls stated, that this would give a gross outlay of 700,000l. for the whole of Ireland—a sum, he remarked, surely not large when the nature of the object was taken into consideration. Now, it appeared that Mr. Nicholls, in place of 80, as he originally proposed, or 100—an extent of increase he barely admitted to be possible—had taken on himself to build 130 workhouses. This rash step was not attributable to any attempt to bring about an equality of size in the different unions throughout Ireland. They varied in a most extraordinary degree. The union of Rathdown, in the county of Wicklow, contained 75 square miles; that of Shillelagh, 89; Carrickmacross, in the county of Monaghan, 94; Belfast, 74; whilst Westport, in the county of Mayo, contained 532; Tralee, 584; Glenties, 447; and Ballino, 792. The sum of 700,000l. was the uttermost extent of expenditure for providing workhouse accommodation Mr. Nicholls admitted to be possible, but, owing to his reckless and wasteful expenditure, he had laid out on the construction of these buildings, 1,300,000l. He would wish to be informed by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, by whom this unauthorised expenditure of 600,000l. was to be repaid? No Irishman was considered worthy of being entrusted with the extensive powers confided to the Poor-law commissioners. Did the right hon. Baronet mean to propose that Ireland should be mulcted in so large a sum for the reckless improvidence of this English official? Let him look to the remonstrances from the boards of guardians, of the Fermoy, Rathkeale, Edenderry, Strabane, Mountmellick, Lowtherstown, and other unions, and lie would see that the excess of expenditure was attributable to Mr. Nicholls, and to him alone. It would be a matter of grave complaint were 1326 Ireland to be saddled with the consequences of his misconduct. The expense at which the commission was worked—the arbitrary and offensive manner in which commissioners dealt with the poor-law guardians, endeavouring to reduce them to mere cyphers—the utter ignorance of the condition, habits, and feelings of the Irish people they had shown—the contemptuous disregard for considerations of the highest importance they had displayed—would, of themselves, throw great difficulties in the way of carrying any law through such hands into successful operation. But all parties in Ireland were anxious to give this law a fair, nay, an indulgent trial; and none of the causes to which he had alluded, weighty though they might be, nor all of them together, would have brought about the overthrow of the present system, did the result of experience and observation show that relief commensurate with the outlay of building or the cost of maintaining these establishments was dispensed, or likely to be dispensed, to the poor; but this was not the case, it was a measure inflicting a heavy amount of taxation without anything like a corresponding amount of benefit under it—neither had destitution been lessened nor mendicancy diminished. He appealed confidently to those who had lately been in Ireland. Was there any apparent effect from it in the rural districts and in the towns? Were not the same masses of human filth, misery, and nakedness, described by Mr. Nicholls, in his words, still "constantly moving about, presenting themselves to every eye, and soliciting from every hand?" As a measure of relief, it was a total and unexampled failure. What was the expense at which it was to be maintained? Mr. Nicholls, in the 64th page of his first report, calculated 100 workhouses, each capable of holding 800 paupers. Should they be fully occupied during the year, their total cost for maintenance, salaries, clothing, wear, and tear, &c, would be per annum, 312,000l. If the workhouses were, on an average, to be occupied by only three-fourths of the full number throughout the year, the establishment and other charges continuing the same, the total charge would be per annum 260,000l. If the workhouses were to be only half filled, on an average of the whole year, the charge would then be 208,000l. per annum. Mr. Nicholls went on to say,Our experience of workhouse administration in England would warrant the adoption 1327 of the last of the above assumptions; but it might be safer to take the second, which would probably be found to approximate pretty nearly to the truth—260,000l.It, however, appeared from the statement of the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, that the sum required was 680,000l. a-year, considerably more than double the original estimate, and, in his (Mr. French's) opinion, still considerably below the sum that would be actually levied. Taking the rental of Ireland, according to Mr. Griffith's valuation, at 14,000,000l. a-year, a rate of 1s. in the pound, which was about the lowest it had been, would amount to 700,000l. annually; but in Limerick the rate amounted to 2s. 6d. in the pound; in Rathkeale, to 2s. 6d.; in the electoral division of Kilfinnan, in the county of Limerick, to 5s. in the pound. Take, as a moderate estimate, 2s. in the pound, and this for the support of 94,000 paupers would amount to 1,400,000l. yearly. The commissioners of poor inquiry calculated that for thirty weeks in the year 2,300,000 would require relief, say 1,000,000l. annually, it would require 14,000,000l., the highest calculation ever yet made of the rental of Ireland to give, under the present system, adequate and efficient relief to this number. What would be said in England to a law which, for the relief of the poor, absorbed the entire rental of the country—62,000,000l. sterling? Would they not demand, ay, and obtain, its instant erasure from the statute-book? Unless some means were devised by which the law in Ireland would be rendered less burthensome to the people, and more beneficial to the poor, its repeal was inevitable. A feeling of deep dissatisfaction with respect to this law, which never was suited, nor ever could be rendered suitable to the condition of Ireland, a feeling of disgust and indignation at the conduct of those by whom it was administered, had sprung up and pervaded every class of society throughout the country. Neither those by whom the rates were payable, nor those for whose support they were professed to be levied, were contented that it should no longer be continued. In array against Mr. Nicholls and his monomania of a workhouse test, for it was no less, appeared the clergy of all persuasions, the landed proprietors, the press, the medical profession, the farmers, and, finally, the great mass of the people, amongst whom her Majesty's Government were aware there was a formidable orga- 1328 nised resistance to the payment of the rate—a resistance as formidable and as likely to prove successful as that which formerly existed in relation to tithes. It was no light matter to find one more cause of dissension and bloodshed added to the many hitherto distracting that unhappy country, but as they sow, so must they reap; and what could they expect from legislating in defiance of the will of a nation? The art of legislation had been defined to be, the giving a specific sanction, a technical dress to the general sense of the community. Try the Poor-law by this test—hear the opinions of practical men who had given their unpurchased services to the working out of this measure. The board of guardians of the Tipperary union stated that although unanimous in favour of a state provision for the aged, destitute, and infirm, they could not refrain from expressing their regret at the present law being precipitately introduced into Ireland, or its formation by parties who had neither knowledge of the habits of the people, nor time or opportunity to judge of the best manner of administering to their necessities. They stated that the workhouses had been raised in monstrous extravagance and reckless haste, neither permanent nor convenient for the purpose, discreditable to all parties concerned in the undertaking, and clearly proving a carelessness in the management of the funds entrusted to their care. The nobility, gentry, and landholders of Fermanagh, at a public meeting, the high-sheriff in the chair, expressed their conviction that the present Poor-law had failed to accomplish the object for which it was passed. In the union of Mountmellick the guardians complained, that without due advertisement, or even acquainting the petitioners, the Poor-law Commissioners had contracted for laud to build the workhouse on, at a most extravagant rate, when an equally eligible site could have been obtained for one-fourth of the money. The Bandon board of guardians had found by experience that the expenditure for the support of the poor had far exceeded Mr. Nicholl's estimate, and that the administration of the act under the Poor-law Commissioners had materially added to the public burthens without commensurate advantages to either ratepayer or pauper. The inhabitants of Carrickmacross stated that they as well as the people of Ireland in general were grievously disappointed in the working of the Poor-law, which was not at all adapted 1329 to that country. The board of guardians in the Mallow union, stated,That the present system of Poor-laws had utterly failed as a measure for the relief of pauperism, and seemed rather calculated to aggravate the evils, and still further to depress the social condition of the poor; that it was introduced contrary to the report of commissioners of high character and ability; that the present law was obnoxious to all classes of the community, because the relief afforded bore no proportion to the amount of the tax, and even if economically administered, it would be inadequate to meet the evils it professed to remedy, while it tended to the gradual extinction of those charitable and domestic virtues for which the Irish people had been remarkable.They further stated,That the commissioners had forfeited the confidence of the public by their wasteful expenditure, and by their disregard of all reasonable remonstrances; by the undecided and evasive character of their communications, and by the unsatisfactory manner in which they had discharged the important duties confided to them.The grand jury of the county of Galway stated the public opinion to be,The law is so irremediably faulty that it ought to be entirely repealed.The Limerick grand jury stated,That they viewed with great alarm the excitement resulting from the operation of the Poor-law, and stated, from the experience of two years, their conviction that the beneficial objects intended by the Legislature to the poor had not been realised, and that its continuance would, in their opinion, endanger the peace of the country.The inhabitants of Tuam stated that,The present Poor-law was totally inadequate to heal or diminish the evils of destitution in Ireland—that in place of providing for the distress of the necessitous poor, it was calculated to aggravate the hardships of that class, and that the universal discontent, as far as it had worked, was an incontrovertible proof of the entire unfitness of the present system to the condition of Ireland.The petitions from the county of Roscommon stated—That it was a measure inapplicable to the country, and unpalatable to the people; that it would retard and ultimately paralyse the industry of the country, and was fraught with countless evils both of a temporal and spiritual nature.The poor rate-payers of the barony of Tullabuen, in the county of Limerick, and of the union of Rathkeale, stated— 1330The present Poor-law to be quite inapplicable to Ireland, and unsuited to the habits and religious principles of the people, which led them to aid the mendicant as a sacred duty law could not abolish.The board of guardians of the Ennis Union stated their conviction—That the present Poor-law was not suited to the stale of society in that country, and that it was highly expedient that it should either be greatly modified or repealed altogether.The rate-payers of Bandon stated—That the present Poor-law system evinced on the part of those by whom it was framed a profound ignorance of the habits and of the moral and social character of the Irish poor, and a total disregard of their strong domestic affections.The rate-payers of Tibohene declared, that—The law had already excited the discontent of all classes; and that unless repealed, the peace and tranquillity of the country would be endangered."They profess themselves—Ready and willing to support the poor of their own parish, as recommended by Doctor Doyle, and the only way in which the principle of a Poor-law can be rendered applicable to Ireland.They demand—That the union workhouse should be pulled down, and the materials sold, to save them from being involved in a ruinous and useless expenditure; and in this case they declared themselves willing to submit their lands to an assessment sufficient to cover the difference between the sum received from the sale of the materials, and that laid out in building the workhouse.The noble Lord might shake his head, but to this he would be forced; down the houses must come; money to support the present system would not be paid by the people. In the Fermoy Union it was resolved, that in the business detail of the union, the commissioners were guilty of gross errors, in which they persisted, in despite of strong and repeated remonstrances from the guardians. They gave a positive pledge, that the expense of the union workhouse should not exceed 4,900l., in direct breach of which they immediately after demanded 7.800l., and ultimately saddled the union with a debt of 7,100l.; and it was resolved, that even the short experience had of the working of the measure clearly proved that the calcula- 1331 tions of the commissioners had been made on false principles; for the relief afforded had fallen as far short of their promises as their expenditure had exceeded their estimates. Lord Mountcashel said—The commissioners had proved by their conduct in various places, as well as in that union, that no confidence could be placed in them. They gave pledges they did not hesitate to violate—no reliance could be placed on a word their assistant-commissioner said; he had lost all credit with the Poor-law guardians—no trust or credit was placed in him by them.This speech was received with great cheering. It might be supposed, that the opinions he had quoted were confined to Ireland, and proceeded from persons smarting under the fatal effects of this measure; but it was found, that the same opinions were held by the cool and dispassionate judgment of the more reflecting portion of the United Kingdom. In an article on mendicancy in the last number of the Edinburgh Review the following statement appeared:—It is impossible to deny that in this matter the rate-payers of Ireland have been treated with injustice. They have been induced, on false pretences, to erect workhouses and levy rates. They were told by all who in Parliament brought forward or supported the law, that it was to be a measure of economy. The same doctrine was repeated to them by the commissioners, by the assistant-commissioners—in short, by all who recommended or even defended the measure. If this statement is found to be only partially true in any of the unions, and wholly unfounded in the great majority; if the rates are in general a mere addition to the alms; if mendicancy is in general altered only by the substitution of a new crowd of beggars, can we wonder that the law should become odious, or that the collection of rates should be opposed by tumult, or by the more effectual machinery of passive resistance?The anticipations of Mr. Nicholls with respect to the effect of this law had proved as fallacious as his calculations were inaccurate. It had actually increased the evils it was to have alleviated. For instance, a great increase of employment was to have followed the introduction of the Poor-law; in order that the rate-payers should not have the expense of supporting able-bodied paupers in the workhouse, it would be their interest to give general and permanent employment. The farmers, on the contrary, alleged that the imposition of poor-rates had rendered them unable to give the same extent of employment they 1332 formerly did. Instead of increasing, they had reduced the number of their labourers, and otherwise diminished their expenditure; and if, by employment they did keep from the poorhouse some of the able-bodied, no apparent diminution of rates would follow. The electoral divisions from which there was not a single pauper, were almost as heavily taxed as the others. The expense was in the system. He found, by a paper lately laid on the Table of the House, for the half-year ending September, 1841, that in the Union of Celbridge, out of a total expenditure of 1,146l., but 97l. 11s. 5d. went to the maintenance and clothing of the poor, 1d. in the 1s.; in the union of Dunshaughlin, of 1,305l., but 132l., being about 1½d. in the 1s.; in the union of Rathkeale, out of 969l., but 86l. 16s., about 1d. in the 1s.; in the union of Bambridge, out of 1,160l., but 182l. was appropriated to the poor. In the half-year ending March, 1842, he found that, in the union of Boyle, out of a total expenditure of 1,298l., but 69l. was appropriated to the poor; in Gorey, out of 1,454l., 58l. 9s. 6d.; in Kilkeel, out of 846l., but 101l.; and in Sligo, out of 1,829l., but 169l. went to the maintenance and clothing of the poor. He was aware that establishment charges were greater for the first than for the succeeding half-years; but even taking the average of all the years, from their formation to the present time, they were out of all proportion too great. The total expenditure of the Celbridge union, from its formation up to September, 1842, was 2,624l. 11s. 11d., whilst, during the same period, there had been laid out on clothing and maintenance for the paupers 797l. 17s., being about 3½d. in the 1s.; in the union of Rathkeale it amounted to 5d.; in Dunshaughlin, 4d. and a small fraction; Banbridge, 3¾d.; Boyle, 3½d.; Gorey, about 2¾d.; Kilkeel, 2½d.; Sligo, 3¼d. There was but little exaggeration in the assertion, that under the present system, 10d. in every 1s. went for superintending the making of two-pennyworth of porridge. In place of healing, it was more likely, particularly by the amended bill before the House, to widen the breach between landlord and tenant; in place of relieving, it had materially added to the burthens of the landholder. Ireland was unable to support her poor in addition to the present system, both of which, if this law were persevered with, she would be compelled to do; and whether satisfaction and tranquillity had, as 1333 predicted, followed in its train, let the petitions presented to that House—let the risings at Farney—let the artillery sent to Waterford—let the blood spilt at Skibbereen, answer. As usual, the promises of ameliorating measures for Ireland remained unfulfilled. Where were the extensive measures for encouraging the reclamation of waste lands—for the promotion of public works, with which the Poor-law was to be accompanied, and on the effect of which Mr. Nicholls so sanguinely dwelt? In place of them appeared this bill of the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, to strengthen and perpetuate the noxious powers of the commissioners. In them the public had no confidence. It would, as was well stated, probably be unreasonable to expect from them any admission calculated to call in question their discretion and accuracy, or throw a doubt on the perfection of a system which, though it had neither afforded relief nor satisfaction to the Irish people, placed them in possession of splendid salaries and unlimited power. He objected generally to the bill of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, because it neither altered the principle nor changed the management of the existing law; because it sought to extend the power of the commissioners by abolishing the few popular checks which were permitted to remain in the original bill. He also objected to it, because he thought he could discover through its provisions an insidious attack on the franchise of the Irish boroughs. The 10l. householder was to be exempted from the payment of rate—a good foundation hereafter to exclude him from the franchise as a pauper. At first sight it might be supposed that placing the rates under 4l. on the landlord would be attended with beneficial effects to the people; but what was it but giving a facility to the Government to collect an obnoxious tax they were now unable to obtain, and making the landlords of Ireland their tools for so doing? It was clear this provision was not intended to benefit the small holder; it was confined to the tenant-at-will; it was only applicable to those cases where the landlord had the immediate power to reimburse himself by an increased rent; and it was, in his opinion, more likely to prove injurious to the small holder, by making it the interest of the landlord to continue a system already too prevalent in Ireland—that of consolidating the smaller tenements. It appeared to him, 1334 for the reasons he had stated, that this provision could not prove advantageous to the people. But was it not possible to discover some other motives beside the public benefit which might have induced its framers to insert it in the bill. It was generally believed, that the occupiers under 5l. in Ireland were very much under the guidance of their clergy. By the Poor-law act the clergy were excluded from the boards; but it was said by the supporters of the Government, that this exclusion was of little avail, for the nominees of the clergy were the persons elected by the small occupiers. By the exclusion of this class, the boards would be rendered less popular and more aristocratic, and this was the key which revealed to them the secret motives of the framer of this clause. He objected to the increase of the number of ex officio guardians. The boards were already too large and this provision would destroy even the semblance of popular control amongst them. He now came to the clause which the noble Lord had intimated his intention to abandon—that of placing persons dismissed by the commissioners either for differing in opinion with them, or for not obeying their mandates with sufficient alacrity, in the same class with those convicted of felony. They could guess how it would be used in the case of the Edenderry guardians, and in the affair of Martha M'Keon. This was a species of Dogberry law, certainly without a precedent in modern times. "What," says the worthy constable, "accuse the magistrates?—flat burglary. Let him be committed." "What" said the noble Lord, "anger the commissioners—flat felony. Let him be incapable of serving the public for five years." He was glad that the noble Lord had, on consideration, abandoned this monstrous provision; but its introduction into the bill by the commissioners must be regarded as an insult to the Irish people. He had attentively considered the bill of the noble Lord, and regarding it as a measure which did not remedy one existing evil, but, on the contrary, gave additional grievances to complain of, he moved that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ Mr. S. Crawford
seconded the motion. He felt himself compelled to oppose the second reading of this bill, and be did so with reluctance, because he was sure the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland would not willingly introduce a measure 1335 calculated to produce such injurious effects as the measure now before the House. He (Mr. Crawford), however, traced the bill to the Poor-law Commissioners, because it was a bill designed and intended to increase and establish more firmly the arbitrary powers of that body. Such being his views, he felt himself imperatively called upon to second the motion of the hon. Member for Roscommon. He should not go over the ground over which the hon. Member for Roscommon had passed, because he knew that at that hour the House was naturally impatient, especially on entering into a discussion upon Irish affairs, but for this discussion he asked hon. Members not connected with Ireland not to blame them. Why, he begged to ask, had a bill of such importance as this been brought forward at such an advanced hour of the evening? But having been brought on, there was no reason why those deeply interested in it should be precluded from discussing its objects and provisions. With respect to those provisions, in the first place he objected to the seventh clause, which altered the original provisions of the existing law with regard to the taxation of the landlords. The noble Lord stated that the valuations were too low, and he admitted they might not be correct, but he asked why those valuations ought not to be made upon just and accurate principles. He further complained that the increased number of ex officio guardians was calculated to stifle popular control. This was contrary to popular liberty, and such a proposition he felt must and ought to be resisted in limine. He objected further to clause nineteen of the bill, which enabled the commissioners not to allow new guardians to be elected in the place of those who might be removed. To this and to clause twenty he objected, because they gave increased power to the commissioners. Already there was a determination on the part of the landlords to drive the people of Ireland to emigration, and the power to tax for the purpose of emigration was much too dangerous to be invested in any board of guardians so constituted. Let the House look at the third report of the Commissioners of Poor-law Inquiry, and let the House act upon it in the present scheme of legislation. That report was so plain and so strong in its terms that he would, with the permission of the House, read a few extracts 1336 from it. The Commissioners of Poor-law Inquiry in their third report stated—Our conviction is, that the ablebodied in general and their families would endure any misery rather than make a workhouse their domicile. We see that the labouring classes are eager for work, that work is not for them, and that they are therefore, and not from any fault of their own, in permanent want. As, then, actual relief is required by the able-bodied in general in Ireland, the workhouse system, as applied to them, must prove illusory; and if it were established, we are persuaded that it would be regarded by the bulk of the population as a stratagem for debarring them of that right of employment and support with which the law professed to invest them. We are persuaded, if want should send some of the labouring class into them, that the strict discipline, separation of families, and so forth, would produce resistance; that tumults would ensue, and that after much trouble, expense, and mischief, the system would necessarily be abandoned altogether. We cannot, therefore, recommend the present workhouse system of England as at all suited to Ireland.They then showed reasons why, in their opinion, it would be impracticable and injudicious to attempt to force out-door employment by means of a poor-rate; but they said,We are satisfied that enactments calculated to promote the improvement of the country, and d so to extend the demand for free and profitable labour, should make essential parts of any law for ameliorating the condition of the poor.The commissioners stated that no Poor-law could be available to relieve the distress of the people, without some other measures being brought forward for the relief of the poor. They must look to improving the law between landlord and tenant, which was the great source of the evils in Ireland. He advised the Government to prepare measures for improving the condition of the people, instead of relying on any such measure as this for affording relief. He felt himself bound to vote against the measure.
for Ireland said he was sorry to see that the bill was met by such a feeling of disrespect, and even hostility, as had been evinced by hon. Members from Ireland on this occasion. He must deny that any insult was intended to Ireland by bringing forward the present bill at the hour of ten o'clock at night—a circumstance which had been so strongly commented on; for, during his own short experience, he had known—and he would 1337 appeal to hon. Members of far more lengthened experience in confirmation of his assertion—that many most important English measures had been introduced and discussed at an hour as late, and in some instances at a later hour of the night. The hon. Member for Roscommon had referred to reports which had been laid before that House, connected with the improvement of Ireland, and had asked why none of the suggestions contained in these reports had been acted upon. It appeared that these reports extended over a period from 1820 to 1835, and he would ask the hon. Member how was it that during all the time the late Government was in office, when Members were returned from Ireland who had the ear of that Government, and exercised some control over its measures, that no propositions founded upon them had been brought forward? The hon. Member said the Poor-law measure of the Government was totally unsuited to the habits and feelings of the people of Ireland. That might be a very good reason for repealing the act, but it could be no ground for endeavouring to defeat the bill brought forward by his noble Friend for remedying the existing defects. With regard to the clause which provided for a revision of the valuation, if the House would permit him he would show the absolute necessity of such a step in consequence of the small amount of the assessment made upon the smaller class of tenements. In the union of Ballina there were twenty-six tenements rated at ¼d., 628 tenements rated at ½d., eight at ¾d., 1,402 at 1d., 122 at 1¼d., 460 at 1½d., seventeen at l¾d., and 222 at 2d., making a total of 2,983 tenements. paying 13l. 10s. 8d., of which the expense of collection amounted to 4l. 18s. In the unions of Ballinrobe, Castlebar, and Westport, a vast number of those rated were rated under 2d., and some were paying rates varying from one-eighth to seven-eights of a penny. In Tuam union the aggregate amount of rate paid by 400 tenements produced a sum of about 2l. In the Athlone union there were 366 tenements at 1¼d.each, which produced 1l. 18s 1½d. He had taken several unions containing 5,352 persons, in which the entire amount of rates was 27l. 5s. 5d. It was said by the hon. Gentleman opposite that we should affect the franchise in some incomprehensible way by relieving these small ratepayers from the rates. Perhaps that 1338 might be so, if the contemplated motion of the hon. Member for Rochdale, for the extension of the franchise, were carried; in the present state of the law, however, he could not understand how relieving these poor people of the burthen of the rates could have an effect on the franchise. The House had been told that the English Members would not listen to an Irish case; but that charge was without foundation in this instance, for at no period of any English debate had the hon. Member, he was quite sure, ever observed greater attention or greater silence in the House. He did not wish to detain them; but he hoped the House would allow him to go into one or two matters of fact, which were much better than declamation on such a subject. In the four unions of Enniscorthy, Celbridge, Gorey, and Baltinglass, there were 27,806 persons rated; of these there were 8,797 whose valuation did not exceed 2l. and 13,816 whose valuation did not exceed 5l.; but what he was most desirous of calling the attention of the House to was, the statements of some of the collectors showing the amount of misery which had arisen from extracting these small sums from persons who were in reality themselves fit objects for relief in the workhouses. Edward Fay collector for three divisions in the county of Wicklow, stated that,He had forty-five summonses at the last Blessington sessions, some of them for 5d., many for 1s., including arrears of former rates. The parties appeared, and some of them stated, that if he would go to their homes he would not find so much as would raise 5d. Some of them offered to pay the present rate, but said they could not pay the arrears, as they had nothing to pay with, and some of them had not had a breakfast that day. The magistrate, Mr. Hornidge, advised him to take anything he could get, and he did so. He received about 30s. from the whole of them, and he paid 17s. 6d. for the summonses—nobody could believe the state of distress they were in unless they saw it. Many of their houses had nothing on which he could distrain; some were in such a state that he could not find the heart to go into them. Was out yesterday the whole of the day, and all he could get amongst the poor was 6d. Most of this class were worse off than those in the workhouse. At Cross-keys yesterday found five families under one roof; they asked how he had the conscience to ask them for the rate; and said that he should rather make interest to get them into the workhouse.1339 One poor woman had tendered 6d. out of a rate of 1s. 3d., and that sum the collector had received from the wretched widow, she assuring him that she would pay the remaining 9d. at the same time telling him that it would be better for him to take 6d. than, lest when he called again she should not have even that sum to pay him. Mr. J. Donohoe, collector in the Clonegal electoral division said:—He had 186 names of rate-payers some were under 1l. net annual value, and none of them exceeded 5l. Many, from their great poverty, were unable to pay anything. He, however, tried every means in his power to collect the rates; he seized their wearing apparel, bedding, &c., but got no purchasers. He resigned his situation with very great pleasure, finding it impossible to collect such small sums.
, late collector, stated that in one district of the Shillelagh union he had to apply to 134 ratepayers, their net annual value commencing at 10s. and not exceeding 5l. In some cases he seized on the poor people's blanket, quilt, metal pot, &c, but he could get no one to buy them. In the end, all his exertions to collect from these poor people were ineffectual. He became most unpopular in the country, and he felt obliged to resign his situation. Other collectors, in consequence of their inability to collect the rates, and of the expense and unpopularity to which they were subjected in their endeavours to do their duty, had been obliged to resign their situations. He could, if time allowed. produce a variety of similar cases, to show the misery and destitution that were occasioned by the attempt to exact these small sums. Now, he most say, that in his opinion those persons must be destitute of all feeling for the poor of Ireland who refused to apply a remedy, and relieve the misery of those people. It was not fair to state that a bill having such an object as this, among others, was introduced from secret motives, and he must say that his noble Friend would have been guilty of a dereliction of duty if he had hesitated a moment about applying a remedy to such a state of things. The only question was whether this was the proper remedy? Now, there were two courses which might have been adopted. Either they might exonerate the tenant occupiers below a certain sum from payment of the rate altogether, or they might exonerate the occupier and throw the 1340 rate upon the landlord. Now, the first plan would have led, in his opinion, to a great increase of small holdings in Ireland, at a rent under the amount which would have fallen outside the exoneration. It would, moreover, if carried to its full extent—and that to a very great extent it would be carried, there was no reason from past experience to doubt—tend to deprive the unions of any means of providing for the poor at all. He thought that, under all those circumstances, if the poor holders of those small tenements were to be relieved from the burthen which had been described by those most intimate with their condition as cruelly oppressive and even unsupportable—and destitute of feeling must those be who would deny those poor occupiers relief—the alternative which her Majesty's Government had adopted, was indisputably the course better in respect of policy and humanity, and in point of fact the only practicable mode of extending the relief so loudly called for. The right hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by saying, that he was ready to prove in committee that every clause of the bill was an improvement upon the present law; and, therefore, he hoped the hon. Member for Roscommon would not press his motion.
§ Mr. W. S. O'Brien
said, he was not prepared to give his sanction to this bill, because he believed it would be no improvement upon the present law. One of his chief objections to the measure was, that it would have the effect of diminishing popular control, by the alteration intended to be made in the number of guardians. In the second place, the general feeling in Ireland was, that the commissioners had already too much power, and that this measure extended it. If the Government would refer the bill to a select committee after the second reading, he would support it in this stage.
§ Mr. Shaw
would make but a very few observations on that stage of the measure. The House, he was persuaded, would not refuse a second reading to a bill brought forward by her Majesty's Government for the amendment of the Irish Poor-law, and although there were parts of the amended bill to which he objected, and amendments omitted which he thought should be introduced—as the committee would be the proper occasion For discussing those points—he would not dwell upon them then. His hon. Friend the 1341 Member for Roscommon in opposing the second reading, had spoken with his usual liveliness and good temper, but he must say, that the statement of his hon. Friend, as to the working of the Poor-law in Ireland, seemed to him greatly exaggerated. He was far from thinking the law perfect—he had always regarded it as a doubtful, if not a dangerous experiment, in the present condition of Ireland—he admitted it was generally unpopular—he knew it was on all sides beset with difficulty—but, it was one thing to have passed it—it was a very different thing—and he thought impossible—now, that it had been passed, to repeal it. They must then, considering its magnitude and importance, as affecting all the interests of the country, deal calmly and cautiously with the law as it existed, and not by violence and over-statements increase the difficulty and the danger by which the whole question was encompassed. His hon. Friend's greatest violence was directed against the individuals who administered the law. He had on a former occasion felt it but justice to Mr. Nicholls, the chief commissioner, to declare in that House, that making due allowance for the trying situation in which that Gentleman was placed, and the exceedingly arduous duty he had to perform—in his opinion, Mr. Nicholls had discharged the various functions which fell to his office in Ireland, with great ability, zeal, and uprightness. His hon. Friend (Mr. French) had that night asserted, in regard to one of the assistant Poor-law commissioners, that in his official dealings with the Poor-law guardians he bad never spoken one word of troth. He had not the least idea to whom his hon. Friend alluded, but as he believed that the assistant commissioners were educated and respectable gentlemen, he could not but think such a statement harsh and unguarded. Then his hon. Friend included in one sweeping condemnation all the workhouses in Ireland, and affirmed that they were without exception incommodious, unhealthy, and ill regulated. That might possibly be so in some instances; but he was prepared to deny that it was in alt, and could enumerate the two union workhouse in Dublin, as well as those in Cavan, Armagh, Rathdrum, and others which were cleanly, comfortable, and so well regulated, as that they would be a credit, as public establishments, to any country. His noble 1342 Friend again asserted without any qualification that mendicancy had not been suppressed, nor destitution in any degree diminished. He admitted that mendicancy still prevailed to almost the same extent as before the passing of the Poor-law Relief Bill; and he believed some separate legislation would be necessary for its gradual removal. But he denied that destitution had been in no degree relieved, for it was universally allowed that the present inmates of the workhouses, in number about 35,000, were among the most destitute in Ireland—that is, that they were generally the aged, impotent, and infirm; and while this afforded a strong argument in favour of he original view, that it would have been wiser to limit the relief in the first instance to that class—it was at the same time an answer to his noble Friend's statement, that under the present law destitution had been in no degree relieved. But, the last was the greatest of all his hon. Friend's exaggerations; it was, that a 1,000,000 of paupers would have to be supported annually by the present law. He agreed with his hon. Friend in his conclusion that, if such were the fact, it would absorb the whole rental of Ireland, or force the erasure of such a law from the statute-book; but, that such could not be the fact, was proved by another statement of his hon. Friend, made in nearly the same breath, which was, that all the work-houses, if full, would only contain about 94,000 persons; and his hon. Friend was aware that, according to the existing law in Ireland, no relief whatever could be given out of the workhouses. Surely there was no Member at either side of the House—after the statement of his hon. Friend, the Attorney-general for Ireland, as to the thousands of persons charged, under the present act, with rates varying from a farthing to two pence, could doubt that, in that respect the law required amendment. To exonerate that miserable class of ratepayers was the main and leading object of the amended bill—it could not, therefore, be reasonably refused a second reading. He hoped his hon. Friend would not persevere in dividing the House against it; and when the bill went into committee it would be open to any amendment from either side of the House. He for one thought it would require considerable amendment, both as regarded what it contained, and what was omitted. He 1343 had great doubts upon the emigration clause—and felt that an alteration was required on behalf of the property of the clergy of the established church. That was at present very unjustly taxed. His noble Friend the Secretary of Ireland had stated that the land was in general valued at too low a rate; but the tithe was rated at the utmost amount of the gross nominal sum to which the tithe-owner was entitled, and that without a single deduction. Many deductions ought in common fairness be made; but there was one so obvious, that it need only be mentioned to show the glaring injustice of not making the deduction, and that was the poor-rate itself, upon which, under the present system, the clergy had actually to pay the entire poundage. These were, however, topics more proper for the committee, and he would defer them in the hope that, without further discussion, the House would agree to the second reading of the bill.
§ Mr. M. O'Ferrall
said, that if, by supporting the second reading of the bill, he should be subjecting himself to the conclusion that he was favourable to the measure in all its details, he should certainly find himself constrained to vote for the amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon. To the bill now before the House he could not give unqualified assent. Such assent he had not given to the measure originally introduced. He had been strongly opposed to the Irish poor-law bill on its first introduction to that House, and with all his humble but strenuous efforts had sought to prevent its imposition on the country. He had then ventured to predict some evil consequences from its enactment, and he now much regretted to see that he had been too true a prophet, and that almost all those evils which he had foreseen and predicted had ensued. He must, in strict justice, say, that in his opinion the failure of the act in its very outset was attributable, not so much to the provisions of the bill itself, as to the means and management by which those provisions had been sought to be carried into practical effect. While he felt it but just to say that the larger portion of blame was, in the first instance, to be ascribed to the commissioners, he must, in fairness, admit that they had acted in the best spirit, and with the best intentions. Their inexperience, their want of acquaintance with the country, and their conse- 1344 quent inability to comprehend the difficulties to be encountered, and to adopt the best mode of conquering such difficulties, were much to be regretted. It was at all times very difficult to carry out a measure imposing additional burthens upon the impoverished, and therefore excitable people of Ireland. But he regretted to say that, whatever were the defects and faults of the commissioners—whatever their errors of ignorance or their faults of arbitrary bearing—the difficulties in the way of carrying out the measure had been greatly enhanced by the conduct of those who, having had ample experience, and intimate knowledge of the people, their wants and feelings, were immeasurably more to be blamed for the opposition which they had fostered and encouraged and excited. The opposition to which he alluded had a far higher source than the ignorance or poverty of the people. It was strengthened, if not originated, by the unwise and violent demeanor of men who should have been far above the course of conduct which they had in regard to this subject pursued. He must reprehend the conduct of the government in having permitted the opposition to which he referred to reach the height it had attained. When men of rank, men holding station as magistrates, and placed in the position best calculated for the exercise of influence, were observed instigating a violent opposition to the administration of the law, the Government should surely at that period, now some two or three months ago, have stepped forward and stated that such conduct on the part of such persons could not be tolerated; and it could not be supposed but that the slightest intimation from Government would have had, in the quarters alluded to, instant and salutary effect. It was much to be regretted that the commissioners had in almost every instance set at nought, the representations and wishes of the various boards of guardians—and that in cases where they had gone through the form of asking the opinions of those boards. It should be made known to gentlemen of the House not connected with Ireland, and not acquainted with the administration of the Poor-law there, that the commissioners had in many cases sent down regular and formal documents seeking from the boards of guardians their opinions, and desiring their suggestions and recommendations on the several mat- 1345 ters therein submitted to their consideration; and that in almost all, he feared he would not err if he had said in all, such cases of formal consultation, the opinions of the guardians had been disregarded—not only their suggestions and recommendations rejected, but rejected in a manner almost contumelious. By their ill-advised and pertinacious adherence to pre-formed arrangements, they had also awakened jealousies and had in too many instances enlisted party and religious prejudices in the contests connected with the local administration of the law. They had, as regarded the admission of the public press to the meetings of the several boards, displayed an obstinate and arbitrary opposition to the wishes of the guardians, and excited no little jealousy on the subject of private consultation on matters affecting public interests and public moneys; whereas, had they pursued a less despotic and more conciliating conduct in the first instance, there could be no doubt that the guardians would, in the experience of events, have taken every desirable means of fulfilling the reasonable wishes of the commissioners themselves. Indeed, though such could not, of course, have been the wish or object of the commissioners, their whole conduct in respect to the boards of the various unions had unfortunately left the impression that they meant and resolved to treat all their wishes and opinions with sovereign contempt. As regarded the assistant-commissioners, while he frankly admitted their worth as gentlemen of education and integrity, he must say that in the great majority of instances they were not qualified to enter, with advantage to the public interests, into connexion with the various boards. They had not brought the necessary knowledge, and, in many cases, the necessary temper, for the duty of assisting in the local administration of the law. He very much feared the provisions of the present bill, from the consideration of which he would for the present abstain, did not hold forth a remedy for the evils complained of. He could earnestly wish that the boards—that is, the public who were taxed—should, either in the Privy Council or in some other court, have the right of an appeal, and a redress against the arbitrary decisions of the commissioners. He feared much, that in the bill now before the House, he could see the evil 1346 influence which had already operated so powerfully; he feared that through all its provisions he could discern the evil spirit; of the Poor-law commissioners. How- ever, from the statements which had fallen from the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman, he would consent to going into committee, hoping, though not with much of confidence, that in committee they might be able to modify the provisions of the bill, so as to render the mea- sure altogether more useful and accept able to the Irish people.
§ Mr. Wyse
said, the instances of defective working in the Poor-law, brought for- ward by the Attorney-general for Ireland, sufficiently indicated that the time was come for an alteration. He thought, that no poor-law would be effective for either England or Ireland, but more especially Ireland, which did not first provide employment for the large mass of unemployed able-bodied poor. He should not oppose the bill going into committee.
§ Colonel Acton
said, he had for many years been anxious to rescue the unfortunate and destitute hundreds and thousands of his fellow-countrymen from their long dependence on the casual charity of their fellow-countrymen—a charity too often exercised in the greatest extent by those but little removed from the state of destitution which they were called on to alleviate. He had gladly hailed the enactment of a legislative remedy for Irish distress—and he was happy to say, that, looking fairly at what had been achieved, he had not been disappointed in the expectations he had formed as to the results. He had been at great pains to ascertain the working of the measure—he had instituted personal inquiries, and through friends had extended those inquiries; and from the result he was enabled to congratulate the country on the amount of good that had been achieved. The commissioners had undoubtedly had a most arduous, harrassing, and discouraging duty to perform—they had in many instances been very severely, and as he thought, very roughly and unreasonably handled. Their difficulties had not been duly estimated—nor their exertions, with the single object of public benefit in view, sufficiently appreciated. From all he had seen, and from all he had been able to ascertain, they had accomplished all that could within the time be reasonably anticipated. Of the assistant commissioners generally he had heard most favourable mention—Of 1347 the gentleman who discharged the important duties of that office in the district with which he was connected, he could speak in the strongest terms of respect and admiration. The services of that gentleman had proved most useful, and were highly estimated by all with whom he had been placed in contact. The hon. and gallant Gentleman read a letter from the late Member for Wexford, a gentleman known, he believed, to the people and the country for the benevolence of his heart and the enlarged views which had characterised his bearing in all the relations of life. The gallant Colonel concluded by thanking the House for its favourable hearing, and by expressing his fervent hope that the bill now before the House would tend to remove any causes of irritation or complaint, and secure the blessings contemplated.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Bill read a second time.