§ MR. P. SCROPE
, seeing the Secretary for the Home Department in his place, rose to put to him the questions of which he had given notice. He wished to preface them by one or two observations. The first was, that he made no accusation against the guardians of the Castlebar union. The present was not a fitting time for doing so, although it might be desirable hereafter to institute an inquiry in order to ascertain which body was in fault, the guardians or the Poor Law Commissioners. His object was to ascertain the existing state of the law, and the prospect of its amendment in future. He based his questions on these indubitable facts—that the Castlebar board of guardians for several months past had 23 closed the doors of the workhouse against the destitute poor—that during the season of calamity, from the failure of the potato crop, they had so kept them closed. To these might be added the fact that some thousands of persons had recently been landed at Liverpool from that district, from which it appeared clear that the guardians, by closing the doors of the workhouse, had succeeded either in starving paupers to death, or in driving them to the shores of this country, and thus clearing the district of them. His questions were these:—Whether there be at present, and if so, what legal obligation or responsibility upon boards of guardians in Ireland to relieve the destitute poor in their unions? If there be, whether any proceedings by indictment or otherwise, are about to be instituted by direction of Her Majesty's Government against the board of guardians of the Castlebar union, for having for several months past denied relief to numbers of poor, as to whose absolute destitution no doubt could exist, and closing the workhouse against them, although not half full, whereby it has happened that very many of such destitute poor persons have died of starvation, as the verdicts of numerous coroners' inquests held within the said union attest? If no effective legal responsibility nor obligation to relieve the destitute rests at present on Irish boards of guardians, then he asked whether Her Majesty's Government intended to introduce some effectual obligation of this nature into the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill, whereby security shall be taken against such denial of relief to the destitute poor of Ireland of all classes in future? He asked these questions, because, in the Bill before the House, as it now stood, he saw no security for giving relief to the destitute poor, and because he thought the public had been much deluded upon this point. He hoped to see some more stringent provisions introduced, since they were absolutely necessary.
§ SIR G. GREY
would give the hon. Member for Stroud the best answer in his power. His first question was, whether at present there were any, and what, legal obligation upon guardians in Ireland to relieve destitute poor? In reply to it, he could not do better than to read the section of the Irish Poor Relief Act which applied to the subject:—That when the Commissioners shall have declared any workhouse of any union to be fit for the reception of destitute poor, it shall be lawful for the guardians, at their discretion, but subject 24 in all cases to the orders of the Commissioners, to take order for relieving and setting to work therein, in the first place, such destitute poor persons as by reason of old age, infirmity, or defect, may be unable to support themselves and destitute children; and, in the next place, such other persons as the said guardians shall deem to be destitute poor, and unable to support themselves by their own industry, or by other lawful means.That was the only section of the Act constituting the responsibility of guardians employed to administer the law. It was to be observed that they were in all cases subject to the orders of the Commissioners. The proviso at the end of the fourth section ought also to be brought to the attention of the House:—Provided that nothing in this Act contained shall be construed as enabling the Commissioners, or any of them, to interfere in any individual case for the purpose of ordering relief.What might be the construction of the section with reference to the circumstances that had occurred, was a legal question which he did not think his hon. Friend (Mr. P. Scrope) would require him to answer; he could only say that he believed the Commissioners had exercised towards the guardians of the Castlebar union all the power of which they were possessed, in order to compel them to the performance of their duty. Having failed in compelling them, the Commissioners had proceeded on the powers vested in them by law, and had dissolved the board. This was such answer as he could give to the second question. And the third was, whether Ministers intended to introduce in the Bill upon the Table some effectual obligation to grant relief to the destitute poor, whereby security might be taken against the denial of such relief in future? To this question he had to answer, that the hon. Member would find a clause upon the subject in the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill applicable to such paupers as were destitute, or were disabled so as not to be in a condition to maintain themselves. The second clause contemplated such a contingency; it provided that a right to out-door relief should exist, the workhouse being full, or not available for the reception of such paupers. As to the further extension of that obligation, and the policy of doing so, that point could best be discussed when the Bill was in Committee.
§ MR. FRENCH
hoped the House would allow him to put a few questions. Was the right hon. Baronet aware that the guardians of the Castlebar union, in September last, found it impossible to collect 25 the rates? Was he aware that the chairman of that board, the Earl of Lucan, took upon himself to repay all the expenses of the workhouse for one month? Was he aware that during that month every pauper was admitted into the workhouse? Was he aware that at the expiration of the month, a resolution was passed by the board of guardians, and transmitted to the Poor Law Commissioners, stating the impossibility of collecting the rates, and that they must either borrow the money, or obtain it in some other way? The guardians at the same time informed the Commissioners, that they were ready to admit into the workhouse the greatest number it was capable of holding. Was the right hon. Gentleman aware, finally, that for a fortnight the Commissioners took no notice of the letter, and then only in general terms? Since then the entire expense of the workhouse had fallen upon the Earl of Lucan.
§ SIR G. GREY
begged to refer the hon. Member to some papers he had already laid upon the Table, and to others about to be presented. At the same time he was bound to say, that he had heard from Mr. Otway—and there was no reason to doubt the correctness of the information—that there was no period at which any large amount of outstanding rate in the union of Castlebar, and in other unions in Mayo, might not have been collected. On receiving that report of Mr. Otway, he had transmitted a copy of it to Lord Lucan. A letter from Lord Lucan would be found among the papers he intended to present shortly, in which his Lordship stated, that a large portion of the rate would have been collected if the board of guardians had done their duty. He (Sir G. Grey) regretted that the hon. Member had not given notice of his questions; if the hon. Member had done so, he would have furnished himself with an extract from Lord Lucan's letter.