HC Deb 24 February 1847 vol 90 cc445-9

expressed a hope that he might be allowed to move the Third Reading of the Labouring Poor (Ireland) Bill, although it was not in the list of business for the day.


expressed his regret that the Amendments which the right hon. Gentleman promised to introduce into the Bill in Committee, for confirming and sustaining voluntary agreements between landlords and tenants, had not been adopted. He wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a paragraph which had appeared in the Sligo Champion newspaper, and which alleged that gross jobbing was going on in Ireland in connexion with the staff of the Board of Works. It was stated that, whilst famine was advancing with rapid strides, and the poor were receiving only 8d. per day for their labour, the most extravagant expenditure was lavished upon persons who were not distressed. He wished to know whether it was a fact, that in large districts in Ireland the rate of wages for the destitute poor was not more than 8d. a day? It must be obvious that, for the support of a family considerably less numerous than families generally were in Ireland, such a sum as 8d. per day was utterly inadequate, and that, under such circumstances, the people must be perishing by degrees. There was another point to which he was desirous of calling the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was, the propriety of converting useless barracks into workhouses.


wished, before the right hon. Gentleman replied, to put a question upon another subject. He had understood from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that no one of the Bills connected with the present distress in Ireland should receive the sanction of the House till all three of them were equally ready; that they were all to proceed pari passu, and not to receive the final sanction of the House till the Poor Law Bill for Ireland had been disposed of. He wished to know if that understanding were to be adhered to?


thought the hon. Baronet had misunderstood the declaration of his noble Friend. It was intended that the Labouring Poor Bill should be proceeded with immediately, and that the two other measures, the Landed Estates Improvement, and the New Poor Law Bill, should, as far as possible, proceed pari passu through the House, and be sent together to the other House. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Limerick, he must, in the first place, state that the hon. Gentleman had fallen into an error in saying the Government had pledged itself to adopt the Amendment to the Bill before the House the hon. Member referred to. The Government had never given such a pledge, and on the whole had come to the conclusion that it would not be advisable to adopt it. With respect to what the hon. Gentleman alleged of the conduct of the Board of Works in Sligo, he had not soon the statement in the newspapers; but he was rather incredulous of these accounts of the jobbing of the Board of Works, and of the immense expense of its staff of management. Former statements to the same effect had, on inquiry, turned out altogether erroneous. He knew there did exist in Ireland an impression that the expense of the machinery of the Board of Works was very great, bearing a large proportion to the whole amount of funds spent in relief, and absorbing a great deal of that money. But there never was an idea more erroneous. The fact was this: in no case had the expense of superintendence and management under the Board of Works, including 3 per cent as the charge for implements, exceeded 10 per cent on the entire charge; this would be considered by no means an extravagant charge in the case of works conducted in the most economical manner by private individuals. He had no means of entering into the particular case stated by the hon. Member, but he was altogether incredulous as to these charges; he knew the utmost efforts were always made by the Board of Works to watch that branch of their expenditure, and he believed those efforts had been thoroughly successful. There could be no better proof of this than the fact that, exclusive of the 3 per cent for implements, the expense had in no case exceeded 7 per cent on the whole outlay; while he had seen it stated that the expense of the supervison of the board amounted to as much as 30 and even 40 per cent on the funds. With regard to placing public buildings, such as barracks, at the disposal of boards of guardians for the purpose of facilitating the relief of the poor, he believed in some cases this had been done; but he would inform himself more particularly on the subject.


had understood the arrangement with respect to the Irish Bills to be as the right hon. Gentleman had stated it; but he thought the Bill for constituting boards of guardians in Ireland was to go along with the permanent Poor Law Bill. With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's observations on the Board of Works, he thought much unjust imputation had been cast upon it. In such vast operations it was quite impossible everything could be done in perfect order and a completely systematic manner. The board had a very difficult task, and discharged its duty as well as could be expected under the circumstances. He took that opportunity of making one remark, not immediately connected with the Bill before them. He must repeat the warning he had before ventured to give, against suddenly discharging the immense number of persons at present employed on public works. He had received several letters from Ireland expressing much alarm on this subject. He was not opposed to the principle of gradually disemploying these persons, and restoring them to the cultivation of the land; but to do so suddenly would cause the greatest possible inconvenience and danger. From his own experience on a relief committee, he knew that if the works were suddenly stopped, the people would not know what to do; they could not all be thrown upon the soup-kitchens for support, though there would be no other means to resort to.


said, the letter of instructions to the Lord Lieutenant pointed out the views of the Government as to the mode in which the transition should take place. The letter contained express instructions against suddenly discharging large numbers of people. It was intended, as soon as it could be done consistently with those considerations that necessarily entered into this question, to discontinue the public works; but there was no intention of doing so simultaneously throughout the country.


was aware of the impression existing, both in this country and in Ireland, of the great expense of the staff of the Board of Works. The statement of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland was precisely that given in the printed reports and papers before the House; but the imperfect figures given in those papers did not justify the statement made by the board, that the whole expense did not exceed 7 per cent, exclusive of the charge for implements. It would, therefore, be very satisfactory to the public if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to give the past expenses of the board in the form of monthly returns, distinguishing the money actually paid in relief, and the amount of the expenses of the board. There would then be no difficulty in judging whether these reports were well founded or not.


had no objection to lay before the House the fullest information on the subject. Would the hon. Gentleman move for the return in the form he wished, or would he leave it in the hands of the Government?


would rather leave it in the hands of the Government.


reminded the right hon. Secretary for Ireland that he had not alluded to the statement of the hon. Member for Limerick, as to the low amount of wages paid on some of the Government works—no more than 8d. per day. It was impossible a man and his family could subsist upon that, and the consequence was, the people were forced to come on the other modes of relief. He trusted the Government would take this point into consideration, and inquire what the wages were, and see that they were enough for the people's support.


felt obliged to the hon. Member for reminding him of the point; the fact was, the Government had endeavoured to introduce as far as possible the system of paying by task-work; and he was prepared to say, so far from the wages being only 8d. a day, some men earned as much as 1s. 2d.; of course, there might be cases in which men being indolent, or not working properly, might not earn more than 8d.; but, in general, the wages paid were much more.


believed that in some cases the people were so weak that task-work became inapplicable to them.

Bill read a third time.

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