HC Deb 01 March 1847 vol 90 cc604-6

wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, to certain information which had been received respecting the wages of labourers engaged on the public works in Sligo. It appeared that they were paid only 8d. a day; and, taking into account the present prices of provisions, this payment could not be said to be sufficient to supply a labourer and his family with an adequate quantity of food. He would also ask the right hon. Gentleman if he was aware of the proportion which the expenses of the staff of clerks and overseers bore to the expenses incurred in payment of labour?


said, that in consequence of what had passed on a former day, he had communicated with the Board of Works in Dublin, and would state the result of his inquiries. It was true that the rate of pay for labourers in the county of Sligo was 8d. per day. The Board of Works had thought it desirable as much as possible to encourage the system of task-work: task-work was open to any labourer who chose to undertake it, and it was only where task-work could not be given that the system of day labour was adopted. The reason why the Board of Works had not thought it expedient to raise the price of day labour above 8d. was, that the ordinary rate of wages in Sligo was only 6d. per day. It was extremely desirable not to divert labour more than was absolutely necessary from the cultivation of the soil: where it was inevitable, of course the necessity of the case must be submitted to. Under these circumstances, the officers of the Board of Works considered it better to meet the case of a man who was not able to support his family on 8d. per day, by allowing more than one member of that family to be employed; this was deemed more advisable than to raise the wages of the man to above 8d. Though he (Mr. Labouchere) admitted that at the present price of provisions it was extremely difficult for a labourer to support himself and his family on 8d. a day; yet the case had been met by relaxing the rule at first laid down that only one in a family should be employed. That, as he had said, was looked upon as a mode of proceeding preferable to raising the price of labour. It must be borne in mind that the system of task-work was still open to all, and that by taking task-work more than 8d. per day could be earned. The other point referred to on a previous night was the expense of the staff as compared with the amount expended in labour. He had made inquiries, and he found that the apprehensions expressed in some quarters on this question were altogether unfounded. He had the details before him; but, perhaps, it would be enough for him to say that during a month the number of labourers employed in Sligo varied between 19,000 and 22,000. There was one pay-clerk to every 1,250 men, and an overseer to every 140 men, besides a check-clerk. The expense of pay-clerks, overseers, and check-clerks was 2,110l. The total expenditure during the month had been 27,877l.


wished to know what provision had been made for infirm paupers who were not able to be employed upon the roads? The only measure that was destined for their relief—the Bill which had recently passed—was one which would not come into operation before next autumn. There were only two modes of relieving the infirm destitute, one was by the workhouse; but he had a letter in his hand from a gentleman in Carlow, in which it was stated that this class had been refused admission into the workhouse, and the guardians refused to relieve them, and would not build temporary sheds for their accommodation. The other mode to which he referred was by relief committees, and they were interdicted from giving relief by the limited means at their command, the Government only supplying assistance in proportion to voluntary subscription. The question he wished to ask was, what certainty of relief the hon. Gentleman could hold out, under those circumstances, to the old and infirm women and children?


said, he did not believe that the class referred to were likely to suffer from starvation. The present system of public works would be continued until the plan proposed to be substituted came into operation, and he did not apprehend that the inconvenience referred to by the hon. Gentleman would ever arise.


wished to know whether a certain day had been fixed when the expenditure on the public works should cease.


said, that no notice had been given of a day; general directions had been given that the system of public works should be brought to a conclusion as rapidly as was consistent with due regard to safety and the relief of the destitution.

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