HC Deb 01 March 1847 vol 90 cc616-24

I am desirous of stating in a general manner what is proposed as some substantial amendment in the permanent poor law of Ireland, not for the purpose of now bringing the subject under discussion, but merely that the House may have the opportunity of knowing as early as possible the tendency of these Amendments. I propose afterwards that the House go into Committee on Monday next for the purpose of discussing the Amendments of the Bill. With respect to the first clause, it has been objected that although the guardians are obliged to relieve persons out of the workhouse when the workhouse is full, or when from fever it is impossible relief can be given in the workhouse, they are not obliged to give relief unless the workhouse be full; yet I consider, by carrying out the former Act, the necessary relief can be given. Certainly this case might arise: the guardians might refuse to give relief to a number sufficient to fill the workhouse, the workhouse being able to hold 400; but, that number not being in it, the guardians might say the workhouse was not full, and give no further relief. But in order to prevent such an abuse, we propose, by additional words, that the guardians be required to relieve other persons than those in the workhouse of the union, when there is room in such workhouse. With regard to the second clause, the words proposed to be introduced are in order to enable the guardians to meet the exigencies which may arise. In a subsequent clause—Clause 9—we propose to alter the liability of the out-door relief being charged on the union; the change we propose to make is to place the charge up to a certain amount upon the electoral district. We propose to place them on the electoral districts, the same as those detained in the workhouse; but if the charge shall exceed 2s. 6d. in the pound in the year, then, in that case, it shall be charged on the union at large. We likewise propose to change the number of ex-officio guardians. In Ireland the guardians are elected from the whole number of magistrates, forming about a fourth part of the whole body eligible for guardians; now, what we propose as an Amendment is, that they may elect a number of magistrates equal to the number of eligible guardians; i.e., that one-half of the whole body, but not exceeding one-half, may be magistrates. We also propose to introduce a clause similar to that in the temporary measure, giving power to the Poor Law Commissioners to remove boards of guardians, and appoint paid guardians. These, then, are the general Amendments which we propose in the Bill now before the House, except with the addition of those alterations which may be necessary to make the Bill clear. There is another point on which we had intended to make some change; and although it has been considered a good deal, I am not able just at present to state what change may be proposed. The House is aware that with regard to poor relief in England, relief is not given to a person having sufficient means for his own support, and that such person has no claim to relief; but, however, it frequently happens that a person in the occupation of a cottage does go into the workhouse during the winter time, and is allowed to return to his cottage again when the winter is over, and there is a greater demand for labour; and it has been proposed as regards Ireland, by an hon. Member, that no relief should be given to any person possessing above half an acre of land. Now, I find in this respect that we are between two cases; if we say that a person should be required not to possess any land whatever before he seeks relief, then there is the danger that the poor person who might retain his cottage would be deprived of the occupation; if, on the other hand, we say relief is to be given to people occupying—suppose half an acre or more—there is the danger that we may be doing an injury, by perpetuating some of the worst holdings in Ireland. Between these two opposite dangers, the Government wish to take some further time for consideration; and though I do not think it right that people occupying land should receive relief, yet there might be some calculation made by which people occupying small portions of land might for a time receive relief. I think that the general rule which applies to England might, to a certain extent, be beneficially applied to Ireland; but on this, however, I am sure that we shall all agree, that those who have other means of subsistence should not be entitled to poor-law relief. This is the general extent of the Amendments; and I shall propose that the House do go into Committee pro formâ with this Bill, and proceed with the other Bill—the Landed Property (Ireland) Bill—before this Bill, and with both as quickly as possible.


considered that the understanding was, that they should not have any debate that night on the general subject of the Irish poor law, and he did not even mean to discuss or give his opinion upon the Amendments just announced by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell); his (Mr. Shaw's) only desire was to be sure that he understood them. As he understood the noble Lord, the Amendment on the first clause was, so far to extend the authority of the Commissioners as that their power of ordering relief in food to the destitute, in case of the workhouse being full, should not be evaded by the guardians saying they would prevent its being full, by refusing destitute persons who ought to be admitted. But he (Mr. Shaw) did not conceive that the noble Lord meant to give an absolute right to relief to the able-bodied even in the workhouse, as that would seem necessarily to entail the law of settlement, and much of the English poor-law machinery, which was not applicable to Ireland. The noble Lord's second Amendment, as he (Mr. Shaw) understood, was to facilitate the power of giving increased accommodation for in-door relief, by means of temporary buildings. The third Amendment, relating to the 9th clause, was a recognition by the noble Lord of the principle of rating the smaller district, the electoral division, in preference to the union at large; but in case of the rate reaching a maximum of 2s. 6d. in any one electoral district, then that the surplus should be put upon the union; and, fourthly, the noble Lord seemed ready to acknowledge the propriety of not allowing relief to any person who held land above a very small quantity, but that the Government had not yet determined what the exact limit should be, whether half an acre or less. He believed those were the alterations intended by the noble Lord, and that was all that he (Mr. Shaw) required to know at that stage of the proceedings.


asked, whether, supposing the workhouse to be full, it was intended during the period it remained full, to give such right of relief to the destitute poor in the union as existed in England, that was to say, out-door relief?


, in reply to the first question of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw), said, the right hon. Gentleman would see that by the first clause the guardians were required to relieve the permanently disabled poor. By the third clause, as it stood, on an order from the Poor Law Commissioners, the guardians were required to make provision for the destitute poor for a certain time out of the workhouse, the workhouse being full. But, as he had just said, this case might arise, that the guardians might refuse to fill the workhouse, although there were persons starving in the union, in order to escape the obligation to relieve the destitute poor out of the workhouse. The Government had, therefore, thought it right to propose an Amendment, that the guardians should relieve destitute persons out of the workhouse, the workhouse not being full. With respect to the question of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), the right would not be exactly the same as in England. There was this difference in England, that all the relief must be given in food; and there was this other difference, that in many poor-law unions, by order of the Poor Law Commissioners, relief was at present given on the ground that one of the children, or one person in the family, was sick. The Government did not propose anything of that kind in the present measure. It would be different from the poor law in England in that respect. At the same time, there would be the right of relief out of the workhouse, and, the workhouse being full, the Poor Law Commissioners would issue an order under which poor persons would be relieved. Of course, they would include in the term "workhouse" any building the guardians might take for the temporary accommodation of the paupers of the union.


said, the limit at which the charge on the union was proposed to begin, had better have been 3s. or 4s., than 2s. 6d. The determination of the Government with regard to ex-officio guardians, although there was much to be said on both sides, would, on the whole, he thought, not be favourably received in Ireland, considering the great responsibility it threw on the landlords.


was very sorry the noble Lord had given up the uniform mode of rating. With regard to ex-officio guardians, he greatly feared that that provision also would be found to work very badly, and to be much complained of. On one point it certainly would be complained of—he meant with respect to the religion and the religious teaching of paupers in the workhouse. Occasions had occurred in Ireland in which the proceedings of the elective guardians had been swamped, and considerable interference with the religious teaching of the children taken place by the ex-officio guardians coming down to the board and turning the scale. If the Government meant to persist in the present provision with respect to ex-officio guardians, he trusted they would give some means in other provisions of the Bill for preventing the teaching of the children in the workhouses being interfered with.


thought the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had not acted fairly towards the Irish Members, in bringing forward so important an Amendment as that which provided that the charge up to a certain point for maintaining the poor should be levied on particular districts, which perhaps had nothing to do with any such expense. That question should not have been decided by the noble Lord in private. The noble Lord might say the question was not decided; but it had been virtually settled, and it was not at all likely that the noble Lord would change his opinion and acknowledge that he was in the wrong. It was too great a question for a Minister to decide in his closet. Did the noble Lord not recollect that he (Sir D. Norreys) presented a petition the other week setting forth that in some electoral districts the charge for maintaining the poor was as high as 2s. in the pound, while in others it did not exceed 2½d., and yet the noble Lord seemed to think that in proposing his Amendment he was protecting the electoral districts? The noble Lord's conduct on this and other occasions had shaken his (Sir D. Norreys') confidence in him. He had exhibited the same vacillation in regard to the Factory Bill, and other measures of importance. In fact, the noble Lord had not taken that firm stand on principle which he should expect in a political leader. He hoped to see the noble Lord take a stand becoming his position as the head of a Government and the head of a party, and not allow himself to be swayed and influenced by the suggestions of interested parties.


said, if the hon. Member wished for an opportunity for a discussion on the question, he would take care that the hon. Member should have that opportunity. He would take care, also, that the House should have an opportunity, not only of discussing whether there should be out-door relief given in the manner proposed, but also whether the rate should be uniform throughout the whole of each district. The noble Lord might tinker and patch up this part of the law as much as he pleased; but he would find, before five years had passed over, that he had aggravated, by it, the evils he meant to remedy. An uniform rate was the only one which combined simplicity with justice.


could not let the opportunity pass without entering his protest against the change made by the noble Lord with reference to the constitution of the boards of guardians. When the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) was in office, he proposed that one-third instead of one-fourth should be ex-officio guardians, though he was forced to give up that proposition; but the noble Lord went much further. He warned the noble Lord that his measure would in this respect create great discontent in Ireland. If the magistrates were fit to administer the affairs of the poor, they would be elected by the ratepayers; if they were not fit, he thought it was scarcely questionable whether they should sit on the board or not. The noble Lord's alteration would give a great accession of aristocratic influence to the constitution of the boards. He was extremely sorry that the noble Lord had overlooked the notice of a proposition which he had put on the Paper, and which he thought would have removed many of the objections to the adoption of electoral divisions for rating. He thought the best thing would be to have a new arrangement of electoral divisions.


said, there was one alteration which he thought of very material importance, viz., that there should be a right of relief in some shape or other, in the workhouse or out of it; so that in Ireland, as in England, no one should be allowed to starve. The concessions which had been made by the Government to the landlords, he thought, were very large. The second clause did give power to the Poor Law Commissioners to order out-door relief to the able-bodied poor; but the alteration now made was very material, for by it they only had power to order relief to be given out of doors where the workhouse was full, or so dangerous, from contagious fever, that persons could not enter it. The next concession was to the landlords, in the clause respecting the constitution of the boards of guardians. That was a great alteration, and he doubted whether the poor would not suffer from it. The third concession was the alteration with respect to the electoral divisions. The fourth concession was, that small farmers should not be allowed any claim to relief until they gave up their property. The noble Lord was not determined whether half an acre should be the lowest amount of land to be held along with a right to relief, or not. This was a regulation which had no parallel either in the law of Scotland or of England. In Scotland, it often occurred that the farmer of a small farm was a fit subject for relief; for instance, from his own or his family's sickness. When a farmer in Ireland occupied three or four acres, as from 300,000 to 400,000 of the population in that country did, and was unable to obtain work, or became an object of relief from the sickness of himself or his family, was he to part with his occupation before he was relieved? He warned the noble Lord that such an enactment would lead to very great sensation among that class of persons in Ireland; and there was already a very strong feeling among that class lest they should not obtain the right to permanent relief under the new poor law. He had not observed that the noble Lord had made any alteration in the clause confining the right of out-door relief to the permanently disabled. They constituted but a very small part of the destitute poor. On referring to the lists of paupers relieved in England, he found that the Poor Law Commissioners divided them into nine different classes, who were all relieved out of doors in England. Yet this class of disabled was the only one that was to be relieved out of doors in Ireland. He had really thought that the time was come when the poor laws of England and Ireland were to be assimilated. If the sick poor were not to have out of door relief, to a very large portion of the poor of Ireland the Act would be wholly inadequate. He did hope that this clause would be taken into consideration by the Government, and that they would see that the sick poor, most of all, required relief at their own homes; for, unless the principal enactments of the measure were assimilated to those of the poor law of England, there would be no security for the adequate relief of the poor, or for the prevention of that emigration which the poor were forced to resort to, in order to obtain from our more liberal institutions that which the law denied in their own country. He wished to know whether this measure was to be accompanied by another for the suppression of mendicancy in Ireland. On the 1st of December, 1837, the noble Lord based the proposition he then made for a poor law on the advantage which it would give in suppressing mendicancy in Ireland. Mendicancy and vagrancy, however, had not been put down; and he trusted, therefore, that the noble Lord would see the absolute necessity of reintroducing the clauses on this subject which at that time passed through the House of Commons, but were lost in the Lords. Unless an end were put to vagrancy, the workhouse relief would not be a sufficient remedy.


wished to know how far the workhouse test was to be extended, by providing additional buildings before relief was to be given out of doors? Upon other points he thought it would be best to postpone discussion; but he believed that the more the question of union rating was discussed, the more fair it would appear that electoral rating should be adhered to; and with regard to the denial of relief to the occupiers of land, he agreed with the noble Lord that there was no reason why a person in the occupation of several acres of land should have relief. These were points, however, which could be better discussed on a future occasion.


had hoped that the noble Lord's observations would have passed sub silentio; but as there had been a discussion, and as there were cases in which Members who were present, and did not speak, had their views misconstrued, he wished to say a few words. He had read many petitions presented to the House during the present Session, and the great majority were not in favour of the electoral district system, but of a rating more extensive even than the union. They advocated one uniform rating throughout the country. He was not a guardian himself, but he had heard that almost all the squabbles were about electoral rates; and he was of opinion that the more extended the surface over which the rate was collected, the better it would be for the comfort of the people. He had heard, with great regret, the proposed changes in the number of ex-officio guardians, which would be unpalatable in Ireland. In his own union he knew of one ex-officio guardian, who frequently attended, yet who did not pay a penny of the rate, or own one pennyworth of property in the county.


begged to ask the noble Lord, did he intend to introduce a Vagrancy Act for Ireland, to accompany the New Poor Law Bill?


replied that there should be a Vagrancy Bill for Ireland introduced; but as to the time for introducing it, he had not yet made up his mind.

Bill went through Committee pro formâ.