HC Deb 23 February 1854 vol 130 cc1143-51

, in moving for a Committee of Inquiry into the grants made to the Dublin hospitals, said, he felt he should not be doing his duty to his constituents, if he omitted to take another opportunity of endeavouring to arrest the gradual and certain destruction of the hospitals and medical schools of Dublin, if the diminution of the usual grants were persevered in. The position of those hospitals, compared with that of some kindred institutions in England, would be seen when he stated, for example, that St. Bartholomew's and St. Thomas's hospitals in London had respectively an income of 32,000l. and 25,000l. a year from land conveyed to them by the Crown; while the five or six hospitals in Dublin had only about 12,000l. a year among them. Previously to the Union between this country and Ireland all the hospitals but one in Ireland were supported by Government grants, but since then many of such grants bad been discontinued, and the hospitals necessarily im- poverished. Since the Union, also, so many of the wealthy had left Dublin, that the inhabitants of that city were no longer able to contribute as they had done to its charitable institutions, which, however, at the present time needed more support than ever, since, although the wealthy had departed, the poor had remained; and, although Dublin was no longer the residence of the great and powerful, it was at least the asylum for the weak and oppressed. With regard to the institutions themselves, having on a former occasion gone into considerable detail as to the accommodation which they were capable of affording, he did not think it was necessary to trespass on the attention of the House by going over the same ground again. He might simply remark, that the great number of patients relieved in them every year was a sufficient proof of their value and importance to the suffering poor. It appeared from a Parliamentary paper on the table of the House, that during a period of three years no fewer than 46,460 persons were admitted into the various hospitals of Dublin. These hospitals were of the greatest utility as medical schools, and in that point of view alone the question was deserving of consideration, for if the hospitals were allowed to go to decay, the medical students would only have the poor-houses to resort to as schools of practice. The consequence of the rule which had been adopted had been severely felt in a social point of view in Dublin, for it was found that, in consequence of the reduction of the grants, and the consequent diminution of hospital accommodation, many individuals had committed crime for the sole purpose of being sent to gaol, and obtaining there that medical relief which had formerly been supplied by the hospitals. He held in his hand a letter from the governor of one of the Dublin gaols, in which he gave a long list of persons whom he had questioned as to the cause of their being sent to prison, and who avowed having committed crime from a desire to obtain medical accommodation in gaol. Before the reduction of the grants such a cause of crime had never been heard of, and it became then a serious question for that House to consider whether so dangerous a state of things could be allowed to continue. There had been a great deal of agitation in Dublin on the subject; petitions had been presented from all the various local Boards against the diminution of the grants, and, in fact, all men in that respect were of one mind. The present Lord Lieutenant, on his arrival in Ireland, expressed a very decided opinion in favour of their maintenance. His Excellency on that occasion expressed a hope that there would be no further diminution of the grants; and in the month of February last year, in replying to the address from the corporation of Dublin, the noble Earl acknowledged that the charitable institutions of that city had peculiar claims to the aid which they received from the public purse. There was another reason why a portion of the public funds should go to the support of the Dublin hospitals. It appeared from a Parliamentary paper, that the average number of men in the garrison of Dublin during the year 1849 was 5,988, of whom 628 were assisted in one of the city hospitals; in 1850 the average number of men in garrison was 5,916, of whom 578 were admitted into the hospital in question; in 1851 the number in garrison was 5,444, in hospital 523; and in 1852 the average number of men in garrison was 6,232, and in the hospital 545. He therefore asked if it was fair that the citizens of Dublin should be obliged to provide hospital accommodation for Her Majesty's troops? All the hospitals to which he was anxious to direct attention, with the exception of one, were established previous to the Union with England. In the articles of the Treaty of Union there was a stipulation to the effect that the grants made to the Dublin hospitals should be continued for a period of twenty years. The Imperial Parliament continued these grants not only for twenty years, but for a much longer period of time, and even assisted in the establishment of other charitable institutions—a circumstance which showed that in the view of the Government of the day Dublin had just claims, in consequence of the injury it, had sustained by the loss of its Parliament and the withdrawal of its wealthier classes to London. However, in the year 1817, the system of consolidation and centralisation began to be acted upon by that House, and had continued to be acted upon ever since, and reductions were made in most of the grants. In 1829 a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the miscellaneous expenditure of the country, and they recommended that the Irish Government should institute a strict inquiry into the system on which they were distributed, and also laid down as a basis upon which alone the continuance of them could be justified the proved utility of the charity receiving them, the improbability of its being kept up by private contributions alone, and the strictest economy of expenditure; and he could only say that he was quite willing that the continuance of all the present grants should rest on these conditions. No attempt was made to follow up the recommendation of the Select Committee till the year 1842, when Earl de Grey, the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, appointed a Commission of three gentlemen of high independence and impartiality, and in every respect competent to discharge the duty entrusted to them, to conduct the proposed investigation. The Commissioners examined minutely every detail connected with the state and management of the Dublin hospitals, and in their Report, while they suggested some alterations and improvements in the working of the institutions, they recommended that the grants should neither be diminished nor abolished, basing their recommendation on the very grounds laid down by the Select Committee of 1829 as those upon which the continuance of the grants could alone be justified—the proved utility of the institutions, the improbability of their being maintained by private endowments or the voluntary contributions of the citizens of Dublin, and the introduction of the strictest economy into every department of the management. At the time when that Report was made, the property of the city of Dublin was valued at between 700,000l. and 800,000l. a year; it was now less than 600,000l., and consequently the local charities had now more need of public aid. It would perhaps be remembered that at a former period, when the subject was under consideration, the Government said they were unable to resist the Report of the Commissioners, that it was very strong and favourable, but that the local interests and feelings of the gentlemen who had drawn it up might perhaps have prejudiced their judgment. That such an objection might not be taken now, he asked the House to appoint a Committee of independent English gentlemen, and he was prepared to abide by the opinion they might form after a full investigation of the matter. The Select Committee appointed in 1847 to investigate the miscellaneous expenditure recommended that the grants to the Dublin hospitals should be subjected to a process of gradual diminution of 10 per cent. with a view to their ultimate abolition, a decision diametrically opposed to that of the Commission appointed in 1842, and which he thought the House could hardly be prepared to approve, seeing that, while the Commissioners of 1842 did investigate the subject, the Select Committee of 1847 examined one witness only—the notorious Mr. Duncan Chisholm—a gentleman who afterwards considered it necessary to leave Ireland under such very painful and extraordinary circumstances, that it was not going too far to say that no reliable or trustworthy evidence was given by him to the Select Committee. All he asked was, the appointment of a Committee of independent English gentlemen to investigate the whole subject; and if they decided that the Dublin hospitals did not comply with the conditions laid down by the Select Committee of 1829, he would be quite willing that the grants should be left alone.

Motion and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and Report upon the expediency of the Grants made from the Public Funds to the Hospitals in the City of Dublin, and how far the circumstances of these institutions, and their utility as a Medical School, require the continuance of such Grants.


said, there was one point in connection with the Motion which be wished to allude to before making any observations upon the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had introduced it. If hon. Members would refer to the notice paper, they would there find that the hon. Member for Dublin had given notice of Motion simply in these terms—"Dublin Hospitals." Now he (Mr. Wilson) would appeal to the House whether that was a fair way to deal with the Government, and then to conclude with a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee. Notwithstanding that every effort had been made yesterday to ascertain the terms or the nature of the Motion, the Government had been unable to gain any information as to what the hon. Gentleman meant to propose, and they were in entire ignorance of the object he had in view until he himself rose to explain it. He (Mr. Wilson) therefore trusted that in future hon. Gentlemen would favour Government with a more explicit statement before asking them to agree to a Motion in which the public expenditure was at stake. But, if he complained of the mode in which the hon. Gentleman had given his notice of Motion, he did not complain of the reasonableness of the Motion itself. The House was asked to appoint a Committee to inquire into the claims of the Dublin Hospitals to support, and that the Committee so to be appointed should be composed entirely of English Members. He thought the latter proposition would, if adopted, be invidious, and be should be glad if the House could have the assistance of Irish Members upon the Committee. He ought, however, to state to the House that while he felt the great importance of hospitals in every large city, and especially in a capital which was the residence of a great portion of the poorer classes of a country that had been afflicted by famine and other calamities, he must at the same time lay down the principle, that unless Dublin could show some peculiar claims, which did not exist with regard to other places, he did not think that House was called upon to rescind a resolution come to by a Committee in 1847, the object of which was to bring Dublin hospitals into harmony with those of other parts of the Kingdom. In 1847 a Committee of that House came to the unanimous resolution that the grants for hospitals, which began with an Article in the Union, were continued in accordance with that Article, and had been continued since by Parliament, but ought to be reduced from time to time. The reduction was first fixed at 20 per cent, but afterwards Government consented that it should be 10 per cent; and, before the grants could be exhausted under the resolution he referred to, no less a sum than 35,000l. would be paid to the Dublin hospitals. His own opinion upon the matter was, that the House ought, as quickly as possible, to put the hospitals in Dublin in the same condition as those of other large towns throughout the Kingdom.


said, he thought it reasonable that, if Government grants were to be given to the Dublin hospitals, those in Edinburgh should be similarly treated. He did not think it was wise for the Government to consent to the appointment of a Committee, because he thought it would be holding out hopes to the people of Dublin that the grants would be augmented, or, at all events, continued in future. He must compare the proposition of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Grogan) with the case of a man, who, believing himself unable to walk, supported himself upon crutches, but who, ultimately following the advice of his physician to abandon them and trust to his own resources, began to improve rapidly. Nothing could be more prejudi- cial to an institution than to rely for sup port upon the State. He believed State support tended very much to do away with the exercise of that Christian charity which was the means of affording so much benefit to the humbler classes, and he therefore thought it unwise to appoint a Committee, and thus hold out hopes a the continuance of the grants. He would take that opportunity of calling the attention of the Government to the fact that the House of Refuge in Edinburgh had for some time rented an old house of the Board of Ordnance, but that recently the Government had determined upon selling the premises, and the governors of the House of Refuge had been compelled to pay a sum of 5,000l. to the Government to prevent the inmates of the house, amounting to between 300 and 400, principally poor Irish, from being turned out of doors. He thought the charitable exertions of the people of Edinburgh in this case might operate as a good example the people of Dublin.


said, the claims of the hospitals of Dublin to assistance from the State were metropolitan and general, in stead of local. A habit had sprung up of late of treating London as the only metropolis of the Empire, and, in order to establish that position, nearly all the great institutions of the Kingdom were transferred from Dublin and Edinburgh here thereby effecting a system of centralisation to which the eyes of both the Irish and Scotch had at length been opened, and which induced them to put forward their claims to a portion of the State expenditure. He thought there would be no difficulty whatever in proving that London did not maintain its hospitals, and that Dublin could not. Dublin was no longer a city of the wealthy. It was true the Act of Union only provided for the payment of these grants fur twenty years, but twenty years after the Union they were wanted more than ever. Other grants for the encouragement of agriculture and other purposes had been taken away, but the Irish Members surely would not allow the wretched pittance to be withdrawn from the Dublin hospitals. Formerly the amount of the grants made to Ireland from the Imperial Treasury amounted 150,000l. a year, which was guaranteed to Ireland by the Act of Uion. That sum had been gradually reduced; but they were determined now to make a stand upon the wretched pittance of 11,000l. a year which it was attempted to take away. The citizens of Dublin had no means, out of their private resources, of maintaining these hospitals, considering the numerous claims upon them for the alleviation of the wants of humanity. Whatever benefit the a Union had conferred upon the rest of Ireland, it had plunged the city of Dublin in poverty. He was certain the people of Ireland would be gratified to hear that the Government had consented to the appointment of this Committee.


said, he was unable, from the mysterious nature of the Motion, to go into statistics on this subject, but, as Chairman of the Committee on the Miscellaneous Estimates, which recommended the gradual diminution of the grant to the Dublin hospitals, he was prepared to vindicate the decision of that Committee. The question was one of principle, and the Committee fully agreed with the Under s Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant when he to stated that the tendency of public grants to charitable institutions was to destroy private benevolence. It was alleged as a reason why the House of Commons should continue these grants, that the Irish Members were all agreed that they ought not to be reduced; but it was a remarkable fact that in the worst days of Irish dissension, when faction was most formidable, the Irish Members had always agreed upon the propriety of taking as much public money from England as they could get. He had hoped that now that more prosperous days had commenced in Ireland, Irish Members would not have come to this country to support institutions which the people of Ireland ought to support themselves. They ought to take a higher tone, and not depend upon public grants for what ought to be provided by private benevolence. He of thought the decision of the Committee of which recommended the gradual reduction of these grants a salutary one, and he should, therefore, recommend the House le to abide by that decision.


said, he wished to remind English Members who said that is the hospitals in this country were supported by private benevolence, that the income of the London hospitals was 142,000l., of id which sum only 31,000l. was derived from to voluntary sources.


said, it was generally believed in Ireland that there were certain peculiarities connected with Dublin which rendered it desirable that some support should be given to the hospitals of that city. It was, therefore, desirable that these peculiarities should be inquired into, and, if it could be shown that there was no ground for these grants, and no peculiarities which distinguished Dublin from other cities, then let them be withdrawn. There were fourteen Dublin hospitals, supported in part by public grants, and a vast number of others, maintained by private benevolence, which received no public grants. He thought the Committee might usefully inquire whether all these hospitals were really necessary for the city of Dublin, and whether money was not frittered away in rents and salaries to officers in these separate establishments. It might be found that, by an amalgamation of some of these charities, the private subscriptions now raised would be sufficient without Parliamentary grants. The people of Dublin subscribed largely for charitable purposes, and if the funds of these hospitals were economised, and if the hospitals having similar objects were amalgamated, he did not doubt but that sufficient funds would be found to be at present raised in Dublin for the relief of the sick and infirm.


would recommend that, pending the decision of the Committee, the annual reduction in the grant should cease. The citizens of Dublin gave a great deal in charity, and he did not doubt that it would come out before the Committee that there was good reason for continuing these grants.

Motion agreed to.

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