HC Deb 24 July 1860 vol 160 cc144-50

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1, (Lands, &c, heretofore vested in the Commissioners to be vested in Board of Guardians).


complained that the workhouse system as at present ad- ministered in Ireland led to the permanent pauperism of those who received relief, and was productive of much immorality. There was abundant evidence also to show that the health of the paupers was not properly attended to, and that the mortality in the workhouses, especially among children, was excessive. Scrofula prevailed in some of them to a greater extent than even in the worst parts of the towns. He owned that the condition of the workhouses in this respect was not so had as it was formerly, but there was still great scope for improvement. The Irish Poor Law, he maintained, had been a complete failure. It was enormously expensive, nearly half of the whole funds being absorbed in the expenses of the administration, yet the streets still swarmed with beggars. While 4½ per cent of the population in England, and 4 per cent in Scotland, received relief, the percentage was only ¾ in Ireland. The fact was that even the most destitute portion of the Irish population refused to avail themselves of the mockery of relief which the present law held out to them. The convicts, the prisoners, the insane were carefully watched over, but woe to the helpless poor who were sane and honest, for they had no friends. The time had come when an entire change in the Poor Law administration of Ireland was absolutely necessary. Such a change need not be accompanied by an increase of expense, for, judiciously administered, the present rates were amply sufficient. A small trifle of 1s. a week of out-door relief would give to many an opportunity of earning something by their industry, while it would amount to much less than their maintenance in the workhouse. The present workhouses, if outdoor relief were judiciously administered, might be reserved for hospitals. He trusted that the Secretary for Ireland would next year meet Parliament with a more humane and economical system of Poor Law administration, so that Ireland might be relieved from a system so discreditable to civilization and humanity.


concurred with the hon. Member in condemning the present cumbersome and inefficient Poor Law system in Ireland. If, however, the hon. Gentleman advocated a system of unlimited outdoor relief—[Sir JOHN ARNOTT: Except to ablebodied persons.]—the expense would be so tremendous that the whole of Ireland would be receiving outdoor relief. A more infamous system than the Irish Poor Law as it was now constituted was never foisted on any country. The English Commissioners were Englishmen; the Poor Law Commissioners for Scotland were Scotch: but, of the three Poor Law Commissioners for Ireland two were Englishmen, unconnected with the country either by feeling or property, and Protestants. The Irish Commissioner was a medical man, who did not take so prominent a part as the other Commissioners, and who took charge of the medical business. The result was that the Commissioners were so ignorant of the feelings of the people that they were involved in constant conflicts with the boards of guardians all over the country. The whole system was unadapted to the wants and feelings of Ireland, while the expenses of administration swallowed up almost all the money. He maintained that one of the Commissioners ought to be a Roman Catholic; but when Mr. Ball resigned, an Englishman unconnected with the country and a Protestant was appointed; the Commissioners removed all the Roman Catholics they could lay their hands on, and four inspectors, one auditor, and one Secretary were replaced by Englishmen. He wanted the Irish Members to insist upon a searching inquiry into the Poor Law system of Ireland. The Irish Poor Law Board, as at present constituted, was a disgrace to the country, and he hoped the Irish Members would unanimously press for a searching inqniry.


said, he had no doubt that the intention of the hon. Member for Kinsale (Sir John Arnott) was most humane; but he did not think they could discuss on the first clause of a Continuance Bill a question so wide as the hon. Member had opened. When it was said that the Poor Law administration of Ireland was a disgrace to the nation, the hon Member must remember that if it really were so, the local authorities and not-the Commissioners were to blame. He doubted whether the Irish Members would think the English system so verys uperior as to induce them to sanction a system of out-door relief. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Osborne) complained of the ruinous expense of the system. English gentlemen would be gratified to hear that the whole of the Irish Poor Law assessment did not exceed 8d. in the pound; while the medical relief, which was more abundant in Ireland than in any other portion of the United Kingdom, was represented by a rate of only 2d. in the pound. As far as expense was concerned, he thought economy had been the rule and not the exception. He certainly thought the Commissioners ought not to be exclusively Protestant, but there ought to be no reproach cast on the individual Commissioners on that account. He was aware that in the extremely interesting union in which his hon. Friend resided there were some disputes; but considering the great difficulty of introducing the Poor Law mechanism into Ireland, so far from speaking of the system as a disgrace, they ought to speak of its introducers, who were philanthropic men, in terms of kindness and respect. At an early period of this Session he received a deputation on this subject who asked for an Inquiry next year. He had offered to commence it forthwith, and on communication with the Poor Law Commissioners he found them equally desirous of an inquiry. If, then, the Irish Members were unanimous in demanding an inquiry next Session, they could have one, provided they would state at once the definite object of the inquiry. He thought that any comparison of the Irish Poor Law with the English would induce Irish Members to pause before they unsettled the present system in Ireland with a view to replace it by the English system.


said, that as to the merits or demerits of the Irish Poor Law system, he differed altogether from the hon. Member for Liskeard, who had a lawsuit with the Commissioners, and had come down to the House to attack them when they could not defend themselves. [Mr. OSBORNE denied that he had had any lawsuit with the Commissioners.] It was alleged that in the majority of the Irish unions the establishment charges were greater than the amount paid for the relief of the poor. The answer was that these workhouses were almost empty, and it followed as a natural consequence that the expense of the staff of officers connected with them was greater than the expense required for the maintenance of the few inmates. He contended that a system of out-door relief would be more in accordance with the circumstances of Ireland than the present system. This was the view of many of the largest proprietors and ratepayers. The practice of confining the relief to the workhouses in Ireland was productive of immorality, as was shown by the great increase in the number of illegitimate children in that country. Outdoor relief had been found by experience beneficial in Scotland, and equally advantageous to the ratepayer and recipient of relief, and it would be equally so in Ireland. That the existing system in Ireland worked ill was not because the Commissioners were Englishmen and Protestants, but because the principle upon which the Act was carried out was defective. The clause now under consideration would, as he understood it, continue the power of the Commissioners for two years, and he therefore moved an Amendment limiting the continuance to one year.


rose to corroborate the opinion stated by the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, that the Commission as now constituted did not command the confidence of any portion of the Irish people. He likewise thought that the modified system of out-door relief might be introduced into Ireland with advantage and economy. It was a curious fact, that while the relief was most inadequate, the expense of maintaining paupers per head was much greater in Ireland than in England or Scotland.


as chairman of a large union and conversant with the administration of the existing system, felt bound to declare that the charges made against the Poor Law system were unjust and unfair to the merits of a scheme which had done so much for the poor of Ireland in the time of their distress. All the attacks made upon it were based upon a period of prosperity, when the unions were nearly empty, except in the ease of the sick and the afflicted, and that was the reason why the diet in the Irish unions appeared to be higher than in England. He admitted that abuses had been committed, especially at the time of erecting the unions, but that time had passed away, leaving a debris, he admitted, in the shape of useless workhouses. But that was not the fault of the Poor Law system. He trusted the Committee would not interfere with the Government Bill.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2, (Guardians may admit any Poor Person requiring Medical or Surgical Aid in Hospital).


thought this clause should be omitted, and that the measure should be limited to a mere continuance Bill.


said, the clause would enable him to effect an arrangement by which the amount of establishment expenditure would be considerably reduced.

There was no new principle involved in the clause. It was merely intended to prevent a waste of money.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.


moved the insertion in the Bill of the following clause:— And whereas, by an Act passed in the 10th year of the reign of Her Majesty, c. 31, s. 10, it is provided that no person who shall he in the occupation of any land of greater extent than the quarter of a statute acre shall be deemed and taken to be a destitute poor person under the provisions of an Act passed in the second year of the reign of Her Majesty, c. 56, for the more effectual relief of the destitute poor in Ireland, or of the Acts amending the same; and whereas it is expedient that the said provision of the said Act should be repealed; therefore, from and after the passing of this Act, the 10th section of the said Act, passed in the 10th year of the reign of Her Majesty, c. 31, shall be and the same is hereby repealed.

Clause brought up and read 1°.


said, that although he was the author of the original clause, he had no wish to see it retained. It was framed and passed in order to prevent an inordinate pressure upon the guardians of the poor; but he fully believed that it had been accompanied with serious evils in time of famine. If therefore the hon. Member pressed the clause to a division, he should vote with him.


said, he was not in a position to oppose the clause.


warned the Committee against the danger of introducing a system whereby small farmers might be led to have recourse to the poor-house in times of distress, instead of depending on their own resources.


and other hon. Members, opposed the clause, on the ground that if it came into operation it would strike at the root of the self-respect of the small farmers in Ireland, inasmuch as after it passed into a law there would be nothing to prevent the occupiers of land in that country, to the extent of thirty or forty, or even a larger number of acres, from seeking relief in a poorhouse.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be now read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 84; Noes 53; Majority 31.

Clause agreed to.


moved the addition of another clause, enabling guardians to maintain orphans and deserted children out of the workhouse till the age of twelve.


complained that the honourable understanding, according to which this was to have been a mere continuance Bill for two years, had been broken. The right hon. Gentleman had not himself departed from the agreement, but he had evaded it by collusion with the hon. Member for the King's County. It was the last time he would be a party to any similar engagement with a Government.


said, the hon. Member ought to reflect on the meaning of the phrases which he employed before making use of them. All that he had undertaken on the part of the Government to do was to confine his Bill to two clauses, which he had accordingly done. After these wore carried, additions were proposed for which he was in no way responsible. Neither on that nor on any other subject had there been collusion between himself and the hon. Member for the King's County.

[Several hon. Members repeated the charge that the Government had evaded the understanding that the Bill should be a continuance Bill merely.]


replied, that as far as the Government were concerned the Bill was a continuance Bill only, limited to two clauses which had passed. The new clauses were not proposed by the Government but by private Members, without any collusion on the part of the Government.


moved that the Chairman do report Progress.

After further discussion,


suggested that the clause should be withdrawn for the present, and brought up again on the Report.

Motion for reporting Progress withdrawn.

Clause postponed. House resumed. Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.