HC Deb 14 February 1862 vol 165 cc339-43

, in moving for leave to bring in a Rill to amend the Laws in force for the Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland, said that the Irish Poor Law Code consisted at present of the Act 6f 1838, the Amendment Act of 1843 (which related to matters of detail), the Act of 1847, and the Act of 1851, commonly called the Medical Charities Act. In the year 1860 his predecessor in office (Mr. Cardwell) introduced a Bill, which was referred to a Select Committee, consisting of Irish Members, representing the most important borough and county constituencies. The evidence taken before that Committee was of great importance in reference to any amendment of the law. The Committee of last year agreed to fourteen Resolutions, of which five were favourable to provisions contained in the Bill of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell), seven suggested new points of legislation, and two related to matters within the province of the Commissioners themselves—namely, moral classification and provision for religious worship—points which had since been dealt with in conformity with the spirit of the reccommendation. The others of these Resolutions had been attended to in the Bill which he now proposed to introduce. The first and most important clause in the Bill proposed the repeal of "the Quarter-acre Clause." In neither England nor Scotland did any similar restriction exist, and the Poor Law Commissioners informed him that the guardians in Ireland now discharged their duties so satisfactorily that such a regulation was no longer necessary. His own limited experience in Ireland led him to believe that great benefits would result from this relaxation of the present system. Another highly important clause provided for the admission of persons not destitute to workhouses for medical and surgical treatment; and the Commissioners declared that this would form "a most valuable addition to the present Poor Law system." It was at one time thought that such a clause, which likewise bore the stamp of previous recommendation, would interfere with the county infirmaries. But Irish gentlemen knew well that the area of these infirmaries, which were mostly situate in towns was supposed not to extend beyond a circuit of ten miles from the establishment itself. This Bill would enable guardians to do for internal patients what the medical charities now did for external patients. A third clause gave power to relieve orphan and destitute children out of the workhouse, in accordance with the recommendation of three successive Governments, confirmed by the resolution of the Select Committee of last year. It was found impossible to rear and educate children of tender age in workhouses; of those under two years of age the mortality in workhouses amounted to 47 per cent, while out of doors in the same class it was only 16 per cent. In a medical as well as a moral point of view, this modification, therefore, was urgently required. The relieving officers would be intrusted with the care of the children, and it had been as- certained that the expense of maintaining them out of the workhouse would not exceed £5 a head yearly—about the same amount which would have to be paid for them if they were brought up, at the risk of their lives, within the walls The Government had not altogether decided to what age children ought to be allowed to remain out of the workhouse. The Poor Law Commissioners thought five years the proper limit, whereas the Select Committee fixed the period at twelve.

The right lion. Baronet then moved for leave to bring in a Bill "to amend the Laws in force for the Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland, and to continue the power of the Commissioners."


said, in England the Poor Law Commissioners regarded persons of 15 years of age as children, and the great mistake of their legislation with re spect to Ireland in the Poor Law Department was, that they had for Ireland a code which, in its most important particulars, was the reverse of what prevailed in England, lie thought they ought to take the age of the children in Ireland at 15 years.


said, that if the time were extended beyond five years, the children would never die. He objected to a measure that would increase the rates, which in his own city amounted to 2s. 6d. in the pound.


proceeded to say that in his opinion he thought the age named by the Poor Law Commissioners would he most suitable, but he did not wish to press on the House a point which could with more advantage be settled in Committee. The only remaining clauses to which he would call attention were those limiting the number of proxies for the election of Poor Law Guardians which might be held by any one person to ten, to be held for a period of ten years; and those which continued the powers of the Commissioners for two years.


said, the measures of the right hon. Gentleman so far had merited the approval of Irish Members; but he would be pursuing a retrograde policy if he adopted five years as the limit to which children could he maintained out of the workhouse. In I860, the House, by a majority of 92, declared itself in favour of twelve years as a limit; and he thought, when the Bill which he bad introduced came on for discussion, he could show reasons why fifteen years would be a still better standard. The English Poor Law was a generous system, looking mainly to the relief of the poor; but in Ireland those who administered, or rather those who made the law, had ni03t prominently before their eyes the ratepayers who were to be affected by the measure. The result was that in England the Poor Law alleviated and averted distress, and such misery as now existed in Ireland would not be even felt, much less talked of in this country.


could assure the House that the Boards of Guardians in Dublin were averse to the plan of sending children out to be reared. Either living or dead, these children would be charged to the Union during the entire of the term for which they had been sent out. The system would therefore lead to frauds. He should remind his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the King's County that the circumstances of this country were very different from those of Ireland. There were, and had always been, more destitute poor in Ireland; and in Ireland more advantage was taken of the Poor Law, go as to obtain relief from the ratepayers, under circumstances that never would be contemplated or sanctioned in England.


said, that the opinion of witnesses from all parts of Ireland, as stated to the Select Committee, was that the existing law gave sufficient power to guardians in Ireland to give outdoor relief in cases where it out to be afforded. The abolition of the quarter-acre clause was, in his opinion, fairly open to discussion; but, whether it was continued or repealed, the guardians must be the best judges as to whether destitution really did exist. He trusted the power of rearing destitute children outside the workhouse was intended to be a discretionary one, and that it would not extend to children beyond the age of five years. The substance of the evidence taken on that point by the Committee was, that the discretionary power should be confined to the cases of children not exceeding that age.


observed, that Dr. Phelan, the Most Rev, Dr. Cullen, and other witnesses, had given strong evidence for out-door relief. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Dublin that the people of Ireland were more anxious to avail themselves of Poor Law relief than those of England. Statistics quoted by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) a few nights before showed; the contrary to be the fact the per- centage of those receiving poor relief in England was much larger than that of those who received in Ireland.


was in favour of an extension of medical relief, but would not wish to see the proposed power of rearing destitute children outside the house extended to the cases of children beyond the age of five years.

Leave given,

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir ROBER PEEL, MR.CARDWELL, and Mr. VILLIERS,

Bill presented, and read 1o.

House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock till Monday next.