§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
said, that the Bill the second reading of which he was about to move had nothing more for its object than to give an interpretation to a clause enacted by the Commons in the Irish Poor Law Act of last Session. In the House of Lords an Amendment was made which entirely altered the sense of the clause as it was passed by the House of Commons. The case was this:—A Committee which sat on Poor Law Relief in Ireland, in 1861, reported that there was no law of affiliation in that country, and they recommended that the law of Ireland should be made identical with that of England. An Amendment to that effect was proposed in Committee by his noble Friend the Member for Mayo, (Lord John Browne) and it was adopted. It consequently became imperative upon the Government to introduce a Bill upon the subject, and he (Sir Robert Peel) did introduce a Bill for the purpose of enacting that the law should be assimilated to that of England; but when it was presented to the House, it was not satisfactory to the majority of Irish Members, on the ground that it was not suitable to the condition of that country, and he was obliged to withdraw it. During the passing of the Poor Law Bill his noble Friend the Member for Mayo proposed that the Chairmen of Counties—that was to say, the assistant barristers—should be the persons to whom the boards of guardians should refer cases for the purpose of recovering the amounts which had been expended in the relief of the mothers and of their bastard children, and the House 266 on a division carried the Amendment by 111 to 11; consequently the House of Commons clearly sanctioned that arrangement. During the passing of the Bill through the House of Lords, an Amendment was carried, which distinctly changed the proposal of the House of Commons, and it then became necessary to consider the question in a different light. The clause which was passed in the other House was so badly drawn that it was impossible to act uniformly under it. Two Chairmen, those of Mayo and the King's County, considered that justices in petty sessions were entitled to adjudicate upon the subject, whereas the Law Officers of the Crown thought it was the duty of the assistant barristers to do so. That no doubt was the intention of the House of Commons, and therefore to give a clear and proper interpretation to the clause this Bill had been introduced, and he presumed there would be no objection to it.
§ MR. HENNESSY
said, the right hon. Baronet had truly stated that he could not pass his Bill of last Session owing to the opposition of the Irish Members; but he now wanted to pass that Bill under a new form. This measure was, in fact, the small end of the wedge. It was stated as a fact by Englishmen that the Irish women were more moral than the women of England, owing, as they believed, to the absence of a bastardy law in Ireland, which they considered gave encouragement to illegitimacy in this country. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the claims under the Bill of last Session fell to the ground, the magistrates not believing the evidence. Such a scene of perjury was never before witnessed in Ireland; and passing this Bill would increase that perjury and encourage the immorality to which the Bill was applicable, as such immorality had been encouraged in England by similar legislation. He would be happy to support any hon. Member who would move the rejection of the Bill.
said, he believed the Bill to be one of great public utility, and that it ought to be read a second time; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would meet those who objected to particular clauses in a spirit of fairness in Committee.
§ MR. GEORGE
said, the Members who sat upon the Select Committee had reason to be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the steps which he had taken to carry out their recommendations. Proceedings 267 before the Chairmen of counties, were, however, attended with considerable expense and delay, and he thought it desirable that the requisite powers should be given to magistrates enabling them to adjudicate.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.