§ Order for Second Reading, read.
§ MR. M'MAHON
in moving that the Bill be read a second time said, it was an exact copy (except as to dates) of the Bill introduced in 1866 by Mr. Serjeant Barry the present Solicitor General for Ireland. The object of the Bill was to extend to Ireland the principle of the Union Chargeability Bill of England passed in 1865. It was desirable that the House should at once understand that the Irish people did not want to have any experiments made upon them. They desired to have either the old English Law of Settlement and Removal, or the new English Law of Union Charge-ability. The reason why it was essential that they should have one or the other of those things might be very briefly stated. The first Poor Law Relief Act for Ireland was passed in 1838. As it passed the House of Commons it created union rating and union settlement; but in the House of Lords that had been changed into the monstrous principle that—divisions of unions having been adoped for the purpose of electing guardians—the board of guardians should charge against the electoral division a portion of the expenses of every person relieved who might be stated on the register kept by the master of the workhouse to have been resident within the electoral district, and unfortunately 310 the Government of the day did not feel it to be their duty to resist the alteration made by the House of Lords. Practically that Act did not come into operation until 1841, because the workhouses were not opened until 1810, and the principle of out-door relief had not been adopted in Ireland; but so gross was the injustice of the system as provided by the Bill that it was found unendurable; and in the year 1843 the law was modified, so that no person was deemed to have been resident unless, during the eighteen calendar months preceding his application for relief, he had occupied some tenement, or had usually slept for a twelvemonth within the electoral division; and if he had not, the union became chargeable instead of the division. That, however, had been found far too short a time, and in 1847 something like a satisfactory rule of settlement was adopted, and the law was altered so as to require a three years' tenancy, or thirty months' sleeping within the electoral division. But even the scant regard shown for the sufferings of the poor by those who had evicted large numbers of them, and who sought to get rid of all responsibility of contributing to their relief by driving them into the towns, was outdone by the new proprietors who came into possession of the land under the Incumbered Estates Act of 1848, so that in 1817 an Act had to be passed to make it a penal offence to unroof an inhabited house. They sought only to clear their estates. The poor rate, which was enormously high in many parts of the country, was a real terror to proprietors, and it was therefore found desirable to get rid of the settlement created by the Act of 1847. Accordingly, in 1849, an Act was passed which reduced the settlement qualification to sleeping or occupying a tenement in an electoral division within twelve months before application was made for relief. The operation of that change from that time down to the present had been to cause a general outcry and complaint, and was one of the main causes of the demand now made for union rating. It had encouraged the landed proprietors to clear their estates; and the poor people who were evicted, having no other refuge, had crowded into the towns, and, of course, when overtaken by age and sickness, had to be taken into the workhouse. At New Ross, the borough which 311 he represented, it was the custom for the landlords to clear out before the twelve months had expired. In fact, what happened in New Ross, happened also throughout the country. It had been the practice of many of the landowners to supply these poor people with the means of subsistence for a twelvemonth after coming into the town, and then the very day they had obtained a settlement to withdraw their help, and send them to the workhouse. Ever since 1849 the charge upon the towns had gone on increasing, until now it had become unendurable. The continual appeals for redress at last had led to the appointment of a Committee, in 1861, to inquire into the operation of the Poor Law in Ireland and the administration of Poor Law relief. But that Committee was formed of ten county against four borough and city Members; and as the system into which they inquired was one under which the country was benefited and the towns suffered, it was hardly necessary to say that the result of their deliberation was unsatisfactory. The Committee declared that it was not advisable to alter the law from divisional to union rating. All the county Members, with only one exception, voted this way; the borough Members voting in the opposite direction. The only alteration effected by the Act of 1852, founded on the recommendation of that Committee, was to raise the qualifying period of residence from one year to two. This change was not effectual to prevent the evils complained of; the surplus population was still cleared off the land and crowded into the towns, and in due time became chargeable to the rates. In New Ross, the rating, which, in 1842, was only 5d. in the pound, had. risen to 6s. 2d. in the pound. In the Union of Clifden, in Galway, in which there were nineteen parishes, it was found that the township paid one-fourth and upwards of the whole rates, and instead of the eighteen rural electoral divisions being equally assessed with the town, as was the case a few years back, they now paid but 6d. in the pound or a little more, whereas the electoral division of Clifden paid 5s. 6d. or more. He had received numerous letters from correspondents stating the like results in other places. There had been a continual succession of experiments made in Ireland, each more ruinous than another. It had been said that Irish Members 312 should manage their own matters as the Scotch and the "Welsh did, in which cases the English representatives did not interfere except by way of assent. But he would remind the House that while the county and borough Members in Wales were just equal in numbers, and those in Scotland nearly so, the Irish Members were unequally divided, the county Members numbering sixty-four against thirty-nine of the boroughs, so that the popular party were unable to assert their claims with success, and they were therefore compelled to appeal to the English and Scotch Members for redress. In illustration of the hardships of the present system, he would mention that one electoral district near New Ross, where the poor rate used to be 3s. 4d., did not now pay a farthing, while, as he had said, the rate in the borough had risen to 6s. 2d. Another evil caused by the present law was that hardly any labouring men were now to be found within some of these electoral divisions. These poor men had to live in the towns. They walked to and fro from the place where they were at work; they were thus tired and worn and could not give a fair day's work; their wives and daughters, also living in town, could not learn the dairy work or the ordinary work performed by women about a farm; and the consequence was that, instead of a surplus of population, there was a deficiency, and a great demand both for male and female labour. In short, by unjustly forcing the labourers into the towns the evils produced were greater even than those which had existed in this country. He trusted that both English and Scotch Members would be cautious before opposing the Bill. Nothing unreasonable was asked in it. All that the representatives of the Irish people asked was to have union rating, or at least the old Law of Settlement and Removal as it existed in England, which would speedily lead to union rating.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Mahon.)
§ MR. BRUEN
Mr. Speaker, the hon. and learned Member who moves the second reading of this Bill has detailed to the House grievances and sufferings of the poorer classes in Ireland, under what he alleges to have been the action of a Poor Law passed in 1849, the pro- 313 visions of which he complains he admits were repealed by an amendment effected in 1862, so that it appears to me he is dealing with hardships not now existing, and which no legislation can now affect. He offers to us in his speech an alternative remedy, either union rating, or the old Law of Settlement and Irremovability of England. But as the Bill before the House chooses the first of these, union rating is the only subject with which I have to deal. His Bill is unpretending and simple in appearance, but conceals under that guise changes which, if adopted, would produce great and prejudicial effects in Ireland. The Bill proposes to alter the area now used for the purpose of taxation under the Poor Law—to substitute the whole union as the area of uniform rating for the electoral division. It is evident that this will increase in some and reduce in others the burden of taxation, which the ratepayers already bear; therefore, the interests of the whole of the ratepayers in Ireland will be touched. It is alleged by the promoters of the Bill that pauperism will be reduced by it, and we admit that it will have an effect on pauperism, but whether to increase or reduce it, is at least a matter of doubt. Thus, it is evident that the measure will affect the interests of all who pay rates in Ireland, of the class that receives relief, and that comprises pretty nearly the whole of society in Ireland. Now, I say at the outset that a question involving such great interests—one on which such a difference of opinion exists as to its probable re-results—ought not to be brought forward when we are absolutely without information founded on statistics as to its effect upon different districts in the country. There is not an owner of real property in Ireland who will not have his burden of taxation altered, and it is the barest justice to those who are called on to suffer loss by the operation of this Bill—and they will be by far the largest class—to give them an opportunity of estimating the extent of that loss before the question is decided; and this can only be done by examining the Returns moved for by me and granted by the House, and which have only just been laid on the table, but not printed yet. Secondly, I object to a measure of this importance being in the hands of any unofficial Member who, whatever be his talents, his industry, his earnestness—which we 314 must all attribute to the hon. and learned Member—cannot command the time and opportunity for discussing the matter completely and deliberately. When the physical impediments of time or want of time can be opposed, it is a weapon perfectly constitutional in the hands of those who hold strong conviction on any question before the House, but I protest against the degradation which a great question involving policy and justice must suffer when the time necessary for its discussion is wanting, when the issue of it is governed by time as well as proof. In the present case there is a great deal to be said for and against the Bill, which has never been argued before to any extent, and what time has the hon. Member for all this necessary debate? Why, every Wednesday up to the 30th of June is occupied, and Wednesday is his only day. Lastly, I object to the introduction of this measure, so large, so important, at a time when men's minds, in the House and out, are occupied and distracted by the consideration of even a greater question; and on all these considerations I appeal to the hon. Member to withdraw the Bill and let us proceed to the discussion of the next subject on the Paper to-day, which is of much interest to English Members, and in which there is some chance of progress. My appeal not being successful, I must say I object to the title of the Bill as conveying a wrong impression. Any person reading it would suppose we had a system of exclusive electoral division rating. We have no such thing: we have union rating in Ireland in so far as it can be usefully applied. By a Return of the Poor Law Commission I find that out of a total of £841,286 spent under the administration of the Poor Laws, £329,700, or 39 per cent, was raised by a union-at-large rating, while £389,621, or only 46 per cent, was raised by electoral-division rate, the balance being dispensary district charges, levied neither on the union at large nor on the electoral division, but on the dispensary district. The fact is we have a Poor Law system which is not in extreme; it combines what is useful of union rating with what is good of division rating. The constructors of our system, and those who from year to year have jealously watched its working, have all wisely determined to recommend to require to give a motive for local supervision. I oppose this Bill because 315 it would supplant a system combined and therefore adaptable to a variety of circumstances, by a system rigid, contracted, and tending towards centralization instead of encouraging individual action and responsibility. I do not believe that such a violent change would be the best way to remedy the inequalities of the poor rate which the hon. Member alleges to be unjust, and which, if he can prove them to be unjust, ought to be remedied. Now, Sir, we are asked to adopt union rating in Ireland as the exclusive system, because it has been adopted in England, and this argument rests on two grounds—first, that the change has been beneficial to England; and secondly, that it would therefore be beneficial in Ireland. Has the change been beneficial in England? I speak on this point with great hesitation, not having practical acquaintance with its working there; but I doubt that the system adopted only four years ago has had time to develop its real effects, and if so it is premature to recommend it to us; but so far as it has gone, what can we judge of its working? By the Report of the Poor Law Board I find that the rate of expenditure per head of the population was 6s. 3¾d. in 1856, and was regularly reduced until 1860; then came the cotton famine, and for three years the rate rose. In 1865, it stood at 6s. per head; in 1866, the first year of union rating, it rose to 6s. 1¼d.; in 1867, still further to 6s. 6¼d.; and I am informed on the best authority that in 1868 it was still further increased. I find the same results when I consult the table of the percentage of persons relieved to the population, and I am obliged to conclude that union rating has not acted beneficially here, in the interests of the ratepayers, or in the reduction of pauperism. We are not authorized then to assume that union rating has been a success in England; but even if it had, can we argue that it would therefore be so in Ireland? This turns on two questions. Are the circumstances of England and Ireland alike as regards pauperism; and were the laws of the two countries before the proposed change the same? and I think we must answer in the negative to both these questions. The circumstances of England and Ireland as regards the sources of pauperism are not identical. England has scattered over her surface in every part great industries, attracting large 316 masses of the working classes, and such masses have always attending them a fringe of poverty, sickness, decrepitude,—even in prosperous times a heavy weight—but when prosperity is low, a burden on the poor rates almost overbearing if of local incidence, and in that case too causing discontent because unequal. This is not the case in Ireland, for, with the exception of three or four large towns and the linen districts of Ulster, where the rates are not heavy, the Irish population is dependent on agriculture, and there are no great industries with their great populations of the working classes; and I assert that the inequalities of taxation, are not great and glaring, as they were in England before 1865. The hon. Member for New Boss (Mr. M'Mahon) has given to the House instances of the inequalities of taxation in New Ross; he has stated that the poor rate struck on New Ross division last year was 6s. 3d. in the pound. I venture to say that the rate is a fallacious guide. You ought to take rather the expenditure for the year for relief of the poor, and I find that by a Return just issued, under the authority of the Poor Law Commissioners, the expenditure for relief of the poor in New Ross district in the year ending September 1868 was 4s. 11d. in the pound, so that the hon. Member may congratulate his constituents that their high rate of 6s. 3d. was either payment of their debts, or will leave them a balance next year. The hon. Member has also mentioned other instances of inequalities of the poor rate. Now, I have taken from the Poor Law Commissioners' Return just mentioned these facts—There are in Ireland 3,438 electoral divisions; of these, there are only two that have expended 5s. and upwards in the pound for the year ending September, 1868, and there are only forty-two which have expended 3s. and upwards in the pound, so that the balance 3,398 electoral divisions have expended a sum provided for by a rate of less than 3s. in the pound. The smallest charge is 5d. in the pound, and that is applicable to only two or three electoral divisions in Ireland. I assert that these high rated divisions are exceptions too few in number, too unimportant in character, to warrant so great a change over a whole country, where, as a whole, the Poor Law system is working smoothly and equally. The inequalities of rate quoted cannot compare with the in- 317 equalities that existed in England prior to the change of 1865, and which led to it. I find that then in Bedfordshire the highest rated parish paid 4s. 0¼d. in the pound, the lowest ¾d.; in Berks the highest parish paid 3s. 8Ŕd. in the pound, the lowest 1d. In Bucks the highest 5s. 9¾d., the lowest ¼d. in the pound; in Wilts the highest paid 9s. 10¾d., the lowest a ½d. in the pound—a difference of 49 per cent in the parishes which lay near each other. These figures show that the provisions of the Poor Law in force in England before union rating were not the same as now exist in Ireland. As I stated before we have union rating, for though I have been unable to obtain the relative numbers of paupers supported by union rating and by electoral-division rate through the whole of Ireland, I can give the House a sample of the whole, by the facts in Carlow Union where, out of a total of 4,208 persons relieved in the year, 1,043 were relieved by a union rate. The English system then, prior to 1865, was an extreme, and when change came, as usual the change was to the opposite extreme. Our Poor Law system of more modern construction, formed on more moderate principles, does not present the anomalies, the insupportable inequalities which led to the change of 1865 in England. I think, then, that the argument, that we ought to adopt union rating in Ireland, because it was adopted in England, is inconclusive, as the cases are not parallel. We must consider the question then on its own merits as applicable to Ireland, and we are told that the effect of the present system is to drive the labouring classes into the towns; that those interested in the rates in the country divisions combine to drive away their poor in order to avoid the liability of supporting them. But do they avoid this liability by so doing? By no means. The hon. and learned Member has already admitted that by the Amendment Act of 1862 the division is liable for any relief given to the poor people for two years after they have been removed from it. And it is evident that under union rating the division would be liable to only an infinitesimal portion of that relief, whether the poor were removed or not. The obvious remedy to the evil alleged would be to lengthen the period of chargeability. But I must give my testimony, as far as my part of the 318 country is concerned, that the accusation is not founded on fact. On the contrary, new labourers' cottages are being built, old ones repaired and improved in answer to the requirements of the farmers. I cannot think, too, that this charge of general eviction of the working classes and driving them from the country to the town is consistent with the testimony of the Poor Law Commissioners, who, in their Report for the year 1867, call attention to the great advance of the population in the last eighteen years in increased comforts as regards their food, their clothing, and their dwellings, and cite as best evidence of this improvement their comparative freedom from epidemic disease—a test which would not be forthcoming if the poor were driven in crowds into the towns. Such authoritative evidence must contradict the charge of wholesale or frequent eviction, and if no such compulsory movement takes place, the conclusion founded on it, that the country ought to support the pauperism of the towns, falls to the ground. I do not deny that a gravitation of the working classes to the towns has taken place—but it is a gravitation perfectly voluntary. The labourer finds he cannot get employment in the country, because the repeal of the Corn Laws has made stock-farming more profitable than tillage, and stock-farming does not employ labour. The country does not drive the labourer to the town, but the town attracts him by offering employment, but that employment is irregular and intermittent, consequently there are recurring seasons of poverty, distress, and high rates. I do admit that there is in this taxation for the relief of the poor and for the other purposes for which it is levied a great injustice and inequality; but I venture to say that the hon. and learned Member has been, in his search for the causes of and remedies for this inequality, too narrow in his view, too contracted in his efforts, he has been looking and working inside the basis of the tax; he ought to have gone outside. We must admit that all industries attract the working classes. They attract their weakness and poverty as well as their strength. You cannot get one without the other; these industries all make their profit by the strength of the working classes, but they do not all help to support their weakness. The tax for the relief of the poor is now levied almost exclusively on 319 houses and land, and no doubt those who derive their income and property from industries connected with houses and land ought, as the law compels them, to support the poverty and weakness of the working classes, through whom they make their profits; but the inequality and injustice is that the law does not impose the same obligation on those who derive their income and property from industries in which the working classes are equally employed, to which they are equally necessary. Their strength is taken but their weakness is not supported. Hence we find that in the towns where there are many industries besides those connected with houses and lands, equally attracting labour, attracting therefore poverty, the burden of supporting that poverty falling on one description of property, falls on it with unequal and galling weight. I venture to suggest to the hon. and learned Member, that if he would direct his talents and industry to enlarge the basis of the Poor Law taxation, instead of merely trying to alter the boundaries of the district within which it is levied, he will strike at the very root of the difficulty—he will remove the inequality of which his clients complain, and he will confer a benefit not only on a few towns in Ireland but on the kingdom. Believing that the Bill now before the House falls far short of these desirable objects, and that the remedy offered would be worse than the disease alleged, I move that it be read a second time on this day six months.
§ MR. KNIGHT
said, he would beg to second the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen). It was sufficiently proved by the experience of England, from the time of Elizabeth downwards, that the principle of large areas of chargeability for Poor Law purposes could not be successfully carried out. In all cases in which it had been tried it had broken down. Petty sessional divisions had been tried and failed, and it was only when the areas were restricted that the law was efficiently and economically administered. The Irish Poor Law was established in 1838; and when the Bill passed the House of Commons it contained the principle of union rating. When the Bill got to the House of Lords, however, the Duke of Wellington succeeded in striking that principle out. The Commissioners who had the forma- 320 tion of the Poor Law system in Ireland—finding that they could not have union rating—determined to have district rating, and they established all over the South West of Ireland larger areas than the unions of England. In about nine years, when distress came upon the country, it was found that these large areas were perfectly unworkable; and a Commission, presided over by Colonel Larcom, upon investigating the matter, reported that they found the North and East of Ireland in a better condition than they did the South and West—and they attributed this better state of things to the fact that one portion had smaller electoral areas than the other. Parliament had had to retrace its steps on three occasions and to reduce the large areas of rating. After that experience he was sorry to see the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. M'Mahon) bringing in a Bill to virtually restore the old state of things. They had already had reason to know that in England the union experiment of 1865 was a complete failure. Everyone knew that since union rating had been established the rates had been rising. Poor Law Guardians had told him they did all in their power to keep the rates down, but nevertheless they were rising. The reason was that when the rates were confined to one parish everything was done to keep down the rates, and there was an effort on the part of capitalists to employ the able-bodied men rather than allow them to go to the poorhouse; but now all this inducement to local supervision and care was gone. Instead of 15,000 parishes, each with a local staff, whose chief object it was to keep down the rates, they had some 500 or 600 unions, and every parish endeavoured to get a pull at the union fund. This was the reason for the rise of rates, and those rates would continue to rise till the large areas were put an end to, and he believed this would be done within the next ten years. That this was the case in Ireland also was plain from a letter from an Irish Poor Law inspector to Sir James Graham, in 1847. The following was the rise of rates in England since the passing of the Union Chargeability Act of 1865. In that year the poor rates were £6,200,000; in 1866, they were £6,400,000; and in 1867, they were £6,900,000. For the last two years the amounts were not before the House, but it was well known that in each they 321 had been steadily rising. The rate in 1867 was larger than it ever had been before in England. Taking into account the expenses of the General Board it was greater than in the year 1832, when it was said that the whole of England would be eaten up by the poor rate, and when the cry arose that led to the new Poor Law Act. What should be done, he thought, was to adopt the principle of the two Bills of 1847 and 1849, when a rate-in-aid was charged on the union whenever the rate chargeable on the electoral division amounted to a certain sum—say 1s. 3d. per pound. That, he contended, was the intention of the Poor Law of Elizabeth, and they would have to fall back upon it in England. The area of chargeability should, as near as possible, be the neighbourhood where rich and poor were intimately acquainted with each other—the area of natural charity. Chargeability on any other area was impossible.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words '' upon this day six months."—(Mr. Bruen.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SYNAN
said, he hoped the suggestion he had to make would be accepted by both sides of the House. The question was a most important one, and was not to be dealt with by hasty legislation. There could be no question that a grievance did exist; the point was, what was the remedy to be prescribed. The Bill before the House pointed to only one remedy; but the people of Ireland were not by any means unanimous as to the remedy, and he was not satisfied, and would not be satisfied without further evidence that this remedy was the right one. The Bill was backed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing); but he (Mr. Synan) observed that the Farmers' Club pointed to a remedy altogether different. He agreed with the proposition of the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Mr. Knight), that areas might be too large; but he did not adopt his other principle, that they could not be too small. His hon. Friend who brought forward the Motion (Mr. M'Mahon) said that evictions were taking place now as in 1848 and in 1858, and that the poor were driven from the country to the towns, but his hon. Friend 322 had not brought forward any statistics as to the increase of the town population. The grievance had arisen from two causes—the peculiar Poor Law legislation which had been applied to Ireland, and the exceptional circumstances of the country. Those who framed the Act of 1838 did not foresee what had occurred. According to the operation of the present law, from 60 to 69 per cent of the Poor Law expenditure was charged upon the union, and from 30 to 40 per cent on the electoral districts. His hon. Friend said he wanted a Law of Settlement in Ireland; but that would only increase the evil. Under the Act of 1838 there was no Law of Settlement or Chargeability, and that defect operated as a premium on eviction. That was found a great grievance. It was partially remedied by the Act of 1843, but not sufficiently to operate as a preventive and check. Then came the unfortunate famine of 1846, when the House legislated in a panic and made the unions and electoral divisions too small. They should endeavour to avoid both extremes—making the areas too large, and making them too small. In his opinion a rate-in-aid was the best remedy that could be applied to the existing evils connected with the Irish Poor Law system, and he was therefore in favour of the adoption of the principle of the English Act of 1859. He desired to see the matter investigated by a Select Committee, as they would be able to decide whether the end in view could be best obtained by this Bill, or by other means. He saw insuperable objections to the adoption of what was called a national rate. He did not see how they could administer a national fund by a local board. The late Mr. Senior gave his opinion against union rating, and Mr. Briscoe, who was likewise an eminent authority, had given evidence of a similar character. He was deeply interested in the settlement of this question, and he hoped it would be settled on an equitable and permanent basis.
§ MR. KAVANAGH
said, that he supported the Amendment of his hon. Colleague (Mr. Bruen), that this Bill be read a second time that day six months, because he thought the subject of union rating was merely a portion of that far larger question of national taxation which was so ably brought before the House a few weeks ago by the hon. 323 Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), and because he held that the principle of this measure was unjust unless it were considered in conjunction with that larger question. He understood the First Lord of the Treasury to promise on that night that, when other questions which he regarded as of more importance had been disposed of, the attention of Her Majesty's Ministers should be directed to the consideration of that subject. When that occurred he hoped that the taxation of Ireland in that respect would not be excluded from their deliberations. He was quite aware that this subject of national taxation was not now before the House, and he would not, therefore, further refer to it than by saying that, in his opinion, it was a very great injustice that landed property alone was held liable for the relief of the poor. So far as he could gather, there were three main arguments used in support of the principle of this Bill,—first, that the principle had been adopted in England, and should, therefore, be applied to Ireland; secondly, that union rating would remove the encouragement which electoral rating held out to landlords to clear their properties of the labouring classes, lest they should be taxed for their support; and, thirdly, that the high rates on town electoral divisions, as compared with rural electoral divisions, was mainly due to the influx of the pauper population so cleared off the estates of the landlords. With respect to the first argument, his hon. Colleague had sufficiently disposed of it; but he must be allowed to say that it was with no small surprise he heard this argument used by hon. Members opposite, whose general cry was that no analogy existed between the two countries, and who claimed legislation of the most exceptional sort for Ireland. Without going further, he need only refer on this point to the Irish Church Bill, and to speeches from hon. Members opposite about the Irish land question. As regarded the second argument, he would say that if it were applicable in times past it was not so now. He could not remember the year 1838, when—or in 1839, he believed—the Poor Law Act came first into force in Ireland; nor could he, from his own personal knowledge, say much about the famine or those terrible years that succeeded it. 324 He believed, however, that it was dire necessity, and not the landlords, that drove the people into the towns from the rural districts. They fled from their dwellings, where pestilence was rife and starvation stared them in the face, into the towns, where food was to be had. He had both heard and read the accounts of those who were engaged in endeavouring to alleviate the sufferings of those unfortunate people, and from them he gathered that the difficulties they experienced arose, not so much from want of money as from the almost impossibility of conveying the food to the starving multitude who were scattered about. The natural consequence was that the survivors flocked into the towns and workhouses, where the food was to be obtained. But he thanked God such was not the present state of affairs, and he firmly believed that, so far from this argument being now applicable to Ireland, the present tendency was for landed proprietors to build dwelling-houses and encourage labourers to settle on their estates, for in many places the want of labour had begun to be seriously felt. The third argument was a consequence of the second, and if the one were not applicable, the other, which was based upon it, could have no force. For argument' sake, however, he would admit that an increase in the rates of a town electoral division was caused by the influx of the labouring class to obtain employment. If such were the case, he would ask, was not the very temptation which the town afforded these people to come into it a very substantial proof of its comparative prosperity? Did the town owe none of this prosperity to the district in which it was situated? Was it not the centre of trade to that district, the market where the produce of the land was sold, the mart where the occupiers of the land obtained their different supplies by which the trade of the town was created and maintained? Did the inhabitants of a town possess no advantages over the country farmer? Was not the value of his property in the town electoral division enhanced by its situation to an extent more than sufficient to counterbalance the high rating he complained of? The clearest way to come at the truth of this was to analyze the two cases. Suppose a man living in a town electoral division to be owner of three 325 acres of land, representing a value in the Ordnance valuation of £2 per acre, for which, on account of its vicinity to the town, and its consequently increased value, he received a rent of £3 per acre, and suppose that the poor rates which he had to pay were at the rate of 4s. 6d. in the pound on his Ordnance valuation, amounting to £1 7s. on his three acres. Then, on the other hand, suppose another man in a rural district, also the owner of three acres, of exactly the same description and quality, with an Ordnance valuation of £1 per acre, liable to a poor rate of 1s. 2d. in the pound on that valuation, amounting to 3s. 6d. on his three acres, and that he received a rent of £1 10s. per acre. Which of the two men would be in the best financial position? The town man would receive out of his three acres a net annual income of £7 13s. The rural man out of his three acres would receive a net annual income of £4 6s. 6d. The town man, therefore, after paying all these high rates—and 4s. 6d. in the pound was a very high rate—would be a richer man by £3 6s. 6d. annually than the rural inhabitant, independent of other advantages—and they were many—which the owner of land in the vicinity of a town possessed over a country farmer. These were not exceptional cases got up for the occasion, but simple facts that had come under his own notice during the fifteen years he had been connected with the Board of Guardians in the borough (New Ross), for which the hon. and learned Gentleman was Member. Was the town, then, he would ask, only to enjoy the advantages of its position, and not be responsible for the drawbacks consequent upon the mixed nature of its population, and which was by no means due to the influx of paupers from the country? No one who had any knowledge of these matters would attempt to deny that there were other causes of these higher rates, with which the rural districts could have nothing, either directly or indirectly, to do. He was sorry to say that the great social evil occasioned in many town electoral divisions an important item in taxation. Again, if the town were a seaport, a class of people quite distinct from the rural element flocked in, and by sickness or other causes became dependent on the rates. Two special cases had been quoted as argu- 326 ments in favour of the principle of this measure. One was the town of Dungarvan; the other that of Gorey. In both cases only a small stream divided the town electoral division from the rural, and in both of them it was known that a migration of paupers did occur, and by merely crossing these streams became chargeable to the town divisions. But he maintained that these two cases were merely questions of boundary, and ample power existed in the hands of the Poor Law Commissioners to set these matters right. He had, he thought, said enough on the subject of town versus rural electoral divisions, and he would now, in a very few words, refer to what he regarded as a no less important consideration—namely, the relative; positions of the rural districts themselves. In some electoral divisions there were mines, and why should they impose a tax on the other divisions for the support of the paupers coming from the mines? He might remark that he did not think that implicit reliance could be placed in all cases upon the returns as to the rates in certain districts. The hon. Member for New Ross had stated in his speech that some years ago there was a poor rate of 3s. 6d. in the pound charged upon the rural electoral division of Ballymurphy, while at the same time on the town electoral division of New Ross the rate was only 10d. in the pound. He was not in a position, speaking from memory only, to question the correctness of the statistics which the hon. Member had quoted; but, as the proprietor of that electoral division of Ballymurphy, of this he was certain that he had never applied to the Board of Guardians of the New Ross Union to relieve him from that high rate by placing part of it upon New Ross or any other electoral division in the union which was, in fact, the principle of the measure now before the House. Suppose an electoral division owned by an absentee landlord, who never looked after the poor upon his property, never tried to give them employment or to ameliorate their condition, and that this electoral division had consequently become swamped by a large pauper population, who had come upon the rates for their support in the way of out-door relief, and thereby increased the rating of that division to double that on another division in the same union, where a resident 327 landlord had looked after his people, built them houses, and perhaps often pinched himself to keep them in employment and keep them off the rates. Now, was it fair that the latter should be taxed for the shortcomings of the former? The effect of this Act, so far as rural divisions were concerned, would be to make proprietors careless about the condition of their poor, inasmuch as they would cease to be individually responsible for their support. The opinion of the Duke of Wellington had been already quoted, and it was useless to repeat it. But of this he was convinced that a union rating Act would tend to increase the indiscriminate granting of out-door relief, which was a very dangerous principle when carelessly administered. When the taxation ceased to be local, and was therefore only indirectly felt, a feeling of mistaken charity, or a desire of obtaining popularity, might oftener influence a guardian in obtaining out-door relief for those very little poorer than some ratepayers who might be taxed for their support. It would also tend to make many guardians careless about attending. What was everybody's business was nobody's business, and it would end by putting increased expense upon the union by necessitating the appointment of paid guardians to carry on the business. He had great pleasure in supporting the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, he agreed in much which had fallen from the hon. Member who had just spoken, and who had shown so much knowledge of this question, and so much power of dealing with it; but he did not agree with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that the House ought to set aside the whole question of union rating, or any other means of mitigating the acknowledged evils which union rating was expected to remedy, until they were prepared to go into the whole question of the national taxation of the three kingdoms. The time had come when they should make up their minds as to whether the system of union rating should or should not be extended to Ireland, or whether any other means should be devised to meet those evils which this Bill was meant to remedy. His object in rising was not to go into the merits of this question, but to state the views of the Government on this Motion. 328 The course which he ought to take seemed to him to be very clear—namely, to support the Amendment of which notice had been given by the hon. Member for the county of Limerick (Mr. Synan) that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. This was a case in which inquiry was eminently called for. There was a certain presumption in favour of the Bill, arising from the fact that similar legislation had been adopted in this country. Until it was shown that the circumstances of the case as between the two countries were utterly dissimilar, there was a certain presumption that a reform which had been found to work well in England would also be found good in Ireland as a remedy for the same class of evils. It would not be denied that very great and startling inequalities did exist between the rating in different areas of taxation in Ireland. It was admitted by the Select Committee of 1861 that there was a grievance on the part of the town electoral divisions of Ireland, and they recommended as a remedy a change in the Law of Chargeability, which was extended to two years' residence. That change had not, however, remedied the inequality, but had left the facts very much as they were in 1861, the only alteration being a diminution of 1 per cent in the rates of the town electoral divisions. The ill success of that change was an additional argument why the House should undertake a further inquiry into this subject. It had been truly said that the inquiry in 1861 was insufficient. If he thought it had been a sufficient inquiry he would not now be a party to imposing the labour of a Select Committee upon hon. Members or himself, upon whom, as an official, it would fall more heavily than upon anyone else. Very scanty evidence was taken on this subject, so much so that the head of the Irish Poor Law Board (Mr. Power) was never asked a question on this matter of union rating. The differences of opinion upon it were very great and natural, and that was another reason why Irish representatives of all views, assisted as he hoped they would be by English Members, should inquire thoroughly into the matter. He would not now go into all the pros and cons of union rating. It was probable that both the good and evil of chargeability on narrow areas had been exag- 329 gerated, but the examination of a Return, obtained three years ago by Mr. Sergeant Barry the present Solicitor General for Ireland, would show that the inequalities in Irish rating were very serious indeed, and imperatively called for inquiry. From that Return he found that in 1865 the 165 town electoral divisions had 19,000 paupers charged upon them, while the whole of the remaining electoral divisions of the country had only 21,000 paupers charged upon them. And what was the difference in valuation? The town electoral divisions were valued at £2,700,000, while the other divisions were valued at £10,200,000. He believed that thorough inquiry, by a carefully selected Committee, would clear up many difficulties and uncertain points, and would put both the Government and the House in a fair way to devise a remedy.
§ MR. DOWNING
said, that as the representative of a large agricultural county (Cork), and having been for twenty-six years vice chairman of a Poor Law Union, he felt justified in offering an opinion on this Bill. He had always held that the rating of electoral divisions was a mistake, and experience had confirmed this opinion. It was unfortunate that this question of rating had been made a question of town against country. If he were to vote according to his interest he should vote against this Bill; but he should vote according to his convictions and against his personal interests. He must say he was disappointed at the way in which the Chief Secretary for Ireland had met the question, because he thought that when a grievance was admitted a remedy ought to be supplied as speedily as possible. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Return obtained by Mr. Sergeant Barry. From that Return it appeared that the population of the rural districts of the Province of Munster in 1841 was 2,435,297, while, in 1861, it was reduced to 1,528,877. The town electoral districts of that province in 1841 contained 499,000 people, and in 1857 their population had increased to 560,000. So that while the rural population had declined nearly 1,000,000, the town population had increased by 61,000. What had become of these persons who had crowded into the towns? Only a few had found their way to America, because they were too poverty-stricken to find the means. 330 In 1865 the valuation of the town districts was £696,414, and the number in receipt of relief from them was 6,484; while the valuation of the other districts was £2,700,000, and the number in receipt of relief from them only 6,381. That state of things ought not to be allowed to continue. The Select Committee would do nothing this Session, and it would not be until next Session, or the Session after that, that any legislation would be attempted. A great deal had been said as to the increase of local taxation in England; but it was not pecular to this country, for in Ireland the local taxation had increased year after year. Last year the poundage rate was 3s. 10¾d. in England, while it was 3s. 11¼d. in Ireland. In the Dungarvan district, with eighteen electoral divisions, and with a valuation of £53,000, there were 353 paupers, and 226 of them were charged to that division which contained the town of Dungarvan, that division having a number of paupers in excess of the whole of the seventeen other divisions. The Union of Skibbereen, with which he was specially connected, presented a similar inequality, and the town of Skibbereen was much more heavily taxed than the other divisions of the union. The annual average amount of the rate in Skibbereen during the last ten years had been 3s. 7d., while its average amount in the adjoining division of Freelands had been only 1s. 3d. in the pound. In one division the rates were 1s. 4d. in the pound, while in another, only three-quarters of a mile distant, they were 4s. He begged to remind the House that numerous Petitions, emanating from some of the most influential Boards of Guardians in Ireland had been presented in favour of the; Bill under consideration, and that he had presented one from the Fermoy Union, which might be called a model union. He did not believe that if union rating were adopted there would be less active supervision over the rates. In very many cases at present the tendency was not so much to inquire whether the applicant was deserving of relief as to prevent his being charged to particular electoral divisions. With that object the applicant was cross-examined like a witness at Nisi Prius by every guardian who was present, with the object of gutting him charged to any district other than his own; whereas, if union rating were 331 adopted, there would be a more impartial investigation, having for its object to discuss whether the application was one which ought to be entertained. In this matter Ireland should be treated as England had been, and he hoped that this measure would receive the support of English Members, and that his hon. Friend who had charge of the Bill (Mr. M 'Mahon) would press it to a division, and lose it, if need be, placing the responsibility upon the quarter where it ought to rest, rather than disappoint the just expectations of the people in Ireland. For his own part, although the constituency which he represented might be divided in opinion, the matter was one upon which he felt bound to state his convictions, and he should therefore vote for the Bill. The hon. Member having read extracts from the report of a discussion by the Killarney Board of Guardians on the subject of the Bill, referred to a case where people "had been driven off the land;" and, with a view to render it compulsory upon them to seek refuge in the towns, the tenantry upon the estate of one nobleman were warned that if they gave even a night's shelter to any of the dispossessed persons they would themselves receive notice to quit. In these circumstances a young lad applied for shelter to his uncle on one inclement night, but was told that if he entered the house the uncle and his six children would themselves become wanderers, "as there were parties watching for his land." The young lad slept that night in a ditch, and the following morning he was dead. This was a case resting upon sworn testimony. The parties were tried before Chief Baron Pigott; it was proved that the agent to the nobleman on whose estate this occurred had served the notices; and Chief Baron Pigott declared it to be a disgrace to the country that such a circumstance should have occurred. The fault was not that of the nobleman, who was no other than the amiable Marquess of Lansdowne, grandfather of the present possessor of the title. The agent, however, was Mr. Stewart Trench, author of the work called "The Realities of Irish Life," which might with much more truth be called "The Romance of Irish Life."
§ MR. W. H. GREGORY
said, he had been treated in the course of the debate by the hon. Member for Cork very much as the Judge was said to have 332 treated a particular counsel—"You need not trouble yourself to say anything, Mr. So-and-so. I know exactly what you are going to say and I will show you where you are wrong." He had not opened his lips in the present discussion, and as to anticipations based upon arguments he had formerly used, with the rapid changes of opinion which were going on all round him, it was rather hard that he should be held responsible for opinions uttered two year a or even two months ago. Upon the present occasion he wished to act as a peacemaker and to take a middle course. Strong animadversions had been passed already upon the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Synan) who wished to act in a similar spirit, and he felt that he could not expect to escape; but he was comforted by the knowledge that peace-makers, if they did not attain their reward in one place were sure to do so in another. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland said he would accept the proposal to send the Bill to a Select Committee. But by referring it to a Select Committee the House would be, to a certain extent, affirming the principle of the Bill, a principle with which the proposer of that reference declared that he did not himself agree. In his (Mr. Gregory's) opinion the Government were inverting the proper course. They took for granted that the grievance had been proved. Let the grievance first be made out, and when that had been done, let a Select Committee decide on the remedy. At the present moment, when what the First Lord of the Treasury himself had described, as "the tremendous question" of the Irish Church was before the House, it was hopeless to expect that the merits or demerits of the system of rating in Ireland could be calmly investigated. The grievance, however, if there were a grievance, was one which had long existed, and its existence was as strongly denied as it was forcibly asserted. All parties, therefore, would really be in a much better position if it were understood that the question, as a whole, would be taken up and thoroughly investigated by a Select Committee at the beginning of next Session. He thought it possible that, in some of the comparisons which had been instituted, the disproportionate rates might be accounted for by the extent of the super- 333 vision given by landlords in the different districts; the poor in one electoral division were really cared for, and in another had been comparatively neglected. Sir James Graham expreseed his approval of small unions and electoral divisions in Ireland as securing close supervision and diminished expenditure; and the Boundary Commissioners had reported in the same sense. Mr. Gulston, Poor Law Commissioner, showed that the eastern unions and electoral divisions of Ireland were, as a rule, superior in management to the western divisions, inasmuch as the latter were of much greater size. In Scotland, also, not only were the areas smaller than in Ireland, but there was much greater care of the poor. Remarks had been made as to the composition of the Committee of 1861. and it had been suggested that its Report should be thrown aside as valueless. But the fact was that that Committee comprised no less than three men who had filled the Office of Chief Secretary for Ireland, and others who were well acquainted with the country. The decision of a body so composed was entitled to the greatest weight. The hon. and learned Mover seemed by his language to lament that the Law of Settlement did not exist in Ireland. A considerable advance had been made in Ireland. and in England in that respect. There was chargeability but no settlement. And God forbid they should ever revert to a barbarous and retrograde system, which oven in England was being gradually shaken off. It must not be for-gotten that the area of rating in England was totally different from that of Ireland. The average extent of the English unions was 56,000 acres, while that of Irish unions was 124,000 acres, and the average English parish contains 2,500 acres, while the average Irish parish contained 6,000 acres. Under these circumstances, the great objection that applied to the English parochial system of rating did not apply in the same manner to Ireland. There were no close parishes and no Law of Settlement, nor could there be such a thing as a close electoral division. The hon. Member for Worcestershire (Mr. Knight) contended that the existing system in England had failed, inasmuch as the rates in this country had largely increased. But that increase in the rates was due to an exceptional cause— 334 namely, the great depression of trade that had existed during the last two years. He (Mr. W. H. Gregory) denied that in Ireland of late years there had been a gravitation of the labourers to the towns. No doubt that was so twenty years ago, but such was not the case now. If union rating were established in Ireland, it would give power to bad, improvident, and cruel landlords to evict their poorer tenants at once and make others pay the penalty for their misconduct, while the present system of electoral division acted as a check upon landlords of that character. A landlord would hesitate now ere he ejected a family, knowing they would probably be for many years, if not for all time, a charge on his electoral division. If they were thrown on the union his liability would be infinitesimal. Hon. Members might point to the disproportion between electoral districts, but it was not greater than that between adjoining unions. This disproportion between unions had led to the advocacy of a national rate. He deprecated their being led in the direction of a national rate, which in Ireland would produce the most serious mischiefs. In the evidence given before the Committee in 1861 it was shown that there had been a great increase of pauperism in the large towns, as compared with rural districts, which accounted for the increase of rates. Thus in the city of Cork in 1861 out of 1,058 paupers in the workhouse, only 207 came from the rural districts; and out of 996 in the town of Limerick, only eighteen came from the rural districts. That was the evidence given before the Committee of 1861. If this Bill passed, the management of many unions would fall into the hands of a small town clique, and the administration of the law would suffer. He opposed the principle of the Bill upon the ground—first, that it would afford a direct premium upon eviction; secondly because he believed that it would do away with the excellent supervision which was exercised by the farmers who were guardians; and thirdly, because it would occasion the children, who in the electoral districts were now taken out of the pool-houses and brought up by the farmers, being left in the workhouse of the town, where they would grow up confirmed paupers, and remain a permanent burden upon the rates. All these reasons led him to hope that some more 335 satisfactory means than that proposed by the Bill would be found to alleviate the condition of the towns. He had no objection whatever to the system of a rate-in-aid, and if the hon. Member would next Session move for a Committee to inquire generally into the subject of rating, he should not be unwilling to support the Motion.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he desired to make one remark on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The question before the House must be decided by the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, and not by the rules that applied to England. The subject was one which demanded an expression of opinion from Her Majesty's Government. There was considerable difference between the mode in which the question of union rating had been treated in England and in Ireland. In this country the question had been fully considered by a Select Committee in 1861, and it was not until 1865 that a Bill upon the subject was carried after very formidable opposition; but, with respect to Ireland, not only had the subject not been inquired into by a Committee, but the Government had declined to express any opinion on the matter further than that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland appeared to show a preference in favour of the system of union rating as against that of a rate-in-aid, by giving his support to the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, he had not stated that he was in favour of the system of union rating. He had most distinctly stated that he should support the second reading of the Bill with a view to its being referred to a Select Committee, so that the subject should be inquired into with regard to Ireland, as had been the case with regard to this country.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he had always understood that a vote in favour of the second reading of a Bill was equivalent to a vote in favour of the principle of the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman was anxious that the subject should be inquired into, why had he not moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject, instead of taking up one side of the question without inquiry by supporting a Bill which had been introduced by those who were desirous of relieving their constituents 336 of a burden which pressed peculiarly upon them? It was put forward by those supporting the Bill that it was intended to be a step in the direction of assimilating the laws of Ireland on this subject with those of England. That argument was a very weak one. Had the system of union rating been so successful in England as to render it desirable to extend its operations to the sister country? In 1865 he was one of those who strongly opposed union rating. Since the introduction of that system into this country there had doubtless been an increase in the rates, and the amount of chronic pauperism. How far this increase was owing to that system it was difficult to say; but it had certainly operated as a hardship upon the smaller agricultural parishes whose rates had been increased without any corresponding advantage accruing to the towns or their unions. He hoped that the question of local taxation in all the three kingdoms would shortly be considered, and meanwhile he trusted that before the debate closed the House would have a definite opinion upon the present question from Her Majesty's Government. He should certainly oppose the second reading of the Bill, although willing to assent to the whole subject being inquired into.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, he hoped his hon. Friend the Member for New Ross (Mr. M'Mahon) would accept the proposal of the Government as made, and not as qualified by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory). If the whole question were referred to a Select Committee, the responsibility of bringing in a Bill dealing with the subject would be thrown upon the Government. It was unfair to charge the Government with committing the House to a division upon the principle of the Bill, when their object in supporting its second reading was merely to institute an inquiry into the matter. If the Bill were referred to a Select Committee within a week or ten days, the Report would be laid upon the table before the end of the present Session, and the matter would be ripe for the introduction of a Government measure early next Session.
§ LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
said, he had no objection to a fair inquiry, but he did object to commence that inquiry pledged to the principle of union rating. He should feel it his duty to oppose in 337 every way the second reading of the present Bill, which proposed to introduce that system into Ireland. Before the second reading of the measure was agreed to the House should be satisfied that the existing system of rating in Ireland had failed, and that the proposed system would be effectual in putting a stop to the evils complained of. In his opinion, neither of those two propositions had been made out. All the authorities on the question were opposed to the proposition of the hon. and learned Member. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had alluded to the Committee of 1861, but he ought to have gone farther back, and to have referred to the Boundary Commission, which had gone into the whole question, and had re-cast the whole districts of Ireland with regard to rating. They had not recommended any departure from the original instructions to the Poor Law Commissioners in 1838. He denied that there was the slightest analogy between the old system in this country and the system which existed in Ireland. In none of the Annual Reports was there to be found any recommendation of the measure proposed by the hon. and learned Member for New Ross (Mr. M'Mahon). He denied that the hon. and learned Member represented the popular view in Ireland on this question, or that any case for legislation had been made out by hon. Members who had supported the measure in the course of that day's debate. It was simply a case of town against country. ["Divide!"] In answer to the hon. Members who cried "Divide," he said the subject was so important a one that he felt bound to go fully into it. The Petitions which had been got up on the subject were of the usual stereotyped character. It was remarkable that not one word was said on behalf of the poor. In fact it was the rich man who lived in towns that the hon. and learned Member for New Ross (Mr. M'Mahon) wished to relieve. [The noble Lord then entered into a minute criticism of the various assertions made in a Petition favourable to the Bill.]
§ And it being now a quarter before Six o'clock,
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.