HC Deb 05 July 1876 vol 230 cc986-95

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, the object of the measure was to limit the age up to which Boards of Guardians in Ireland might board out of the workhouse orphan and deserted children who should come under their care. The law up to the present time had been regulated by two statutes—the 25 & 26 Vict. c. 83, and the 32 & 33 Vict. c. 25. The 9th section of the first of the statutes enabled Boards of Guardians to board out such children with persons of the religion in which they were registered, until they had attained the age of 5 years, or, under special circumstances, 8 years. The 32 & 33 Vict. c. 25 repealed this section and extended the limit of age to 10 years. The Bill, of which he now moved the second reading, proposed to extend the age to 13 years. In England the limit was 16 years; and he had been much urged by authorities in England to adopt that age for Ireland. He admitted the advantage of uniformity of the law in this respect, and had he followed his own views he should probably have adopted that limit. But none of those in Ireland who had most experience—the Boards of Guardians to whose discretion the carrying out the law was left, had asked for an extension to 16 years, and he had thought it preferable that their views should be carried out. If in future it was necessary to advance beyond the age of 13, it would be open to any one to introduce a Bill. At present the age of 13 would satisfy the Boards of Guardians who had expressed their wishes on this subject. The object of the Bill was that children who would come under its operation might be gradually absorbed into the population, and not subjected to the stigma of pauperism throughout their lives. The policy of absorption could not be carried out so long as the age was kept as it was now, at 10;for it was a subject of complaint that in too many cases the children when they had attained the age of 10 were sent back by the peasants who had nursed them to the Union, and thus there was the risk of their becoming permanent paupers. Unless, therefore, these children were absorbed into the population by being boarded out longer than they could be at present, he was afraid they must look forward to seeing the street corners and the public-houses crowded with them, grown up into men and women, a burden both to themselves and to the parish. He was disposed to say but little as to the general utility of the boarding out system, since he thought that at the present day it was pretty well acknowledged. The children formed family ties, learned to make themselves useful in whatever occupation the peasant with whom they lived pursued, and became accustomed to the ways of the population amongst whom they ought to spend their lives. The experience of rearing children in the workhouses in Ireland was not a pleasant one. The contamination of the minds of boys and girls was terrible to think of, and this state of things existed in spite of all the care and classification they could exercise and devise. The only remedy in Ireland was boarding out. In England the difficulty was met by district schools set apart for the education and training of these children, though the feeling was that these schools had not been so successful as the boarding out system. In Ireland these children had to be sent to the workhouse school. The peasantry to whose care these children would be committed were sober and moral people who had the respect of their ministers of religion and of the landlord, and he held it would be to the interest of the persons who had charge of the children to educate them properly, feed them, and not overwork them. The system had been a great success in Scotland, and in parts of England the boarding out system had been used with great success. No doubt in connection with the system, so far as it was carried in Ireland, there had been abuses, but he did not wish to go into them—they could be guarded against, and if the Local Government Board desired further powers he should be very willing to grant them. But what he really relied on most was this—The English Local Government Board, in dealing with this question, had, he believed, made it a sine quâ non that wherever this system was introduced, there a committee of ladies should be organized, with visiting powers, for the purpose of seeing after those children. He looked forward with great pleasure to the time when ladies in the districts of Ireland where this system was in force would interest themselves about these poor children, as they could not fail to exercise a beneficial influence both over the children themselves and the peasants in whose house they were. There was no religious difficulty likely to arise in this case, because the Act provided that the children must be in the houses of peasants of the same religion as themselves; and if this local visitation of ladies should be carried out it might create a spirit of unity, concord, and kindness between the different classes, to which, unfortunately, in some cases they had been more or less strangers in Ireland. With regard to the question of mortality, the statistics showed that the mortality amongst children between the ages of 2 and 15 in the workhouses was three times the average mortality amongst those out of it. And as regarded the cost of boarding out children it was very much less than that of keeping them in the workhouse. Sir Charles Trevelyan had stated that in Ireland the average cost of boarding out was £7 6s., and of maintenance in the workhouse £13. The Bill had received a large measure of support in Ireland from Protestants even more strongly than from Roman Catholics. Magistrates, clergymen, men of letters, and Guardians had all written to him in support of the Bill—there had been no Petitions against it, while 20 Boards of Guardians had petitioned in favour of it. While such was the feeling of all classes in Ireland he trusted the House would find no difficulty in reading the Bill the second time. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading.


in seconding the Motion, said, he would not detain the House by travelling again over the arguments urged in the very able statement of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick; but he wished to take that opportunity of stating how gratifying it was for Members on his side of the House to support hon. Members on the other side on such measures as this, which had for their object the social improvement of part of the population of Ireland. He would be glad if he could more frequently join his hon. Friends opposite in passing Bills of this sort, and he could assure them it was conscientious motives alone which prevented them from co-operating more frequently in the measures they proposed. This Bill for the improvement of the social, and moral, and physical condition of orphan and deserted children seemed to him to be one that could not be opposed on its merits. It could not be denied that the State, standing in loco parentis towards children of this class, ought to fulfil, as far as possible, the duties of parents with tenderness and an anxiety that they should be well cared for. This result could only be attained by placing these children in the homes of the peasantry where their morals and health would be looked after. He could give a valuable illustration of the success of the system. In Ireland there had been for many years in operation a voluntary system for the care of orphans—he alluded to the Protestant Orphan Society. In every county in Ireland there was a Protestant orphan society, and in a great many counties, many years ago, institutions similar to industrial schools were built at great expense, in which these Protestant orphans were domiciled and taught trades. What happened? It was found from experience that the family ties and relations were so much more suitable for and conducive to the welfare of the children that these institutions were given up at great loss, and the children were now universally boarded out in the homes of the peasantry. In the county which he had the honour to represent the success that had attended this change had been most marked. He should have been pleased to have seen the limit of age extended beyond 13, but perhaps it was better in this matter they should advance by tentative steps.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. O'Shaughnessy.)


entertained a strong opinion that before long the age would be extended to 16 years. That was the age now adopted in England, in Scotland, and in America; and therefore they ought not to be guided by the local feelings of the Boards of Guardians so much as by the concurrent experience of those who had given most consideration to the question in these countries. He would remind the House that although there were many excellent reasons for continuing the system until the children attained the age of 16, the Act would not be compulsory; every case would depend on its own circumstances; all that was proposed was to give the Guardians power in proper cases to secure for the children a home until they were in a condition to support themselves. The age of 13 years was a dangerous one for sending children back to the workhouse, especially in the case of females, while if they could remain with the peasants for two or three years more they would be able to become independent by earning their own bread.


said, that although he was connected with one of the unions which had not adopted the system of boarding out, yet he had never been opposed to that system. But in his union the number of children in the workhouse was very small, and therefore it was differently situated in that respect from other unions in Ireland. Nor did he find that in their workhouses there was that mortality amongst the children which was said to occur in other places. This might be due to the fact of the large accommodation and airing grounds which were provided. As far as the principle of the Bill was concerned he gave his concurrence to it. He thought the age might well be extended to 13 years; but he saw no objection to 16 years.


bore witness to the very satisfactory manner in which the boarding-out system had worked in his county (Westmoreland). Children had been brought down to the country in an unhealthy state, and they had greatly improved both physically and morally. Respectable families would not take girls from workhouses as domestic servants, but they would take boarded-out children without hesitation.


added his testimony to that which had gone before from both sides of the House, and strongly maintained the necessity for the adoption of this measure. For himself he wished the limit of age might be, if it were found reasonably possible, extended to 16, because he believed that the moment the feeling of workhouse life was broken off, and directly the child was made independent of workhouse ideas, he was placed on the lowest rung of the ladder of social life, and was in a fair way of becoming, at least, a respectable member of society.


said, he would hail with great satisfaction any extension to Ireland of a system which had worked so well in England and Scotland. From his experience when he was Secretary of the Poor Law Board he could testify to the enormous benefit conferred by the boarding-out system upon the child population of the workhouses. Ophthalmia and other contagious diseases which characterized the children in those days disappeared, and the workhouse taint was removed. But in extending the system in the way proposed he would caution the authors of the Bill that the whole value of the system lay in the regulations that would be imposed to prevent the danger of the children being farmed out. In the early days of the system in England there was great danger lest some scandals should arise in its administration and cause a reaction and an alienation of the public mind from a good plan. No foster parent should be allowed to receive beyond a certain number of children, and organized supervision should secure that the regulations were carried out. He was opposed to the extension of out-door relief, but he did not regard this as out-door relief in the ordinary acceptation of the term. His belief was, that the boarding-out system would do more to prevent permanent pauperism than any other method which could be adopted.


briefly supported the Bill. The system had been carried out with good results in his county (Fermanagh).


considered the supervision of the children sent out a most important point. He regretted that the existing powers of the Poor Law had not been more generally acted upon. In his own union not more than two or three children within a long period had been sent out: the Guardians had taken the precaution to obtain from the relieving officer a report upon the state of the children, but they found that more supervision was required. He was not satisfied that the sending out of the children was an advantage to them in the way of education, for the system of education in the workhouses of Ireland was as admirable as could be devised, and the Reports of the Inspectors gave great praise to the Guardians and the teachers. He hoped the Government would not pledge themselves to extend the age of 16. At present numbers of children were taken out at the ages of 13, 14, and 15 for various purposes who earned 5s. and 6s. a-week. If they were to be paid for up to 16 the ratepayers would soon become dissatisfied. Therefore, he thought it was wise on the part of his hon. and learned Friend not to go beyond 13 years.


said, he thought the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, in moving the second reading, had taken very proper ground in pointing out the difference between the principle on which his Bill was based and that contained in the Act 25 & 26 Vict. The 9th section of that Act contemplated the improvement of the provision for infants and very young children that would be effected by their being intrusted to the care of foster parents, instead of being brought up in the workhouse. That statute limited to the age of five years the discretion which the Guardians could exercise as to boarding out, and it was only with the consent of the Poor Law Commissioners that the system could be extended up to the age of eight. But by the Act of 1869 the discretionary power vested in the Guardians was extended—without any opposition, so far as he could learn—to children up to the age of 10. That change was made with the same object and on the same principle as the Bill before the House—namely, not only with a view that the children should be more healthily brought up, and that the mortality among them might be reduced, but also that they might afterwards remain in the homes of their foster-parents and never return to the workhouses. This was the principle which the hon. and learned Member sought to affirm and extend by the present Bill, and, so far as the principle of the measure was concerned, he was prepared to assent to it on behalf of the Government. The question, however, as had been pointed out by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. A. Peel) and the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) was not without its difficulties. The system of boarding out was an excellent one if conducted in accordance with proper regulations and under proper supervision; but it was also liable to dangerous abuses—dangers to the child, to the ratepayers, and to the Poor Law system. In the first place, it was necessary to guard against the dangers that might arise to the children themselves. The hon. Member for Warwick (Mr. A. Peel) referred to what had been done in England. At the time the hon. Gentleman was Secretary to the Poor Law Board this question occcupied a considerable amount of public attention in England, and in 1870 the Poor Law Board accepted the principle of boarding out pauper children, subject to most careful regulation. The Board issued an Order containing such regulations, providing that in all cases where the Guardians of Unions adopted the system a boarding-out Committee should be appointed to supervise its execution, and that such Committee should consist of persons not deriving any pecuniary or personal benefit from the boarding out of the children. The regulations provided what children should be boarded out, before what age the Guardians should not be allowed to commence boarding out, a limit in the number of children to be boarded at any one house, an undertaking to be signed by the foster parent for the proper care and nurture of the children, and also providing for that important element, the education of the child, referred to by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. M'Carthy Downing); providing also that no more than 4s. a-week should be paid to a foster parent for a child, that no child should be boarded out more than a mile and-a-half from a school, nor more than five miles from the residence of a member of the committee; and that he should be visited not less frequently than once in six weeks by a member of the boarding-out Committee. The regulations for the government of the Committee were minute and excellent, and the principle of the present Bill having been accepted, it would be necessary to guard its application in Ireland by similar regulations—he did not say precisely identical—to be framed by the Irish Local Government Board; because otherwise not only would there be the danger of the children not being properly treated by those with whom they were placed, but there might be also a danger which would be aggravated by the suggested extension of the limit of age from 13 to 16 years—namely, that the ratepayers by making a weekly payment to certain persons for the maintenance of children old enough to be able to work for themselves, would, in fact, be giving a bonus to the foster parents, and enabling them to procure the labour of children at a cheaper rate than others; and in the case of children of the age of 16 might amount to giving out-door relief to persons able to earn their own living. Therefore in assenting to the principle of the Bill, he must not be supposed as assenting to the idea that the age should be extended to 16. On first considering the matter he had some doubt whether the age of 12 would not be sufficient, for that appeared to be the limit of age contemplated by the regulations in England. He readily assented to the second reading of that Bill, but trusted that the hon. and learned Gentleman would postpone the Committee for a few days so as to afford time for him to look carefully into the law on the subject, and suggest amendments in the Bill, enabling the Local Government Board to frame such regulations as were desirable.


said, he had come down to the House, understanding that the Bill might be opposed, and he felt that there was a strong case in its favour. He was glad, therefore, to find that there was only one feeling upon it—which was not surprising after the full and able manner in which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had brought the matter forward. One advantage of the measure which had not been dwelt upon since the opening speech was that it was not only desirable that the children should be absorbed in the general population, and have the advantage of being brought up free from the stigma of pauperism, but also that the Guardians who were their natural protectors should not lose control over them at so early an age as 10. That was itself a strong argument in favour of the age of 13. He hoped the Bill would be read a second time, as it met a real evil. He would suggest, with a view to expedite the matter, that the hon. and learned Member who had charge of the Bill should communicate with the Chief Secretary, in order to insert in the Bill a clause relating to the drawing up of regulations by the Local Government Board of Ireland. He thought there was a good deal to be said in favour of the limit of 16;but if the Bill was to get through this Session it would be well for its authors to accept the age of 13 at once.


said, that the authors of the Bill would be ready to insert a clause providing for the drawing up of regulations. In respect to the remark of the hon. Member for Warwick (Mr. A. Peel) about allowing only a limited number of children to each parent, the Guardians of the Dublin Union never allowed more than two to be taken by one person. It would also be necessary to have a regulation absolutely requiring the attendance of such children at school, a certificate of such attendance being imperatively required in order to obtain payment for each child. Also it would be most advisable that there should be official visitors other than the relieving officer. The suggestion that the medical officer of the district should periodically visit and report upon the children was a most valuable one, and it would be well if volunteer inspecting committees of local ladies and gentlemen were formed under the Committees of the Boards of Guardians. On the subject of age he was glad that the Government had accepted 13, as he had a fear that 12 would be pressed. In the purely agricultural districts of Ireland he admitted that the children would be kept by the peasantry at the age of 12 without payment; but in that case the school attendance would be instantly stopped, and the child would be made to work every day in the year. On that ground, therefore, he thought it necessary to retain the age at 13. He wished to corroborate what was said by the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) as to the advantage which had been experienced in Ireland from the visiting of the children by volunteer committees.


urged the importance of pushing on the Bill this Session. He could confirm all that had been said as to the excellence of the boarding-out system; and if the Bill was not passed speedily a great many children would have to return to the workhouse, whom the remaining out would greatly benefit.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday next.