HC Deb 16 May 1876 vol 229 cc837-45

, in rising to move that the system of Poor Law Rating in Ireland should be assimilated to that of England by the adoption of Union Rating, said, that in the Bill which introduced the system of electoral divisions that area was fixed for the purpose of electing Guardians. It was intended that the electoral division should be applied only to these administrative purposes; that it should have no bearing on the incidence of taxation, and that the poor rate should be raised from the Union. The Bill passed this House in its original shape. It was altered in the Lords, and the substitu- tion of the division for the Union as an area of taxation was agreed to by the House as a temporary arrangement, to be abandoned in favour of the old plan at an early opportunity. What he now sought was to have the alteration of the area of taxation from the division to the Union carried out. The present system inflicted considerable hardship, particularly upon large towns and cities. The effect of the present law was that the rural poor were driven into the streets of the towns, which had once been the seats of industry. Thus the burden of maintaining the poor was thrown upon the towns, which could ill afford to bear it. One result of the present law was that at certain seasons the farmers were compelled to resort to the towns for labourers either to till their fields or to reap the crops, and as soon as this work was done the men returned to the towns, whose rates were expended in their maintenance. In the North of Ireland there were some few towns in which the industries carried on afforded employment to the labouring poor when they were not engaged in agriculture, but the number of such towns was small, and, as he had said, they were confined to one part of the country only. The Resolution which he had proposed sought something more than the application of Union rating as between town and country. It would involve an application of the principle as between different rural divisions. A particular district might be taken and an imaginary line might be drawn in it, and on one side it would be found that the rate was 1s. in the pound and on the other side 6d.; on the cheap side would be found few labourers and little poverty, while on the other would be found a good many labourers and a great deal of poverty. In the city of Limerick the rate was 3s. in the pound, while in a district, a short distance outside, the proportionate charge was only 1s. 8d. Whatever could be said in favour of union rating in England could be said with reference to Ireland. It was alleged that the adoption of union rating would throw the rate over such a large surface that the motive in favour of economy would be lost, and that it would be impossible for the Guardians to supervise a large district such as an Irish Union. But it was necessary to take into account not only the extent of the Union, but the value of the property to be taxed. This question was one which had been frequently introduced to the attention of the House, to whose attention it had been submitted by Mr. Barry and by Mr. M'Mahon. The question had been considered by a Select Committee, and all the leading officials, English and Irish, gave their opinions in favour of the change. Whatever course the Secretary for Ireland might take, he (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) hoped he would put before the House some definite scheme; and if that scheme was a wise one, and could be quickly passed, the Session could not be considered barren with reference to Irish interests. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the system of Poor Law Rating in Ireland should be assimilated to that of England by the adoption of Union Rating."—(Mr. O'Shaughnessy.)


said, they had had considerable experience of Union rating in England, and they discovered that the argument which the country party brought forward against the adoption of that system—namely, that it would throw the rates on so large an area that all motives to economy would be lost—was well founded. Since Union rating had been adopted they had had a period of prosperity so great that pauperism ought to be almost extinct. The wages of labouring men had been raised from 10s. to 15s. and in many cases much higher. The exports and imports of England had increased 70 per cent; employment had increased, and the position of the poor had been greatly ameliorated. But what had been the result of adopting Union rating? In the 10 years before its adoption the annual expenditure for the relief of the poor was just within a fraction of £6,000,000, but since its adoption the annual expenditure had risen to £7,600,000. The increase occurred in this way—Suppose a small English town was in great distress, the burden of supporting its poor was thrown on the Union. But before Union rating was adopted, employers in that town, when the rates rose high, would employ their workpeople for two days in the week to keep them off the rates. The principle of Union charge- ability had been previously tried three times in the history of our Poor Law system, and it had always failed. Now that it was being tried for the fourth time, it would break down again as soon as any real stress was put upon it. They had lately had such a period of prosperity and high wages as to render a Poor Law almost unnecessary; but that state of things could not be expected to last. It would most probably be followed by hard times; and then, under the system of Union chargeability, their expenditure on poor relief would not only increase by £1,600,000, as it had already done, but by thrice that amount. The system had now failed in England again; but in the present instance they did not see the demoralization that would have been witnessed if it had not been for the extraordinary increase of wages and of employment and cheap bread, though, in spite of that, the rates had increased more than 25 per cent. In desperation, the Guardians were now trying to do what had signally failed before—namely, to cut down all out-door relief. The Chartist riots that occurred in 1837 were the result of the attempt to stop out-door relief. The present Prime Minister's beautiful political work called Sybil showed what England was reduced to by four years of a determined effort to stop out-door relief. They should in 1865 have maintained parochial chargeability for ordinary times, and when any particular parish fell into great distress they might have resorted to Union rating for a rate in aid. Under the present system the whole duty which the Guardians used to perform with the greatest care was now thrown on the relieving officer, and nobody paid any attention to the expenditure. He recommended that a Union rate should be granted only when a parish was in great distress and the rates were abnormally high.


opposed the Motion, which, if adopted, would only introduce a theoretical and not a practical assimilation between the areas of rating in Ireland and England. He asserted, moreover, that the system of Union rating had not worked well in England, and the hon. Gentleman who had spoken last had borne out that statement. It had a tendency to encourage a very extravagant administration of out-door relief in England. He objected to destroying in Ireland the interest which the Guardian now had in watching over the expenditure in his electoral division and promoting economy. No doubt there were some towns in Ireland where the existing system operated unfairly; but out of the 3,438 electoral divisions there were only eight cases of distinct hardship. It would be unjust and inexpedient to raise the rating of 2,980 divisions in order to relieve eight of an undue burden. To those places he was willing to afford assistance, and he, with his friends, had devised a plan which he hoped would give satisfaction. Its main principle was a rate in aid for affording relief to those electoral divisions whose taxation for in-door maintenance and clothing of paupers was disproportionately excessive as compared with the rest of the union. They proposed to exclude expenses incurred for out-door relief. He hoped that at the proper time they would have the assistance of the Chief Secretary in putting this scheme before the House. He must oppose the general application of Union rating to the Irish electoral districts.


said, if such terms were to be offered by the Government he should reject them, for they would only give relief to eight towns in Ireland; and such a proposal would be a mockery. He contended that the Union rating system was successful in England, and ought to be applied to Ireland. The hon. Member for Worcestershire (Mr. Knight) had stated that the increased poor rates in England were due to the action of the Union Chargeability Bill, but he could scarcely accept this view of the question. The increase had been caused by the enhanced price of food and clothing, the system of out-door relief, and the additions which had been made to the salaries of the officials whose duty it was to administer the Poor Law. The fact was that the expenditure in England had fallen off considerably during the last 18 months. It was true that in many cases Boards of Guardians in Ireland had petitioned against the adoption of Union chargeability; but these were urban Boards which would be closely affected by the adoption of the principle, and he was not aware that any other public body in the country had taken a similar course. He inferred that two years ago the Chief Secretary for Ireland was in favour of Union rating for in-door relief at least, and he challenged the right hon. Baronet to defend the anomalies of the present system, under which exceptional burdens were unfairly thrown upon some electoral divisions. If they were to have equal laws, why should they not give Ireland the same law of rating as existed in England?


, in supporting the Motion, said, he could not refrain from expressing his opinion that ever since the Famine in Ireland, the boroughs and towns, and even the small towns, had had very much to complain of from the inundation of those towns by paupers from the rural districts. He remembered the time when a neighbouring country gentleman had landed five boatloads of evicted tenants—making, with their families, a total of between 200 and 300 persons—in the town which he represented (Galway), and the greater number, after vainly struggling to live by their industry, were obliged to resort to the workhouse. Similar instances might, he believed, be found in other parts of Ireland. He denied that Sir Thomas Larcom could be regarded as an authority on the Poor Law system of Ireland. The testimony of Sir Alfred Power was of much greater value, and he declared that the Irish Poor Law did not work fairly towards the towns. The Chief Secretary for Ireland could not make a greater mistake than by adopting the plan of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh), while the scheme shadowed forth by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) would be a fair and equitable compromise. He believed that for the welfare of the country districts, as well as of the towns, a wise compromise on this question would be come to if out-door relief were made an electoral division charge, and indoor relief a Union charge.


said, when he addressed the House on this question two years ago he commenced his remarks by observing that hon. Members who had not studied the subject would naturally suppose that Union rating in England and Ireland were the same thing. The question in the two countries was totally different. Unions in England averaged 55,000 acres; in Ireland, 125,000. In Ireland electoral divisions, on which about 40 per cent of the poor rate was now levied, were made for the special purpose not only of the election of Guardians, but of being the ordinary area of rating. The English parishes, on the contrary, handed down from ages long gone by, were areas with every kind of anomaly and variety, and were very much smaller in average extent than the electoral divisions in Ireland, which were, on an average, something like 6,000 acres. Moreover, the complaints against the old parochial rating system of England were not made in Ireland to the same extent against the electoral division rating. The great reason which induced Parliament to adopt Union rating in England was the feeling excited by the removal of the poor from what were called close parishes. The old English Poor Law specially favoured the practice of removal, because under the system of averages, by which the cost of maintaining the irremovable poor was placed on the Common Fund, to which each parish contributed on the average of its poor law expenditure for three years, it was clear that if the landowners could remove the poor altogether from a parish, that parish, ceased to become chargeable with any poor rate at all. No such practice existed in Ireland, and no proof whatever had been shown that the removal of paupers for the sake of relieving the electoral divisions ever prevailed there to any great extent. The hon. Member for Limerick, who had introduced the subject with so much ability, wished to equalize, as far as possible, the charge for the poor in Ireland. But if they were to have Union rating in that country to-morrow, it would not equalize that charge, and the differences of rating would be far greater in various parts of Ireland than in England. He could quote instances of Unions in the four Provinces which would prove it. For instance, under the system of Union rating, one Union in Ulster would have to pay 2s.d., another in the same Province only 6d. In Munster, while one Union would pay 2s. 11¾d., another would pay 9d. In Connaught, one Union would pay 2s. 9d., another 7½d.; and in Leinster, one Union would pay 2s. 3d., another 7d. He mentioned that to show that the object of the hon. Member could not be attained by Union rating, but only by a national rate, which would be the overthrow of the present system of Poor Law, and would never receive the sanction of the House. The Motion of the hon. Member for Limerick was for the adoption of Union rating in Ireland precisely in the same way as in England. But by all who had considered the question, it would be admitted that a small area was almost essential for the proper administration of out-door relief. The adoption of the area of English Unions for out-door relief was, in his opinion, a mistake, and it would be a still greater mistake to adopt the larger area of Irish Unions for the same purpose. In Ireland out-door relief had increased of late years to an extent that bade fair to take away one of the great advantages that had hitherto been attributed to the Irish Poor Law system. On the whole, he thought the House would be agreed that the charge for out-door relief should not be levied upon the basis of a Union charge, and the question to be decided, therefore, was, whether the charge now placed on electoral divisions in order to defray the expense of maintaining and clothing paupers in the workhouses was so to remain, with unequal incidence, or whether it would be better to make it a Union charge. At one time it struck him that the best mode of dealing with the question would be to place all in-door relief upon the Unions and retain out-door relief upon the electoral divisions. But when he came to consider the details of this solution he found this important objection to it, in addition to others that had been urged—namely, that in order to relieve a small number of heavily-rated electoral divisions it would make an important change in the area of rating through the whole country. He had, therefore, to abandon that proposal. So the question rested at the end of last Session. Since then he had been in communication on the subject with hon. Members on both sides of the House, and with noble Lords sitting in the other House, who were greatly interested in the management of Poor Law matters in Ireland. He thought, after all, the question would be met by placing the charge for the deaf and dumb paupers, on the Union at large, and relieving certain electoral divisions of part of the heavy charge now laid on them for the in maintenance and clothing of in-door paupers by a rate in aid. This rate in aid might be so arranged that it would secure economy, even in the cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing). He proposed, where the charge on any electoral division for the maintenance and clothing of electoral division in-door paupers exceeded the average rate of charge on the Union for that purpose by more than 50 per cent, that the excess above that 50 per cent should be levied as a Union rate; provided that no electoral division would be so relieved, on which this charge did not exceed 1s. in the pound. The details were difficult to explain; but he would bring in a Bill in which his proposals would be embodied. He thought in this way they might secure what was wanted—namely, relief in a comparatively small number of electoral divisions without interfering with the Poor Law system throughout the country. The provisions of the rate-in-aid would apply to 91 Unions out of 163. In that Bill there would be a provision in regard to the valuation of electoral divisions. It was no doubt the fact that in some of the electoral divisions the apparently high poundage rate now levied was due to a very low valuation. The provision to which he referred would enable the Guardians of any Union where a rate-in-aid was levied to have their Union re-valued in order that the poundage of all the electoral divisions might as far as possible be put on a fair basis. These would be the main provisions of the Bill, which he hoped shortly to lay before the House, and he trusted they would be regarded as a fair attempt to meet the question and to give relief where it was wanted, as well as to secure administrative economy.


said, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was fair and reasonable.


said, after the statement of the right hon. Baronet, he begged leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.