HC Deb 01 April 1886 vol 304 cc566-76

Order for Second Reading read.


It is not necessary, in moving that this Bill be now read a second time, that I should detain the House at any length in stating the circumstances that justify the proposals that I have to lay before the House. In 1883 Parliament passed an Act for the relief of certain distressed Unions in the West of Ireland, the provision being for a grant out of the Church Surplus Fund not exceeding £50,000 in all. Under the operation of that Act only £10,352 15s. was actually granted, and the operation of the Act came to its legal end. Unfortunately, the necessity for relief in the West of Ireland, which moved Parliament in 1883, has not passed away. It is well known to hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, and to many Englishmen and Scotchmen, that the distress in parts of the Western Unions and districts of Ireland is at this moment most acute and extreme. The distress arises, in the first place, from the failure of the potato crop, followed by the impossibility of getting a market for cattle, and also from the failure of credit. I need not quote figures to prove that very great poverty exists in the Unions mentioned in the Schedule of this Bill; but I may say that the resources of these Unions are absolutely unable to bear the pressure of any further rate. The proposals of the Bill are two. First, it revives the two expired sections of the Act of 1883, subject to some slight modifications, and empowers the Local Government Board to make grants not exceeding the unexpired balance of £40,000 of the Act of 1883. But no grant will be made unless the Local Government Board, in consideration of the financial condition of the Union, and after considering the pressure of distress on its resources, is convinced of the abso- lute necessity of the grant; and no grant will be made under the Bill after the 31st of March, 1887. The second proposal goes beyond the Act of 1883, in what, I admit, is a very important particular indeed; for we ask Parliament to relax the strictness of the existing laws in respect of the grant of outdoor relief, not only in the scheduled Unions, but all over Ireland. The law since 1862, as hon. Gentlemen representing Ireland are well aware, is that no person in the occupation of more than a quarter of an acre of land can receive relief, except in the workhouse. I now propose, subject to certain restrictive provisions, that relief shall be given to destitute persons out of the workhouse, even though they occupy more than a quarter of an acre of land. The restrictive provisions are these—first, that such relief is only to be given where the Local Government Board authorize the Boards of Guardians to give it by their order; secondly, that the order is only to be made for a couple of months at a time, though it may be renewed; thirdly—and this is a very important restriction—the relief is to be given in food only, and not in money; and, fourthly, this power is only to remain in force until the 31st of December, 1886. I would only add that this relaxation in the matter of outdoor relief in the Southern Unions is rather designed by us as a measure of precaution, in case the necessity should become very pressing, and not with any intention of setting it into operation at once, except in these particularly distressed electoral divisions on the West Coast. With these few remarks I beg to move the second reading of the Bill.

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


I have to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland extremely for the measure he has brought in. I know every one of these five scheduled Unions; three of them I am intimately acquainted with, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in these districts such relief as he proposes is wanted very badly. I do not know whether the House knows it, but in two of these Unions which have been very prominently before the public lately, which include the Islands of Achill, Boffin, and the Arran Islands, the people became distressed through two opposite reasons. In Achill the crops failed for want of seed; but in Arran they failed for a very peculiar reason. The ground is very shallow there, very often the soil being only two or three inches deep. The summer was extremely hot, and the heat of the sun burnt up all the potatoes. More than that, very boisterous weather has visited the Island, and I have it from one of the Fishery Inspectors that the people have been unable to carry on the industry of fishing. Though these scheduled Unions are extremely badly off, there are Unions contiguous to them which, though not so much distressed, are still wretchedly poor. There are two or three electoral divisions, such as Tuam and Loughrea, which deserve to be put in the same category as the scheduled Unions, and which, if they were included, would find it much to their advantage. The general scope of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal is extremely satisfactory, and removes a great blot upon the existing regulations. At present, in cases where the head of family occupies a holding of two or three acres, it is impossible to give relief in the ordinary way, no matter to what extent it may be needed, no matter how much sickness there may be in the house, or to what depth of distress the people may be reduced. Of course, things cannot go on in this way. Though the Guardians themselves are unable to give relief in these cases the Relieving Officers are able to do it. Occasionally, I know, they used to do it, and the Guardians used to recoup them for it; indeed, the Guardians used to tell them that if they did distribute such relief they would be recouped. This sort of thing did not, of course, take place on a large scale; for, if it had, it would have been extremely irregular. However, this great blot in the existing Poor Law in Ireland will be removed by the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. I sincerely hope that the measure may be passed through expeditiously. It will produce the very best effect, especially when amended in one or two particulars. Though it is a good Bill it is not everything. We want something else—something in the nature of public works in the West of Ireland.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

The few observations I feel bound to make on this Bill I think I ought to preface by thanking the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland very heartily. I am bound to say that, so far as I understand the condition of the West of Ireland, this is a sterling generous provision for the necessities of the people there. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will believe me when I say that in the few observations I feel it necessary to make my desires and objects are twofold; in the first place, that relief should reach the people who are absolutely in need of it as soon as possible, and as effectually as possible, particularly in the West; and, secondly, that there should be the greatest possible economy, and no abuse of the use of this Act. I believe myself that, as was found to be the case in 1883, the whole of the money the right hon. Gentleman places at our disposal will not be necessary if the Bill is properly used. I will point out what I consider would be a great improvement in the Bill. We all desire to see it passed through Committee and brought into operation as soon as possible; but I would suggest that if the Chief Secretary can see his way to the insertion of a small sub-section in Section 3, granting to the Lord Lieutenant the same discretion as there is a precedent for in the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, with regard to the manner in which the Commissioners of Public Works are entitled to make grants, he should do it. In the 20th section of the Arrears of Rent Act they are entitled to grant loans to any Union, or such other body or persons, and on such terms as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland may think proper. That seems to me to form a very excellent precedent; and what I desire to carry out by the insertion of such a sub-section I will point out. We know that in some cases, in the remote districts where the people are now actually starving, there are relief committees in existence. In the Island of Achill, I am told, most effectual relief is now being given by one of these relief committees. In consists of the parish priest and the Protestant minister of the Island, who are working in perfect harmony, I am happy to say. Mr. Tuke himself has been there, and is favourably impressed with what has been done, Achill is 35 miles from Westport, where the Union meets; it is, therefore, desirable that this relief should be distributed in food where it is wanted, and not sent down to the Union. I am sure Mr. Tuke, who is on the spot, would give the same advice to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that I give him hero, and as anybody will who knows the district. I would suggest that he should make the relief committee at Achill—who are unquestionably above everything in the shape of maladministration, although it would be necessary to require the keeping of a most strict account as to the people to whom the relief is given—the distributors of this relief. I am prepared to leave the matter to the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant, as advised by the Inspectors of the Local Government Board; but I would urge that he should be allowed, in his discretion, to advance money. Money would reach the distressed people more promptly, and there would be less danger of waste and of maladministration than would be the case in the adoption of other forms of relief. This would be by far the best way of relieving people who are actually hungry. And I think it would probably be possible to treat all the Islands in the same way. The Westport Guardians have no machinery for the proper distribution of relief amongst the people of this Island of Achill. It would take a fortnight to reach the people—and it is obviously out of the question for these people to come into Westport to receive it. The Island of Clare is a long way off, as also are the Islands of Boffin and Innistock. In some cases the distressed districts are 40 miles from the place where the Guardians meet. I wish to make another observation. There is a gentleman named Brady, one of the Fishery Commissioners, who has exerted himself in the most praiseworthy manner to relieve these people. This gentleman has got not alone the confidence of the people, but a knowledge of these matters, which none of the Guardians can have, for they are for the most part business men, who cannot spend their time going about amongst the people as Mr. Brady does. He has not only got the confidence of the Guardians and of the people, but of the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin; therefore it is likely, if this discretion is given to the Lord Lieutenant, that he may instruct Mr. Brady and Mr. Tuke to carry out useful relief in these Islands. We, and all persons interested in the relief of this distressed population, are united in this opinion—that, except where families are in sickness from the depth of their poverty, it would be less demoralizing to distribute the relief through the assistance of such gentlemen as those I have named than the Guardians. I think, at any rate, the Lord Lieutenant might be left to act on his own discretion, assisted by the Local Government Board. I think a certain amount of this money—after the necessary amount of food has been afforded to this starving population—might, under the direction of Mr. Brady and Mr. Take, and the local gentlemen with whom they act or are in communication, be made to confer great benefit on these people by being spent on the improvement of piers. With these few suggestions, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to adopt, I will conclude by urging him to put down the Committee on the Bill for as early a day as he can.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)

I am as anxious as anyone to avoid the demoralization which attaches to the distribution of relief in money, and to see this relief is given, as much as possible, in kind; but I would point out that in places like the Island of Arran, which is 40 miles away from Galway, it would be more economical to give a few shillings to the people than to give the money's worth in food. The people would be much better able to buy their own bread stuffs than the Guardians could buy it and send it out to them. In the same way, Achill is 30 or 40 miles from Westport, and 1s. in money to one of the starving people there would go a great deal farther than if spent for him by the Guardians—probably, if spent by the Guardians, every 1s. the poor receive will cost the Guardians 1s. 4d., for it would cost a great deal to send the relief in kind across the Channel from the mainland. I have never been able to understand why the Islands of Arran have been allowed to be attached to the Galway Union. It has always appeared to me that it would be much easier for the people of those places to run into Clifden, the journey by sea being much shorter. With regard to the clause dealing with the quarter-of-an-acre provision, it seems to me that such a clause should be rendered permanent. The provision was passed in the days of Sir William Gregory, at a time when so much was said about political economy. But the political theories of that day are dead and gone for ever. We have got a long way beyond that age. You even treat the labourers now with some measure of justice and generosity. Of course, English Members will understand that we are getting this money out of an Irish fund. I cannot help pointing out the extraordinary contrast there is in the manner in which we are getting it to the manner in which we used to obtain measures from former Governments. I attribute to this change the peacefulness and orderly demeanour of the people of Ireland, who know now that they have a sympathetic power at the head of affairs. I cannot help contrasting the present state of affairs with that which prevailed in 1883. In that year the people of Tralee were told practically that they might starve, or go to the workhouse. I think the right hon. Gentleman, as well as Ireland, is to be congratulated on the existing state of things.

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

The Bill as it stands, if it is well administered, will do a considerable amount of good. At the same time, I am bound to express great regret that the measure is limited in the extent of its duration, and that in it the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give assistance to the distressed population in no other method than by way of charity. If the people in the West of Ireland who are now suffering from distress were able to look forward to the coming harvest with confidence the scope of the Bill would be sufficient; but many of the people have beeen unable to sow their crops during the present spring, and these will have to look forward to casual employment as a means of subsistence. I think, therefore, that, in order to have been adequate to the occasion, the Bill should have contained provisions to enable these people to seed their ground. If the Bill is allowed to run to June, 1887, those people who have lost their crops this year will be able to live until they can crop their land again next spring. Unless this is done, if it can be proved that continued relief is necessary next year, it will be necessary to come forward and ask for another measure in 1887. I think that should be avoided, if possible, and that we should do the thing at once. I trust that the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) will be favourably considered. The Government method of distributing relief, through the Guardians, is a method neither the most efficient nor the most economical; and, on the other hand, these local committees that the hon. Gentleman has spoken of are composed of people of zeal, who are able to bring intelligence and judgment to bear upon the case. I trust that something will be done in the way of amending the Schedule of the Relief Act of 1880, and of allowing the relief committees to administer part of the funds to the poor in these districts. I have felt most acute disappointment at the absence from the Bill of anything to make provision for the construction of boat slips or piers in the Western Islands. Mr. Tuke, and those with whom he has acted, the local clergy, and the Press of Ireland, all look upon that as the only true way to relieve the Western Islands. To allay existing pangs of hunger the Bill will be sufficient, no doubt; but in the Western Islands these periods of distress are recurrent; and careful critics who go into this matter very fully declare that the only way to give these poor people anything like real and lasting relief is to build them a few boat slips or piers. That will not be giving them money, consequently it will not injure their self-respect, and will not demoralize them, whilst it will give them an effectual means of maintaining themselves. I do trust the Board of Works, or some other Department, will have a moderate sum placed in its hands which, if no demands are made for it, they may share out to the most distressed localities for boat slips. I trust, further, that there will be no restrictions enacted in the clauses which will prevent any relief that may be given being given promptly. If there are to be restrictions framed by the Local Government Board, the Board are likely to frame restrictions which will do away with the usefulness of the measure. There is an open sea-board in County Donegal, and the population living upon it, thousands and tens of thousands of them, are in the deepest distress. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot include this one district in the Schedule? Then there is an omission from the Bill. The Act of 1880 contained a provision for giving relief in fuel, which is as necessary as relief in food; but no such provision is contained in this Bill. In the Western Islands there are no means of obtaining fuel locally, and the people, in seasons of distress, suffer keenly from the want of it. I hope that omission is an inadvertence.

MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)

I hope that the Government will promise to accede to the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy), who now represents, I think, South Derry; but he has been chosen by so many constituencies that one is liable to forget for which constituency he has elected to sit. I speak with some experience on the subject of this Bill; and I can assure the House that in many places the poor would prefer to receive 1s. 6d. in money to 2s. 6d. in kind. I trust the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will see his way to accepting the proposition of my hon. and learned Friend; and I feel certain that if he does the Bill will work to the good of the people.


I merely rise for the purpose of saying a few words to endorse the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) as to the necessity for the construction of boat slips and piers or small harbours of refuge on the West Coast of Ireland. No one who has been there and has seen the miserably inadequate accommodation that exists for the fishermen can have any other idea than that works of that character for the relief of the distress of the people cannot assume a more useful form than boat slips, piers, or harbours.

MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)

I think that a provision should be inserted in the Bill by which it would be clearly understood that those accepting relief under the measure shall not lose their rights under the Franchise Act. An exceptional measure of this kind should contain no disfranchising clauses; and unless such a provision as I refer to is inserted, a large number of people will lose the right of voting at Parliamentary elections.

MR. O'HEA (Donegal, W.)

I have only a few words to address to the House on this occasion. I observe in the Bill, that there are only five Unions mentioned, and I think that having regard to the amount of distress which exists in Ireland at present the measure should have a wider extension and scope. It is a well-known fact that in the Southern parts of Ireland, as well, also, as in other parts of the country, there is very great distress. In the county of Donegal there are Unions and electoral divisions which deserve to be included within the scope and operation of the Bill quite as much as those Unions which are scheduled. I would wish to get from the Chief Secretary for Ireland an assurance that some of the districts I refer to would also reap the advantages that this measure is meant to confer. In the Northern parts of Ireland, in the county of Donegal, there are Unions, notably that of Dunfanaghy, in which the district of Gweedore is situated, where the people are perpetually fighting the desperate battle of life with seaweed—who have only this miserable food to protect them from absolute famine and starvation. I hope that this Bill is intended for the purpose of mitigating the sufferings of the people of these districts that I may call famine-stricken districts, and that they will be included within the scope and operation of this Bill before the House. I should like to get some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that these districts will be included, With the general principle of the Bill we all agree; but why these districts which are so exceptionally visited with hardship and starvation should be omitted I do not know. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will be able to inform the House that he is in a position to include these districts in addition to the five he has mentioned in this Bill.

MR. P. M'DONALD (Sligo, N.)

I will not trouble the House at this period with more than a very few words. I fully endorse everything that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), as to the desirability of doing something in this Bill to facilitate the construction of piers and harbours and ordinary boat slips. That I believe would be a most suitable method of relieving the distress. I would again draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a case which has come under my own observation, that of Innishmurry Island. I drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to it, and since then, and after receiving his reply, I received a communication with regard to it from a gentleman with whom I am totally unacquainted. I will only read one extract from this letter. It says that the memorial referred to was signed by Dr. Gilhooly, as Bishop of the diocese in which the Island is situated, who was conversant by personal experience with the truth of the facts stated. It was also signed by Dr. Healy, another local Bishop. I have merely to say that the gentleman who has so written to me seems to be perfectly alive to the necessity of carrying out the work I refer to. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that this will be the best form in which public money can be spent.


By the permission of the House I desire to say that I will give my best attention to the suggestions that have been made. A provision with regard to boats slips and piers would have occupied no inconsiderable amount of time, and as there was no time to be lost it was not included in the Bill. The object in view, however desirable, must—as I am at present advised—be the subject of future legislation. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), I do not like, without more mature consideration, to accept it. I will do the best I can; and I believe we may find some means of giving effect to it.

Question put, and agreed to.

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