HL Deb 29 March 1827 vol 17 cc128-32
, The Earl of Darnley,

seeing a noble lord in his place, who had paid great attention to the subject of the Poor of Ireland, wished to know from him whether it was his intention to submit any motion to their lordships on this subject? At present, the poor of Ireland were suffering very peat distress, and many of them had, he believed, perished of hunger. If it was not the noble lord's intention to propose any resolution to their lordships, he did not know that he should not himself call their lordships' attention to the subject. He did not suppose that the system of English poor-laws could be introduced into Ireland; but he thought it was their lordships duty to take the subject into their consideration, particularly as the measure had been rejected to which he looked for the tranquillity of that country. Although the poor-laws were, he knew, a subject of great dislike to a noble lord opposite, who entertained the most serious apprehensions on this subject, he must contend, that, in the present situation of the poor of Ireland, something ought to be done. He wished, therefore, to know of the noble earl, whether it was his intention to propose any measure for their lordships' consideration?

The Earl of Carbery

said, that he had, on former occasions, moved for returns relative to the poor of Ireland, which were then on their lordships' table; and though he did not at present intend to submit any motion to their lordships, he had a petition to present on this subject, and when he did present it, he should explain his views. He wished it, however, to be understood, that he did not suppose that the English system of poor-laws could be introduced into Ireland; though he felt that the poor of Ireland could not be left in their present situation.

The Earl of Limerick

having been alluded to by the noble earl, could assure him that he was mistaken, in supposing that he entertained more serious apprehensions on the subject of introducing the poor-laws into Ireland, than any other person. He saw many noble lords near him, who felt quite as apprehensive on the point as he did, and were convinced, that of all mischiefs, none could be so great as that of introducing those laws into Ireland. was there not, he would ask, misery enough in Ireland already? Would their lordships call more into existence, by telling the lower classes, already prone to sedition, that they were starved by the upper orders? He called on their lordships, to take care how they employed their talent in making speeches, which he admired as much as any man; but he conjured them to choose some other subject for display than the one before their lordships. They could not choose a measure which would inflict more suffering than the poor-laws would do in Ireland.

The Earl of Darnley

said, he agreed that the poor-laws, as they existed in England, could not be introduced into Ireland; but he could not agree, that in a civilized country, the poor should be left to die without any notice. It was not to be tolerated—though their lordships might not be able to find any remedy for the evil—that it should not be inquired into. He hoped the noble lord, when he presented the petition he had mentioned, would make a specific motion, and that his majesty's government would take the subject into consideration.

The Earl of Limerick

said, he had read of people perishing from want, but he did not give credit to every thing which appeared in the newspapers. And did not people perish of hunger in other countries as well as in Ireland? It was, he thought, not very likely to occur, for the peasantry of that country, with all their faults, were as charitable and humane as any in the world.

Lord Holland

was of opinion, that before their lordships instituted an inquiry into what ought to be done for the relief of the poor in Ireland, they ought to ascertain what had already been done. He was not lawyer enough to know what was the state of the law for the relief of the poor of Ireland; he had not any particular acquaintance with that part of the country; but he could not believe that the government could have so long existed, without some law which tended to the relief of the poor. The first inquiry should be into the state of the law on this point.

The Earl of Enniskillen,

thought, that a great deal of mischief might be done by proposing to introduce the poor-laws into Ireland. It would excite hopes among the people which could never be gratified. The poverty of the people in Ireland was caused by a succession of bad crops, by over-population, and by the non-residence of the landed proprietors.

Lord Redesdale

said, that in the neighbourhood of Dublin there were collections made at the churches for the poor, and by that means they were relieved. The whole body of the people were in such a state of poverty, that what they could contribute was not much. He was afraid, however, that if a system. of poor-laws were introduced, it would destroy all industry among the people. The best mode of relieving the poor of Ireland, would be to introduce a better system of farming; to, abolish small farms, and to have a body of farmers like those of England. If there was such a body of men, there would be more employment, and not so much misery in Ireland. But to have them several things were necessary. The farmers must have capital, and they must be intelligent, for it was rather the skill of the superintendents of the labourers to which he looked, than to the labourers themselves. When small farmers cultivated land themselves, they grudged every shilling laid out for labour, and their land was never properly tilled. In most cases, where the poor-rates were excessive, they were made so either by manufactories being established in the neighbourhood, or by the land being divided, as in some parts of Sussex, into small portions. Wherever the farms were large, the labourers were better off than where the farms were small. He did not wish to see compulsory relief for the poor introduced into Ireland, as that would destroy industry; and, after a better system of cultivation was introduced, probably the best mode of administering relief would be by voluntary contributions. In Scotland this was the general practice; but in some places compulsory rates had been introduced, and they had been followed, he understood, by unfavourable consequences. Connected with this subject, he must remind their lordships of the Corn-laws. At present, the English market was open to Irish corn, and cultivation had been much extended in that country by the exclusion of foreign corn. He hoped, therefore, that their lordships would remember, whenever the subject of the Corn-laws came before them, the bearings. of these laws on the cultivation and prosperity of Ireland.

Lord Ellenborough

deprecated the introduction of the poor-law system into Ireland. The noble lord who had spoken first, insisted on the necessity of doing something; but he entreated their lordships to take care, if they consented to make any compulsory regulations, that they were not led further than they intended to go. Let their lordships recollect how the English poor-laws had been twisted from their original form, and consider, if a compulsory system were introduced into Ireland, whether it would not be twisted in the same manner. Some inquiries had already been made on this subject; and he was of opinion, that organising a system of voluntary collection and distribution, as had been recommended by the committee of 1822, was the only safe course. He entreated their lordships, before they began with any compulsory enactments, to consider where they meant to stop.

The Earl of Darnley

said, he had no intention of proposing any compulsory laws; but, in the present state of Ireland, the subject urgently required the consideration of their lordships.

The Earl of Belmore

said, that though there was no statute law in Ireland for the relief of the poor, there was a common law, which was stronger than any statute law. There was also a common right, which was considered so by the pauper, and acknowledged to be so by those who never failed to give them relief. If a law were to make it compulsory to provide for the poor, that law would diminish the means which at present existed.