HL Deb 18 August 1843 vol 71 cc918-26
The Duke of Wellington

moved the Order of the Day for the committee on the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill. The discussion had been postponed from the other evening, and he, therefore, would shortly state the purport of the bill. One of his objects was the removal of the payment of the rates from the holders of small tenements to the lessors. Another object was the payment of rates by lessors in towns and corporations, when the houses were let out in lodgings. There was also a clause by which the raters of property were named by the Poor-law commissioners. There was another clause descriptive of the nature of the residence which gave a claim to relief in a union. Another clause had reference to the removal of sick paupers the poor-houses to the fever hospitals. A few nights ago, when this bill was before the House, a noble Friend of his expressed a wish that a clause relative to the appointment of ex officio guardians, which was originally in this bill, but which had been struck out in another place, should be re-inserted in it. Now, on consideration, he, for reasons which he would assign when his noble Friend made his motion, should recommend to the House not to insert this clause, but to leave the bill as it was, which was also in conformity with the present state of the law. He trusted that when they went into committee he should be able to give such further explanations as were necessary.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

stated or that he intended to propose a resolution, which, however, he probably should not press. He had often heard complaints made as to business in that House being put off until the end of the session, but the circumstance was never more obvious than in the present session. For very nearly all the session that House had been comparatively idle; but within the last few days they had been inundated with such a flood of bills, as even his noble and learned Friend, with all his great intellectual power and ability for legislation, could hardly digest. He hoped that in future sessions some better arrangement would be made for a division of legislative labour between the two Houses. Very nearly four months ago, he had moved for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the operation of the Poor-law in Ireland. It was not thought convenient at the time to grant this committee, but some hope, although certainly no specific promise was made, was held out, that when this bill came before the House, an inquiry might take place before a select committee. He would not attempt to press for this at that period of the session, indeed it would be absurd to do so. This however, was by far the most important bill of the session as regarded Ireland, and the Arms Bill could not be compared with it, even by those who attached the greatest importance to that measure. He conceived that the system of the Poor-laws had been very hastily adopted by the late Government; but it was not brought forward, nor was it dealt with as a party measure. He believed that that measure had been most injudiciously adopted; for the persons who drew up the reports upon which it was founded, were all favourable to the establishment of a Poor-law in Ireland; while all the resident landowners and occupiers of land objected to it. The measure was founded on Mr. Nicholl's report, and not, as had been alleged, on any recommendations from Mr. Senior. That Gentleman disavowed the measure, and said that he had not even seen the greater part of the evidence on which it was established until the measure was brought forward. Mr. Senior altogether repudiated the notion of giving any relief to the able-bodied poor in Ireland. He trusted that next session the Government would either take upon itself to make some most material alteration in the law, or that it would grant committees of both Houses, at an early period of the Session, fully to investigate the subject. The resolution which he intended to propose was to this effect, that that House would early next Session take into its consideration the state of the law as to the relief of the poor in Ireland. He wished to show their Lordships the existing position of the question relating to rates, in order to show them the feeling entertained towards them in Ireland, with respect to this law. In Athlone two rates had been agreed to. Upon them 2,008l. had been collected, but as much as 1,367l. remained uncollected. In Maryborough, of two rates, 1,214l. had been collected, and no less than 2,179l. was left ungathered. So great was the difficulty of collection, that at some places the collector received 9d. and 1s. in the pound for collecting the rates, because it was felt that in carrying out the law they actually risked their lives. Nor was this opposition engendered merely by the unwillingness to pay the amount of the rate, but because the people were opposed in feeling to the measure. In Ballinasloe, where the utmost exertions had been made to collect the rates, the total sum collected was 3,066l., while 5,059l. was left uncollected. Many of the workhouses had been long delivered to the guardians, but not one of them had been opened; others had been opened but closed again. In Tuam and Westport, the places of all others where the bill was represented to be most wanted, no attempt whatever had been made to carry out the law. In Ennistimon a rate had been imposed on the 22nd of December, but on the 27th of January, the guardians came to a resolution that no steps should be taken to collect it until theist of May, and then a resolution was arrived at, to communicate to the guardians that they were obliged to turn out the paupers, because they had neither money nor credit on which to support them. The consequence of all this was, that disturbances and resistance took place. What, he asked, could be so absurd as to introduce a law which they dared not carry out, and in which they dared not allow any member of the Christian religion to interfere, in a Christian country that was of itself against the measure? He did not blame the Government for the insertion of the clause to that effect, but he blamed the system which required it; and he said, that that itself showed the existence of a defective system of charity. In towns the measure produced frequent scenes of tumult; and in the country, bloodshed was not unfrequently the accompaniment of the endeavours to carry out the law. It was said that the object of the bill was to relieve mendicancy; but no step whatever was taken to relieve it. It might have been slightly affected, but from his own experience, he must say, that it appeared that the condition of the people was now just as it was before. Nor was the measure, with all its inefficiency, so cheap as might be expected. The rate of maintaining paupers in Ireland was greater than that incurred in the rural districts of this country; and yet every one was aware that the rate of living in Ireland was one-third only of that which was incurred in England. If the existing system was continued, he had no hesitation in saying, that it would be a fraud upon Ireland, because the strongest promises had been held out that mendicancy should be put an end to: but as yet no measure had been introduced for that purpose. The system, he thought, must be altogether altered, for it was founded upon a false basis. The plan of relief in workhouses had been tried in Switzerland and in France, but had proved unsuccessful in both. It did not do even in England, conjoined with outdoor relief; the amount of out-door relief distributed here, however, was immense; but no man had yet had the hardihood to propose the introduction of the out-door relief system in Ireland. Such a system would be a confiscation of property which no man could seriously think of. He implored the Government not to suffer themselves to be carried away by prejudice in favour of any already existing measure. Let them provide for the relief of impotent and infirm persons, but let them not because there was now a measure in existence, persist in retaining it, in spite of its utter inadequacy. With regard to the bill now before the House, he thought, that most of the clauses were of a judicious nature; but to the third clause he entertained a decided objection. By that clause the amount at which property was fixed to be rateable was altered. This was done in order to avoid the difficulties arising from collision and bloodshed. But if it was found convenient not to raise the amount to 4l., he wanted to know what argument could be held out next year, that it should not be raised to a higher amount. It was neither more nor less than hallooing on the rich to pay the rates and cesses, and to maintain the poor. Nor would the real object be gained, because the result would inevitably be, that in many cases they would still be compelled to distrain upon the tenant, by reason of the inability of the landlord to meet the demand upon his property. The noble Marquess concluded by moving as an amendment to the motion for going into a committee, the following resolution:— That the House will early in next Session of Parliament, take into its most serious consideration, the state of the law for the relief of the poor in Ireland, with a view to the suppression of mendicancy; the relief of all infirm and impotent paupers, the developement and increase of the national resources, and the removal of any unnecessary or unprofitable burthen on the country.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that the noble Marquess had correctly stated, that he had expressed a desire at the early part of the Session, that this bill should be considered in committee. It was true, that there had been so much business before the other House of Parliament, and so much time had been occupied in discussing other business, that these bills had come up to be considered by that House, at a very late time, and that it was impossible at this period of the Session to enter into that consideration which the noble Lord desired to give to this bill. The noble Lord did not seem to differ from him upon the proposi- tion that the House should go into committee on this bill. He stated what was true, that the passing of this bill was essentially necessary in order to carry out the system of poor-laws in Ireland. It was desired by many persons that the existing system of poor laws should have the trial of these further enactments, in older to endeavour to carry it into execution. What he asked, therefore, was, that their Lordships would not adopt the resolution of the noble Marquess, and he begged to observe, that if they did, the necessity would be imposed on them of giving a negative to the proposition far going into committee. Under these circumstances he begged to suggest, that the amendment should be met with a direct negative. As to the third clause, he begged to say, that the principle of that clause was embodied in the former bill, and was carried still further in this measure, in order to prevent those scenes of distress and disturbance which arose in consequence of the attempts to collect the rates under the old system. He did not say that this bill contained a perfect system; it certainly did not; but he ventured to assure their Lordships that the Government would consider the subject during the recess, and everything in their power should be done to render it perfect.

The Earl of Winchilsea

regretted, with the noble Marquess, that Session after Session should be allowed to pass without any measures of importance being allowed to originate in that House. He was prepared to contend, that there were many measures which might have much better originated in that House than in the other House of Parliament. With regard to the bill now before the House, their Lordships might depend upon it that the feeling against this law would increase. He should give any amendments which might be proposed his best attention, in order to see whether the law could not be carried out, but he believed that, in the existing state of the country, it was impossible that it should be rendered effective.

Lord Carbery

was of opinion that this was a measure which was not wanted in Ireland, and that the condition of that country would never allow it to be carried out. All the information which he had been able to obtain on the subject, showed that the means taken to put it in force had been of the most ineffective and unfortunate description. At Castledurron, there had been a workhouse erected, in which there were about 400 paupers; the total cost of their maintenance had been no less than 3,460l. On ninety-four workhouses, containing 36,000 paupers, a sum of 865,700l. had been expended. The noble Lord then proceeded to complain of the wretched nature of the work on the Bandon, Kinsale, and other workhouses, and maintained that where such a state of things was allowed to exist, it was impossible that there should be anything else but general complaints.

Lord Monteagle

hoped that his noble Friend would not be disposed to divide the House upon this amendment. He looked upon this bill as an amendment of the existing law, but he apprehended that when the next Session arrived, this bill might be set up as an argument against inquiry. He wished most sincerely that this subject should receive the best attention of the House at the commencement of the next Session. He was glad to hear that the subject was to be taken into consideration by the Government during the vacation, but he doubted very much whether any effective remedy could ever be obtained unless through the medium of a Parliamentary inquiry.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that he was unable to pledge himself to assent to the proposition that there should be a Parliamentary inquiry upon this subject during the next Session, and he would inform their Lordships why. It had been proposed that this measure should be referred to a select committee: but after various communications it was thought fit that the Government should take the matter into their own hands, and should propose such a measure as should meet the object in view. He was sure that he should deceive their Lordships if he promised a Parliamentary inquiry; but between that time and the third reading of the bill he would ascertain the intention of the Government.

The Archbishop of Dublin

could not forbear expressing very strongly his deep regret, that the committee proposed by the noble Marquess three months ago was not now sitting; and one must suppose that the Members of the Government participated in a great degree in that regret. He felt assured that if they had been aware that they would have been so long prevented from passing this measure, they would not have been disposed to resist that committee. The appointment of that committee would have been important in a twofold point of view, not only in respect of the actual benefits resulting from an inquiry, but of that improved feeling which such an inquiry would have created in Ireland; for in the present state of Ireland, most especially, it was not wise, just, or safe, to allow it to be supposed that that House had not time to inquire into a matter of so much importance to them. They all knew the state of agitation in which Ireland now was, and that every circumstance was taken hold of to show the neglect of the Legislature of the united empire, and that that Legislature was ill qualified to deal with matters relating to Ireland. Admitting for the moment that all the opinions expressed by the noble Marquess and the other noble Lord who followed him were erroneous, admitting that the result of a Parliamentary inquiry should be to prove that the fundamental changes he called for were not wanted, still it would be something to be able to say to the people "At least, we have inquired into your case." Whether the allegations could be borne out by sufficient testimony, they were strongly asserted; it was offered to be proved that the law had utterly failed to fulfil its objects, and whatever conclusion they came to, it was important to show to the Irish people that it had at been matter of due deliberation. He deeply regretted that on the plea of want of time it was now impossible to institute an inquiry; he did, however, hope the same ground of complaint would not exist next year, but that an ample inquiry would take place, so that whatever measures it might result in would not be crude and hasty measures. He must say, in conclusion, that he had found the judgment of various individuals in respect of this measure had been in an inverse ratio to their knowledge of the working of a Poor-law and of the condition of Ireland. Whoever possessed a knowledge of either of these without the other was so far an incompetent judge. Many were ignorant of Ireland, many of the nature of a Poor-law; and he found that those who were ignorant of one or both of these were very sanguine with respect to the great relief this measure would afford. Those who had a little more knowledge had a little more apprehension, and those whose knowledge was extensive, and founded on the fullest inquiry, disapproved of it most of all.

The Earl of Glengall

entirely concurred in all the observations which had fallen from the noble Marquess. He firmly believed they would have to retrace their steps with regard to this bill. The agitation in Ireland was not likely to subside, and there would still be great difficulty in collecting the rate. In fact, he believed the collision to be so much dreaded in Ireland, would most likely begin with resistance to the Poor-rates. He was sorry to hear that the new Parliamentary registration was to be founded on this bill. There could be nothing more mischievous than to make the one at all dependent on the other.

Lord Wharncliffe

admitted that the state of the present law was such that it was impossible to allow the Session to close without some alteration of it. He produced a list of persons upon whom the rate had fallen in different parts of Ireland, and who, on account of their miserable and hopeless poverty, ought to be exempted. It had been found impossible to collect the rate from such parties, and the object of the first clause of the bill upon the Table was to relieve this class of persons.

The Earl of Charleville

expressed his gratitude to the noble Marquess for the able and temperate manner in which he had brought this subject before the House. As long as the people saw that out of every shilling raised 8½d. went to the staff and only 3½d. to the starving, they could not be otherwise than dissatisfied. He was in favour of an additional number of ex-officio guardians, and read an extract of a letter from Ireland to the same effect. It was most important that the distribution of the rates should be in the hands of a better class of persons.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

withdrew his amendment, as he did not wish to stand in the way of the bill, and hoped for full inquiry in the next Session.

House in Committee.

Bill went through committee with amendments.

Report to be received.

The House adjourned.

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