The Marquess of Clanricarde
rose to move for a select committee to inquire into the effects of the Poor-law in Ireland. He wished that some person of more authority than he possessed had undertaken the task, or, still more, he should have wished that her Majesty's Ministers had brought forward the motion which he meant to submit to 1349 their Lordships; because, when he considered the state of things in Ireland, he could but think that the Government, when it took upon itself to propose great amendments, modifications, and alterations in the existing law, when it brought the subject before a Parliament—ought to cause a particular inquiry to be instituted, in order to enable their Lordships to legislate successfully, and in order to satisfy the people of Ireland that the law was amended only after due deliberation and examination. He felt that it was also unfortunate for his bringing the subject forward that he was one of those who had always opposed the introduction of the law; and that might, in some degree, prejudice his motion. He had, however, distinctly stated his objections to the measure at the time it was proposed; and all his objections had been realized, all his predictions had been fulfilled; and even mischief had arisen from the law which he had never foreseen. Nevertheless, he was bound to say that their Lordships stood in a perfectly different situation now, from what they stood in when there was no Poor-law. Much had been done which could not be undone. His object in moving for a committee was to show their Lordships how the law had operated, and to induce their Lordships to assent to some considerable alterations and modifications in the law, such as he thought were required, it was not his object to propose the repeal of the law, which all must admit was not now practicable. He would state to their Lordships the grounds on which he proposed the committee, and one of the chief of them was that, when the measure was proposed, it was admitted by all parties that, to carry it successfully into effect would require the cheerful co-operation and assistance of the people; but they had not willingly assisted in carrying it into effect; and, on the contrary, it had given rise to great, discontent and great clamour. The universal opinion in Ireland was adverse to the law. It might be possible to point out one particular district where the law was not unpopular, but the opinion against the law was so general, that be was justified in saying that the Irish people were almost unanimously opposed to it. Let their Lordships look at the proceedings of the boards of guardians, beginning at Fermanagh and going through the centre of Ireland, to the county of Roscommon, the King's County, the Queen's County, Tipperary, Mallow, Cork, Kinsale—from the extreme north to 1350 the extreme south —the expression of opinion throughout the whole country was adverse to the law. It was the same in the west, and the same in Dublin. All the boards of guardians throughout Ireland had united in expressing an opinion that there must be extensive alterations in the law. In Dublin, where a great meeting had been held, the feeling was unanimous that the law was not suitable to the condition of the people of Ireland, and was positively mischievous. If their Lordships looked at the petitions and memorials on their Table—if they looked at the opinions expressed at public meetings—if they found boards of guardians and grand juries alike condemning it—their Lordships must see that the universal feeling was against the law; and as it was purely a law of a domestic and exclusively Irish character, this was a sufficient reason to justify their Lordships in inquiring into the operation of the law rather than to force it as it stood upon the Irish people against their wishes. The law was, he said, purely of a domestic character, and formed no part of any comprehensive or grand scheme of imperial policy. It was intended solely to benefit Ireland, and if the people said it did not benefit them, that it was not advantageous, that, instead of giving them tranquillity, it only disturbed their repose, there was primâ facie a good cause why their Lordships ought not to resist their demands, and why they should assent to the motion for an inquiry into its operation. He must remind their Lordships of the circumstances which led to the passing of this law. The condition of the people of Ireland had excited a great deal of attention, and the Government had appointed commissioners in 1834, to inquire into it. Of that inquiry he had highly approved: those commissioners were persons of the greatest knowledge and greatest impartiality, and well acquainted with the country. They were persons of great prudence and discretion, and their report surpassed all expectations. There was no work, he was bold to say, in all the records of Government of such deep research and such profound philosophy, clearly and ably expressed, as the report of the Irish Poor-law enquiry commissioners in 1836. The commissioners displayed great caution, and they stated that the subject was surrounded with difficulties. They recommended that a Poor-law should be only introduced by degrees. They pointed out that it would be advisable in the first place to provide for 1351 those who were from infancy, age, or sickness, wholly unable to provide for themselves; they suggested the great benefit that would arise from providing adequate employment for the people by public works, or enabling them to quit the country; they showed the benefit that would arise from such cautious proceedings, which would lead by slow and certain degrees to the introduction of a perfect Poor-law. They thought that a Poor-law could not be safely established unless the Government first of all gradually and fully developed the resources of the country and found employment for the able-bodied population. To digest and introduce their plan required time and talents. And unfortunately time was not given. The Government preferred applying to Ireland a ready-made system. A new Poor-law had been applied to England, where it was found to work well, and therefore, it was imposed on Ireland without much reflection, while every Irishman was convinced that such a law never could work well in Ireland. The Government reminded him of the stage-manager in the farce, who liking the idea of a morning gun resolved to fire three morning guns, because he thought it was not possible to have too much of a good thing: so the Government did not know when they had enough of a good thing, and they applied the English Poor-law to Ireland, because it had been useful in England. The Irish, however, had never cordially received the Poor-law. The Parliament imposed it on them to attain certain objects, but the measure had entirely failed to attain those objects. He would quote the words of the noble Lord, who had brought forward the bill in that House, and by whose influence it was passed into a law. He did not mean to quote the evidence ad hominem, but merely to show what were the intentions of the then Government in passing this act. The noble Viscount, who moved the second reading of the bill (Viscount Melbourne), said:—I think this measure will be the beginning of a system of order, and that it will introduce order in a beneficial form.And, further on, the noble Viscount said:—The present measure is founded on the soundest basis, namely, conciliation, Christian love, and charity. It would form the foundation for introducing measures for the suppression of mendicancy and vagrancy. But the great advantage to which I look in this, is that the one great evil of the country, the struggle 1352 for food, will be remedied by it; that the desire which the people of the country now have for the possession of land, as the only means of subsistence, and the violent means which they take of enforcing what they conceive to be their right with regard to it, will be much lessened, if not extinguished.Again, the gallant Duke opposite, who gave, he must admit, a reluctant support to the bill, and it would have been well, he thought, if the noble Duke had opposed it, as then it would have been thrown out —the noble Duke said:—I never expect more from the bill, than that it will improve the social relations of the people of Ireland, and prevent that state or degree of poverty and distress which now prevails from longer existing in that country. It will lead to better consequences, without regard to the workhouses, for the tendency will be to improve the social relations between landlord and tenant, between the occupier and the labourer of the soil.The noble Duke alluded to other measures, and said:—Whether this bill be considered as an improvement or not, the measure alluded to by the noble Viscount, with reference to the suppression of mendicity and vagrancy, would be of the utmost advantage in paving the way for this bill.His noble Friend, too, the late President of the Council, the Marquess of Lansdowne, said he—Trusted that no indisposition would exist to give to Ireland through the means of the bill some chance of attaining at last a state of tranquillity and repose.Further, the noble Marquess said:—The bill was necessary on account of clearing of estates, which was being proceeded with too rapidly, but in others with due caution. Such a measure as this, by making a provision for the poor, would deter them from bidding as they now did for estates, and also prevent them from feeling so much discontent when ejected by their landlords.The bill, therefore, was proposed with three objects—to insure the tranquillity of the country, to put an end to mendicancy, and to lessen the anxiety to obtain possession of land. The great and public evil of mendicancy in Ireland was well known. It was impossible to deny that a great mass of persons in that country were in a state of extreme poverty, and it was supposed that when the Poor-law was passed, that they would be relieved. The necessity of putting an end to mendicancy was in fact the great argument, the very 1353 foundation of all the arguments in favour of the bill. The number of beggars was immense, and it was said, that without a Poor-law you could not prevent begging, but that with a Poor-law, beggars and mendicity may be put an end to. The extent of this evil was depicted in the report of 1836, and was used as an argument for the Poor-law in the report of Mr. Nicholls. It was said that an enormous tax was levied on the public by vagrancy, and no person ever thought of denying, that to put an end to vagrancy was a good and sufficient reason to justify a Poor-law. A noble and learned Friend of his had said that the tax levied by the bill would undoubtedly be great, but that it would be hardly as high as the tax levied by vagrants, although that tax had been absurdly over-rated. But the expectations of putting down vagrancy by this law had not been fulfilled. In 1840, Lord Morpeth introduced into the other House of Parliament a bill to repress vagrancy; it was not spoken of as a new measure, and leave to bring in the bill was given, as if it were only carrying out conditions previously entered into. What had become of that bill he did not know; but somewhat to his surprise, when a bill was recently introduced into the other House of Parliament to amend the Poor-law, not one word was said about a measure far the suppression of vagrancy, or to put an end to mendicancy. If anything ought to attract the attention of Government, in dealing with the poor of Ireland, he should say that the means of remedying that great grievance, the mendicancy of Ireland, was the first and chief object. To show their Lordships that mendicancy had not abated, he would quote the report of the Poor-law commissioners for last year. They referred to the previous report, which showed that the subject had before engaged their attention, and they said that forty boards of guardians had expressed opinions favourable to such a measure; that was, a measure to repress mendicancy adapted to the circumstances of the country, and agreeable to the feelings of the people. But they showed that the evil of mendicancy, which the law was to put down, had been aggravated, not destroyed. They said—In some of the unions, after the stock of habitual mendicants had, for the most part been taken into the workhouses, the ratepayers of particular electoral divisions, finding that the removal of what may be called their own established poor did not protect them from mendicancy, but was followed by inroads 1354 of beggars from the surrounding districts, or even from those more distant have deemed it better that their own poor should be permitted to levy contributions from house to house as heretofore, rather than that the rate-payers should incur the charge of maintaining them in the workhouses, and at the same time be compelled to make contributions to casual vagrants or mendicant strangers by whom their doors were beset. This circumstance is particularly referred to in two reports of Mr. Clements on the audit of the Londonderry and Omagh unions respectively, in the appendix; and the prevalence of such a feeling has been exemplified in occurrences in the Kil-mallock union, where the rate-payers of a certain electoral division came in a body to the workhouse, and demanded to have their poor delivered up to them, which was accordingly done, and they were carried back with great demonstrations of rejoicing, to be supported by almsgiving in the accustomed mode. The rate-payers in this case no doubt expected that when they had their own beggars about them, they would be protected from the inroads of beggars from other districts to which they were liable, so long as their own habitual stock were maintained in the workhouse.He could state, too, from his own knowledge; that there were as many mendicants as ever. The local dispersion of vagrants which had taken place when the Poor-law was first established in particulr places, had only occurred from a mistake with respect to the law. The vagrants and mendicants had a notion when the Poor-law itself would have contained clauses preventing mendicancy; and accordingly, when the workhouses were opened, they ran away from the neighbourhood; but they afterwards found out that they had made a mistake. A few mendicants, it was true, had been received into the workhouses, but those cases were exceptions. The benefit resulting from the law was absurdly small in proportion to the expense; and as to putting an end to mendicancy, the law was a complete failure. If there were no other ground on which he could ask their Lordships to grant him a committee, he had showed sufficient reason, he thought, when he proved that the law had completely failed to remedy that one great evil, why their Lordships should accede to his motion. Another object with which the law was passed, was to prevent a desire in the people to get possession of the land, which amongst the Irish was immoderate. That desire led them to promise high rents, which it was impossible for them to pay, and when the landlords exacted what they had promised, or attempted to remove them from the land, it gave rise to those numer- 1355 ous complaints and to those melancholy scenes, of which their Lordships had frequently heard. He was aware that this was a delicate subject, particularly just now, and it Was not one on which he would enter into any details on that occasion. He would merely state that if they looked to districts which had obtained a notoriety for disturbances, they would find that there never was a greater amount of fearful crimes committed within the same space of time; directly connected with the possession of the land, than had been committed since the passing of the Poor-law. Their Lordships had heard of the doctrine of fixity of tenure—a term most shamefully and grossly misapplied, but it would be conceded that there was hardly ever a period when the minds of the poor orders in Ireland were in a less satisfactory state with respect to the possession of land than at the present moment. The Poor-law, then, on this head had also been a failure. Then, how far had it succeeded in producing tranquillity and repose, the third object Which also introduced it, promised as it should effect? Why, it had notoriously created disturbances wherever it was introduced. in the first place, though the election of guardians had taken place with less disturbance and more satisfactorily than he had anticipated, yet there had been in some places considerable local agitation on the subject; and the reason why disturbance and agitation had not been greater, was the discretion and prudence of the clergy, particularly the Protestant clergy. It was an expressed wish at the time of the passing of the law, that the clergy should take no part in carrying out the bill, and, above all, should not meddle in the elections under it. He must say, that the Protestant clergy had behaved wisely and discreetly in acting in conformity with this expressed wish,' and, generally, the Catholic clergy had done the same. But that of itself was a strong argument against the measure, as one of conciliation and charity. Of what nature must a measure of charity be which excluded the ministers of religion from all participation in its execution? That these elections of boards of guardians had not always been tranquilly or satisfactorily conducted, he had a right to assume, from the amendments announced by the Government. By one of them the number of ex officio guardians, that was to say magistrate guardians, was to be increased, possibly'—he did not say necessarily—to one-half, and by another 1356 amendment, the constituent body was diminished. He was not saying that these amendments were bad, but that they were proposed, showed that the elections had not worked well, and that the people had not joined in carrying out this conciliatory measure, as it had been called, to the degree which had been expected. But all this was trifling compared with the open resistance to the law of the land which had occurred. He would refer to some cases which would show that these cases of resistance were not casual, and that the excitement was not merely local, and originating accidentally in the indiscretion of an officer; but that this was the fixed feeling of the country, not only in the lower orders, but in classes above them. Some of these cases had occurred since he gave notice of this motion, and they would forcibly illustrate his position. In a communication to one of the journals, dated Dublin, April 26, there was this account of the practical operation of the Poor-law, taken from the Limerick Reporter:—Yesterday, Mr. O'Connor, collector of rates for the south suburb ward, whilst engaged in serving notices at Drumbawnes, was set upon and most unmercifully beaten. His books and papers were taken from him and destroyed, and his life would have been forfeited on the occasion had it not been for the interference of some woman, who afforded him protection.Again,—At the weekly meeting of the Dungarvan board of gnardians, Messrs. Walters and Greene, the collectors, stated that they did not receive a farthing from farmers, although they had asked several; that there was the most determined passive resistance all through the union against paying, and it was wholly out of the question that they could collect; that they would not become pig-drivers, and tendered their resignation. As to Civil bill decrees, they would be waste paper, for it would cost ten times as much as the amounts to put each decree in force; and as to summoning, that also was of no use, as the magistrates had only a power of granting warrants against the goods, which the rate-payers well knew, and they had their field gates locked. (The collectors, after a great deal to do, were induced not to resign till next board day, and in the meantime the commissioners would be apprised of their determination.) They also stated that Mr. Michael O'Brien, one of the elected guardians present, refused to pay. Mr. O'Brien said he was appointed by the people as guardian to protect their parses, and not to give a bad example, as the Poor Relief Bill was of no use whatever except giving large salaries to 1357 the commissioners and the assistant-commissioners, but would pauperize the country; that he was determined never to pay; and he had stock in his fields, the gates of which were well locked, and that the collector was welcome to take them if he could do so; that the declaration of the rate was premature, and forced on the people. The guardians all declared that it would be impossible to enforce the rate, as it was well known that the farmers had all their gates locked, so that no distress could be legally made, and as to pigs, it was quite idle to distrain them. The union was in debt over 1,200/., although the house was not yet opened, and to their clerk there were three years salary due, while Mr. O'Donoghue, for doing nothing, had received 8,000>l. since the act came into operation. The guardians directed that printed notices should be served on each rate-payer, stating the amount for which the person was rated, and the collector would call on some day named in such notice, not sooner than a month, for payment; and, if not then paid, to serve the regular six days' notice, previous to issuing summonses, and the board to be at the expense of such notices. The collectors said they were sure no person could be had to serve them; it would be dangerous for any person to go into the country about the poor-rates. Mr. O'Donoghue, the mandamus assistant-commissioner, was not in attendance, and Mr. Uniacke said, as he had nothing whatever to do, he should be obliged to serve these notices and go out with the collectors, and do some little matter to earn his large salary, for it was ridiculous to suppose that the country would be paying assistant-commissioners going about at the public expense in carriages, and who were of no use or ornament, except threatening mandamuses against guardians. Mr. Usher said, it would be well to postpone the collection of the rate till harvest, as the people had no money now, and the farmers were very poor in consequence of the low prices of agricultural produce. The board adjourned for a month, saying they hoped the act would be shortly repealed.There was the following account of a "Second Day's campaign in Gualtier," in the Waterford Chronicle:—The troops marched on the devoted district at the early hour of three o'clock on Wednesday morning, led on by Dr. Fitzgerald and his trustworthy benchman, Mr. Thomas Pinkerton, of the South Dublin union. The forces mustered about three hundred strong, accompanied with a park of flying artillery. At Rathwhelan they seized four heifers, and at Ballymacaw took a draught ware belonging to a respected citizen of Waterford, Mr. Patrick Kelly, who intimated to the collector that by calling at his residence in the city the demand would be paid. Such a proceeding, it appears, would have been considered over courteous, and, therefore, the law was permitted to take its coarse. The slumbers of Pat-Taylor, a 1358 publican, at Ballymacaw, were disturbed by pulling the bed from under his side. Two feather beds, with their appurtenances, were here captured, and consigned to the care of the artillery, who, in self-defence, were obliged to fire some blank discharges in the endeavour to repel the attacks made upon them by a numerous party of 'light horse' lurking in the ambuscade of Ballymacaw blanketing. However, Dr. Fitzgerald very judiciously remedied the partial disorder occasioned to the troop by this novel mode of warfare, by taking the beds under his own protection, and that of the Abbeyside police, who were better used to do battle with this description of flying artillery. An old dung-cart was also borne off in triumph here from some poor man, whose name has not reached us. Patrick Taylor was taken into custody for applying some not very complimentary epithets to the doctor. A man named Cullinane, a tenant of Sir H. W. Barron's, was also made prisoner for culling some flowers of rhetoric on the occasion. A servant man of Cullinane's had the audacity to tell the doctor and the collector, even at the cannon's mouth, that their graves would soon be dug for them, whereupon he was rushed at by the police and captured. The three prisoners were brought into town handcuffed, and consigned to the care of the county gaoler, with directions from the doctor, as we are told, that they should not be fed too high. Thus ended the foray for this day of our Lord.The following, it was said in a local paper, might be considered as the result of the invasion of the barony of Gaultier:—The campaign here has turned out a complete failure; only 49l. 19s. has been collected by Mr. T. Pickering from landlords, at an expense of at least 1,000l. to the country. Fourteen actions are about to be commenced for illegal distraint against the stipendiary magistrate, who has resolved not to distrain pigs or poultry in future. The people will not pay till their cattle are impounded; and it will take at least seven years to collect the rate due in this district alone. They cannot distrain before sunrise, nor after sunset; nor can they remove goods so seized out of the barony. The sooner this beggarly civil war is given up the better for the peace of the country. It is reported that Mr. O'Donoghue, the mandamus assistant-commissioner, has been discharged; if so, it will give very general satisfaction. The whole of the commissioners should be dismissed; nothing will satisfy the public.Now, though the Pacha of Damascus might find it very regular and proper to collect his taxes by the aid of military forces, and encamp, as he occasionally bad done, with an army, under the walls of Jerusalem, for this purpose, such a method of proceeding was altogether out of place and intolerable in Great Britain and Ireland. But was there any justice in the Poor-law 1359 bill, or had its enactments, been carried into operation by the commissioners in a way that showed that the people's feelings against it were without justification? Let their Lordships look at the manner in which the country had been imposed on as regarded the estimates. Their Lordships had been told by those who supported the bill, that Mr. Nicholls's calculations could be sustained and carried out, those calculations being, that Ireland required eighty poorhouses, that those poor-houses would give shelter to 800,000 paupers, and that the entire estimate would not exceed 700,000l. But in May last year, Mr. Nicholl applied to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a further loan, and gave in a schedule, by which it appeared, that in the unions which had then been formed alone the cost in this respect would be 1,150,000l. In fact, the disproportion between the estimate and actual cost was so great, that it was a prevalent opinion in Ireland, that it was not the intention of the Government to enforce the payment of the advances that had been made. If their Lordships would grant him a committee he would show that these causes of complaint against the Poor-law Bill in Ireland were not isolated, but very general, and were well-founded. He would mention a few cases in illustration of this, and would take first, the report published by the board of guardians of the Clogheen union, in March last past. They stated, among other things, that—In the estimate which had been submitted to this board, on which the application for the first loan was grounded, the cost of fittings and other works, not provided for by the contract, was put down at 500l, and that the account for these works amounted to more than three times that sum—namely, 1,525l. 13s. 11d., not including 79l. 12s. paid for ironmongery.In another part of the report they complained of one item,—For ninety-one perches of a useless ditch, at 4s. per perch." And again,—For cut stone in eight mullion windows and two towers, 145l. 10l. 4d.; and for setting ditto, extra sashes, 17l. 16s.So that it seemed upwards of 160l. was spent merely to please the taste of the Poor-law commissioners' architect. This was no inconsiderable sum to be so expended, when their Lordships bore in mind that the Mendicity Association of Dublin relieved persons at a rate that amounted to little more than 4l. a year each. Consi- 1360 dering that Clogheen was in the centre of Ireland, where labour and provisions were as cheap as in any other part of the country, and seeing the amount of mendicancy and poverty that might therefore have been relieved by this sum of 145l., it was not surprising that the indignation of the board of guardians should have been excited. It was in fact, a striking proof of the feeling with which the law was regarded, not merely by the working classes, but by boards of guardians and persons of that class, that the report from whence he borrowed this illustration, which was full of similar complaints, and which wound up with a strong remonstrance, had been printed by the board at the expense of the poor-rate, in large placards, and 200 of them posted up in all directions for the people to read, certainly no very obvious indication, that the law had operated as a measure of conciliation. Nay, at the end of their report, the board used these very words:—It appears to us that, by the act of Parliament, this board is left little discretion in the case, and that it is imperative on us to provide whatever funds (he Poor-law commissioners may choose thus to squander, however deeply we may regret the oversight of the Legislature in investing them with such unconstitutional powers.Again, take the case of, the Fermoy union. There the architect, who had given in, in the first instance, an estimate of 2,225l. for altering the barracks into a workhouse, immediately, upon the remonstrance of the board of guardians, lowered that estimate to 1,500l., and the assistant-commissioner pledged himself that the reduced sum should not be exceeded. What would their Lordships think of a person who, having first asked them 2,250l. for performing a specific piece of work, immediately upon their remonstrating against so large a demand, dropped his estimate to 1,500l. —a reduction of 750l.? What a very pretty sum he would have made, would the employer say, by the first contract, if I had assented to it! Well might Mr. Nicholls, when the case came before him, and it was necessary for him to do something in it, say,—This is an ugly affair, and just calculated to make a stir in Parliament, in Lord Mount-cashell's hands. It is unfortunate that it has been allowed to get to such a head.And so Mr. Voules was ordered to—Make a point of attending on Saturday, and endeavouring to satisfy the guardians, who 1361 had got angry at the manner in which they had been treated.This was a perfectly fair example of the way in which the bill operated. The assistant-commissioner was to attend, not to inquire or see how the estimate could be reduced, but "to satisfy the guardians." Mr. Nicholls's concern was not that imposition or anything wrong had been done, not that sufficient accommodation was provided for the poor, but that it was an "ugly affair, calculated to make a stir in Parliament." With regard to the workhouse test, he must observe, that the diet of the workhouses was decidedly better than that of respectable labouring men and small fanners who kept themselves out of the workhouse. Their Lordships should inquire into this in time, because if they once brought the Irish poor to the state to which the law had at one time brought the English poor, and created a disposition amongst them to lean upon the workhouse and rate-payers for relief, they would find it a very difficult matter to alter. He wished their Lordships likewise to turn their attention to the effects of the present law upon the moral feelings of the people. The workhouses were not workhouses in the common acceptation of the term, but as yet had been chiefly used as hospitals and boarding-schools. This they were never intended to be. He would first observe, that a great number of women of the worst description went into those houses, while suffering from disease, and, as they could not be prevented from mingling with the young adult females, it was found that in many instances they had corrupted the minds of those young persons, who, when recovered from their illness, they had seduced from the paths of morality. But he wished their Lordships to consider the effects of this law upon the moral and social relations of the people in a more extended form. He would assert, that there was not on the face of the earth a people more warm in their domestic affections, or more faithful, upright, and virtuous in all their domestic relations, than the Irish people; and yet, to such a people was it, by this law, that they held out temptations calculated to destroy all such feelings. Those who had attended to The operation of the law, must have seen that it held out strong temptations to the husband to forsake his wife and family, and to the wife to forsake her children. He defied the guardians to prevent it. A man went away perhaps with the connivance of his wife and family. The wife could not then be relieved without 1362 taking the whole family into the workhouse-The husband might be 100 miles away. If a warrant were issued for his apprehension, and that he were apprehended and thrown into prison, it would be at the public expense, and when in gaol he would not be much worse off than in the workhouse. Those cases of desertion were very common in consequence of the advantages which they held out. The children in such cases who were taken to the poorhouse, received an education quite as good as any farmers' children could get, those poor-houses being in connexion with the national system of education, while they enjoyed the additional advantage of being boarded. Supposing a man to go abroad or to a distant country, see what a temptations he had never to come back; see what a temptation was held out to him to commit bigamy or permanently to desert his children. Such temptations, he maintained, must weaken the moral feelings of the people. One of their evil results was already beginning to be felt in this way, that the authorities knew not what to do with deserted children who had been educated, in the workhouses, on their attaining nine or ten years of age. They could read and write but they knew nothing of the world, and the question was, were they to remain paupers for life, or were they to be turned out upon the world? He had heard it said that persons ought to be hired to teach them trades; but was it to be expected that the inmates of those houses which were intended for the relief of paupers should be better educated than the children of the industrious farmers and labourers of the country? or that persons who had never been out of the workhouse could set up in those trades? If their Lordships did not take great care, it would soon be very difficult to remedy those evils. If they would grant him a committee, he would show them that a frightful amount of mortality existed amongst the infant children of rural districts supported under the Poor-law. It was notorious, too, that the cost of infant children in the workhouses was double what it would be if they were kept in private houses. Again, looking at the districts generally, the charges for the establishment, compared with the charges for the paupers, were enormous. According to a document put forward by the Government, the expenditure on the poor for the half year ending September, 1841, in the unions of Celbridge, Dunshaughlin, Rathkeale, and Banbridge, was as follows:—In Celbridge, 1363 the total expenditure for the half-year ending September, 1841, was 1,146.l; the expenditure in the direct maintenance of the poor being 97l. 11s. 5d. out of that sum. In Dunshaughlin, the total amount was 1,305l., the direct maintenance of the poor being 132l. out of that sum; in Rath-keale the total amount was 969l., the latter 86l. 16s.; in Banbridge, the former amount was 1,160l., the latter being 182l. That part of the law which divided the unions into electoral divisions well illustrated and exposed to the people the absurd and monstrous proportion of the expenditure incurred by the officers and establishments. Within his own knowledge, the charge on one of those electoral divisions was 96l., although the paupers sent from it did not cost the union 16l. In another instance, the district had to pay 82l., the cost for the paupers coming from it being only 16l. In the King's County there was positively one district where the union called upon the electoral division to pay 124/., although that division had not sent one pauper or cost the union 1s. The report of the Kilmallock Union stated, that the rate-payers of a certain electoral division went in a body to the poorhouse and demanded their poor, whom, when given up to them, they carried back amidst demonstrations of joy, declaring that they would support them by voluntary contributions rather than bear the expenses to which they were subjected on account of the establishment. He did not, however, rest his motion on details, and would not trouble their Lordships with any more. It was an indisputable fact, that the present Poor-law for Ireland had given rise to clamour, discontent, and disturbance, and he implored their Lordships not to set at naught that public opinion which had been so very strongly and clearly expressed upon the subject. He conceived it would be wiser to endeavour to direct, and guide, but not directly to oppose the public mind, and not hastily to do what they might consider right, but to show that they had arrived at the conclusion of what was right after mature consideration and examination, of facts. He thought it his duty not to conceal from their Lordships the painful conviction he entertained that there was a strong and growing opinion in Ireland that with the conduct of the Imperial Parliament upon matters like this, exclusively Irish and of an entirely domestic nature, the Irish people had good reason not to be satisfied. He alluded to 1364 no association, to no particular party, and to no exclusive class of persons; but he had with sorrow learned—indeed he believed he ought to say it was within his knowledge—that honest intelligent men, in respectable positions, men of sober views, of moderate political feelings, and of different political parties, did doubt whether the Imperial Parliament deliberated and legislated in the best possible spirit and temper, upon matters that were exclusively Irish—diddoubt whether the opinions of Members of either or both Houses of Parliament met with sufficient attention on the subject of Irish affairs, and did doubt whether the wants of Ireland were sufficiently understood, or the feelings or opinions of the Irish people sufficiently thought of, cared for, or sought after by the Imperial Parliament. He therefore implored their Lordships not, by proceeding precipitately or obstinately in any particular line of legislation, to strengthen and extend this feeling. For himself, though no alarmist, he must say, that if Parliament persisted in forcing on the people of Ireland measures repugnant to all their feelings and all their wishes, they would be committing, not merely an act of oppression, but an act fraught, as it seemed to him, with much danger. They might depend upon it, that in a matter like this, if the feeling of the people was unanimously against you, the result of endeavouring to enforce this law must be disastrous. If the House granted a committee, and if he did not succeed in proving that the working of the bill had been unsuccessful, then they should take steps to establish it on a more sure foundation; but if, on the other hand, he succeeded in proving that the bill had failed, and had imposed on the people grievous burthens, without any commensurate benefit, he trusted the House would not hesitate to make such alteration and change in the law as the nature of the case called for, and which was necessary for the advantage of all classes of the community. The noble Marquess concluded with moving for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the Poor-law in Ireland.
The Archbishop of Dublin
said, it might be expected that he should not give a silent vote upon this particular subject, and if he felt doubtful as to the accuracy of the representations of the noble Marquess, he should still support his motion for a committee, for if the facts were not as he had stated, they were believed to be so. He was, indeed, convinced that the noble 1365 Lord's representations were thoroughly borne out by the facts, but even if there was the least suspicion that they were well founded, it was neither just to the Irish people, nor wise or safe to refuse inquiry, the suspicion should be crushed. He had thought the bill objectionable at first, and his opinion had been confirmed by experience. It was alleged, that the Poor-law inquiry commissioners were prejudiced against it, but not prejudiced in any other sense. It was said, that they objected to it because it was not theirs, it would be more correct to say, that it was not theirs, because they objected to it. For it cannot be supposed that the plan did not occur to them. Nothing would appear more obvious than the application of English reformed Poor-law to Ireland, especially as he was familiar with it both before and after it was reformed. He had, however, objected to the measure, but his objections had not been listened to, and he thought the measure had been too hastily adopted. On all subjects there is likely to be a difference of opinion between those who pay little attention, and those who pay much attention to a subject, but this is a case in which there is a great difference of opinion between those who have paid much attention to the matter, and those who have paid much more. The measures which, after considerable attention were found most plausible, were found on more full inquiry and consideration to be inapplicable, so that the commissioners felt themselves in the condition of Simonides, who, when he had three days to consider a question, asked at the expiration of the three for six more. Though he was the last person in the empire to justify resistance to the poor-rate, he could not but lament that the Legislature of the United empire should have passed a law which was so unpopular in every part of the country among high and low, rich and poor Roman Catholic and Protestant. Having travelled over a great part of the country, he could say from his own experience that mendicity had increased since the passing of the bill. He could not say how that happened, but the cause would come out in the committee. But when be saw that the collections at the churches fell off, and that the sources of private charity were dried up, owing to the poor-rate, it must be obvious that mendicity must have increased. For instance, the Mendicity Institution in Dublin which used to main- 1366 tain upwards of 1,000, does not now support many more than 100. The number of those not absolutely mendicants, but in great distress for want of employment in the populous village near Dublin, where he resides, is greatly increased through the withdrawal of funds which used to be subscribed for providing them employment even to a greater amount than the poor-rate. Under these circumstances, if there were even a doubt of the validity of the arguments against the bill, it was not wise, humane, or safe to cast aside the proposition for a committee and say, "We will see how the patient will be at the end of a twelvemonth." Agitation and alarm did exist in Ireland against a measure which the people regarded as not devised for the joint benefit of the whole empire, but for Ireland alone. It is common for demagogues to dwell on the defects of the laws, and for legislators to inculcate the duty of submission; but he was inclined to reverse this procedure—to inculcate in addressing the people the duty of submission, and on legislators the duty of making the laws reasonable. They had legislated for Ireland, it should be remembered as a child is governed by its parents, or a person of weak intellects by its guardians without its own consent. He did not say, that this should never be done, but that we incur a heavier responsibility when this is done for a portion of the United Kingdom, especially a portion that has once been a separate kingdom. The repeal agitation had been dying away when this measure had revived it, and it was one of the most popular topics which a demagogue could employ. Let their Lordships show that they were not apathetic towards the interests of Ireland, and at least not tell the people that they would not attend to their complaints.
§ The Duke of Wellington
would not attempt to follow either the noble Marquess or the most rev. Prelate through the details of their speeches, both of which appeared to him to have been made in defence of the report which bad been drawn up on this subject by the most rev. Prelate. The noble Marquess now proposed to appoint a committee of that House to inquire into the propositions laid down in that report, and to find whether the measures to be introduced for the amendment of the law were in conformity with the recommendations of that report. He perfectly well recollected that this measure 1367 passed with greater unanimity through both Houses of Parliament than almost any important measure which he recollected. With the exception of a party in the other House, to which it did not pay any great attention—he meant the Repeal party—he believed the bill passed with pretty general concurrence. He did not mean to say that the bill had worked in every particular in such a satisfactory manner as not to call for some alteration or amendment. He knew that complaints had been made of the conduct of the commissioners, and an investigation had taken place at the Bar of that House as to the proceedings of those who had the administration of that act, and he felt bound to admit, that it did not appear that the conduct of those persons in the administration of the act had been perfectly satisfactory. It was perfectly true, as had been stated by the noble Marquess, that the measure had not been productive of perfect satisfaction as regarded the putting down mendicity in Ireland. He admitted also that the Government were not at the present moment prepared with a measure to put down mendicity; for he believed that this could not be successfully done, until the Poor-law Act was in operation in every part of the country. It was only very lately, indeed, that any steps could be taken to place the poor under its operation throughout the country. The noble Marquess and the most rev. Prelate both declared that the law was generally complained of in Ireland. He had been informed by noble Lords, and by a relative of his own only yesterday, that the feeling was in favour of an amendment of the law, and not in favour of its total repeal. There had been a bill introduced into the other House, which had been read a second time, to amend this law; and he would not now pretend to enter into an explanation as to what were the enactments of that bill. He knew, however, that one part of it, which had been fully discussed, in the other House, went to relieve the lower orders of people from the expense attending the carrying this measure into execution. When the most rev. Prelate complained of the increase of mendicity in Ireland, he(the Duke of Wellington) would ask, whether it was not fair to impute some of this increase of mendicity, of which he complained, to the circumstance of their levying poor-rates on these poorer classes of persons? Now, one of the objects of 1368 this bill was to relieve all this class of persons from the payment of rates. As to the complaints of the noble Marquess of the conduct of the commissioners towards the guardians, he would suggest, if the noble Marquess wished to make some legal provision to increase the power of the boards of guardians, that the most convenient course would be to propose an amendment to that effect when the bill came regularly under discussion, and was in committee. In that stage of the bill, it would be the duty of the House to adopt any amendment which it thought calculated to improve the execution of the law. The noble Marquess proposed that there should be an examination before a committee, and this taking place while the bill was under discussion in Parliament, would necessarily be attuded with inconvenience. The noble Marquess and the most rev. Prelate both went for the total repeal of the bill, or the alteration of the whole system, and as this was clearly their object he could not recommend the House to assent to such an inquiry. At this period of the Session, also, they had not time for inquiry before such a committee as this; and as they would have the amended Poor-law Bill before them in the course of, probably, a fortnight, he earnestly urged the House not to adopt the proposition of the noble Marquess, but to give its best consideration to the measure when it came before the House, and they could then make such amendments in it, as would rectify some of the errors now found in the working of the Jaw. The noble Marquess, also, had called for the production of an immense mass of returns, and this to such an extent that he had been informed that they could hardly be prepared in the course of the Session. He, therefore, would ask the noble Marquess whether he could go through committee without these being before him? He would not allude at any length to what had been said by the noble Marquess and the most rev. Prelate as to a feeling existing that the Legislature did not do justice to Irish subjects which came before it. Now, all that he would say was, that he had taken part in the discussions on this bill, and he never recollected a measure being more calmly or attentively considered by all parties in the House, and he must say, that until recent complaint had been made of agitation in Ireland, he had never heard of that agitation being caused 1369 by the defective administration of this bill. Under these circumstances he should feel it to be his duty to oppose the motion.
The Earl of Glengall
said, that in his opinion, it would be found that there were not ten persons out of the eight millions which the population of Ireland numbered, who approved of the mode in which the Irish Poor-law had been worked out. There were disagreements on the principle of the law, on the application of it to Ireland, and on the working out; but it was a fact, that all parties in Ireland were discontented, with the small exception, as regarded the population, of those who had received an immediate benefit from its administration, and the still smaller exception of those who in the administration of the law had derived official emolument. Nor was this to be wondered at, when it was remembered that their Lordships had consented, after a deliberation of not more than three months, to apply to Ireland a law familiar to England from an experience of three centuries. That law had been applied, notwithstanding the urgent representations and remonstrances of many of the most intelligent and anxious friends of the country—it had been applied without due reflection that the social relations of the country in which the new application was to be made, were totally different, particularly those affecting the occupation of land, from those existing in the country from which the law was borrowed. It was a law borrowed from England and applied to Ireland, where the dissimilarity was great in language, in habits, and in religion, without any proper allowance made for those dissimilarities. Had these matters been duly considered, many of the evils which had followed the introduction of the measure into Ireland might have been obviated. He must say, in justice to the late Government, and in justice to the original bill, that the measure had been based on principles to which in the abstract he could not refuse assent, but that that bill, whatever its merits or demerits, had not had in its first application, nor in its subsequent operation, fair play. Without entering into all the details of administration, or adverting to all the errors committed, he would venture to request their Lordships' attention to a very few instances of mismanagement, for he would not use a harsher word. In the first place, when the measure was about 1370 to be brought into operation, a deception had been practised, not, he must say, intentionally—for of wilful deception he most unequivocally acquitted the parties concerned—but still, practically, a deception had been used to lessen the odium and mitigate the opposition with which the measure had been viewed. He freely allowed that in introducing such a measure it was a matter of extreme difficulty to avoid exaggeration, but it was not to be wondered at, that those who had been taught by repeated assertions, and apparently authoritative and well-grounded references, to conclude that the burthen of new taxation would reach only to a certain named amount, should feel disappointed and sore when called on to pay amounts far beyond those which they had been instructed to consider as the utmost to which they should be liable. It should be remembered that at the period of the first introduction of the act as a substantive and practical measure, assistant Poor-law commissioners had travelled round the country from one extremity to the other—had convened public meetings, and at those meetings so convened by themselves had stated, with every apparent authority, and manifestly with the view of conciliating the public mind, that the burthen to be imposed would not amount to more than 5d. in the pound. He would repeat that he totally acquitted the Gentlemen to whom he referred, of wilful misrepresentation; but the facts were undenied and undeniable, that at public meetings specially convened in all quarters of the country, the assistant commissioners had made the positive assurance that the Poor-law rate would be not more than 5d. in the pound. How had it turned out? How had those apparently authoritative assertions been borne out? In every instance those promises and anticipations had been found deceptive—the rate had in no case, of which he could learn anything been so low as l0d. in the pound, and in very many instances, if not in most, it had averaged 2s. 6d. in the pound on the valuation. That was misstatement or deception the first. Then, again, there was a mistaken step taken which had a very serious effect on the working of the law, and could not be considered otherwise than as having a very serious influence on the present state of things in Ireland. The commissioners, or rather the commissioner, at an early 1371 moment seemed to have anticipated opposition, dreaded that it would commence simultaneously with the imposition and collection of a poor-rate. To neutralise that opposition from the quarter then dreaded, some plan was to be devised, and it would seem that the commissioners or commissioner had struck out a plan, by which the whole patronage and influence conferred by the measure was conveyed to certain parties. He would always take care to avoid attributing positively to either parties or individuals, acts not falling under his own cognizance. He would, therefore, in reference to this particular part of the subject now under consideration, content himself with saying, that patronage appeared to have been thrown into the hands of certain parties, with the view of neutralising the opposition which was feared, and which from those parties would have been instrumental. What was the result? The patronage created by the bill was almost wholly placed in the hands of those who had influence, at least temporary influence, among the lower classes. Those parties at first gave their adhesion to the law; but having by that adhesion, in the first in stance, lost much of their popularity, they had recently awakened to the loss; and for the purpose of regaining their forfeited position, for the purpose of restoring themselves to that place of confidence and popularity, which had been lost or endangered by their previous adhesion to a measure which the lower classes had found to be deceptive and burthensome, those very persons had avowed open and unmitigated hostility to the law as it exists, and were daily adding fuel to the fire of opposition. Another point worthy of observation was this—the measure had been recommended to the Legislature as being more a measure of English protection, than of Irish improvement—and to some extent the argument had been received, that it would be a boon to the English agriculturist, inasmuch as it would prevent or check the emigration into this country of the agricultural labourers of Ireland. In this, too, there had been a misstatement, a misconception—he was unwilling to call it a deception. The very contrary of the alleged benefit to the English agriculturist had been the actual result. In place of checking the influx into England of Irish agricultural labourers, the provisions of the bill had had the very 1372 contrary effect, for now the peasant was induced to pass over to England by the circumstance, that a provision against want was certain to be found in the poor-house for his wife and children during his own absence in England; and this he must deem one of the most unfortunate attendant circumstances of the measure, that it held forth temptation to abandon wife and children to the mercy of a poor-house. Another circumstance or consideration which enforced itself on attention, was that the prestige and character which should have attended a board invested with such powers, and filling such a position as that of the Irish Poor-law commission, had been forfeited by the partisan way in which the administration had been carried out, and which had been to some degree exposed at the Bar of that House some two or three years ago. Having alluded to the inquiry at that time pending, he could not permit one circumstance of a very peculiar character to pass by unheeded: that was, the dismissal from office under the Irish commissioners, of a young gentleman who had appeared at the Bar of that House; he alluded to the case of the young man named Armstrong, who had, at the Bar, given testimony so creditably straightforward, and in a manner so honourable to himself, and so irrespective of other consequences than the ascertainment of truth—the dismissal of that young man from office under the Irish commission, had followed his giving that creditable evidence. He would not trust himself to say how trumpery were the charges which were subsequently brought forward against that young man. There was not a single newspaper in Ireland which had reported the particulars of those trumpery charges; and of those charges he would fearlessly say, that they were the most trumpery he had ever heard of, as having been brought forward against any officer of a public body, or against any individual. Mr. Armstong had been dismissed. He had given straight forward manly testimony, at the Bar o. their Lordships' House, his dimissal shortly after followed. It was, perhaps, strange —no, not strange, but, of a surety, it was worthy of observation, that of the persons then in office, under the Irish Poor-law commission, who had given evidence at their Lordships' bar, not a single individual was now in the same position, in the same place or office, as he had been at 1373 the time of his giving that evidence—not a single one now held the same position that he held at that time. This was strange —was it not suspicious? Again, what may be called a deception had been permitted, if not used, as regarded the amount stated to be necessary for making the preliminary steps to workhouse reception. The sum already expended had exceeded 1,300,000l., whereas the estimate of outlay had been 700,000l. That was in itself a just cause of complaint, but it would probably be found more serious, when it was considered by noble Lords, not residents in Ireland, that this large sum came in the first instance from the public purse, and that it may be counted as one of the burthens which had subjected their Lordships to the visitation of the Income-tax. To English peers and to the English public, which paid the Income-tax, he would say, that they suffered more by this law than did the Irish landowners or people. The habits and strong moralities, as well as attachments of the poor Irish labourer, were assailed by the temptations of this law. The workhouses were fast becoming mere boarding-houses and foundling hospitals. The practice was growing up of men getting their wives and families into the work houses, then running off to England there to contend with the already struggling English peasant for work. Here was a subject which would necessarily take up much of the time of the committee, should the House be disposed to give its assent to the motion of the noble Marquess. With the noble Mover he would ask, what was to become of those numbers of children now consigned to workhouses in Ire land—of those fast-increasing numbers, which the broken-down morals and subdued habits of the people were throwing into those great hospitals? Were they to be educated—were they to be taught trades? —educated and trade-instructed at the cost of those who, struggling to maintain an humble independency, were wholly unable to educate or instruct their own children in trades? Here was matter for deep reflection. On that subject he would not now dwell. The number of inmates in the workhouses he found enumerated altogether at 37,000. When the yet unfurnished houses should be thrown open, the number of inmates would probably be, in the aggregate some 70,000 or 60,000. With the additional numbers, additional expenditure must give rise to additional 1374 discontent. He was sorry—he was almost ashamed to say, that many of the unions were already bankrupt—others on the verge of bankruptcy. Many workhouses, erected at enormous expense, were found to be ill built—to have cost far more than the original estimates. Some were described, by reports which could not admit of suspicion, as remaining in a very rough unfinished state, the walls unplastered, without fire-places. In many instances it was alleged that the houses were in want of water, and had no supply except that which, in the shape of rain, came to them through holes in the roofs and through windows. In some cases the contracts had been broken —in some, the contractors themselves had been broken. Not to delay the House, he must say, that that which had been alledged by himself and other noble Lords who had originally op posed the bill, was daily being manifested, that the workhouse system was wholly unsuited to the country—that the test was inapplicable, and the attempt to apply it hazardous—and that it never should have been adopted, was now a problem demon strated. The report of Mr. Blake and the other commissioners appointed by the late Government strongly condemned the application of the workhouse system to Ireland. That system he thought would everyday develop more disastrous consequences. He would suggest to the consideration of the House the system adopted by the old houses of industry in Ireland, in which ample provision had been made for infirmity and decrepitude. To abolish or to abandon altogether the present poor-houses could not now be thought of; but he believed it perfectly possible to adopt some plan by which those now burthen-some and odious establishments might be converted into really useful institutions—into houses of industry on an enlarged, im proved, and more widely beneficial system. Another suggestion might be permitted to throw out. The vast outlay of 1,300,000l., already incurred, was felt grievously by the country. To the re-payment of that sum the country was bound, within a limited time. On that re-payment the Irish public felt naturally sore; he thought then that it would not be unwise nor unreason able to extend the period of re-payment, and instead of compelling that re-payment by instalments within twenty years, to extend the payment over some forty or fifty years. That, he felt, would be ex- 1375 tremely desirable, and noble Lords would concur with him, when they remembered how very difficult it was to collect the present rate. He had before alluded to the effects of partizanship as having marred the best efforts of those who sought to carry out in an honest spirit the provisions of the law. It had now become his duty to show how politics also had largely contributed to the same effect. He would confine himself to a single instance—that instance indicative of feelings and practices which too widely prevailed. In Waterford, the new corporation question had arrived as an incentive to party feeling, just at the time when union business had awakened attention. In Ireland it was universally known, for he believed no one would be found to dispute it, that these new corporations were the greatest nuisance existed, or that probably could exist. They were, perhaps, a greater nuisance than the poor-law itself, and of their united pestiferous effects there could be no greater proofs than the facts which he was about briefly to relate. It was deemed by certain poor-law guardians of the union of Waterford of the greatest importance, whether, from individual interest or political anxiety, that they or certain of their friends should be elected to the new corporation of that city. The House was aware that the franchise, the municipal power of election, emanated from the poor-law and was based upon the poor-rate. A political party among the guardians wished the co-operation of a certain district, known to be favourable to that party, in securing the desired returns to the municipal offices. Therefore, before the workhouse was open —before the system was in actual operation—those guardians declared a rate, and thereby secured their own purposes. Subsequently, when that poor-rate came to be collected it was resisted as all illegal rate. The opposition to the collection had assumed the most positive and stubborn shape. Police, cavalry, and infantry had, as noble Lords knew, been brought forth in all imposing array, to collect that rate and all had signally failed. That it was impossible to collect the rate in that district was now acknowledged; nay, what small portion of it had been collected, was now considered to have been illegally levied, and legal actions had been instituted for recovery of the sums so paid. There was another point intimately connected with 1376 the practical workings of this law, on which he was afraid, under the present aspect of affairs to touch. He feared to glance even at the tendency of this law to depopulate districts—to cause the removal of tenants. Much blame had been ascribed, much odium cast on Irish landlords. He would not now dwell on such a subject further than to say, that too often hard language was used without any clear idea of who were to be considered landlords in Ireland, or that confusion of words should not lead to confusion of ideas. Who were landlords in Ireland? If every man who let lands or houses were to be so called, then almost every man in Ireland was a landlord. Letting and sub-letting had been long going on, but the operations of this low would render it desirable for a very small occupier to get rid of his poor neighbour if possible. He was afraid to further allude to the present state of things in Ireland. It was wholly impossible for him—it was wholly impossible for the house, to shut their eyes to the circumstances of that country. It was perfectly clear that the poor-rates could not by any effort be collected there. But, while noble Lords sat here discussing the subject of poor-laws, vast masses in Ireland were debating, not about poor-laws, or depopulation, but about the very dismemberment of the empire. If those vast assemblies were permitted of tens and hundreds of thousands—if it were allowed to excite the hostility against this country of a whole population he could not trust himself to predict the consequences. It was true, the respectability of Ireland was opposed to the present wild agitation —the respectable Protestant, the respectable Catholic, the respectable Dissenter, the wise and intelligent of all classes, were wearied with and opposed to that unseemly and perilous agitation; but now was not a tune to lend strength to those who misled the masses—now was not a time to refuse the consideration and removal of acknowledged and proved grievances.
The Earl of Wicklow
was not surprised that this subject should have been brought before the House by his noble Friend opposite, when he recollected the manly and independent manner that noble Lord had opposed the Poor-law measure on its introduction by the Government to which he was then attached. It was quite consist- 1377 ent and quite to be expected that his noble Friend should now be anxious to call attention to the working of a measure from which he had predicted no good, and to the enactment of which he had been strenuously opposed. He had himself been anything but a warm supporter of that measure on its introduction—he had felt very serious apprehensions as to its results, but he had felt it his duty to give it most patient and forbearing consideration, when brought up to that House. When the bill for the enactment of a poor-law for Ireland had, upon most matured deliberation, passed the other House of Parliament, he had not felt justified in rejecting a measure so recommended to his adoption, but he had lent his aid to render that enactment as little mischievous as possible. It was most mischievous and most hazardous in the late Government to introduce such a measure, uncalled for by the people of Ireland; but having brought themselves to the determination that it was desirable, they in the first instance adopted a most judicious course. They named a commission, the individual members of which were well and most estimably known—persons whose ability, experience and integrity imparted the greatest weight to their consultations. On that commission was his most rev. Friend (the Archbishop of Dublin), and his most worthy friend, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. That commission sat for a considerable time; they investigated the subject in all its bearings—and delivered their almost unanimous judgment, to the effect that the English Poor-law system was not suited to the wants, the feelings, and the circumstances of Ireland. The late Government —disregarding, most unaccountably rejecting, that deliberate opinion of their own selected commission—determined that the system should be adopted, and so determined on the authority and recommendation of a gentleman, for whom he entertained, and had reason to entertain, the greatest respect—a gentleman who had certainly devoted, with the greatest possible benefit to the public of which the measure was susceptible, every energy of his mind to the subject; but, he must add, a gentleman who, notwithstanding all his merits, was totally unfit to pronounce positively on the fitness of the system, from his total ignorance of the country to which it was proposed to be applied. However, that measure did become the law, and that law their Lordships were now called on to 1378 submit again to the ordeal of a sifting deliberation. Notwithstanding all the statements and all the experience which had been laid before the House, he thought it would be most injudicious now to grant the committee asked for by the noble Marquess. For, under present circumstances, to go into committee would be tantamount, in public estimation, to telling the people of Ireland that the Poor-law should thenceforth cease to exist. That would not be a correct inference; but it would be admitted, that it would be the inference sure to be drawn under present circumstances. Would the House be justified in coming to such a conclusion, or in giving ground for such? He thought not. It was true there was much opposition to the working of the measure in Ireland. He admitted, that the opposition might be said to be very prevalent, but it was far from being universal. There were many places in which it was working well: that he had ascertained from minute inquiry. When first the subject was introduced, he had had many and strong misgivings—he had doubted that the machinery could be found in Ireland to carry the enactment into practical effect. He felt pleased that his misgivings had been removed—that his anticipations had been disappointed. There was not a single union in Ireland in which there was not readily found competent machinery for the working of the system. He had, previous to the passing of the bill, feared that it would have been found difficult to find persons to act as guardians. The very contrary had been the case; and putting aside for the present other considerations, it could not be denied that most competent machinery was to be found, and was at work in every union. The unpopularity of the measure had been of recent origin. There was, no doubt, very great objection in many districts to the payment of the rates. That objection originated in many causes. First, the rates at the commencement, or rather at the opening of the workhouse, were particularly heavy in each union, not because they would have in the first case to pay back a portion of the expenditure for erection, though that, too, would contribute to increase the bur then—but because the first outlay for necessary furniture and clothing would fall on the early period of rate-paying. His noble Friend had alluded to another source of the prevailing discontent, which was, that all electoral districts were called on to pay, though some sent no paupers to the 1379 workhouse. But his noble Friend had quite forgotten to state that the purchase of the furniture and other necessaries, was that which caused the call on those electoral districts not now sending poor, but for the contingency of whose sending them provision was thus, of course, made. Those expenses, it should be remembered, were not of a nature to continue—they must cease, and with the cessation of the demand must also be removed some portion of the discontent. Another circumstance of which the House could not lose sight, was, that the greatest distress prevailed from the reduced prices of agricultural produce—distress so great, that numbers were literally unable to pay any contribution. With respect to the opposition to the rate prevalent in that part of the country with which his noble Friend (Lord Glengall) was so intimate, and the accounts from which attracted their attention in the daily papers, he was glad to hear his noble Friend state that the opposition arose not from hostility to the measure itself, but from the illegality of a particular rate, or particular proceeding. If the rate had been illegally struck, and was sought to be illegally levied, he thought repugnance to pay it was perfectly natural, and should not be deemed any proof of animosity to the system, or held as a specimen of the general working of the law. There were many other reasons for the present opposition to the rate, to which he would not refer at present—those would suggest themselves to the House. But if the House felt that there was nothing in the working of the measure which contravened the purposes of its enactment—if there was found no just cause of complaint against the system as a whole, he did think they were not called on to take so decided a step as that of going into committee—a step which must eventually destroy all confidence in the stability of the measure, and create a general impression that the House was about to abandon a law deliberately enacted—to abandon it before it had received a fair trial. In allusion to the amendments in the measure which had been introduced in the other House, his noble Friend opposite seemed to object to the increase of the number of ex-officio guardians, on the ground that it was thereby intended to diminish the degree of popular control.
The Marquess of Clanricarde
begged to set his noble Friend right as to his observations. He had not said that such was the intention of the contemplated increase 1380 of ex-officio guardians, nor that such would be in reality the effect; but that an impression to that effect existed, and that in the present great and general discontent, that opinion was likely to be difficult to remove.
The Earl of Wicklow
certainly that was not the intention or object of the alteration on the contrary, it had been considered that, as the ex-officio guardians were to be elected solely out of the magistracy, and by the magistrates themselves, and the great majority of those holding the commission of the peace being Conservatives in politics, it would be an improvement to enlarge the number, with the view of admitting the minority to a due share in the administration of the law. By that increase greater scope would be given in the election. In some places the effect of this would be that it would not be necessary for the magistrates to hold any election, for the whole body of the resident magistrates would be included in the fixed number. He (Lord Wicklow) regretted that there was any election at all among the magistrates; he thought it extremely objectionable, as affording grounds for jealousies, and for entertaining the idea that, for political opinions certain magistrates were elected or passed over. Another amendment, introduced by his noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, was one which could not fail to make the law more generally acceptable to the great mass of the population: it was that clause which went to relieve all persons in occupation of tenements valued at or under 4l. or 5l. from payment of the rate. A clause to that effect had existed in the original bill, when it was submitted to this House some two or three years ago. He much regretted that the late Government had yielded to the alteration then made in that provision; and he deemed this at least hard, that blame should have been attached to Mr. Nicholls for a provision which was not his, but directly contrary to his suggestion; for he had at that time proposed to exempt from payment of the rate all per sons occupying premises valued at and under 5l. He believed, that if that clause had been permitted to pass, the House would not have heard of the opposition of the Irish people to the Poor-law. He believed that opposition proceeded principally from the lower classes—at all events that it owed all its strength to their discontent. For what could be hoped but discontent from a measure which sought to drag, in the name of relief for the poor, a 1d. or 1½d. 1381 from the truly poor man, who with difficulty earned for a family 6d. or 7d. a-day! How could it be expected that such poor persons would be otherwise than discontented, and opposed to the payment of any rate? His noble Friend opposite and others had complained that the measure contained no provision for the suppression of mendicancy. It was quite true that that was one of the expectations held forth, on the original introduction of the measure—it was one of the inducements extended to secure the passing of the bill. It was also true that no remedy or relief had as yet been provided for this mendicancy. But he did not blame the late Government that they did not adopt a provision to that effect as part of the measure. It would have been very hard to have adopted such a restriction on the poor when as yet they had no other resource. Until the whole measure should have been brought into its full effect he felt it would be harsh and unjust to deny the poor their usual resource of appeal to individual benevolence. But when all should have been matured, he believed then it would be the duty of her Majesty's Government and of Parliament to suppress mendicancy, not when as yet only a certain number of poor-houses were open—when those which were open could admit only a certain number of inmates—and when no out-door relief was the law. At any time, and at all events, it must be conceded that a provision to suppress mendicancy must be extended only to those to whom poor-house relief is offered, and by whom it is rejected. He trusted, that ere long such a provision would be introduced, and would be found most beneficial. His noble Friend opposite had concluded his speech by an appeal of a good deal of pathos, and the serious tone in which it was delivered certainly attracted very much the attention of the House, and the noble Lord said that reflecting men, men of sense, men of substance, men of all parties, were considering that an union in legislation was not, on the whole, the best for the management of Irish affairs. Now, he must say, he should be sorry to think that there was any considerable body of men in Ireland who did seriously reflect in that way, and he believed that if they were really men of sense, and reflecting men, they could not hope that if they had an Irish legislature which would lend itself to the passions that now prevailed in Ireland, results beneficial to that country would follow. Could any 1382 man suppose that an Irish parliament would ever attend to such men as those? The establishment of such a system of legislation as would then be adopted could only lead to their degradation; the force by which alone that establishment could be carried, could not contribute to the advancement of the general interests of the country. In fact, he did not believe that any great body of reflecting men had ever joined those who were engaged in agitating these opinions; but he did believe, that it was the duty of Government to watch well and closely all such persons, and show that they had a determination not to suffer such deeds and such language to pass with impunity.
The Earl of Mountcashel
said, he had heard with great satisfaction the statements put forward by the noble Marquess who had brought the subject under their Lordships' notice, and be had to bear his testimony to the ability with which he had treated it. Although the case made out by the noble Marquess was amply sufficient to warrant their Lord ships in acceding to the motion, yet he could not help rising to add one or two additional reasons why he thought the House was bound to grant the inquiry. As a Poor-law guardian, he could peak of his own knowledge of the abuses which prevailed in the administration of the Poor-law in Ireland. He would pass over the assertions of the Poor-law commissioners, as to the probable expense of setting the machinery in motion, assertions which had the effect not merely of beguiling that House, but also of beguiling the people of Ireland. It seldom happened that the Irish people were united in opinion upon any one subject, and when such an event occurred their Lordships would not act wisely in setting up their own opinions in opposition to the expressed and unanimous opinion of a whole people. Looking at Ireland just now, we find Whig, Tory, and Radical —Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian—all united in condemning the present Poor-law Act. In carrying out the provisions of the law, the Poor-law commissioners acted without any fixed principle; consequently great injustice was perpetrated. He did not wish to weary the House by going at length into details; but there were a few facts not alluded to by the noble Marquess opposite, which he felt it necessary to bring under their Lordships' 1383 consideration. The following extraordinary results occurred, according to official documents on the Table of the House:
The result of this was that,
Unions. Population. Net Rental. Number of Paupers. £ Cork 158,539 403,029 1,583 Fermoy 85,005 157,395 850 Clonmel 37,094 90,299 370 Waterford 79,664 202,977 736 Limerick 139,264 241,999 1,392 Lisburn 72,201 131,975 722 Rathdown 39,933 164,473 399
What struck him as most extraordinary was, that whilst in Limerick there was one pauper to 173l. of net rental, there was in Rathdown, with which the noble Earl behind him (Earl Wicklow) he believed was connected, only one to 411l. of net rental. He thought these statements went to prove the fact, that the Poor-law commissioners had not pursued a fair mode in administering the law; and, as it was a matter that required revision, it would form a proper subject for inquiry before the committee. Again, in the electoral divisions, great inequality prevailed. The electoral divisions in Ireland were divided not according to any settled plan, but agreeably to whim or caprice, or it may be—(he did not like to use a harsh term) according to the favoritism of the Poor-law commissioners. In the electoral division of Fermoy, which was his union and which extends two miles from the town in one direction, while on the west side it ends close to the town—many of the holders of town fields, which pay a high rent, do not contribute a fair proportion to the poor-rate. In the union of Fermoy the last rate was 1s. 5½d. in the pound; whilst, in other unions, it was only 5d. in the pound. In consequence of this inequality, the rate-payers complained loudly, and with cause, of the unjust way in which the law operated. [The noble Earl read the following statement of the rates in different unions]:— 1384
Net Rental. In Cork there was 1 pauper to £261 per year. In Fermoy 1 pauper to 185 per year. In Clonmel 1 pauper to 243 per year. In Waterford 1 pauper to 255 per year. In Limerick 1 pauper to 173 per year. In Lisburn 1 pauper to 183 per year. In Rathdown 1 pauper to 411 per year.
s. d. Fermoy 1 5½ Mitchelstown 1 3 Kilworth 1 0½ Castlelyons 0 10 Ballyhowley 0 7½ Glanworth 0 7½ Templemologge 0 5 Arnageehy 0 7½ Knockmonone 0 7½ Marshalstown 0 5 Castletownroche 0 7½
The subject of this inequality in the rate was discussed by the board of guardians, and it was the unanimous opinion that, if the electoral divisions were done away with, the rate would not exceed 7¾d. It was put to the vote, and it was agreed to ask the Poor-law commissioners to give their assent to break up the electoral divisions. The resolution was forwarded to the Poor-law commissioners, but they said they could not consent to the alteration. [A Noble Lord: They had not the power.] If that were so, it was a matter that ought to be remedied, and would well deserve the notice of the committee, if granted. There was another matter, too, which, at the present juncture, ought not to be left out of consideration. In consequence of the great depreciation in the prices of agricultural produce which had recently taken place, a new valuation was absolutely necessary. The price of corn had fallen—meat had fallen; he thought it therefore unjust that matters should go on as heretofore. Tithes, he thought, required revision also. Produce was much higher when the tithe valuations were made than at present, and where such reductions take place, all parties ought to participate in them. He trusted and hoped that their Lordships would grant this committee, as he very much feared that unless Parliament showed a disposition to meet the wishes of the Irish people on this subject, it would be impossible to collect any rates at all. The opposition to their payment began in Connaught, it had spread to Waterford, and it was fast approaching to that part of the country in which he resided. It was his wish to render this law effective, but he was satisfied, that if their Lord ships showed a disinclination to attend to the wishes of the people of Ireland upon this subject—the impediments to the well-working of the measure so far from being diminished, would be considerably increased, by a refusal to inquire into its practical operation. He originally op- 1385 posed the measure, and had entered his protest against it on the journals of their Lordships' House. He should only trouble their Lordships by reading one of his reasons for dissenting, and, as it was a prophecy almost fulfilled, he could not better conclude the observations he felt it his duty to make, than by reading the following extract from the protest made by him at the passing of the bill:?—
s. d. Killity 0 5 Kilgolane 0 5 Marrony 0 7½ Aheron 0 5 Killdorrery 0 7½ Farrahy 0 5 Ballynoe 0 5 Derryvilane 0 5 Kilcommer 0 5 Mogeely 0 5Because a measure more impolitic, and fraught with mischief, never was devised: it is enacted contrary to the wishes of all classes and denominations of the Irish people. It will meet with resistance; it will endanger the union with Great Britain; it will produce agitation and outrage, and it may ultimately lead to a rebellion.
The Marquess of Downshire
said, that he had attended a very large meeting in Dublin a short time ago for the purpose of going into the question of the Poor-law, and it was admitted on all hands that there were many faults in the existing law which might be remedied, and the result of the meeting was, that an application should be made to the Lord Lieutenant to have the subject inquired into, and he was bound to say that his Lordship received the deputation with every respect and promised that the subject should be considered. The result of that promise, he supposed, was the bill now in another place, and which in due time would come before their Lordships. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be prudent to postpone any inquiry until the bill should be before them, and then in committee, they might go fully into the subject. He was far from thinking that their Lordships should disregard the feelings or opinions of any portion of her Majesty's subjects, and still less those of Ireland, who were disposed fairly to consider this measure. But there were others who were solely influenced by party views, and whose objects were of a sinister nature—to use the Poor-law question for purposes which every good man must reprobate. He hoped, however, the good feeling of the people would prevent them being led away by such persons to support the views of those who were not really interested in the welfare of the country. He was willing to give his noble Friend every credit for good motives in bringing on this motion for the benefit of the country; but he did not think it would be of advantage now to agree to it. He had presented a 1386 petition from Belfast against the repeal of the Poor-law, and in the prayer of that petition he fully concurred. He thought that the object of those who wished for the prosperity of Ireland and the good working of the bill, would be attained best by calm and temperate alterations, and gradual and systematic improvements.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
agreed in many, if not all of the observations of his noble Friend near him (the Marquess of Clanricarde). He thought it would have been absurdly sanguine to be confident, when the measure was first introduced, that it would be a perfect measure. Originally he had agreed to the measure with great hesitation, if not with reluctance, because he had anticipated much of the objections that had occurred to the working of the measure, in the first instance, but he thought with others that the time during which this would be the case would speedily elapse, and that as Session after Session, representations had been made of the necessity of providing for the poor of Ireland, and taking steps for the suppression of the mendicancy which was a disgrace to the country, it was the duty of the Government to introduce this measure, which, however, let it be observed, was intended only as an experiment, and an experiment subject to review,—to try how far relief should be carried; and he must say he knew, notwithstanding the objections which had been made against the measure, and although there were defects in it as originally enacted, still he knew, that the main principle of the bill—the applying the test of in-door labour in the workhouse, as distinguished from outdoor labour, was a sound principle, and one which it was the duty of Parliament, and ultimately would be for the advantage of Ireland to maintain. He was quite ready to admit that his noble Friend had made out a Parliamentary case for an inquiry, and if he had not known from the votes and proceedings of the other House of Parliament, and from the declarations of her Majesty's Government, that a bill was depending there which was calculated so far as he was informed, to make great improvement in the working of the system, he should have voted for the appointment of a committee; but, as matters stood, he could not fail to see that by carrying that motion—seeing what was the actual state of the country, and with the knowledge of 1387 what was going on in the other House—the parties which were now hesitating between resistance and obedience to the law, might be led to believe, that by throwing themselves into the side of resistance, they would be able to prevail upon the House to abrogate the law and check that course of legal proceeding which was going forward in Ireland. This it was not desirable to do, for it was the duty of the House to uphold, and, at the same time, to ameliorate the law which they themselves had passed. He thought Parliament ought, as a matter of duty, to persist in overcoming, as they well might overcome, any little resistance that might arise. Then as to the amendment—as to the contemplated alteration, which would bring back the act to its original shape, and which exempted persons with small holdings from the payment of these taxes, if taxes they could be called. This clause, as it originally stood, had been very unfortunately replaced, after some debate, by the present one, the effect of which had simply been to raise a resistance to the whole measure. Therefore he thought this was a wise alteration, if that was to be done, which he apprehended it was intended to do. It was intended, too, he apprehended, to equalize the valuation, which would close a source of infinite mischief. These were the great practical improvements contemplated. He should not go into the whole subject; or all that might perhaps be required of him. He had hoped that some attention would have been given to repress mendicancy. That had been the foundation of the bill as it was first introduced; that was the object it aimed at; that was necessary to its proper existence. Since the passing of the act he had been in various parts of Ireland, and he had heard from every side this objection taken against the measure. The argument that prevailed on discussing the measure was, that it would be unjust to suppress mendicancy by making it punishable to beg, if they did not, at the same time, afford the mendicant poor an opportunity of being relieved in a workhouse. But though this was true then, in the infancy of the measure, yet the time was come, in his opinion, when they might proceed to prohibit the mendicancy of persons who had actually had opportunities offered them of being relieved in a workhouse. He had, there fore, entertained hopes that some alterations of this kind might be intended, but 1388 at any rate he apprehended that it would be open to any noble Lord when the bill came up to suggest any alteration which he might think desirable. With his noble Friend, therefore, he thought that these matters required great consideration. He apprehended they would be best considered when the bill came up, and then, if it were thought desirable, the bill might be referred to a select committee; but in any amendments that might be made, he thought there ought to be a distinct understanding that there was no intention to abandon the principle of the act, namely, making the workhouse the test of relief.
The Earl of Roden
was anxious in con sequence of the part he had taken when the measure was in progress through the House, to make a few observations be fore their Lordships divided. At that time he had stated to their Lordships that it was a measure not adapted to the state of Ireland, and be called upon the House not to pass it. As he was the person who had taken the sense of the House upon the question, he could bear out the noble Duke's (the Duke of Wellington) statement, that it met with the cordial assent of a great majority of their Lordships, inasmuch as he on the division, was left in a very small minority indeed. The more he had seen of the working of the measure and he had paid strict attention to it during his residence in Ireland, the more fully was he fortified in his original opine ion that it was not adapted to a country so situated as Ireland. That the measure required many and most important alterations, he had not the slightest doubt, and, as a committee up stairs was the proper place to prove the manner in which the act worked, he should give his vote in favour of the motion of the noble Marquess. He happened to live where this Poor-law might be said to work well. He was in the habit of attending constantly as chairman of the board of guardians, and it became daily more apparent that some provision should be made to put a stop to mendicancy. He considered that the good working of the law in his (Earl Roden's) neighbourhood was owing in a great degree to the exemplary conduct of Mr. Julson, the assistant Poor-law com missioner. He felt it his duty to state this publicly, and at the same time to ex press his pleasure that Mr. Julson had been promoted to a higher office in Dublin. Under all the circumstances of the case, 1389 and with a view to forward the substantial improvement in the working of the measure, a committee of inquiry up stairs was absolutely necessary; and for these reasons he would vote in favour of the motion of the noble Marquess.
The Marquess of Clanricarde
, in reply, said, he would not detain their Lordships at any length, but would merely refer to two or three objections which had been urged against his motion. It was said, in the first place, by the noble Duke, that if his proposal for the appointment of a committee were agreed to, considerable difficulty would be experienced in consequence of the returns with reference to this subject, for which he had moved some time since not having been produced. Now he thought the non-production of those returns was a strong argument in favour of the appointment of a committee; for he was convinced that, if they were produced, they would show the necessity of inquiry. The next objection had reference to the period of the Session at which he had brought forward this motion. He begged to remind their Lordships that, on the first day of the present Session, he moved for the returns to which he had referred—he was compelled to go to Ire land a short time before Easter—the Bill for the amendment of the existing law was introduced into the other House only, he believed the day before the Easter recess; and when he knew what the intentions of the Government on this subject were, he took the earliest opportunity after the recess of giving notice of this motion. This question was regarded with deep anxiety in Ireland; and he thought no reason should be afforded to the inhabitants of that country for believing that, while their Lordships were ready to spend day after day in determining the right to a title—and to an investigation relative to the disfranchisement of the borough of Sudbury —they were unwilling to take into their serious consideration a subject which deeply affected the interests of an immense mass of the people. The last objection to his motion was grounded on the fact, that the Government had already introduced, in another place, a measure on this subject, which would probably be shortly brought under their Lordships' consideration. He could only say that, if be had the least reason for hoping that her Majesty's Government would agree to refer the bill to which be alluded to a committee 1390 up stairs, he was ready at once to withdraw his motion.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, the noble Marquess could not expect him, at this moment, to consent that the bill to which be alluded should be referred to a committee up stairs. He would ask the noble Lord to pause until the bill had passed through the other House; and if, when the bill came before this House, and having passed through the usual stages, went into committee, their Lordships were of opinion that it should be referred to a committee up stairs, he should have no desire to oppose such a proceeding. He was ready to give the subject full and fair consideration; and he left it to their Lord ships to take such course as they deemed most advisable.
§ Motion withdrawn.
§ Their Lordships adjourned at 9 o'clock.