The Earl of Clancarty,
on presenting a petition from the Board of Guardians of the Ballinasloe Union, praying for inquiry into the working of the Poor-law, said, This petition, as well as a similar one addressed to the other House of Parliament was agreed to, with unanimity, at a very full meeting of the Board, early in the month of March. I regret that, at the present advanced period of the Session, the inquiry prayed for, and which ought to have preceded the introduction of a bill for the amendment of the Poor-law, could not be instituted without a postponement of legislation which would be detrimental to the country; but earlier in the Session, it was a step that sound policy in respect to the Poor-law, as well as a due regard for the universal wish of the Irish people should have induced her Majesty's Government to propose to Parliament, especially after the recommendation to that effect, which shortly before the commencement of the Session, had been made by a numerous and influential meeting of Irish landed proprietors, whose advice and cooperation were respectfully tendered to Government in the very alarming and critical state of things which the excitement and agitation against the Poor-law had occasioned. My Lords, I have in 664 another place been quoted, and rightly so, by my noble Friend, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, as being friendly to the Poor-law, and as having testified to its good working in the district with which I am connected; but to some who were present upon that occasion, it appeared that my having as Chairman of a Board of Guardians signed a petition for enquiry into the working of the act, was contradictory of the noble Lord's statement. But I trust I shall not by your Lordships be therefore considered unfriendly to that great measure. The object of the proposed inquiry was not the repeal, but the improvement of the law, and its better adaptation in some of its details to the circumstances of the country. If the law was in principle a bad one, undoubtedly inquiry might and ought to lead to its repeal; but believing as I do that the law is sound in principle, the effect of inquiry could only be to improve it in detail, and to conciliate public opinion in its favour. It is, my Lords, a most just principle, in my opinion, that the land should be chargeable, with the support of its poor, and while, in the workhouse system, I see the only plan on which this principle can be carried out, either with eventual benefit to the poor themselves, or with due regard to the resources of a very poor country, I think the Poor-law has laid the foundation of a most valuable improvement in the constitution of society in Ireland by placing the administration of relief under the superintendence of Boards of Guardians chosen by rich and poor to represent the interests of both. Hereby individuals of different classes, sects, and parties, are brought to act together, and made sensible that, whatever their previous differences, they have henceforth one duty in common— namely, to provide relief for the destitute, and also one common interest in the general welfare, and the improvement of the resources of the country. But, my Lords, while I view the principle of the Poor-law thus favourably, I cannot but be aware, as most of your Lordships, I am sure, are, that very great and general dissatisfaction prevails with respect to it; and that if that feeling is in part the effect of a successful agitation against the act by those who desire to have it repealed; it is also in part justified by the faulty administration of the Poor-law Commissioners; while, with respect to the act itself, it is not perfect. Nor could it reasonably be 665 expected, that so vast, and, as applied to a country circumstanced like Ireland, so novel an experiment should be perfect at once in every particular. I accordingly suggested to my noble Friend, who did me the honour of inquiring my opinion upon the subject, no less than eight different heads of amendment, besides two collateral measures, which were and are in my opinion necessary to render the working-of the law such as it should be; but I, at the same time earnestly recommended the immediate appointment of a Parliamentary committee of inquiry, through means of which misrepresentation might be exposed, real abuses corrected, and the value of the various plans suggested for the improvement of the law, and the opinions of practical and influential men respecting it, brought to the test of public examination. This I am convinced was the proper course to have adopted with respect to a measure of such great national importance, and to the success of which public confidence is essential. It would, moreover, have allayed much of that jealousy which is naturally entertained towards the Poor-law Commissioners, for the vigilance of Parliament is the only guarantee to the public against the abuse of those great powers which are for the present necessarily confided to them. I must, therefore, in laying this petition before your Lordships, express my regret that the course recommended of inquiry has not been pursued, and that legislation, which cannot now be delayed, will not be as satisfactory as it otherwise might have been. I have another petition to present to your Lordships from the clergy of the united diocess of Clonfert and Kilmarduagh. The petitioners pray to be relieved from the undue taxation to which, under the Poor Relief Act they are at present subjected. They do not seek for exemption from their just proportion of the poor-rate, but they complain, and with good reason, that the tax falls more heavily upon them than upon others. It may be in the recollection of your Lordships, that not many years ago, an act of Parliament was passed, depriving the Irish clergy, in my opinion most unjustly, of a fourth part of their incomes. This fourth, my Lords, at present goes into the pockets of those who are, under the Poor-law, authorised to make a further deduction from the tithe rent-charge of the entire poundage of the poor rate. The owners of tithe property are thus made 666 to pay an entire rate upon the actual gross value of the tithes, while the owners of all other kinds of rateable property only pay a proportion of the rate upon an estimated net annual value. When then, it is considered how many deductions are made from the tithe rent-charge before it becomes available as income to the incumbents of livings, and that the low valuations put upon all other descriptions of rateable property, necessarily throws an undue proportion of the tax upon that which is valued to the last farthing, I think it behoves your Lordships, and I would especially beg the attention of her Majesty's Government to the subject, to devise a remedy for so undeniable a hardship.—Petition laid on the Table.