HL Deb 27 July 1846 vol 88 cc1-4

said, he had been directed by the Committee appointed by their Lordships to inquire into the operation of the Irish Poor Law, and of the laws for the Medical Relief of the Sick Poor of Ireland, to present their Report upon the subjects that had been referred to them, and should take this opportunity of expressing to noble Lords opposite, his earnest hope that the very important subjects referred to in the report might receive the early attention of Her Majesty's Government. Whatever diffi- culties had been considered as attendant upon the government of Ireland, and whatever differences of opinion had been supposed to exist as to the policy by which those difficulties should be dealt with—whether by the policy of coercion, or that of conciliation; or, what had never yet been consistently followed out, the policy of impartial justice—there could be no second opinion as to the existence of a state of suffering and wretchedness among the lower classes of the Irish population, which required the earliest attention of Parliament. He did not mean to convey to their Lordships that this state of things was peculiar to the present day: it might, indeed, have been aggravated by the late failure of the potato crop, and by the progressive increase of the population; but the repeated inquiries which had taken place into the condition of the poorer classes of the Irish, and which had established the fact of great destitution, without leading to any practical result, had happily caused public opinion to be strongly pronounced upon the subject. Doubts had been expressed by some, whether the inquiries that had taken place were ever intended to lead to any practical result—whether inquiry were not, in fact, merely the same thing as postponement. He trusted that the inquiry that had now closed would not be of this character. He was impressed with the belief that Her Majesty's late Government, in consenting to the appointment of the Committee over which he had had the honour of presiding, were animated with the desire of endeavouring to ameliorate the condition of the poor of Ireland, as far as the same might be effected through the instrumentality of an efficient Poor Law. He trusted that in the present Ministry there would not be found a disposition less favourable to carry out the principles of a law which originated with themselves, and for which they were properly responsible. At the same time he was far from thinking that the Poor Law and other acts into which inquiry had just been made, could alone be a panacea for the evils that afflicted Ireland. Other measures, and upon which greater differences of opinion might be found to prevail, were also necessary. There was also a necessity for the exercise of great administrative capacity, and for co-operation between the local Government and all who had stake or property in the country: and he would take this opportunity of observing, that it was not less the duty of the Government to seek that co-operation from the gentry of the country, than it was that of all who had stake or property in the country to afford it. But, although the Poor Law could not effect everything, it might, he conceived, smooth the way to the general improvement of the country; for, circumstanced as Ireland was, it was essential not only that adequate provision should be made for the destitute poor, but that the country, and especially the industrious classes, should be relieved of the pressure of mendicancy; that facilities should be afforded for the voluntary emigration of the poor from districts where the labour-market was over-supplied; and that provision should be made by which, in sickness, the poor and industrious might by timely and effective care be saved from falling into destitution. These were objects for which Parliament designed to provide, but which the existing laws had failed of accomplishing. And, should Her Majesty's present Ministers seriously set about rendering the laws effective for these objects, should the amelioration of the social and physical condition of the Irish population receive the consideration of the Govern- ment, he might assure them that they would not only deserve, but receive, the support and approbation of all that was respectable in the country. In moving that the Report be printed, with the Minutes of evidence and appendices, he took the opportunity of expressing his obligation to the many public bodies and private individuals who, by their communications, had endeavoured to assist him in the progress of the inquiry. He had felt thus cheered by feeling that the opinion of the public was favourable to the objects he had in view. To the members of the medical profession more especially, he felt obliged for the assistance they had afforded.

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