HL Deb 15 July 1862 vol 168 cc333-44

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that the laws at present in force in Ireland with respect to the relief of the poor was comprehended in a series of enactments, commencing in 1838, and ending in 1851 with the Medical Charities Act. Since 1851 several successive Chief Secretaries had introduced various measures for altering or amending the law—in fact, since 1854 scarce a Session had passed without some effort being made having that object; but nothing had been done. He believed that, upon the whole, the existing law had been well administered, and had given satisfaction both to the poor and to the landed proprietors. But it was naturally to be expected, that as time passed considerable defects would be discovered in regard to the working of such a law, and these defects it was the object of the present measure to remedy. Last year the whole subject was referred to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. That Committee had conducted a lengthened inquiry, and had made a Report containing numerous recommendations, most of which had been embodied in the Bill he now submitted to their Lordships' consideration. The alterations proposed might be classed under three principle heads. Their Lordships would, no doubt, recollect that in the measure of 1847 a clause, proposed by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory), and called "the Quarter Acre Clause," was adopted, by which it was enacted that the guardians of unions should not give relief to any person who held land to the extent of a quarter of an acre. This proposition was adopted in the belief that some such restriction was required, in order to prevent landowners and occupiers from being unduly pressed. He was not prepared to say that that clause was not a perfectly wise and prudent one at the time it was passed; but its operation at the present day was harsh, and he apprehended their Lordships would agree with him that the clause ought to be repealed, and the law in that respect placed on the same footing as it now stood in England and Scotland. The present restriction was harsh in its operation, and did not provide that amount of security against an improper administration of the poor laws in Ireland which was contemplated. The second point to which he would refer, showing that the present administration of relief in Ireland was faulty, related to the hospital system. The law was, that no person should be admitted into the workhouse hospitals who was not destitute. In the Act of 1843 there were clauses which had worked admirably; and the object of the hospital clauses in this Bill was to enable a class of persons, not the very poorest, to obtain admission into these hospitals, but they would have to pay some portion of the expenses. The Bill further provided, that if persons able to bear the whole cost of their maintenance entered these hospitals they should not therefore, if voters, lose their franchise. There was no provision in the Bill which interfered with county infirmaries, nor was there any desire to do so. It had been clearly shown by the Report of the Medical Charities Commissioners, that these county infirmaries, however useful in themselves, were inadequate to the wants of the people; and, SO far from any interference with them being contemplated, power was taken in the Bill to send persons from the union hospitals to the county hospitals. The third point which he would notice was the relaxation made by this Bill in favour of orphan and destitute children. It had been found that indigent children were, under the present law, obliged to remain in workhouses too long a period, and that that caused a great amount of mortality among them; in some places as high as 50 per cent. There were clauses in the Bill which would enable guardians to put these children out to nurse up to a certain age. A great discussion had taken place in the other House in regard to the limit, but ultimately it was agreed that it should be fixed at five years, with power to the guardians in certain cases to increase it to eight years. If the limit should be placed at twelve years, it would be departing from the object of this clause, which was purely one of a sanitary character, and it would be making it a clause of an educational character. The remaining clauses of the Bill related to minor regulations, which could be considered at a future stage. He hoped that their Lordships would not object to the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


* My Lords, I fully concur in what has fallen from the noble Duke regarding the operation of the Poor Law in Ireland. It was, undoubtedly, the most important measure ever enacted for the social amelioration of the Irish people; and to the noble Earl opposite, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the utmost credit is due for having originated it. I am happy also to express my concurrence in those provisions of the Bill now before the House to which the noble Duke has particularly referred; but the noble Duke has omitted to notice some most important, and, at least, one most objectionable provision, which I am therefore sure he has not examined. The Bill, in fact, contains new and important principles, which require to be the more carefully and impartially examined into, as, although introduced under the auspices of Government, it is the production rather of a Select Committee of the House of Commons than a measure prepared and brought forward by the responsible advisers of the Crown. I will, therefore, briefly draw your Lordships' attention to some of its principal provisions. It opens with a clause modifying the existing law with respect to the chargeability of paupers. The tendency is towards the principle of union rating, which many object to. I confess that any objection I entertain to the clause is, that it stops short of union rating for the cost of all cases of destitute poor persons relieved in the workhouse. The law as it now stands is very unjust to the ratepayers in towns, and affords an undue advantage to the proprietors of rural districts; who are enabled, by limiting the occupation of their lands to solvent farmers, and to so many only of the labouring class as are necessary for the cultivation of the soil, to cast the chief burden of the poor rate upon town districts. No blame can attach to landlords, but rather credit that they endeavour to have their lands profitably occupied; but as this has not been effected, and could not be without the removal of redundant population, wherever, on the falling-in of old leases, that evil had to be dealt with—and as the practice has commonly been to make pecuniary compensation to the families so removed, these have usually resorted to the towns, where alone they could find accommodation. The consequence has been, that after a time, on their becoming destitute, the burden of their support has been charged upon the locality to which they have resorted, instead of upon the division from whence they came. The chief cause of destitution is the excess of population beyond the means of employment. It has been an evil common to town and rural districts, and the burden should be shared by both alike. A different rule should, however, apply to the cost of medical relief. Each division, having a direct interest in the health and helpfulness of every one of its inhabitants, should be separately charged for it; and as such relief is most economically administered where it is most efficient, every inducement should be held out to the local guardians to look to it, as well as to prevent the abuses to which otherwise it would be liable. Any kind of outdoor relief also should be strictly chargeable upon the divisions within which it is administered. With regard to the proposed repeal of what is called the Quarter-Acre Clause, I regret to say that it is a step fully justified by the experience of the severe sufferings and privations of many small landholders in the last three years of excessive wet, causing the loss of the greater part of the food on which they counted for the support of their families. A Poor Law cannot be regarded as complete while any class of destitute persons—such as many of these have been of late—is unprovided for. Some provision ought, however, to be made on behalf of the ratepayers, that the land in the occupation of persons receiving relief as destitute poor should not be exempted from the poor rate. The Bill contains no such provision. I trust, therefore, the subject will receive the consideration of the Government. If the principle of limitation might still be preserved, it might solve the difficulty to confine the relief of persons in the occupation of land to those whose holdings, being valued under £4 a year, have their poor rates paid by their landlords. The next five clauses, which relate to the administration of medical relief, are, in my judgment, a great improvement upon the existing law; and I trust that, as the advantages of hospital treatment for the sick poor become more apparent, the present dispensary system, which is good in theory, but in practice of very little value, will be in a great measure superseded. The 10th clause, which regards the maintenance of bastard children, is the introduction of a new and important principle into Ireland. It cannot be denied that the present law, by which the unfortunate mothers are alone responsible for their illegitimate offspring, is very unjust to the weaker sex, and holds out to the seducer of innocence all the encouragement of perfect immunity. It operates also as a hardship upon the ratepayers, upon whom is commonly cast not only the cost of maintaining and educating illegitimate children, but also that of supporting their wretched mothers, who, owing to loss of character, often remain permanent inmates of the workhouse. The objections to the mea sure are twofold—on the one hand, by exonerating the women from their present responsibility for their offspring, it is to be feared that they may the more easily become the victims of seduction; and on the other hand, the temptation will be presented to the mothers of bastard children falsely to affiliate them, thus giving occasion for demoralizing investigations not unfrequently of a nature to disturb the peace and happiness of domestic circles. Great, however, as are these objections, I do not think they outweigh those that exist against the present law. I therefore hope this clause may be enacted. I regret to say that to the next—the 11th clause—which, as well as the preceding one, the noble Duke has not noticed, I must offer my decided opposition. It is designed to settle the question—In what religion a deserted child of unknown parentage should be educated? The common law has been by the most eminent lawyers declared to be that such poor children, being under the guardianship of the State, should be brought up as members of the Established Church; and such has been uniformly the practice in Ireland as well as in England until of late, when, it appears by the evidence of Mr. Power, Chief Commissioner of the Poor Law, taken before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, that the practice was objected to, and had been departed from in some of the Irish Poor Law unions. By this clause it is proposed, in favour of such objections, to set the common law aside by an enactment to the effect that every deserted child shall henceforth be brought up in the religion of the person, whosoever he may be, by whom it is brought to the Workhouse, which person is described in these terms:—"the person lawfully having care and possession of the child last before its admission to the workhouse." It is difficult to conceive how any person could unlawfully take possession of a deserted infant to convey it to the nearest workhouse; but this laboured description of the person performing the simplest act of humanity was introduced probably with the view of investing him with peculiar attributes and seeming qualifications for the position of the child's guardian—namely, the having had lawful possession and care of it, although such possession and care extended no further than to take the most ready means of getting rid of it without committing a crime. The proposition of making a child's religion to depend upon what might be the religious creed, if any, of the person presenting the child at the workhouse, originated, it appears, with Mr. Poor Law Commissioner Power, who alone was examined upon the subject before the Select Committee of the House of Commons. It may naturally be asked, what was the justification, what the public grounds for making such a recommendation? I will, with the permission of your Lordships, read the portion of his evidence in which he gives his reasons for the proposed alteration of the law. He is asked, in Question 911— What is the law of the land upon the subject?—As explained by Mr. Blackburn when he was Attorney General, his opinion being agreed in by Mr. Brewster, when he was Attorney General, the law of the land is, that a child, of whose parents the religion is not known, shall be brought up in the religion of the State. 915. "The law of the land being as you have described it, what is your reason for proposing to alter it?—A great deal of difficulty has been found in enforcing that state of the law. The guardians of a great many of the unions, not of all the unions, but of a large majority of them, are very much dissatisfied with that arrangement, because they think that instances occur where the parents of the child are probably Roman Catholic, and they object to permit it to be registered a Protestant. Upon that fact they stand, and enter the religion accordingly in the register. The way to vindicate the law is to proceed by mandamus against the board of guardians in those cases. We have attempted to do it; but, as it is stated in one of our reports, 'difficulty has been experienced in carrying out the law in some of the Unions in Ireland, the guardians objecting to permit a child to be registered as a Protestant in the face of a strong probability that the parents deserting the child were Roman Catholics. In such cases the mode of compelling the adoption of the legal course is an application for a mandamus to the Court of Queen's Bench; but it frequently happens in such cases that the child's death prevents the process being commenced, or carried through; and such is the strength of popular feeling upon the subject, that if at any time it seemed probable that process was about to issue compelling the guardians to alter the religious denomination of the register, arrangements would be made to remove the child from the workhouse, and maintain it elsewhere.' That has occurred in individual cases. They have been taken away. 'Under these circumstances, it appears desirable that some further legislation should take place on the subject, and we trust that whatever course Parliament may in its wisdom adopt, will have the effect of removing an irritating topic of discussion from the boardrooms of the guardians, and placing the law on a clear and definite basis, and one which will ensure a willing acquiescence in its provisions by those who are called on locally to administer it.' 917. "Do you consider that the law on that subject is not clear and definite at present?—I doubt whether we could succeed: we never have. We have never succeeded in enforcing the law, and I doubt whether we could succeed in obtaining a mandamus. I know there is a difference of opinion among eminent lawyers on the subject. 919. "Then, if the law of the land be under stood to be as you have described it, and if, as your report says, there is something indefinite or not clear in the state of the law, do you not think that the proper remedy would be to place the law on a clear and definite footing, and pass an enactment on the Bubject?—Yes, we wish for some enactment. 920. "Would it not be an alternative method, and more in accordance with the law of the land, by this section to enact that all deserted children should, up to the proper period, be brought up in the religion of the State?—That is an alternative, no doubt. 921. "Which is the simplest in your judgment?—We have finally determined on recommending this course. Now, I do not hesitate to say, that such evidence, and we have none other, affords no warrant whatever for an alteration of the law by which the religion of the National Church would be set aside. Although more serious objections might be urged against such a step, it should not be forgotten that by the Act for the Union of Great Britain and Ireland it is expressly set forth, as an essential and fundamental condition, that the United Church of England and Ireland should be upheld and preserved in all respects as one Church in government and discipline, as well as in doctrine and worship, as then by law established, and that, therefore, to introduce into Ireland a different state of the law affecting it from that which exists in England might be a violation of a solemn compact. But I also question the accuracy of Mr. Power's evidence as to the objections that he says hove been raised by a majority of the boards of guardians against the existing law. Until I read his statement I never heard of any serious difficulty being made about complying with it. Ever since the Poor Law has been in existence, I have presided over an extensive union in the West of Ireland, where the great majority of the population is Roman Catholic, and I can assure the House that no such difficulty ever arose there. The question, I believe, was once raised as to the religion in which foundling infants should be baptized; but when the law was declared, it was readily acquiesced in; and it is further remarkable, that in the three different Parliamentary inquiries that have taken place into the working of the Poor Law, no complaint was made, nor evidence given, of any resistance to the baptizing of foundlings in the religion of the Established Church. But supposing such objections now to have arisen, even to the extent represented by Mr. Commissioner Power, and the existing law to have been resisted by a majority of the boards of guardians, for the reason stated—that the parents of any deserted children were most probably Roman Catholics—the proposition in the Bill does not meet the difficulty; for the person conveying a deserted infant to the workhouse may be a Protestant, and still the parents who left their offspring to perish, but whose religious principles are so highly prized, were, as suggested, probably Roman Catholics. It seems also to have been overlooked, that by possibility the bringer of the child might be a Jew or a Mohammedan, or a person of no religion at all. What, in any such case, is to be the religion of the poor ward of the State? What, in the case of more frequent occurrence, of the deserted child being found at the workhouse door, when the person last in what is called lawful possession and care of it cannot be discovered? The proposition contained in this clause as a settlement of the question is, I must say, alike as utterly absurd as it is upon every ground unwarrantable; and I am not surprised that the noble Duke should have abstained from saying one word in support or explanation of it. From Mr. Power's evidence all that I can gather is, that the Poor Law Commissioners dread to incur unpopularity with a portion (and, although it makes much noise, I believe it to be but a small portion) of the Roman Catholic body inveterately opposed to the Protestant Establishment, and have therefore never seriously attempted to do their duty by availing themselves of the resources at their command for enforcing, in the cases referred to, a compliance with the law. I trust the House will not countenance them in giving encouragement to those boards of guardians which, according to their report, have set the law of the land at defiance, but will either reject the clause altogether, or, if the common law should be deemed insufficiently clear, so amend it as to make it simply declaratory. I cannot, for a moment, believe that your Lordships, on consideration of the nature of the proposed enactment, will concur with the Poor Law Commissioners in regarding the question of the religion in which a deserted child, cast upon the guardianship of the State, should be brought up, as a matter of such absolute indifference as to be made to depend upon the mere chance of what might be the religion, if any, of the person by whom it is conveyed to the workhouse. I am aware that, in discussing the subject in another place, these poor children were spoken of as "miserable outcasts of society." Your Lordships will, I trust, acknowledge them as your fellow-creatures—the equals with yourselves in the eyes of God, and as having peculiar claims upon your protection from their very destitution and helplessness. It is under this aspect that their interests should be considered. No one will deny that a guardian acting in loco parentis should act in the best manner he can for the religious and moral training of his ward. If that be so, surely, then, the State should not be wanting in its duty towards such poor children as are cast on its guardianship—to provide that they should be educated in the tenets of that faith which it upholds as being based upon the Word of God, and which your Lordships and the right rev. Prelates will not deny to be the best-calculated to exercise a beneficial influence for time and for eternity upon the character and life of every one by whom it is heartily embraced. Would any parent professing what he so believed to be the truth act otherwise? Would any Christian parent be justified in leaving the religion of his child to be determined by the first person he might happen to meet? Yet by such a chance it is proposed that the fate of the poor Irish orphan or deserted child should be governed. Your Lordships will, I feel assured, not allow the existing law to be set aside, in favour of an enactment framed in such entire disregard both of the established religion of the country and the best interests of the most dependent class of the community. I will only trouble your Lordships by noticing one more clause—namely, that by which the Poor Law Commission is re-appointed. It is made to include the Chief and Under Secretaries to the Lord Lieutenant. Now, my Lords, as it is impossible that these gentlemen can apply themselves to the business of the Commission, it would be much better that their names were left out. The Lord Lieutenant is the authority to which the Irish people naturally turn for protection when they conceive themselves to be aggrieved by malpractices in any public department; and whatever is clone, or whatever answer is returned, it is usually through the Chief or Under Secretary. But how can the Lord Lieutenant be referred to with confidence, in any difficulty arising between the public and the Poor Law Board, if his Secretaries are themselves members of the Commission? The inconvenience has been very seriously felt; and I trust, as I suggest that their names should be omitted with no other object than that of beneficially amending the existing law, the subject will receive the consideration of the Government. I now leave the whole subject with your Lordships, only thanking you for your indulgent attention to the remarks I have taken the liberty of bringing under your notice.


rose to move an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. The measure came before their Lordships in a manner that deserved to be marked by the signal dissatisfaction of the House. He entreated their Lordships not to pursue a vacillating and one-sided policy towards Ireland. By this Bill rich convents and monasteries were exempted from the poor rate. Why should this be? He wished to know whether the people of Ireland were the subjects of Queen Victoria or of the Pope. The clause with regard to deserted children was absurd and unjust; because, while care was taken of such children, nobody would be bound to look after them under this Bill. The poorhouses of Ireland would become so many monasteries and convents. The policy of the noble Earl (the Earl of Clarendon), whilst Lord Lieutenant, was the cause of the present unfortunate state of things in Ireland, for before his time the Roman Catholic bishops of that country were elected by the priests, but now they were nominated in reality by the Pope. He should like to know how the noble Earl reconciled his correspondence with the Pope to his oath of allegiance. The Bill was destructive of the rights and liberties of the people of Ireland, and calculated to introduce discord into the country, and therefore he should move that it be rejected.

Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this day six months."


was understood to oppose the Bill, on the ground that it went on a wrong basis altogether.


thought it possible that there might be some portions of this Bill which would be advantageous, though he must protest against some of the clauses. The clause which was to regulate the religion of foundlings was not only iniquitous, but absurd. It was ridiculous to enact that such children should be brought up in the religion of the persons who happened to find them. The clauses, also, which referred to the conversion of poorhouses into hospitals, in his opinion, required serious consideration.


agreed that the medical portion of the Bill required further consideration, for their Lordships should be very careful not to do anything which would injure the admirable medical system which at present existed in Ireland. The medical and surgical schools of Ireland were most excellent, and he feared that the provisions of this Bill would do more to injure them than could be repaired in a century.


thought that the measure ought to be read a second time, in so far as it carried out the recommendations of the Commons' Committee of last year; but the hospital clauses were not in accordance with the recommendations of that Committee; and, indeed, the Committee reported that further evidence was desirable upon that matter. The practical effect of the hospital clauses would be to destroy the county infirmaries which already existed, and which were found so advantageous, because the infirmaries would not be kept up if there was an hospital in each union. The Government, if necessary, should extend the infirmary system; but surely they should not, by establishing a new system, destroy that which already existed. He gave the Government credit for attempting to deal with the question of deserted children, though he thought it absurd that the religion in which the children were to be brought up should be a matter of hap-hazard.


was understood to support the second reading of the Bill.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn: Then the original Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.

House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.