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Poor Law (Ireland)

Volume 102: debated on Monday 5 February 1849

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said, he rose pursuant to the notice placed on the Paper, for the purpose of proposing the appointment of a Select Committee, with a view to inquire into the operation of the Irish Poor Law. It would be in the recollection of the House that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne), proposed a similar Motion in the course of the last Session. That Motion did not meet with the sanction of the House; and the Government were blamed for the course they took with respect to it. He did not think that blame was deserved. He thought then, as he thought still, that any inquiry into a law, which it was no exaggeration to say had not then been fairly tried, must have been founded on insufficient information, and could not have led to any satisfactory result. Any legislation founded on such information, while the operation of the law was still comparatively untried, must have been unsatisfactory, and would have probably only led to the appointment of a fresh Committee to serve as the basis of fresh legislation. But the case was far different now. A year had elapsed since that period; and though in the working of a law of such vast importance, a year was not a long period, nevertheless it was hardly too much to say, that the experience of many ordinary years was crowded into the eventful one which had just passed. He could therefore now redeem the pledges given by the Government on that occasion, that if the law was not found to work satisfactorily, he would propose a Committee of Inquiry. He had hoard with surprise the disapprobation expressed from different quarters at the course pursued by the Government. It was said, that instead of proposing a Committee of Inquiry, the Government ought at once to propound their measures. He did not think so. If the Government pursued that course, they would have been justly chargeable with a breach of faith. And he would have expected to have heard, and he had no doubt he would have heard, eloquent and vehement declamations against the Government, for having forfeited the pledge they gave, on more than one occasion, during the last Session. But, independently of this consideration, it was desirable that hon. Gentlemen connected with Ireland, and particularly with such parts of it as were much deranged and embarrassed, should have an opportunity of stating their views with respect to the operation of a law of so much importance to every individual in Ireland; and not only to Ireland, but to every portion of the united kingdom. He would not now stop to inquire whether those derangements and embarrassments were to be attributed to the operation of the poor-law or not. It was certain, at all events, that the operation of that law must have an important bearing upon those districts, and therefore it was not unfair or unreasonable that an opportunity should be given to hon. Gentlemen connected with them to state their views on the subject, and to produce any evidence which might tend to throw light on the particular opinions they might entertain. Even if it should appear, on inquiry, that these views were not well founded, their rejection would be more readily acquiesced in after inquiry than if the Government were now to propose a measure without previous in- vestigation. It might be true that Government had superior means of information on this subject; but that was no reason why persons connected with Ireland should not have an opportunity of fairly stating their views, and why those views should not undergo a most patient and careful investigation. On the present occasion, he would abstain from discussing the disputed points connected with the poor-law, being of opinion that it would be better to leave them for the consideration of the Committee. He was attached to the main principle of the law; but still he thought many improvements could be introduced into it. He would not now state what those improvements were, as he would have an opportunity of doing so before the Committee. It was said, that the course proposed by the Government would solely have the effect of delaying legislation on the subject. As far as Government was concerned, he thought he had given proof that there was no intention of that sort on their part, for this was but the third day of the Session, and he came forward to propose a measure with a view to speedy legislation. He would undertake to say, on the part of the Government, that no efforts would be wanting on their part to bring the proceedings before the Committee to a speedy termination. And if any further legislation (said the right hon. Baronet, in conclusion) shall be thought necessary to place the law on a more satisfactory footing, every effort shall be used on the part of the Government to bring forward those measures. I have no doubt the same anxiety for the improvement of the law will animate every hon. Member who shall be placed on that Committee: and I cannot despair that we shall come to a satisfactory conclusion, and effect such improvements in the law as will I prove generally useful. The right hon. Gentleman then proposed the appointment of a Select Committee on the Irish Poor Laws.

said, that as an Irish Member, and as an individual who had from the first represented the ruinous consequences which must follow from the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government, he hoped the House would allow him to make one or two observations. His right hon. Friend had taunted the Irish Members on account of their hesitation to acquiesce in the appointment of that Committee for which they had struggled with so much unanimity last Session; but the House must recollect that last year their object was to direct the attention of the Legislature and of the country to the ruinous and destructive effects of the legislation which had been pursued; and that the case was now quite different. Now, that it was well known that the property of three-fourths of the landlords was confiscated, that a great portion of the capital of the farmers had melted away, that the strength of the peasantry was destroyed, and their domestic affections nearly obliterated, what had they to prove—what object had they to gain by the appointment of the Committee? On the other hand, those who had experience in that House knew very well that a Motion referred to a Select Committee was a Motion put aside for the Session. It was true his right hon. Friend (Sir W. Somerville) had stated that, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, there was every desire that the inquiry should be brought to a speedy issue; but had not his right hon. Friend also told the House that every latitude was to be given to every Member of the Committee; that every man was to be allowed to proceed with his own nostrum; and they had heard that at a recent meeting of nine Irish Members in Dublin, there were five different opinions on this subject. Then it was said, that when the Committee was appointed, the House ought to confide in it, and be governed by the wishes of the Irish people; but every one who knew the history of this very law, must be well aware that the opinion of the Irish people would be of little weight if it differed from that of the Government or the Poor Law Commissioners. He begged the House to recollect that in 1838 this law was forced upon Ireland in opposition to the expressed opinions and wishes of the Irish representatives, and in opposition to the report of the most able men in Ireland appointed by the Government, including the Archbishop of Dublin, Mr. More O'Ferrall, and others; it was forced upon Ireland upon the authority of the report of Mr. Nicholls, which would have possessed no great authority if it had not been stamped by the sanction of Her Majesty's Government. That report contained an assurance that the expense would not exceed 300,000l. a year, but last year it amounted to 2,000,000l. Had the Government then exhibited any displeasure towards the individual, who, through ignorance or design, had so misled them? Far from it; the same individual had received one of the most lucrative places which became vacant upon a change in the Poor Law Department in this country; and there was, therefore, no reason for supposing that Her Majesty's Government at all regretted the course which it had pursued. He would pass now to the Extension Act of 1847, which could hardly be said to have come into operation before the 1st of October in that year, as, until that time, the Relief Act was in operation. By that Act, for the purpose of calming the excited, alarmed, and, he might say, irritated feelings of the people (for to no other motive could he attribute it), outdoor relief was again forced upon Ireland, in defiance of the authority of the recorded evidence of every individual of eminence in that country—in opposition to the statements of every eminent political man in that House, in any way connected with Ireland, and notwithstanding a report of the Committee of the other House, stating that outdoor relief was dangerous alike to the interests of the community at large, and to those of the class for whose benefit it was intended. In defiance of all authority that fatal step was taken; and the ruin of half the country had followed. This law was universally detested; he would venture to say, that there never was a law in any country so universally detested, both by the ratepayers and the recipients of relief. This state of things was not confined to the provinces of Connaught or Munster, but extended to Ulster and those provinces which more nearly resembled this country; for he had been recently told that, unless some remedy was found, before twenty months was passed, all the men of capital in the north of Ireland would have left the country. In the province of Connaught the rated property was 1,321,065l.; the inhabitants, 1,448,000; and last year the relief given amounted to 372,649l.; of which the amount of rate collected was only 187,271l. In Connaught the average rate was 5s. 8d. in the pound; in Munster, 3s. 7d.; and that upon a valuation very nearly double what it ought to be; whilst, in England, 2s. 4d. in the pound was about the highest amount of rate. In the Castlebar union, 44 per cent of the population were on the rates; in the Ballinrobe union, 58 per cent of the population; and in the Clifton union, 62 per cent. These facts showed the state to which the country was reduced; but, further, the rates were almost invariably collected by military force; cavalry and infantry, and even artillery, were frequently obliged to be brought up; and the farmers said, would it not be better to leave the land untilled than to have it torn from us by the soldiers for the support of these houses, where the idle and worthless are maintained? The result of the present state of the law, therefore, was to diminish cultivation and increase pauperism. Under such circumstances, all of which were known to the Government, he thought that they were fully justified in expecting the Government to state what remedy they proposed. One step, indeed, had been already taken, and a very judicious one, for the purpose of reducing the poor-law districts to manageable limits, which were now so much larger in proportion than the English districts, that there was four times as much to do in the one as in the other. He felt that it was absolutely necessary that Her Majesty's Government should declare whether they intended to propose such changes as had been suggested by the Commissioners. It must be borne in mind that land in Ireland was not purchased or inherited subject to this tax, as it was in England. It was very well to say that they did it for the sake of uniformity with England; but why should they take the property of the landlords alone? Why should the mortgagees and annuitants escape? Why should professional incomes escape? If they took the entire property of the country, the landlords would willingly bear their share of the burden. In England the income-tax fell upon incomes of every description. By taxing the country upon that principle, an adequate fund might be raised, which would not exceed 1s. in the pound; outdoor relief should be abolished, and the workhouses should be made self-supporting; the ablebodied poor should be made, by their labour, to maintain the aged and infirm; and the expense might then be reduced to 500,000l. a year. Then let a tax be laid upon all property in Ireland—for, from the capabilities of Ireland, he desired to see Ireland developed—a sufficient tax to employ the ablebodied, and to develop the resources of the country; and he was convinced that it would be cheerfully paid. In that way only could the difficulties of this important question be settled. At all events, it was impossible that the present system could be continued; the intelligence and capital of the country were being driven out; property to the amount of 10,000,000l. had left Ireland within the last fourteen months; and if the system were continued, the result must be to generate an ulcer in one corner of the country which would, at no great distance of time, spread over every part of it. He would not longer occupy the House on that occasion; but he felt that it was of very great importance that some declaration should be made by Her Majesty's Government calculated to restore confidence to the agricultural body; for he could assure the Government of this, that if the present feeling was allowed to continue, two-thirds of Connaught and a great part of Munster would remain unsown.

said, it was very unfortunate that the forms of the House required that his hon. Friend (Mr. J. O'Connell) should introduce his Amendment into the debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, (Mr. Disraeli), in order to its being at all received. Under the circumstances the House was not disposed to attend to an Irish debate, while another and more agreeable, because a party one, was pending. Still the topics having reference to Ireland were too important to be passed over; and therefore he looked for the indulgence of the House while he made a few short remarks on the three points in the Speech from the Throne which had reference to Ireland. The Speech states somewhat too vaguely that great distress exists in some parts of Ireland owing to the failure of the potato crop. If this vague sentence indicates an intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government to ask the assistance of Parliament for relief of the districts alluded to—then, though he felt very unwilling to come, in any mendicant form, to ask aid from the Imperial Exchequer, he would support such a proposition, because of the utterly hopeless and deplorable condition of the south and western districts of Ireland. To sustain the destitute population in these parts, imperial aid is requisite—the entire income of the land is absorbed in some places, and still is inadequate for the purpose. In was the case in Con-naught—it was so in some portions of the county of Cork, in Bantry, and Skibbereen, and also in the remote districts of Kerry. The House may easily judge how inadequate to meet the present emergency are many unions in Ireland, when he stated that some electoral divisions are valued so low as 9d. per acre—that the ratio of the population is three to every one pound of value, and that according to the census of 1841, there is a population of over 10,000 to the square mile of produce in some of the west coast divisions, in their ordinary normal condition. What then must be the distress in these parts now, when that produce had in a great degree failed, and how impossible is it for the land there to support its enormous population? In truth the whole of Ireland is nearly in the same condition. Nothing can prove this better than the state of the circulation in that country. The banks of Ireland are permitted to issue something over six millions, without the necessity of having by law gold in their tills for any portion of the issue. Yet such is the prostrate state of Ireland that that circulation is reduced one-third, and the circulation in the hands of the public is still further reduced by hoarding; for a state of panic now exists in Ireland somewhat similar to that in October 1847 in this country. The consequence is that trade is at an end, that prices have fallen one-half, that the whole country is broken down and prostrate. The whole condition of the country is then deserving the attention of Parliament, with the view to some permanent and effectual remedy. He next came to the question of the Poor Law: and here he must say that he altogether differed from his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. J. O'Connell), when he said no inquiry was necessary before legislation on this all-important question. He felt it was imperatively called for, and he considered it would be most inconsistent on the part of the Irish Members now to say no inquiry was necessary, when last year they were loud in their complaints throughout the length and breadth of the land, because such inquiry was refused them. The great difference of opinion which exists both outside and inside the House proves that such inquiry was called for. There was a meeting of Irish Members in Dublin a few days ago. The number assembled was nine. The question discussed was the poor-law, and there were five distinct and separate opinions expressed at that meeting. Again, in the present debate, mark the various opinions. For example—he was now and at all times in favour of a poor-law for Ireland. His hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. J O'Connell), was opposed to it, so was the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Grattan). Therefore, he considered inquiry necessary; but he hoped, and from what had fallen from the noble Mover, he believed, that that inquiry would have for its object the making the law more efficient for the protection of the destitute, and the preventing wealthy proprietors of the soil shirking their responsibilities and placing the burden on other shoulders. He now approached the subject of his hon. Friend's Amendment. Had he ventured to speculate on what would have been the reference made to Ireland, he would have anticipated that Her Majesty would have congratulated Parliament on the perfect tranquillity which existed in Ireland; and as they had always heard that agitation was the bane of Ireland—that nothing could be done for her while it continued—that extensive amelioration would be the consequence of its non-existence, he did hope that enlarged measures for the social benefit of that country would be recommended in the Speech, by reason of the perfect quiet that reigns in Ireland. Yet now for the fifth time, within almost twelve months, they were to have coercion, and the constitution was to be suspended without just cause, for he denied that there was, as the noble Mover of the Address (Lord H. Vane) stated, disaffection in Ireland. Where was the proof of it? He asserted that all political feeling was dead in Ireland—that the people were sick of agitation, and though in some districts in the north disorganisation existed, still he believed there was much exaggeration—much of false statement and of absolute hoaxing in what was going on there; and in the part of the country with which he was acquainted, he asserted that there was no justification for the demand for new powers on the part of the Lord Lieutenant. The noble Mover said, that this was a vote of confidence in Lord Clarendon. Now, he fully admitted—for he would never disguise a conviction he entertained—that Lord Clarendon had exercised the powers entrusted to him with great moderation. But he was not disposed to give him his confidence so long as he defended, by his station and his talents, the jury system in Ireland. [A laugh.] Yes, he would call it the Irish jury system—for that meant the jury packing system. Would that House believe it, that on a late occasion out of a list on the jury book of 2,900 Catholics, and 1,600 Protestants, the sheriff selected a panel of 177, of whom there were not more than twenty-five Catholics, after deducting those who were dead, or could not attend, or were otherwise objectionable; and of these twenty-five, nineteen were placed amongst the last sixty names, and therefore, had no chance of being on the jury, who were to try a Roman Catholic for a political offence. This system of exclusion he protested against—this abolition of the Act of Emancipation—this setting class against class; and until it was remedied, Lord Clarendon could not hope for the confidence of the Irish people. A trial was shortly to take place in that country. Let a new system be adopted—let the jury be fairly and indiscriminately selected, and he, for one, was disposed to overlook the past, provided redress was afforded at the eleventh hour for the wrong heretofore inflicted on the Catholics of Ireland, and on the accused, by the jury packing system of Ireland. Coercion and jury packing were not the way to govern Ireland. Do her justice—improve her social condition—give her people an interest in her soil and in her institutions—make the interest of one class the interest of the other; and then, and not till then, will you obtain the confidence of Ireland.

expressed his satisfaction at the course pursued by the Government, and he trusted that one result of the inquiries of the Committee would be to show that Irish Members in asking for an investigation had not been actuated, as they had been accused of being, by a wish to get rid of the poor-law altogether. He could answer for the majority, not only of Irish Members but of Irishmen, that they had no desire to shift from their own shoulders the burden of supporting their own poor. Their sole reason for asking for inquiry last year was, to stimulate as much as possible the energies of the people and the labour of the country. The great object to be kept in view was the development of the agricultural resources of the country; whereas hitherto employers had found that by giving labourers employment, they had not relieved themselves at all from the burden of taxation, which had, at length, become intolerable. In amending the poor-law, care should be taken to adapt it to ordinary years, to what he hoped would be the condition of Ireland. A great difference of opinion naturally prevailed amongst Members representing different districts. The amount of destitution varied. In some parts it was frightful, while in others it was comparatively light, He recollected hearing a gentleman observe at a meeting held in Dublin, that the poor-law must be working very well in a certain district of Wicklow, seeing that there were no complaints about it. The ex- planation of this was, that in Wicklow there prevailed remarkably little destitution. A similar difference of opinion would, under similar circumstances, prevail in England.

said, although he had no fault to find with the appointment of the Committee, but, on the contrary, was of opinion that, considering the feeling which prevailed in Ireland, it would be wholly unjustifiable to refuse inquiry, yet he was anxious to state his belief that Irish Members deceived themselves when they fancied that the evils from which they suffered resulted from the working of the corn law—[Laughter]—he meant the poor-law. Hon. Members opposite had spoken so much of late respecting the corn law, that his mistake might be excused. The great complaint made by Irish Members was that an excessive amount of pauperism existed in certain parts of Ireland. The English poor-law was at present comparatively little complained of; but if pauperism existed in any English county to as great an extent as it did in some parts of Ireland, the English law would be complained of just as loudly as was the Irish. The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last (Major Blackall), had declared that Irish people having property were not indisposed to support the poverty of their country. He was exceedingly glad to hear that statement; but he believed that the labours of the Committee would lead to the conclusion that no shifting of the burden of poor-rates in Ireland from one district to another, and no readjustment of the poor-law staff, however expensive it might be at present, would save Ireland from absolute ruin, from a state of things in which one half of the population would oat up the other, which was, in fact, nearly the existing condition of many parts of the country. The hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. F. French) said he did not see why mortgagees and annuitants should not bear a portion of the burden. Was not the hon. Member aware that if any one borrowed money of a capitalist in this country, he must, as a matter of course, pay the rate of interest bargained for; and that if he required a mortgagee to pay a portion of his rates, the only result would be, cither that he would be obliged at the same time to offer a larger rate of interest, or else that he would be unable to obtain the loan? There was, in fact, no more helpless delusion than that of supposing, as many hon. Members did, that they might by such means as these get rid of the pressure of the poverty by which they were surrounded. He did not know whether or not the Committee would be allowed to go into other questions besides that of the poor-law itself; but the attention which he had paid to the subject—though not an Irish Member, and though he had not lived in Ireland, the question was one which had not been neglected by him—had led him to the conclusion that, unless the resources of Irish land were developed, the people, having no power of supporting themselves by their own industry, Irish landlords would remain for a time in their present position, and would in the end infallibly be eaten up. There was no one here who could relieve them; there was not wealth or industry enough in Great Britain to save them, if they were able to do nothing for themselves. He had no doubt whatever that there were many districts of Ireland—that there were, in fact, many counties—which, at that moment, were in such a position through incumbrances, mortgages, and settlements of various kinds, that it was quite impossible for the land, in the present state of things, to support the population. Last year a Bill had passed through Parliament for which the Government took great credit. When that Bill came down from the other House, where it encountered many difficulties, the Solicitor General made several beneficial alterations in it. At the last stage, however, of the measure there was a clause added to it which referred to the service of certain notices, which clause had the effect of destroying nineteen-twentieths of any good that was likely to be derived from it when it came from the hands of the Solicitor General. He had understood that that clause was inserted for the purpose of ensuring the passing of the Bill in the other House of Parliament. He did not positively affirm that such was the case, but he had heard the statement on pretty good authority. He now asked the Government if they were aware of any case in which the measure, having been put in force, had done one particle of good in the direction in which it was intended to operate? They could not, he thought, point out a single instance. He had heard of one instance, in which there having been an attempt to put the Bill in force, it was found impossible to do so. Another case of attempt he had been informed of, in which considerable mischief had arisen; and he believed that no one had derived the slightest benefit from the measure except the Irish lawyers. Unless the House could grapple with the land question, no Landlord and Tenant Bill, no Poor Law Bill, and no shifting of taxation from one district to another, and no taxing of mortgagees or proprietors of moveable property, could produce any beneficial effect. The people must be set to work by some means or other, or else the pauperism of Ireland would eat up its property.

said, that it was not often he had the satisfaction of hearing a speech from the hon. Member for Manchester in every word of which he most entirely concurred. It was his most decided opinion, that unless they dealt at once with the land question in Ireland, and made a poor-law which would develop the resources of the country, they would do nothing, and would have to come down year after year for million after million of the public money, which would impoverish even the resources of this great empire, and, instead of affording real and lasting relief to Ireland, it would only tend to perpetuate the very evil in question. The Economist of last week contained a little anecdote, to which he would call the attention of the House, as showing the effect of the present condition of things in that country. A Scotch farmer, upon being asked why he would not go into Ireland and embrace some very tempting offer, and invest his capital there, and employ his skill and industry, made this answer, "I want to go where I can farm, and not to pay poor-rates." This answer really involved the whole question to be considered by the House. It was not that Scotch farmers or English capitalists objected to bear their fair share of the burdens of poor-rates; but when they invested their money, they wanted to know, with some sort of approximation to the truth, what the returns to the capital would be. He would give the House an instance of the beneficial operation of capital, when something like a return to it could be calculated. In the very worst union of an electoral division in the worst county of the worst province of Ireland, there was an island called Arran More. Upon this island was such a nest of paupers, that it was impossible to know how to deal with it. A Belfast capitalist came forward and said, "I will buy the island" (the island belonged to a noble Marquess), "but I demand, before I buy it, not that any Government money should be advanced to it; not that it may be relieved from the payment of poor-rates; not that it may be dealt with as a special case; but that it may be made an electoral division of by itself." The board of guardians, anxious to get rid of this worst part of their district, wrote to the Commissioners to ask leave to avail themselves of the powers granted under the Act, and make the island an electoral division. The Commissioners acceded to the request; the island was made an electoral division, purchased by the capitalist, and the work of imporvement was now fast progressing on the island. Now here was a case in which the resources of the land were developed. It was not a case of religious or political triumph, but a mere matter of business, a calculation of "what return shall I get for my money?" The House would perceive then that it would be extremely difficult to deal with such cases as these. Hon. Gentlemen would be very much surprised if they were to awake some morning and discover that a line had been drawn through their estates, and that thus one half the land was thrown into one parish and the other half into another; yet such was the case in Ireland, and that entirely in consequence of the manner in which the Commissioners had drawn lines over extensive districts. He was not giving utterance merely to his own theories on the subject; he told the House what was the case where the resources of the land were allowed to be developed. He knew it might be said that there would be great difficulties in dealing with these cases. It might be said by persons who managed their own property well, "We manage our own property, and attend to our own poor; let the remainder be provided for by other and more general means." Those parties, however, who advocated the small area of taxation were perfectly willing to bear their portion of a burden of a rate in aid, over and above a certain amount which might be expended by themselves. The difficulty in that respect would therefore cease upon the adoption of such a plan. The whole system of electoral divisions required revision. Nothing could be more arbitrary than the manner in which the Commissioners, sitting perhaps in their carriages, on the nearest road, marked the country out into off-hand divisions, wholly regardless of parks, or properties, or parishes, or unions, or baronies, or even of counties. He was aware that a Boundary Commission had been appointed in 1847; it would be premature to state what they intended to do, but it would not be premature to state that the tendency of the report of that Commission would be, unless public rumour very much belied them, to make a very considerable reduction in the area of taxation for poor-law purposes. He should have wished to have known what portion of the poor-law the Government were prepared to maintain. He trusted that the Government would not be open to some severe blame, when this debate was concluded, on the ground that they had refused to specify upon what portion of the Irish poor-law they were determined to take their stand. The right hon. Member for Drogheda (Sir W. Somerville) had said that they were prepared to take their stand upon the main points of the poor-law. That was merely begging the question, for he did not state what those "main points" were. Were the Government prepared to stand to the system of outdoor relief to the ablebodied? Were they disposed to support the taxation upon the tenant? Would they continue their support to the quarter-acre clause? Were they disposed to make any alteration in the present existing boards? Did they propose to make any alteration affecting the interests of immediate lessors? In what manner did they propose to consider the question of tithes in reference to the incidents of the poor-rates? Were these subjects to be meddled with or not? If not, let them state it. If they were to be touched, he maintained that the Government would shrink from its responsibility if it did not openly avow its intentions on the subject, and their conduct would give rise to unfounded hopes and vague misapprehensions in the minds of the people of Ireland, and would tend to confirm the report, very generally and widely spread, that the Government had had recourse to this Committee because they were, upon the subject of the poor-law of Ireland, a divided Government; they gave no reason to the people to believe that the proceedings of this Committee would be brought to a satisfactory determination; and the general opinion would be, that they delayed legislation upon the matter because they found themselves incompetent to perform the task.

observed, that the resolutions to which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fagan) had referred, were not, in point of fact, resolutions, but simply suggestions, emanating from various parts of Ireland. There certainly had been much difference of opinion at the meeting in question, even more than had been stated, for there being nine gentlemen present, there had been declared ten differences of opinion, so that one gentleman must have differed in opinion from himself, as well as from the other eight gentlemen. He considered that the Government were adopting a wise course in appointing this Commission. In the course of the last Session, he had the honour to move for a Select Committee on the same subject; but he was then told that his Motion was premature, that the measure had not yet received a fair trial. The measure had now received a fair trial; and he was grateful to the Government for the course they now proposed to take on the subject. He was firmly persuaded that the result of the inquiry of the Committee would be most beneficial. No poor-law could ever be framed with such an amount of talent and judgment as to enable it to supply the wants of some of the districts in the west of Ireland. Where the valuation of the property was insufficient to support the population resident upon it, some other remedy must be sought for. The hon. and gallant Member then referred to the union of Skibbereen, which had a population of 104,508 persons, while the property of the district was valued at 98,255l., being about 17s. or 18s. a head. The whole property of the country was melting away, and Ireland would become one mass of pauperism unless some remedy were applied. The poor-laws of England and of Ireland were in many respects essentially different, both in their principle and their operation. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford) had already referred to the disruption of districts which had been parcelled out in the most capricious manner; and he had also to complain that the poor-law returns were got up in a very imperfect way. He must impress upon the Government the necessity of making a marked distinction between support inside and outside of the workhouse, without which there never would be any improvement in the administration of the law. One of the great defects in the conduct of the Irish Poor Law had been the mixing up two questions essentially different: the one, the ordinary poor-law, applicable to a sound state of society; the other, that relief of destitution which was necessitated by the exceptional application of a general dearth. These cases should be treated upon wholly different principles. One enormous evil of the present system was, that it inflicted double oppression upon the very men who most earnestly applied themselves to the improvement of their estates. The hon. Gentleman referred in particular to the cases of Sir Charles Coote and Lord Farnham, who having no paupers whatever upon their own properties, but on the contrary giving constant employment to several hundreds of men, were, by the unjust distribution of the taxation area, made to pay enormously beyond anything like their fair proportion. The whole thing, in fact, needed thorough revision. The ordinary practice must be completely remodelled. In the returns, too, there must be a careful adherence to the facts. As to the present returns, they were almost all of them mere deceptions, mixing up figures and statements having no sort of connexion, except in the purpose of the parties advancing them for their own purposes. He said, therefore, that it was necessary to have an inquiry; and if that inquiry should be carried out in the spirit which his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland had announced, he (Colonel Dunne) should give him his most cordial support.

said, he could not forget that the extremely onerous and important duties of Secretary for Ireland, conjointly with those of a Poor Law Commissioner, and a law officer of the Crown, all devolved upon the right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Somerville) opposite, for whom he felt disposed, therefore, to make very great allowances. He hoped, however, that those pertinent questions which had been put by his hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford) would be distinctly answered before the close of the debate; and in the meantime he must complain that the Irish Secretary had altogether abstained from laying before the House those matured views upon the question which he should have thought he must have formed as the head of the Irish Poor Law Commission. He should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have shown them something of the unanimity that prevailed amongst his Colleagues, and that the opinion of Mr. Twisleton would have been laid before the House. He trusted, moreover, that some Member of the Cabinet would explain to the House the principle upon which the poor-rates were at present collected in Ireland. As he understood the matter, it was done something in this way—The guardians met and discovered that the sum, say of 5,000l., was necessary to carry out the purposes of the Act. They consulted their clerk, and inquired what rate would be necessary in order to realise that sum. He would respond, perhaps, 1s. in the pound. That rate would be accordingly struck, and the collectors would go forth to collect it. In seven or eight weeks the collectors would return, but instead of having received 5,000l., they had probably not got in more than 3,000l. What was then to be done? Another rate must be struck, perhaps of 4d. in the pound. Again the collectors go forth, and after another lengthened absence they return with 1,500l., and this second sum has been collected almost entirely from the very persons who paid the first rate; whilst those who evaded the first rate, evaded the second also. This was a direct encouragement to a certain set of miserable landlords, whom he need not further particularise, to have upon their estates a class of tenants who were able to pay rack rents, but could not pay the poor-rates. Some years ago it was looked upon as one of Ireland's grievances, that there was no provision in that country for the registration of births, deaths, and marriages. When he (Mr. Sadlier) asked the noble Lord at the head of the Government a question upon that subject last Session, he stated he had all the materials necessary for the introduction of the Bill, and felt that it was a very desirable measure, still that he was not prepared to bring it forward at that time. This was a measure which, in his opinion, was intimately connected with the operation of an efficient poor-law in Ireland; and it was impossible to consider the question whether a law of settlement should be retrospective or not, unless they ascertained the intentions of the Government on that subject. With respect to mortgagees, he thought it very desirable that it should not go forth to the public, that there was any intention to make them contribute towards the poor-rate, as nothing could tend more to prevent the introduction of capital into Ireland. He hoped that in the present Session, a Registration Bill would be introduced by some Member of the Cabinet; for it was evident that the English Bill must he perfectly futile, unless the registration also extended to Ireland. Some allusions had been made to the subject of the area of taxation, which would be one of the most important subjects that could engage the attention of the Committee. Let the House compare England with Ireland in this respect. In this country there was a cultivable area of about 25,000,000 acres, whilst in Ireland the cultivable area was something above 13,000,000 acres. In England there were 533 unions and union houses; but in Ireland the law was expected to work successfully with about 132 unions and union houses. Of these 533 in England, only 42 exceeded 100,000 acres in extent, whilst in Ireland there were 107 with an area exceeding 100,000 acres; and of those no less than 25 exceeded 200,000 acres. The average population of the English unions did not exceed 23,400; but the average of the Irish unions was something above 62,000. In Ireland there were ten unions whose population exceeded 100,000; in England there were only six. This showed the great social differences of the country, and he wanted to know from the Government how they proposed to dispose of the surplus agricultural population. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had expressed his deliberate opinion, a very short time ago, that the introduction of outdoor relief into Ireland would not remove any of the difficulties or distress, but was eminently calculated to perpetuate them, and to fix them where they were. He had heard the noble Lord talk of large pasture farms, of a yeoman tenantry, and the value of having in Ireland a peasant proprietary; but he had never seen the noble Lord come forward with any practical, direct, and well-digested system of legislation, by which they could meet the real difficulties of the case. At the same time, it was perfectly plain that it was never intended that the landed property of Ireland should be subjected to the operations of the poor-law without the contemporaneous introduction of auxiliary and adjunctive measures of a remedial nature. He trusted they should be informed, before the debate closed, whether it was the intention of the Cabinet to insist on a system by which they should have the ratepayers represented by elected guardians, and associated with some persons who would represent the poor-law guardians. If the Government were to take into their immediate consideration the system upon which Ireland had been cast into unions, they would find that no alteration or amendment that could take place would have the effect of relieving the destitution, or of giving a stimulus to industry in Ireland. It ought to be remembered that when the poor-law was introduced into this country, the system of parochial divisions was adopted. The most remarkable feature in an existing district in Ireland was this. In Tralee, the population in some electoral divisions did not exceed 1,300, whilst in other electoral divisions in the same union they exceeded 23,000. The area of some of the electoral divisions in the Tralee union did not exceed 3,186 acres, whilst in others it was 23,321 acres. He hoped the Committee would take this subject into their serious consideration; he trusted they would insist on a review of the entire system on which the unions and electoral divisions had been formed; and if the Committee should omit to consider it, he trusted that the Government would see that the unions and electoral divisions in Ireland were so constructed that they should approximate to the size, and character, and circumstances of the English unions. Instead of 132 or 133 unions in Ireland, they should have double that number. In the north of Ireland, the sizes of the unions and electoral divisions were more uniform. He complained very much that the Government had not come forward and stated explicitly what measures they meant to introduce of a remedial character for Ireland. He thought they ought to introduce some measure to provide for the more effectual recovery of the arrears of poor-rate in Ireland.

observed, that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sadlier) had adverted to a variety of topics, all of them of great importance; but with respect to the details of the operation of the poor-laws, they were better fitted for a reference to a Committee; and he thought it would be much more convenient for the despatch of the business to abstain from following him in the consideration of those details. There were a few portions, however, to which he would refer. First, as to the collection of rates. The hon. Member had said that an estimate having been made of what was required for a given parish, the collector who had gone to collect the rates had returned to the guardians stating that a considerable portion had remained uncollected, not from positive inability to pay them, but from an evasion of the law, and that the law had not been enforced. [Mr. SADLIER: From both causes; chiefly from their destitution.] They could not frame a law for the collection of rates where there was a positive inability to pay. [Mr. SADLIER: Yes, from the land.] The hon. Member would find no indisposition on the part of the Poor Law Commissioners to enforce the poor-law to the utmost in the collection of rates. With respect to the Boundary Commission, he had to state that the first report of the Commission had, within the last few days, been transmitted to the Government and laid on the table. He believed that many hon. Members who had been in communication with these Commissioners could testify to the diligence and patience with which they had discharged their duties. He would not state from recollection the general tenor of their report, as it would be in the hands of Members in a very short time. He would only say that the report had been referred to the Poor Law Commissioners, that they might report on the expediency and practicability of carrying its recommendations into effect. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sadlier) stated that the unions in Ireland had not been made on a uniform principle. In that he quite agreed; and it was because he agreed in that opinion that the Boundary Commission was appointed. He had decided upon appointing that Commission before the Motion was made by the hon. Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne), and he had so stated himself to a deputation of Irish gentlemen. In Ulster, he believed, the Commissioners did not find that any alteration in the unions was generally desired. In other parts of Ireland, these unions were formed on a different scale; and he believed there was a tendency to assimilate them to those of Ulster. As to electoral divisions, he could not encourage the principle of the reduction of the area of taxation to the size of the townlands. The Committee would be in possession of the report of the Boundary Commissioners; and he would now only express a hope that the report and the evidence on which it was founded would tend to abridge the labour of the Committee, and save them much trouble. The hon. Member (Mr. Sadlier) seemed to expect that the Government should be prepared to give explicit answers on all points connected with the proposed amendments of the poor-law; and the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford) found fault with the Government for not at once producing a Bill of their own on the subject. He believed that if they had done so, the result would have been, it would have been attacked by all the Irish Gentlemen, even though each of them differed from the other. He was not pre- pared to answer all the questions which had been asked; but he would say, in reply to the most important question addressed to him by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire that Government were going into the Committee without any intention of altering the principle on which the poor-law was founded, or the principle of relief which was embodied in the Act of 1847. As to their falling back on the original law, or taking away the power of relieving the ablebodied under any circumstances, he felt it right to state that Government entertained no such intention. Their object was, to facilitate the operation of the law, at the same time keeping the main object in view, which was, to preserve from starvation thousands of the people of Ireland; for he believed that, had it not been for the poor-law, thousands would have perished during the past year.

said, that it was not his intention to enter into any details as to the working of the poor-law: both the hour of the night and the occasion rendered that course inexpedient; but he might be permitted to say a few words to explain why he had determined, with great reluctance, to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Grattan). He had come to that determination in consequence of the declaration of the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government, that the Ministers were not prepared with any measure to remedy the abuses of the present Irish Poor Law. It was stated in the proposed Amendment, that a feeling of discontent, augmented by the distresses of the people, still exists. He thought that too self-evident a proposition to be denied, and he confessed that he shared in that discontent, and that it was much augmented by the declaration of the noble Lord. The reason that the noble Lord had given for doing nothing, namely, the want of unanimity among the Irish Members, had, he thought, no weight whatever. It had been stated, that at a meeting of Irish Members in Dublin, at which only nine attended, there were five distinct plans proposed for the alteration of the poor-laws. This appeared to him to be only an additional reason why Her Majesty's Government should have come forward with some distinct proposition of their own upon the subject. If the noble Lord said, that he would wait until the Irish Members agreed amongst themselves, that was tantamount to a declaration that there should be no legislation at all, which declaration would, he believed, be received with a feeling of discontent and dismay in Ireland.

deprecated the delay of the Government in taking the alteration of the poor-law into consideration.

said, that the real difficulty which that part of Ireland with which he was connected, had to struggle with was, the flight of those tenants who possessed capital, and the consequent danger of a great portion of the land becoming waste. He did not object to the Committee, as he thought it might perform many important services; but at the same time, he trusted that Government would not delay submitting the report of the Commission to the House for consideration. If they did they might depend upon it they would have to propose a grant next year for Munster, which would by that time he in as had a condition as Connaught. He begged the attention of the House while he read a few sentences from a letter he had recently received from a gentleman, better able than any man he knew to come to a just conclusion as to the actual state of the south of Ireland. The hon. Member proceeded to read the letter in question, the substance of which was, that multitudes of large holders of land in Ireland were throwing up their farms; that thousands of acres were being surrendered—that a large extent of land must consequently be unproductive—that the owners had no money, no capital, and no credit wherewith to carry on their pursuits—that, to a great extent, the better class of farmers were leaving the country and emigrating to America—that many more were winding up and remaining at home, waiting the issue of events; and that by and by these latter might resume their former holdings, or take others at more moderate rents than heretofore. He (Mr. Monsell) assured the House that there was a vast emigration now going on from the south of Ireland, particularly from the port of Limerick, and that that emigration consisted not of the cottiers, or of persons without capital, but, on the contrary, that the capitalists were the persons who were going away, and that the persons for whom employment must be found were remaining. It was most important that some steps should be taken to remove the panic which was the cause of such a disastrous state of things. Was it not necessary, then, to avert the panic which was causing the evil? He thought that Her Majesty's Government ought to be prepared in a very few days to introduce some measure to accelerate the division of the electoral districts, and to divert the poor-rates to the purposes of emigration, otherwise the capitalists would continue to go away: those of them who remained would be left with incumbered estates, and a miserable class of unemployed paupers would have to be employed, not from the exhausted resources of the country, but from the funds of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

observed, that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Monsell) laboured under a mistake if he supposed that the evils of which he complained existed only in the county of Limerick, for they were general in Ireland. The capitalists were going away from every part of the country; and if the principle were to be adopted of leaving the ablebodied to be fed on charity, then the owners had better leave the country at once. The right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) seemed to be a sort of red republican; for he appeared desirous of carrying out in Ireland measures which had utterly failed in France. If the Government did not change their policy, they would have to feed a population of eight millions.

begged it to be distinctly understood that he had not said anything to lead the hon. Gentleman to suppose they would attempt to feed eight millions of the people. The Government were determined to adhere to the principle of the Bill, and had no intention of retracing their steps.

said, the reason the farmers of Ireland were emigrating and carrying away their money, was because they had no security for the investment of capital in that country. He wished to call the attention of the Government to this point—that as an accompaniment to any amendment of the Irish poor-law, a measure must be introduced to give security to the farmer for the improvement of the soil, which security he did not now possess. Industry would only exist where it had a right to that which industry created; and, in a country where the industrious man had no prospect of receiving a return for his labour, there could be no industry and no employment. A want of employment was the cause of all the evils in Ireland, and employment would be given if the necessary security were afforded to the industrious.

said, he wished to remark that much of the bad working of the poor-law was owing to the 4l. valuation clause. He thought that every man should be liable for the poor-rate for his own holding; but under the law as it now stood the Commissioners wished to get the name of the immediate lessor on their books wherever they possibly could succeed in doing so.

expressed a hope that the Committee about to be appointed would be supplied by the Government with all the necessary statistical facts that would throw light on the affairs of Ireland, for facts were much more important than mere opinions delivered in the House. He hoped that the returns, of which notice had been given for a future day, would be submitted, tending to show the movements which had taken place among the population of Ireland during the last few years. The effect produced by clearances throughout the country during several years past should be stated, otherwise the Committee would scarcely know the effect of the narrowing of the area. The Committee should know how many tenants were evicted from their holdings for the last few years; they should also be made acquainted with facts relative to the condition of the people, the amount of emigration, and the number of vagrants passing through the country; and as these several returns were of essential importance to enable a right judgment to be formed, he hoped the right hon. Secretary for Ireland would furnish them.

said, it was impossible to produce all the returns to which allusion had been made, but that every return he could give, calculated to throw light upon the subject, he should have great pleasure in producing.

Question put, and agreed to.