§ MR. LANIGAN
said, he wished to call the attention of Her Majesty's Ministers to the treatment of the destitute Irish by Poor Law Officials in England, with a view of checking the abuses which exist, and of assimilating the English Poor Law to that of Ireland, by which Boards of Guardians are compelled to grant relief to all who seek it (irrespective of the country to which they belong), there being no evidence required to establish their claims except the fact of their destitute condition. The hon. Member said it was extremely cruel that honest, hard-working Irish labourers should toil in this country all their lives, without asking relief of any sort, until the blood was dried up in their veins, and the marrow taken out of their bones—and then, when poverty and sickness overtook them, they should be looked upon by their English employers only as so much worn-out machinery, fit only to be cast away. It was shocking to see the steam-vessels which left Ireland laden with cattle and sheep return laden with living skeletons—Irish labourers, who having become chargeable to the parish were torn away from their homes sick and helpless, and hurried on board; whence, after enduring exposure on the decks for days and nights, they were landed on the quays in utter destitution. When they arrived they generally found all their friends gone, owing to their long absence in England, and their paternal homes demolished. The hon. Gentleman quoted some remarks of Lord Palmerston on this subject, where the 739 noble Lord said that wherever they saw a man going up a steeple, carrying a hod of bricks upon his shoulder as heavy as himself, and which he could not carry upon level ground, they might be sure he was an Irishman; and that wherever there was shown a contempt for danger in the discharge of an occupation, he was sure also to be an Irishman. He had been chairman, and was now a member, of three boards of guardians in Ireland, but he never saw such practices. Whenever any poor person applied for admission to a workhouse in Ireland, he was never asked whether he was a Scotchman or an Englishman, and the only question asked was as to his destitute condition. The hon. Gentleman then related the case of an Irish woman, who thirty-eight years ago came to London, being then 20 years of age. For seven years she was a general servant, and then she married, and had nine children—two of whom, daughters, aged respectively 15 and 19, were now alive. She had supported her family by her own industry, and without parochial relief; and a short time ago, being afflicted with a bad leg, she was compelled to become an inmate of St. Pancras workhouse. The surgeon told her that she ought to have her leg cut off. The woman objected to that operation being performed, and her case being reported an incurable one, and as she was likely to become permanently chargeable to the union, she was sent back to Ireland, much, however, against her will, and in spite of the protestations of the two daughters, who offered to support their mother, and to pay the expenses incurred on her account while in the infirmary. These were the statements of the woman herself, and if they were true they cast a slur upon the name of England, and rendered it no longer worthy to be called the land of freedom. [Laughter.] The man who laughed at or defended such a cruel system had a heart as cold, callous, and cruel as he who dealt in human flesh in Africa. The first law of removal was a penal one, passed in the reign of Charles II. It was directed against a certain class of people, who roved the country like gipsies, and settled and built cottages on the land. The present Removal Acts were the 4th and 5th William IV. and the 9th and 10th Vict. The magistrates had the power of removing Irish paupers from this country; they carried out the penal clauses of the Act of Victoria, but ignored the more humane provisions of the Act of 740 William IV., which compelled the parish removing a pauper to give twenty-one days' notice to the authorities of the parish to which he was to be removed. He did not blame the present Government for the existing state of things more than its predecessors; every Government since the days of Charles II. had connived at this oppressive law of removal, he called upon the Government in the spirit of the noble Lord who pronounced the favourable opinion he had quoted regarding Irish labour, to introduce some Bill upon the subject of Irish poor removal, and he called upon the Free Traders of the House, with whom he entered the lobby, for the benefit of the people of England, to urge the Government to pass such a law. If the Government would not do so, let the Free-traders of the House show that the sympathy they always expressed for the poor working classes of the country was a genuine emotion, and not a morbid sentimentality, and insist upon the Government either passing such a Bill, or resigning their places—not, certainly, to the Conservative Gentlemen on the other side—but to an hon. Member, whom he did not then see in his place, and his party, by whom alone the poor working classes of the country could ever expect to have justice done them.
said, that the whole treatment of the Irish paupers in this country was connected with the law of settlement. There were many instances which had come to his knowledge of the cruel manner in which that law operated upon the unfortunate Irish pauper, and he hoped that if the Government did not come forward with the assurance that the whole subject would be taken into consideration, some Irish Member would bring in a measure calculated to remedy the evil. He feared, however, that if the hon. Member for Cashel brought forward such a Bill, those among whom he sat, and to whom he had so pathetically appealed, would do as they had done before—vote against it.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, the question raised by the hon. Member was a very large one, involving as it did the whole law of settlement in England and the want of it in Ireland. No doubt there was a great want of a proper law of settlement in both countries; but the question had puzzled every man who had dealt with it, and it could not he conveniently discussed upon the Motion for Adjournment. With regard to the particular case to which the hon. Member referred, some one had been 741 kind enough to send him a Tipperary paper, in which the woman's statement was published. That statement, however, was quite unauthentic, and was made by a woman who could neither read nor write, and who affixed her mark, and it was not taken on oath. As soon as he received the Tipperary paper, he instructed a poor-law inspector to make inquiries of the parochial authorities with regard to the case. He (Mr. Villiers) did not in the least deny that great hardships were connected with the law as it existed, and he should be glad to see them removed. Yet he was in a situation to tell the hon. Member that not one single act of illegality had been committed in the present case. The medical officer reported the woman permanently disabled, and, being chargeable to the parish, she was removed. Some of the facts stated by the woman were totally incorrect. Her daughters, so far from offering to support her, threatened that if she were removed they would throw themselves upon the parish. After it was determined to remove her, three weeks were allowed to elapse to see whether she would leave herself, or whether any person would take charge of her. His predecessor in the office he had the honour to hold (Mr. Baines), instituted an inquiry upon the subject of removal, and proposed several judicious alterations for the purpose of mitigating the hardships of the law; but when he introduced a Bill to give them effect he was met by such a storm of remonstrance from the Irish Members, that it was impossible to make any advance in legislation upon the question. His right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), also introduced a Bill on the subject, but was obliged to withdraw it in consequence of the opposition it received, particularly from Irish Members. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wilts (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) also attempted to deal with the matter, but he, like his predecessors, was obliged to withdraw, not having received the support of the Irish Members. The main reason therefore why legislation had not taken place on the subject was the want of union among Irish Members. If a measure founded upon the propositions which had been approved by his right hon. predecessor were brought forward, it should receive the support of his Department.
§ MR. H. A. HERBERT
, as himself a member of an Irish Board of Guardians, knew many well-authenticated cases of the 742 grossest hardship, and cases in which the poor-law authorities on this side of the water, in their anxiety to get rid of Irish paupers, had certainly gone beyond the law. He had known persons, who, having been twenty or thirty years in this country, had lost all their relatives in Ireland, and had forgotten even the names of the streets in the town where they were born, sent over and thrown upon the quays of Cork, or perhaps those of Dublin or Belfast, in a state of positive destitution. As there was no law of settlement in Ireland, these poor people could not be forwarded to their own parishes. It was not, as his right hon. Friend thought, in consequence of any Irish opposition that the former efforts to remedy the evil had failed in that House; but it was because the matter had been mixed up in the enormously difficult question of the English law of settlement. If the right hon. Gentleman would turn his mind to the whole subject, it would not be very difficult to frame a Bill to provide for it. At present, in England, an industrial residence of five years in any parish entitled a poor person to relief there, and rendered him irremovable. If this rule were extended from the parish to the union, many of the hard cases which he had alluded to would be obviated, because, as the law now stood, these poor persons were often driven from one parish to the other, without perhaps going out of the union during that period of time, so that, after many years' residence in the neighbourhood, they lost the advantage of a settlement. The suggestion he made was, that five years' residence in the union should bestow the settlement.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
begged leave to support his right hon. Friend in relieving Irish Members from the charge of unwillingness to do justice to the poor of their own country. He had a perfect knowledge of the history of the several Bills which from time to time had been brought before the House by successive Presidents of the Poor Law Board. The object of one of the first Bills was to do a wise and humane act—to abolish the law of settlement and removal in England. A more wise and more humane proposition could not, in his opinion, emanate from any Government. But while that proposition was made for England, the law as regarded Ireland was to be held in force as before, and the Irish poor were to be prevented from enjoying the great boon offered to this country. The Irish Members naturally took exception to 743 this defect, and did their best to have the claims of Ireland recognized. When, however, they found that they could not succeed, they very reasonably refused to allow a Bill to pass which, being so partial, was, therefore, unjust to their poor country-people. A Committee was appointed to consider the subject, and it sat for two years. It made several wise and humane recommendations; among which was one for the diminution from five to three years of the period during which, by industrial residence, a poor person became exempted from removal. A Bill was brought in subsequently, founded ostensibly upon the recommendations and the report of the Committee; but the Bill fell so miserably short of the unanimous recommendations of the Committee—a Committee representing English, Irish, and Scotch Members—that there was certainly a strong sense of indignation on the part of many Irish Members. Nevertheless, with all its shortcomings, they were not prepared to reject the Bill. There came, however, a storm of indignation, not indeed from Irish Members, but from alarmed English parishes. Petitions from almost every parish in England were presented to the House—every board of guardians in London, Liverpool, and Manchester, was in a state of alarm. Deputations were incessantly filling the lobbies, representing the exaggerated apprehensions of the ratepayers of England. It was owing to this opposition that the Bill had to be abandoned. Now, he would mention one instance of the manner in which the jealousy and apprehension of the Irish pauper worked upon English property. It appeared in evidence before a Committee, which sat for a short time last year, that there was a certain parish in Loudon, having in it a large number of Irish labourers, and in which there were only two descriptions of employment for such labour—one market-gardening, and the other brick-making. As a matter of course, these occupations depended entirely upon the state of the weather. When the weather was bad, there was no employment, and as the Irish labourer was absolutely necessary to the parish for carrying on those particular branches of industry, he had in the intervals of employment to live upon the rates. Would this be the case if the law of removal were done away with? Unquestionably not. If the law of removal and settlement were abolished, and a poor man were permitted to go wherever there was a demand for his la- 744 bour, they would not have the thousands and tens of thousands at present depending upon the rates of individual parishes. The apprehension of the parish to which he had referred, was that in a short time the unemployed labour would positively eat up the property and industry of the parish. He therefore urged that the question was one which English, Scotch, and Irish Members alike should look at, not in any narrow spirit, not as a subject to be judged of from a mere geographical point of view, but as one which affected the interest of the empire at large. He held that inasmuch as Irish labour was absolutely necessary to the prosperity and the advancement of England, it was for the benefit of English ratepayers that there should be perfect freedom for those whose only capital was their labour, to go where-ever they could find a demand for it. He once brought twenty cases of what he conceived to be gross hardship before the House; but, as in the instance of his hon. Friend that night, every single one of them, however plausible, however fair it seemed to be, however minute were the particulars, was disproved by the evidence of those who had the best interest in disproving it. The relieving officers proved themselves to be most humane, the magistrates demonstrated their own judicial perfection, the boards of guardians made it evident that they themselves had acted with the greatest deliberation and the utmost sympathy—and all concurred in representing that the pauper alone was a liar and a schemer. He should give one piece of advice to his hon. Friend—never, under any possible circumstances to bring before the House any individual case, supported alone by the testimony of a poor person; for it would immediately bring down twenty, fifty, or one hundred statements, to prove that the pauper was a person unworthy of credence. There was evidence of a different kind brought before the Committee of the House. The passage from London to Cork occupied sometimes three, sometimes four, and even five days; and it was proved that poor decrepit paupers, male and female, were put on the deck of the vessel, and left there unsheltered, to bear the inclemency of the weather and the fury of the waves. Cases had come before the board of guardians, of which he was a member, of very great hardship. Week after week poor women, who had forgotten the places of their birth, were, with their children, and who spoke 745 only the English tongue, brought before them; and such was the feeling of commiseration inspired by their sad story, that almost every member, out of his own pocket, contributed something to send them back to the place where they could find employment, because there were no means of giving them employment in Ireland. He recommended his hon. Friend not to take the insidious advice tendered to him by the right hon. Gentleman. Let the Bill be a Government measure; let them bring in a Bill founded upon Mr. Baines's recommendations, and the Irish Members would give it every chance of success.