HC Deb 07 May 1833 vol 17 cc1022-7
Mr. Robert Palmer

said, that the subject of the Motion he was about to submit to the House—namely, the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the laws relative to the passing of Irish vagrants—was one which intimately interested the whole community; and when it was considered how deeply affected many of the counties in England were by the operation of the existing laws, he thought it would not be held undeserving the attention of the Government and the House. The extreme expense attendant on passing the Irish poor from one country to the other was well known, and had frequently been brought under the notice of the House. In 1828 a Committee was appointed to investigate the subject, and that Committee made a report which it was thought would have provided for the expenses of various kinds incurred by the passing of the Irish labourers in that year; but after the presentation of the report, the Bill had been withdrawn. A Bill on the same subject had also been introduced during the last Session of Parliament, but he was not aware that it had passed the House. In order to show with what a degree of pressure these charges weighed on the different counties in England, he would refer to the returns, which showed the number of persons passed during the last five years, and he was very sure that when the House heard the statement they would come to the conclusion that some legislative measure ought to be adopted with regard to this subject. In the county of Berks alone, for the last five years, the number of Irish labourers passed rose from 2,272 to 4,559, and the expenses incurred by that county for this purpose rose also from 815l. to 1,135l. annually. These returns showed an annual increase in the number of persons passed since 1828. In the county of Wilts a similar increase was observable, while in Gloucestershire the expenses varied from 1,200l. to 1,400l. annually. Without detaining the House by any further detailed statements, he would just quote what were the average expenses incurred by a few of the English counties during the last five years. In Hertfordshire, 783l.; in Northamptonshire, 756l.; in Warwickshire, 958l.; in Staffordshire, 1,687l.; in Cheshire, 900l.; in Berkshire, 855l.; in Wiltshire, 1,000l.; in Gloucestershire, 1,285l.; and in Lancashire, where the Returns were only reckoned for the last four years, 1,689l. It had been ascertained, that almost all the individuals thus passed had come from London. Now, admitting the influx to be unavoidable, many questions would arise as to what was the best mode of preventing the great expense thus created. He had no hesitation in saying, that the cheapest possible mode, provided it were an efficient one, ought to be adopted. By the 59th Geo. 2nd, c. 12, power was given to Magistrates to remove Irish paupers, and that Act specified the manner in which they were to be removed, which was in the mode required by a former Act, the 17th Geo. 2nd, c. 5. But Magistrates acting under those Acts had no power to remove Irish paupers in any other mode than the way specified in them, or to charge the expenses of the transportation in any other manner than that pointed out. He thought the noble Lord would agree with him as to the expediency of altering the laws on this subject altogether. He could see no reason why a person born in Ireland should, by the mere circumstance of a six hours' sail, be placed in a different position as to his claims on society; or why his means of support should be so greatly altered. He believed the House would agree with him in the view he took of the matter, and would concur in the propriety of appointing the Committee of Inquiry; which inquiry should be taken up from the period of the existence of the last Committee, in 1828. He proposed that the inquiries of the Committee should be directed to ascertain the best mode of altering the laws to which he had referred. If, however, the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) would promise to take the matter into his serious consideration early in the next Session of Parliament, with a view to an alteration, he would not at the present moment press the subject further than moving the appointment of a Committee, which he believed, under the circumstances, to be the best course he could follow. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the appointment of a "Select Committee to inquire into the law relative to the passing of Irish vagrants, with a view to its Amendment, and to report their opinion thereon to the House."

Lord Althorp

had no objection whatever to the appointment of a Select Committee, but would not at present pledge himself to any particular course.

Mr. Cobbett

trusted, that in any law which should be proposed to the Committee, due consideration would be given to the situation of the persons spoken of. The people of Ireland were left comparatively destitute of food, although their country furnished two of the largest counties of England, Yorkshire and Lancashire, with great quantities of provisions; regard should therefore be had to the circumstance, that Ireland sent much of her subsistence to England; and it ought to be remembered, since Ireland sent so much of her food to England, that great consideration was due to those Irishmen who came to England in search of food. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. R. Palmer), seemed to suppose, that the burthen of passing Irish paupers fell principally upon the counties and agricultural interest. He verily believed, that more of the burthen fell on the single parish of Kensington, containing 14,000 persons, than on the whole county of Berks. That was not the case of Lancashire, a manufacturing county, which paid more than the seven other counties through which the road to Liverpool passes. In that county the towns of Manchester and Salford paid more than the whole county of Bedford. The towns he believed bore the principal part of the burthen.

Colonel Wood

said, a great part of the evils complained of arose from the application of the Vagrancy Act to casual poor in the metropolis and other places. The parishes, in order to relieve themselves from the expense of passing them, described them as vagrants, and thus saddled the counties with the expense. The short remedy would be to make the parishes remove their own Irish and Scotch paupers, and that the natives of the three divisions of the kingdom should be placed on the same footing.

Lord Duncannon

said, it was a great hardship to send the Irish poor over to a country where they had no means of relief but by begging their way through their own country or returning to this. He agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, that great consideration ought to be given to the peculiar circumstances of Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that so long as the Parliament of this country oppressed Ireland as they had done, so long must the people of Ireland hate and detest it; and certainly no Parliament that had ever existed in England was deserving of more indignation and hatred on the part of Ireland than the present, which had done so much against and so little for that unfortunate country. Until justice instead of injustice was done to Ireland, the account between the two countries could not be settled; and unless something was done to ameliorate the condition of the Irish people, the Government might rest satisfied that Ireland would never be other than a source of daily embarrassment to them. In England the population had increased, between 1821 and 1831, at the rate of fifteen per cent, while in Ireland the increase for the same period did not exceed eight per cent. Much had been talked about a superabundant population in Ireland, but he was prepared to show, that instead of an increase there had been in many places, a considerable diminution in the population of that country. Like the negroes of the West Indies, the Irish people had decreased in point of number, and although this was an unpalatable doctrine, it was nevertheless the true one. Ireland was capable of maintaining a population of 19,000,000; but until the proprietors of the soil were identified with the country, it would be hopeless to look forward to anything like real prosperity. In the time of Edward 3rd an ordinance was issued, prohibiting persons from holding land in England and also in France; and without some such law was adopted with respect to Ireland, there was no possibility of escaping from the evils of absenteeism and non-residence. He should propose that English proprietors should give their Irish possessions to their younger sons, or have the option of selling them; and although he admitted the difficulties in the way of such an arrangement to be almost insuperable, still he saw no other way of rescuing Ireland from the thraldom and misery in which it was placed. It had been said, that the introduction of Poor-laws would afford employment to the Irish poor, but this he denied. Poor laws might, to be sure, give them food, but it was his opinion that such a system would not only render them idle, but take away from them the means of labour. No less a sum than 8,000,900l. was annually expended for the support of the poor in this country. The Government, including all persons paid out of the public purse, from the King on the Throne down to the lowest constable, only cost 16,000,000l. so that a sum equal to half the amount of the whole public expenditure was lavished upon the poor without either, as far as he could see, bettering their condition, increasing their comforts, or promoting their happiness. But the expedient of Poor-laws for Ireland might lead to a species of litigation between the countries which was little dreamed of. Suppose, for instance, an action was brought by an English parish against an Irish parish, in an Irish court of law, what was likely to be the result? The agents and counsel on both sides would no doubt be benefited; but what would the proceedings cost the parishes? Why it might so turn out, that the transmission of a single pauper would cost more in law expenses than would be sufficient to support the poor of cither parish for a whole year. He would not oppose the appointment of a Committee, but he was convinced, that its labours would not be attended with any useful or practical result.

Mr. Robert Palmer

said, it was not intended that the Committee should inquire into the extent of relief that ought to be given to Irish paupers, but only as to the best means of providing for the expense of their removal.

Motion agreed to, and Committee appointed.