HC Deb 13 February 1834 vol 21 cc256-64
Sir Samuel Whalley

presented a Petition from the electors of the parish of St. Marylebone, praying for relief from general and local taxation. The petitioners complained that they had for a long time implored the House to release them from taxation, but only had the mortification to find, that, instead of being relieved, additional burthens were thrown upon them. With respect to local taxation, they complained especially of the county rate. The House was aware that, heretofore, the law was, that when Scotch and Irish paupers became chargeable to a parish or county, they were removed to the borders of that county to which they belonged; but an Act had recently been passed for the removal of Scotch and Irish paupers at the whole and sole expense of the parish to which they had become chargeable, and the Magistrates in Sessions assembled had the power of contracting for the removal of such paupers, which they had done under the authority of the new Act, at the rate of 32s. per head. The House would, therefore, perceive that on the first showing the cost was increased more than six fold, being raised from 5s. to 32s. per head. The petitioners were willing to admit that great abuses existed under the old plan, and that an alteration in the law was necessary; but it was necessary, in a statistical point of view, to obtain accurate information of the number of Scotch and Irish paupers which became chargeable to the parishes of England, and more particularly to those in the county of Middlesex. The petitioners thought it hard that the whole expense of the experiment should be thrown upon them. The parishioners of Marylebone had to pay more than one-sixth part of the whole county rate, and they had seen that rate increase to such a frightful amount that it had become one of the most important items in the public accounts. They complained that the county rate was levied by an irresponsible body of Magistrates, who, for the most part, were not sufficiently informed upon the subject, and a great alteration must take place in the mode of levying the rate, before the petitioners could hope for relief. Under this head they alluded to the agricultural distress, which drew a large influx of Irish labourers, who, in slowly working their way up to the metropolis, either transmitted the wages of their labour to their own country, or so completely secreted their money about their persons, that when they reached the metropolis they only became a burthen to it. He believed this evil would never be remedied, until the House should resolve to introduce into Ireland a modified system of Poor-laws, grounded upon the act of Elizabeth. He hoped, that whenever the Government should introduce such a plan, it would be received by the Irish Members with acclamation.

Mr. O'Dwyer

thought it rather inconsistent in English Members, who were such strenuous advocates of the legislative Union, to advocate the course enforced by his hon. friend, the member for Marylebone. If there were really a union between the countries, it was surely unjust in the extreme, to contemplate the exclusion of any portion of the Irish people from this country. At all events, for the sake of impartiality, and in furtherance of the reciprocity system, he hoped the House would not limit itself to sending back the pauper—he trusted that when the poor vagrants were sent back to Ireland, the rich vagabonds would receive orders to march with them. Since he had the honour of a seat in that House, he had not heard one complaint uttered against the parochial settlement in Marylebone of Irish absentees. There was the most unrestricted intercourse of opulent interlopers permitted; and he would take leave to say, that whilst a considerable portion of the four or five millions of absentee rents were expended in the metropolis, the good citizens were scarcely to be pitied, if there were appended to this enjoyment, the inconvenience of supporting some of the paupers that absenteeism created. He begged, however, to say, although he thought the restoration to Ireland of the protection of a domestic legislature would be the best means of relieving the general distress, there were means of easy adoption that would eradicate that Irish pauperism of which the English people complained. He attributed to absenteeism almost all the sufferings of his countrymen. He thought that this was an evil of superior magnitude to all others that afflicted Ireland, and the fountain of abundant misery. One of its consequences was the wretchedness it entailed upon the poorer classes, who, deprived of their natural protectors, were left a prey to want and destitution. He would remedy this state of things by a simple process. There was in Ireland resident capital sufficient to purchase the property of absentees, if the legal impediments arising from entail family settlements, or other bars, were removed. He saw no reason why parliament should not legislate for the removal of those difficulties, taking care, as much as possible, to protect all interests, by applying to the purposes originally intended, all money arising from, the sale of property under these circumstances. By this means a resident gentry would be at once created—the greatest source of disagreement between the countries would be removed—and his poor countrymen who were now wandering in search of" employment would prosper at home, under the care and encouragement of those whose interest was identified with the prosperity of their common land. He did not mean to say that he would not support a poor law of some kind or other, although he could anticipate its disastrous effects upon one class. He thought the poor had a right equal to that of any other portion of society, and he for one would resort to any experiment that could alleviate the misery of the destitute people.

Mr. Finn

was surprised at the terms in which the hon. Gentleman (Sir Samuel Whalley) had talked of the Irish peasantry, who came to this country to seek employment. He knew these poor creatures well; they were wretchedly clad, wretchedly fed; and, when in their own country, extremely ill-housed. Their condition was the effect of the manner in which Ireland had been treated by these in whose hands her Government was placed, and was the result of that misgovernment which had continued for seven hundred years, and had reduced that fine country to such a state of distress. Mr. Pitt, in that House, had himself admitted the selfish and narrow policy adopted towards Ireland by this country—a policy which sacrificed all Irish interests to the jealousy of England. Lord Grenville had made the very same admission, and to this very hour those who governed that country were true to the same policy. The sums of money which it was said those wretched men were able to put together were exaggerated. He had made the most particular inquiries amongst two hundred of them, in the port of Liverpool, and he found that the largest sum which they had been able to collect did not exceed 30s. per head. His advice to those men was, never to go back to their own country, but to convert the money that they had to procuring themselves a passage to America, where there was a demand for labour, and where they would be sure to find remunerative employment. Some of these poor men had been barbarously treated. Many of them had their faces cut, and had about them other marks of ill-treatment. He saw one man among them who had the appearance and wore the dress of an English labourer. "Why, my friend," said he (Mr. Finn) to him, "are you not an Englishman?—"No, Sir," replied he, "but I have a kind master, with whom I have worked for many years, and he has dressed me in this way in order to save me from ill-usage in passing through the country." Why then did they boast of their condescension and kindness to Irishmen, with these facts before their eyes? He believed it was difficult to protect Irishmen from aggression; and when he had heard the hon. member for Waterford talk of his Scotch steward, he had shouted with derision, as if that were worse than was practised in England. Why talk of their generosity to Irishmen,—had they not in Ireland seven English Bishops, with an income of 40,000l. a year, and with patronage to the amount of upwards of 150,000l. Did they talk then of their generosity towards Irishmen? Had they not besides five millions of absentee rental coming to enrich this country, fructifying in every channel through which it passed, and giving that employment to Englishmen of which the Irish were deprived. Besides, the principal portion of their economy was drawn from the diminution of Irish establishments. The hitherto designated loyal portion of that country were beginning to feel the withering effects of the system, and were becoming alive to a sense of their common interests as Irishmen. He had heard them talk of the gin shops, as one of the greatest evils to the morality of the English people; and he had no hesitation in saying, that one of the most prolific sources of evil and misfortune to Ireland, and of ruin to the morality of its people, were the wretched whiskey shops in which it abounded, and to the existence of which, and to the consumption of that destructive beverage, the Government afforded every facility, for the sake of the revenue which they derived from it. It was in these places that half the crimes which were perpetrated by the people were committed; and it was under the influence of this pernicious excitement that they were committed. In his county he had traced the criminal from the whiskey shop to the dock; he had marked the career of crime and found it all originating in the drinking of ardent spirits. In a village of his own property, consisting of about forty houses, there were seven whiskey shops, and he found it impossible to check the evil. When English gentlemen talked of the state of the Irish people, he would remind them of one fact, that since the Union the population of Ireland had nearly doubled, and the consumption of butchers' meat had diminished to one-half.

Mr. Potter

hoped, the hon. and learned member for Kilkenny would except the manufacturing districts from the censure of ill-treating Irishmen. He begged to say, that, in the town he was connected with (Manchester), Irishmen were treated as well as Englishmen. This was particularly the case in the distribution of the numerous charities which existed in that place. He could say the same of the town he had the honour to represent, where a great number of Irish resided. He never heard of work being refused to a man, because he was an Irishman. In his opinion, the cotton trade would not have got to its present enormous extent, without the assistance of Irish labourers.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

said, that he heard much said about Irish and Scotch vagrants, and about sending them back to their own country. He should very much wish to be informed by the hon. member for Marylebone where the extraordinary influx of Scotch paupers came from? Let it be considered, that an Englishman, after a residence of three years in Scotland, became entitled to parochial relief, but a Scotchman in this country could not obtain such a settlement. Under these circumstances, he thought that they ought not to be twitted with Scotch vagrants. He would take leave to say, that those complaints came with a very bad grace from the metropolis. He would remind the hon. Member, who had presented the petition, of the enormous sums which the metropolis drew from the whole country. For six months of the year, the whole of the Aristocracy of England was resident in the metropolis, and the whole of their property was spent there. If any one would take the trouble to look to the state of the metropolis, while the Aristocracy was resident, and whilst they were absent, he would find a very great difference indeed. The complaints were, in his opinion, unjust and unfounded, and the hon. Member, before making any observations on such a petition, ought to view with caution the statements contained in it, and to take into consideration the grievances which were endured by the rest of the country.

Mr. Barron

said, that the complaints made by the hon. member for Marylebone were unfounded, unjust, and illiberal. A very great portion of the property of Ireland and of Scotland, was spent in the very place from which this petition came; and if the hon. Member were to move for a return of the number of Irish paupers in this country, he should feel it his duty to move for a similar return of the number of proprietors from Ireland, who spent their fortunes in the parish of Marylebone. The petitioners, in his opinion, had taken a narrow and most illiberal view of the subject. With regard to the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland, he hoped that the House would not permit such a measure to be introduced into that country—a measure which had brought so much misery and crime into this country;—and in their anxiety to keep Irish paupers at home, to inflict the greatest curse upon Ireland that had ever been inflicted upon any nation. He most anxiously desired, that something efficacious should be done for the poor of Ireland, but he did not think that a poor rate levied upon land would effect that purpose. No man could be a resident proprietor, and not feel that it was impossible to avoid doing something for the poor. But there were many other means of relieving the poor better than Poor-laws. For instance, a national measure for reclaiming waste lands, for improving the national resources, for building bridges, laying canals, and such like, in all of which respects the country had been grossly neglected.

Mr. Maxwell

said: Sir, I trust the statement of the member for Kilkenny has attracted the sympathy of every one in this House, and trust, also, that some Member from that part of the empire will afford us an opportunity of assisting in promoting residence there, and providing means of employment and relief for Irishmen in their native country. Whatever may be the disposition of the House in favour of absentee taxes, and taxes for the support of those who are destitute, I feel persuaded that there is, in the United Empire, a universal wish for some enactments calculated to preserve to the Irish workmen the means of employment when in health, and of relief when unable to work, out of the funds which are now altogether taken away from them by absentees, whether individual or corporate, and of augmenting the numbers and the prosperity of those who spend their incomes amongst their countrymen. Measures calculated for such ends, from whatever quarter they may come, will, I hope, meet the support of many Members of this House, who will be glad to cooperate in any measures so obviously conducive to promote the peace and happiness of that part of the Empire, and the benefit of Great Britain.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

said, that he had not intended to take any part in this discussion; but he could not pass by what had been said by the hon. member for Waterford, without noticing it. He had intended, last Session, to bring forward some specific Motion for the improvement of Ireland. He had given notice of a Motion for the introduction of Poor-laws into that country; but, by the advice of several hon. Members, he had abstained from bringing forward his Motion. He intended, notwithstanding this, to bring forward such a Motion this Session. His great object would be to open a market for labour; and the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) informed him, that, he liked his (Mr. O'Connor's) system, and that a similar system had been acted upon by him (Lord Althorp)—namely, exciting competition by agricultural premiums. He thought, that the hon. Members who cavilled at the term "vagabonds" understood it in a wrong sense. He thought, that the hon. member for Marylebone meant it in a legal sense; and, consequently, meant nothing hurtful to the feelings of Irishmen. He differed entirely from the hon. member for Water-ford (Mr. Barron), with respect to the effects of the Poor-laws; and that hon. Member was wrong in supposing that Poor-laws would be injurious to the landed interest. The hon. member for Waterford seemed to be under an apprehension that his property would be injured. Now, it was not fair to assume, that because Poor-laws worked ill in this country, that a system of Poor-laws could not be devised, which would work well for Ireland. He certainly would support the introduction of Poor-laws into that country.

Mr. Hardy

did not think, that the hon. member for Marylebone ought to have been found so much fault with for his using the word vagabond. The class of persons of whom he spoke were so in reality, for not one in twenty of those who were passed as Scotch and Irish paupers, had ever been in their respective countries for years: their plan was, to get to a great town, such as Bristol or London, and there apply to a parish who forwarded them on their journeys. But the fact was, they never got further than Carlisle; at that point, they begged their way once more up to the place from which they had been passed, or some other large town; and again were treated by what to them was a very pleasant excursion at the charge of the payers of the Poor-rates. They went to these large towns, because they had a greater choice of parishes, and, of course, fewer chances of detection. The evils were altogether occasioned by this class of persons, and not by those who came into England to seek for employment.

Colonel Williams

declared that, not-with standing all that had been said against the Act of Elizabeth, he would affirm, that there never was a more benevolent measure than that by which a provision was made for the aged, the infirm, and the orphan. He spoke from an experience of a quarter of a century in the Administration of these laws; and he declared that it was not the laws themselves that caused the mischief, but their maladministration.

Petition laid on the Table.

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