HC Deb 07 February 1843 vol 66 cc224-6
Mr. Wallace

rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the treatment of the unemployed and destitute inhabitants of Paisley, independent of the parochial poor, between the month of May, 1841, and the present time. It was not his intention to go into the details of that distress. What he wished at present was, to be informed of the treatment the people received at the hands of the local committee, and indirectly from the London relief committee. He had expressed his motion in such a way as to exclude from the inquiry the parochial poor within the borough of Paisley. He had no other reason for excluding the parochial poor than because it would perhaps be desirable that the inquiry into their condition should be left to the Commissioners lately appointed by the Government. He was also desirous of not alluding, upon the present occasion, to a recent resolution of the local relief committee, who had determined on excluding from the benefits of the money sent to them to distribute as charity, all Irish families whatever who had not been resident in Paisley for more than ten years. He should not then enter into the merits of that resolution, because he wished to simplify as much as possible the case to which he desired to call the attention of the House. If he could obtain a committee of inquiry, his object would be completely obtained, and he should only allude to the subject in question by saying that the number of Irish families thus excluded amounted to somewhere about 700, and the number of persons dependent upon these amounted to about 1,300; so that the number altogether was not less than between 1,500 and 2,000. Her Majesty's Ministers would take a heavy responsibility upon themselves if they refused this committee. He was there to plead the cause of an unfortunate locality; but before he did so, he thought it would be best to put it simply to her Majesty's Ministers whether they would grant the committee of inquiry which he was about to move for?

Sir J. Graham

was sure the House would approve of the moderate and praiseworthy tone in which the hon. Member had introduced this motion. On the part of the Government, he felt bound to repeat the assurance which he had given last Session respecting this case of wide-spread, long-continued, and pa- tiently-borne distress—namely, that it was a case which deserved the constant attention of the Government. If the hon. Member had on this occasion, sought to inculpate the Government, he should have felt it his duty to resist the motion; but he understood the hon. Member to say, that his object was not to try and criminate any party, but merely to obtain full information as to all the facts of the case — that he had no wish to carry it further, and that in the progress of the inquiry he would not go beyond the terms of his motion; under such circumstances, and considering the long-continued destitution of the inhabitants of Paisley, and the great patience with which it had been endured, he did not feel that he ought to refuse the motion. On the part of the Government, therefore, he gave his assent to the appointment of the committee. At the same time, he did not think it at all expedient to extend the inquiry into the treatment of the parochial poor, as there was already an inquiry going on by a commission into the state and treatment of that class generally in Scotland. The hon. Member had referred to that regulation of the local committee by which relief was refused to the Irish poor who had not been resident in Paisley for ten years. On the part of the committee, he must say, that some limitation must be made, and as it was necessary to make one, none could be more natural than that on which they acted— that those who had not been long resident in the locality should be the first who should be refused relief. While on this subject, he would suggest that the inquiry should extend to the relief afforded by the municipalities of London and Edinburgh. In consenting to this committee, and in tendering to it full information on the part taken by the Government, he was anxious to guard himself and the other members of that Government against being supposed to concur in an opinion expressed by a high authority at a recent county meeting in Renfrewshire, that the inhabitants of Paisley, in consequence of the long existence of distress in that vicinity, and the great and exemplary patience with which it had been borne, had a claim for relief from the public funds. No doctrine could, in his opinion, be more dangerous than that, and he was anxious to guard himself and the Government against being considered as acquiescing for one moment in a principle which he conceived to be so pernicious. In conclusion, he would suggest to the hon. Member to withdraw the other motions (relating to the amount collected in England and Scotland under the "Queen's Letter"), and all the necessary information would be given to the committee.

Mr. Wallace

thought, that the Government had done itself great credit by consenting to the motion; and he could assure the right hon. Baronet that his selection of the members of the committee would be such as to afford a perfect guarantee that the inquiry would be conducted with the strictest fairness and impartiality. With respect to the observations of the right hon. Baronet as to what had been stated at the meeting in Renfrewshire, it was true that the claim of the destitute in Paisley to relief from the public funds had been asserted; and he had now in his possession documents to show that there were precedents for giving relief from the public funds under circumstances similar to those of Paisley. He would adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet and withdraw the other motions, being satisfied that the committee would be the fittest place in which to elicit the information he desired.

Motion agreed to. Committee to be nominated.