HC Deb 20 February 1843 vol 66 cc1026-31

Mr. Ferrand moved, That, there be laid on the Table of this House correct, entire, and unmutilated copies of an original letter addressed to Mr. Edwin Chadwick, secretary to the Poor-law Commission, by Mr. Robert Hyde Greg, dated Manchester, September 17, 1834, and of an original letter to Mr. Edwin Chadwick by Mr. Henry Ashworth, dated Turton, near Bolton, Lancashire, 2d month, 13th day, 1835. Also a copy of the correspondence relating to, and a return of the number of persons who were removed from their parishes in the agricultural districts into the manufacturing districts, under the authority and sanction of the Poor-law Commissioners, with the dates and mode of their removal, the names of the parishes from which they were taken, and the names and residences of the persons to whom they were assigned; with a particular account of the numbers, sexes, and ages in each family when they were removed; and also of the number of deaths, by accident or otherwise, which have since taken place among them; also an account of those who have been maimed in their employment, and a statement of the amount of the wages agreed upon when consigned, with the actual wages they received; and, also an account of their present residences, employment, and wages.

Those returns had been three times moved for in that House and as often refused. The last occasion when their production was sought by the hon. Member for Oldham he was importuned by the late Government not to persist in the motion, and he believed that hon. Gentleman had never to the present day forgiven himself for having given way to those solicitations. The production of the papers would prove to the country the shameful means which had been resorted to by the emissaries of the Poor Law Commissioners to induce the poor people in the south of England to emigrate to the north in order to become the slaves of the manufacturers there. The treatment of those who had been kidnapped by Dr. Kay and others, agents of the commissioners, was disgraceful and cruel in the extreme. Instead of meeting the comforts and receiving the wages which had been promised them, their wages were reduced one-half, and the poor people were crowded three or four families into every cottage, and exposed to miseries and diseases of the most frightful description. Smallpox broke out among them and they died by hundreds. Their relatives in the south made inquiries after them, but no tidings could be had. His solemn conviction was, that those poor deluded people had been sold into a land of slavery, the object of the commissioners and the manufacturers being to reduce the rate of wages. That fact was obvious from an extract of one of those letters which had been already furnished to the House; and if the papers he now moved for were produced entire and unmutilated, the charges he had made against the commissioners, who were responsible for the treatment of these poor people, would be fully substantiated. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had, to his great honour, engaged that copies of the papers should be laid before the House, so far as it was possible to procure them; and he hailed this as a promise that justice would at length be done to this subject by a Conservative Government. He had also to move For a copy of the diet table in use at the Belper Union Workhouse, and at the Derby Union Workhouse, on the 31st day of January last,

From which it would appear that the guardians of that union acting under the instructions of the Poor Law Commissioners, were treating the unfortunate inmates of the workhouse in the most cruel and unmerciful manner. He had also to move, For a copy of any correspondence which had taken place between the Poor-law Commissioners, the Board of Guardians of the Skipton Union, and a firm of cotton-spinners, carrying on business at the Low-mill, Adding ham, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and trading under the firm of Seed and Co., respecting the sale of a number of poor persons confined in the said Skipton Union Workhouse to the said firm, for the purpose of being worked in their factory; also a statement of the amount of money agreed upon between the said parties, the number of cripples handed over to the said firm, the manner in which they were conveyed to the said factory, and the reasons of their being so conveyed; also a copy of the conviction of the said firm of cotton-spinners, upon the information of Mr. Robert Baker, inspector of factories, for having worked their mill-hands on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the 23d, 24th, and 25th days of December last, in violation of the Factories Act.

The hon. Member stated that the firm of Seed and Co. having reduced the wages of their operatives, and treated them otherwise in a most tyrannical manner, they all left in a body, and hands were procured to supply their place from the workhouse, six miles off. Among these were several cripples, who had to be carried in a tax-cart, belonging to the mill-owners. On the 23d, 24th, and 25th of December last, the 25th being Sunday, they were worked by these monsters in human shape thirty-two hours, and only allowed thirteen and a half hours for rest. If these things were done with the consent of the Poor Law Commissioners, it was time their authority should be abolished, and the act which gave it to them repealed. He felt strongly upon this subject, knowing the locality where these transactions had occurred, and having been in communication with the parties aggrieved. If the right hon. Baronet had seen these wretched creatures in the state he saw them, applying for protection before the magistrates, he was sure he would have felt compassion for them, and been of opinion that the Poor Law which sanctioned such proceedings was a disgrace to the country.

Sir J. Graham

was prepared to give a qualified assent to the motion, but deprecated the strong, harsh, and unjustifiable language which had been used by the hon. Gentleman, which he thought was quite inconsistent with the legitimate principles of freedom of debate. He could not consent to retain in the motion the words "correct, entire, and unmutilated." Such expressions conveyed a direct insinuation that a public office from which the return was expected was in the habit of garbling, or returning inaccurate statements to the House. If, therefore, the hon. Gentleman did not withdraw those words he should oppose the motion. He was unable to procure a return of the letter of Mr. H. Greg, neither original nor copy being to be found among the records of the Poor-law Commissioners. It was, in fact, a private letter addressed to Mr. Chad wick. The Poor-law Commisssioners did not possess either the original or a copy. Mr. Ash worth's letter was in the possession of the Poor-law Commissioners and he was ready to consent to its production. With respect to the next return, as to the number of persons who were removed from their parishes in the agricultural into the manufacturing districts, under the sanction of the Poor-law Commissioners, it was impossible to state the amount of the wages they then received, or their present residencies, employments, and wages. There were several items in that motion of which it would be quite impossible for him, on the part of the Poor-law Commissioners, to promise a return. Everything that was really material, and that could be furnished, had already been presented to the public in the Poor-law Commissioners' report of 1836, p. 448, where the hon. Gentleman would find a statement made by Mr. Muggeridge, the assistant Poor-law Commissioner, on this subject. In the report of 1837 there was also a further statement on the subject. He (Sir J. Graham) was ready to furnish any information that he was able to obtain. With regard to the returns respecting the dietary of the Belper and Derby Union workhouses, he should not feel any difficulty in laying them on the Table of the House. As to the last motion of the hon. Gentleman, he begged to inform him, that the Poor-law Commissioners were not cognizable, directly or indirectly, of the transaction to which he referred. If any such transaction had taken place, the Commissioners were entirely ignorant of it. He must demur to granting these re turns, unless the hon. Gentleman consented to withdraw the expressions "correct, entire, and unmutilated."

Mr. M. Gibson

said he would not have troubled the House, if the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand) had not made statements which would go forth to the public affecting parties who had no opportunity of giving the same publicity to the contradictions as would be afforded to the accusations. He thought it very desirable that such dislogistic terms as the hon. Member had introduced should be omitted from motions submitted to that House. The hon. Member for Knaresborough had asserted that persons were "kidnapped" and induced to go from the agricultural into the manufacturing districts by the promise of conditions which had not been fulfilled; but he was convinced that a fair inquiry would show the erroneousness of this statement. The hon. Gentleman had now, as he had on former occasions, made assertions which could not be substantiated He would not go into the question now; but he thought the hon. Gentleman should be cautious in giving currency to such unmeasured censures upon individuals. With respect to one statement of the hon. Gentleman he might observe, that agricultural labourers had been removed into the manufacturing districts, because in those districts there had been an increased demand for labour, which was coincident with a diminished demand in the agricultural districts. He believed that if these labourers had not gone from the agricultural to the manufacturing districts the places they occupied in the latter would have been supplied by Irish labourers, and this would have had a still more depressing effect. After the agricultural labourers were transferred to the manufacturing districts, there was a rise in the rate of their wages, and they received larger weekly wages in the manufacturing than they would have done in the agricultural districts. He wished, however, most directly to contradict the statement that there had been any "kidnapping," or that the conditions on which these persons were transferred to the manufacturing districts had not been fulfilled; and he thought the hon. Member for Knaresborough ought not, especially before the returns for which he moved were presented to the House, to make statements involving such serious charges.

Dr. Bowring

said, that one of the gentlemen to whom the hon. Member for Knaresborough had referred was a personal friend and constituent of his; and having on several occasions visited that gentleman, he had had an opportunity of noticing the condition of the labourers in his employ. He could state that many of the persons who had been transferred from the agricultural districts blessed the day that had seen them removed from a state of great distress to a condition of comparative ease and comfort. He would refer the hon. Member to the statements of Dr. Cooke Taylor, who, in the account of his visit to the manufacturing districts, repeatedly noticed the comfort and happiness of the workmen employed by Mr. Ash worth. He recommended the hon. Member to be cautious how he indulged in these vituperative attacks.

Mr. Ferrand,

in reply, said he had referred to the case of a manufacturer Who was convicted by the magistrates in penalties amounting to 125l., and Who had worked his hands from half past eight o'clock on the Saturday morning till Sunday afternoon at four o'clock. Now, was this man a monster in human shape, or not? He did not feel himself justified in with drawing this expression; and he was sure that no hon. Member would like his children to be worked as heavily as this man had worked those whom he employed. He regretted that the hon. Member for Manchester should have repeated to-night a statement made a few evenings ago that he made assertions in that House which he had been unable to prove. He challenged the hon. Member, and any Gentleman on the opposite side of the House, to adduce a single instance in which he had made assertions which he had not been able to prove.

Mr. Gibson

said the hon. Member for Knaresborough had made charges against the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden) which he had not substantiated. The hon. Member had also made charges against manufacturers connected with the Anti Corn-law League, that they were especially the supporters of the truck system. But against whom did the hon. Member prove this charge in the committee he obtained? As far as he was aware, the charge was not proved against any member of the Anti Corn-law League; it was proved only against two manufacturers in Lancashire, who were of conservative politics, and opposed to the League.

Mr. Ferrand

expressed his surprise to hear that the truck system was proved against only two manufacturers in Lancashire. He could tell the hon. Member that it was proved against scores of manufacturers in Lancashire.

The several returns, modified as suggested by Sir James Graham were ordered.

House adjourned, at half-past twelve o'clock.