§ Mr. French
rose for the purpose of complaining that certain Returns, regarding the operation of the Poor Laws in Ireland, for which he had formerly moved, had not been made by the Poor Law Commissioner. He observed that he might have claimed precedence for the question, on the ground that it related to a breach of privilege.
§ The Speaker
said, that the usual practice before making such a complaint a matter of privilege, was to move that the Returns be furnished forthwith, and if that were not done, then to proceed as the hon. Member suggested. On the Order of the Day being read for going into Committee on the Mutiny Bill, the hon. Member would be at liberty to bring forward his statement.
§ Mr. French
would then proceed briefly to lay before the House the facts which influenced him in bringing forward the motion of which he had given notice relative to the conduct of the Poor-law Commissioners, and the reasons which induced him to consider the delay of which he complained to have been systematic and intentional. On the 13th of February, last year, a Return was ordered at his instance, of the number, name, and local situation of each workhouse in Ireland, which had within itself no supply, or an insufficient supply of spring water; also specifying the houses from which the sewerage was not sufficient. On the 24th of March, as no Return appeared likely to 1526 be made, he felt it to be his duty to place a Notice on the Book—That the documents he had called for were such as, if the Commissioners were properly discharging their duties, must have been within their immediate reach—that the delay in presenting them was a contempt of the authority of the house of Commons, and that he should move Mr. George Nicholls and Mr. Cornwall Lewis be called to the bar, to answer for it.A few days after this notice was given, a paper was sent in, professing to be, which it was not, the Return called for. On the 11th of August, 1843, on a motion made by him, a Return was ordered of the number and names of the Assistant Commissioners in Ireland; the names of the districts and unions to which they were attached, and the number of their attendances during the last six months at each workhouse. This was a Return which ought to have been made within twenty-four hours, but it had never yet been given. On the 6th of February, of the present year, a Return was ordered of the dates and places where the military or police had been employed during the past year in enforcing the collection of Poor-rates in Ireland, specifying the number of men employed, and the amount of rate collected. Could any person believe the Commissioners had not in their possession the means of making this Return, and that, if favourable to the working of the Irish Poor-law, it would not have been instantly given? No Return however had yet been made. Under ordinary circumstances he might be disposed to attribute the neglect in furnishing these Returns either to the pressure of business in the Poor-law Office, or to accident; but when he reflected that the continuance of this useless, expensive, and despotic Commission depended entirely on the state of ignorance in which Her Majesty's Government could be kept, as to the real working of the law, and the feelings of the Irish people in respect to it; the conviction forced itself on his mind, that the delay in furnishing the information called for, was, on the part of the Commissioners, wilful and intentional. It would not suit them that the truth should be known. Since the arrival of Mr. Nicholls in Ireland to the present day, this Commission had been misleading the Government, mocking the House of Commons, and impoverishing the country in which it was unfortunately 1527 located. He considered the Returns he had moved for, if honestly and correctly given, would be likely to undeceive the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department as to the state of affairs in Ireland; and, should the right hon. Gentleman by any accident arrive at the truth, from his clearness of mind and firmness of purpose, there would in his (Mr. French's) opinion be a speedy end both to Commission and Commissioners in Ireland. He should proceed to lay before the House the nature of the information sought to be brought before them by the Returns he had moved for. On the 7th of February, 1844, by a letter from Ballinasloe, he was informed thatMilitary preparations had been made to enforce the payment of Poor-rates, as the people in the neighbourhood of Mount bellew had declared their resolution to resist this obnoxious impost; that troops had been poured in from Athlone and other adjoining quarters. Yesterday 700 soldiers and police marched to the scene of expected action. The peasantry, in number about 300, armed with pitchforks, cut the road across and threw up embankments showing the fullest determination of waging war to the knife even with this formidable force. Fortunately, by the great personal exertions of an active, intelligent, and popular magistrate in the county, Captain Kelly of Fairfield, matters were prevented coming to extremity.Captain Kelly has received a very handsome letter from the Irish government, for the assistance he that day afforded. Two days after this, February 91h, a statement appeared in the public papers,That the entire tract of country between Menlo and Abbert was in open resistance to the payment of Poor-rates; the police had been assaulted with stones by the peasantry when endeavouring to enforce their collection, and but for the exertions of Captain Warburton, the stipendiary magistrate, blood would have been abundantly shed.In addition to this, he had an important communication to lay before them which he had received from the Catholic dean of the diocese of Galway (Doctor Kirwan), showing how the Act worked in the barony of Moycullen. He stated thatFrom the entire district there never had been at any time a dozen paupers in the union workhouse; from the parishes of Moycullen and Killanin he had been informed there was not one—from his own parish (Outerarde) he knew there was not one. For which reasons the injustice of the law was peculiarly felt, and there was a general refusal amongst the people 1528 to pay the rate; no person connected with the district would undertake to collect the rate, from its great unpopularity. A collector was sent from Dublin by the Poor-law Commissioners at a considerable salary; he resided at the best hotel in the place—but, as he was unable to identify the rated property, an assistant was employed, at the rate of five shillings a day. To protect him in the performance of his duties, were sent Major Brook, of the 69th Regiment, with two companies of Infantry, Captain Bonham, with a troop of the 10th Hussars, two sub-inspectors of police—Messrs. Coffey and Clune, and a force of constabulary amounting to fifty rank and file, with two stipendiary magistrates, Messrs. Jones and Duff. A large portion of the parish of Kilcummin lies along the shore of the Bay of Galway, and, as the island of Letter-mullin was thought inaccessible to the military, it was determined that the Poor-rates in this part of the union should be collected under the intimidation of a naval armament.It had been stated by an hon. Baronet, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, on a former occasion, that the naval force had not been employed in this manner. He had the authority of his noble Friend Lord Monteagle, to say, that during his stay in Ireland, the end of October or the beginning of November last, the Stromboli, war-steamer, was sent from the Shannon to enforce the payment of Poor-rate in the vicinity of Clew Bay. To return to the statement of Dean Kirwan:Two of her Majesty's steamers, the Dee and the Comet, with two revenue cruisers, and Captain White, of the water-guard, with his force, were all collected and concentrated for this worthy purpose, and this entire naval and military force brought to bear on one parish (Kilcummin), the amount of whose Poor-rate was about 200l. The campaign commenced on the 29th of September last, and, notwithstanding this great force, and the enormous expense then and since incurred, one-fourth of the rate still remains uncollected, and much of it must ever remain so, as the wretched creatures from whom it is attempted to be extorted are themselves more fit to be inmates than supporters of a union workhouse.The rev. Gentleman went on to say—Was it possible to procure a return of the expenses incurred by those proceedings; he was confident it would be found that every shilling collected in that district for Poor-rates had cost the county a pound.It was precisely such a Return as this, he (Mr. French) was seeking to obtain. He regretted more than he could say that Her Majesty's Government chose to identify themselves with the continuance of 1529 this odious and inoperative law, to which, according to their own account, they had given a doubtful and reluctant consent—a law from which no possible advantage could result, unless walling in a handful of paupers was to be taken as a remedy for the destitution of a nation—a law upheld wholly and solely by British bayonets, in defiance of the wishes and in opposition to the interests of the country—a law which a dignitary in the Catholic Church has well described as enacted, not for, but against Ireland—a law which the Commissioners of Poor Inquiry long since warned them, if passed, must, after great expense and much discontent, be repealed, and the workhouses built under it abandoned—a law the continuance of which for two years longer, one whose knowledge of Ireland and the feelings of her people could not be disputed—Mr. O'Connell—had told them must inevitably goad the people of Ireland into rebellion—a law which the firmest political supporters of the present Government in Ireland had openly denounced as unsuited and unsuitable to the habits and wants of the Irish people—a law, the operation and effects of which had been admirably summed up, in a letter addressed to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, by a political friend, Mr. Daly, of Tullamore: who stated that, although the Irish Poor-law passed in 1838, it had not come into full operation in May, 1843. By a Return before the House of Commons it appeared, on the 16th of that month, thirty-one workhouses were then unopened, although on the staff of the Irish Poor law Department, during that period, one hundred thousand pounds of the public money had been expended—that many Boards of Guardians had ex pressed their anxiety to close up work houses already opened for want of funds—a fact so notorious, that it might possibly have reached Her Majesty's Government—that the workhouses already open were not one-third filled with paupers from the strong repugnance entertained by the poor to the system—that mendicancy, in all its loathsome forms, remained unmitigated that the small farmer, long struggling against local taxation and other charges, supporting himself and his family on the humblest description of food, the potato, had been compelled to yield to the additional pressure of Poor-rates, and become a defaulter; that, one-fourth of 1530 the old rate in many cases remained uncollected, yet the Poor-law Commissioners were insisting on the declaration of new rates—that an armed force was required to aid the collection of Poor-rates in many places, in a constitutional sense the strongest possible condemnation of the law; and lastly, as if to form the most glaring contrast between poverty and its supervisors, the cost of maintaining each pauper in the workhouse was estimated at 2l. 12s. per annum, whilst the allowance of each Assistant Commissioner was stated at 1,500l. a-year. Admirable system! 1s. a week to the pauper; nearly 30l. a week to the Assistant Commissioner. He should not trespass longer on the House. He considered he had shown the nature of the information sought for by him would be fatal to the system of the delusion attempted to be kept up by the Commissioners—that it would not willingly be given by them, and that he was fully justified in requesting of the right hon. Baronet that the Returns relating to the employment of military in the collection of Poor-rates in Ireland, ordered on the 6th of February last, be forthwith furnished.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Speaker was so just and impartial in enforcing the due observance of the rules of the House, that he had been prevented by that consideration from rising to call the hon. Member to order for doing what appeared to himself to be contrary to those rules, viz., raising, on a motion for going into a Committee of the whole House on the Mutiny Bill, a question like this, on the operation of the Irish Poor-law, the conduct of the Commissioners in England, and the Commissioners in Ireland, and other important matters relating to the same subject. As it would be highly improper in him, however, to encourage such a course by following the hon. Member at any length into this subject, he should content himself with observing, that, with respect to the Orders referred to by the hon. Gentleman, of an antecedent Session, they were dropped Orders, and it would be necessary for the hon. Gentleman to renew them. With reference to the more extensive subject brought forward by him, namely, the operation of the Poor-law in Ireland, and the collection of the arrears of the rate, he (Sir James Graham) had already stated to the House on a former 1531 occasion, that if, after the Easter recess, it should be the pleasure of the Irish Members of that House to move for a Committee of Inquiry into the operation of the Poor-law in that country, he, on the part of the Government, should have no objection to that course being adopted. As to the other Returns alluded to by the hon. Member, he could assure him that no delay in their production should take place beyond what was absolutely necessary.
§ The Speaker
said, he had not interrupted the hon. Member for Roscommon in his statement, because he presumed that the hon. Member would conclude by moving some Amendment to the Question before the House. Now, however, that the hon. Member had sat down, without proposing any Amendment, he would suggest to the hon. Member that he could not enter upon the subject of the Irish Poor Law when the House was discussing the Mutiny Bill.