HC Deb 09 March 1847 vol 90 cc1101-3

, in moving for— A Return of the number of persons who have died in each parish in Ireland, during each Month since the 1st day of November, 1846, in so far as the same can be ascertained by information derived from the inquiries of the constabulary, specifying the number who have died from starvation, or disease consequent upon insufficiency of food, with a summary for the whole of Ireland;"— observed, that he was very much surprised to find that there was an objection on the part of Her Majesty's Government to grant such return.


begged to explain, that the only portion of the Motion to which he objected, was that which contained the words, "officiating clergymen of the several religious denominations." Over those gentlemen the Government had no control, and they could not therefore ask them to furnish the returns. He had no objection to have them from the constabulary, and he freely consented to that portion of the hon. Gentleman's Motion.


expressed his contentment with the Amendment.


would be unwilling to object to anything of the nature under consideration, but he thought returns by mere policemen insufficient.


could not see any objection to asking the various clergymen in Ireland for returns of the deaths this year, last year, and the year before, in their several parishes; and under present circumstances he did not think they would refuse.


thought it might have been shown that returns of such a sort as those moved for by the hon. Member for Limerick, might rather mislead the public, than be of any use. How was it to be expected that policemen or clergymen either, could distinguish the cases in which death was the result of starvation or of disease brought on by insufficiency of food? Why all the forms of typhoid might be ascribed to such a cause. Every one was aware that typhus fever was an attendant upon bad diet and low living. Even coroners' inquests were not to be always taken as sure tests of the cause of death. There were too many instances of mistaken verdicts returned by coroners' juries.


said, he greatly feared the time of the clergy was so much occupied in attending to the dying people, that they could scarcely furnish the returns required of them; but he was sure they would do whatever was in their power to meet the wishes of Parliament. He believed, however, that a great many deaths took place unknown even to the clergy.


said, as far as the Government was concerned, there could be no objection whatever to the returns required from the constabulary. He feared, however, that the House would most probably be led into error by any such returns. For instance, a man found dead in the fields would probably be mentioned in the police returns as having died of starvation; and in many cases the constabulary were guided in the reports they made by what they had heard rumoured among the people, rather than by any positive knowledge which they possessed of the precise facts. The House could therefore hardly rely on the accuracy of the constabulary returns in this instance, nor could they expect to obtain in this manner the full number of those who died from want of food. With respect to asking the clergy for returns, the rule was, as his right hon. Friend had observed, for the Government not to ask for returns except from their own officers, whom they could summon to the bar of the House if they refused to comply with the demand made on them. Besides, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had given a good reason why the clergy might not be able to furnish such returns. He thought that under all the circumstances the hon. Gentleman would do well to take the suggestion thrown out, and not to press his Motion. He would beg to remind him that some years ago, he (Lord John Russell) gave a pledge to bring in a Bill for the registration of births, deaths, and marriages in Ireland; but he found the feeling against it so strong among certain parties that he abandoned the idea.


said, it had been calculated that as many as 240,000 persons had been already allowed to die of starvation in Ireland; and if such were the fact, or even if the number were but 2,000, he wished it to go forth that such things were permitted in the wealthiest country in the world. He believed it was in the power of the Legislature and of Government to prevent a single death from starvation in Ireland; and if the present state of things were permitted to continue, he would do his utmost to endeavour to draw the attention of the civilized world to the fact, that his countrymen were allowed to perish like vermin by that Legislature and by that Government. It was, he confessed, with that view that he made his Motion.


hoped the hon. Gentleman would state how the Legislature and the Government could have prevented even one of those deaths from taking place. He thought the hon. Gentleman ought to be prepared to prove his statement before he made such an allegation in that House. He could not allow such a charge against the humanity of this country to go forth without comment, believing as he did that it was beyond all bounds. The only fault which he found with the Government, was for the excess of their humanity—exercised he had no doubt with the best intentions; but still he believed tending to aggravate the evil which they wished to check. He would call on the hon. Gentleman to state how and in what manner the calamity could have been kept from one individual by the Government or that House. He hoped that the returns called for would not be given unless a proper report had been made of the cause of the death of each individual, founded on proper authority, at the time of its occurrence, otherwise he believed no dependence could be placed on the returns.


said, he had contended from the very first day of the Session, that food ought to be supplied and employment given to the people.


said, after the speech of the hon. Gentleman, he hoped the Government would not grant the returns without being certain of the real cause of death in each case.

Motion agreed to.