HC Deb 07 May 1847 vol 92 cc546-53

On the Question that the Poor Removal (England and Scotland) Bill be read a Second Time,


objected to the measure, on the ground that it would prove arbitrary in its operation, and would affect most unfairly the Irish poor.


said, that the Bill would not make the slightest difference as to the class who were to be removed. It would subject no one to removal unless he became previously chargeable. It would not have the effect of removing any one because he happened to be an Irishman. Any one who became chargeable must before removal be summoned before a magistrate, and an order for his removal must be made, and thus, by a simple process, the removal of persons chargeable would be accomplished. At present the numbers burdening some English parishes far exceeded the means possessed by those districts; they very much exceeded any relief that could be given in the workhouse. In the present state of the law, when a pauper became chargeable, a summons was served upon him, and he immediately went away instead of submitting himself to the legal process of removal. The law, therefore, became inoperative. He conceived it would be an act of charity to the paupers themselves, as it would be an act of justice to the parishes, to remove paupers at once. He repeated, that no person not now liable to removal could be removed under the Bill now before the House. It would only facilitate the removal of those who, under the previous state of the law, might legally be removed.


said, in giving his support to this Bill, the only observation he had to make was, that he greatly feared it would be found to fall far short of the necessity of the occasion. At his instance, Parliament had some years ago made a very grave alteration with respect to the removal of Scottish and Irish paupers from England. Until the year 1844, the burden of the removal was not a parochial charge, but a charge on the counties, and consequently there was much less hesita- tion on the part of the magistrates to carry that law into execution. Even now the burden of that charge, which had fallen on the parishes, was so extremely onerous, coupled with the other conditions required before the Irish pauper could be removed, that in the main that law was inoperative. Though this Bill removed one of the obstructions to the execution of the law, the necessity of the summons, yet still a very heavy charge would fall on the various localities, and the condition would remain that no Irish person could be removed to Ireland, except he were accompanied by an officer having charge of him. When the question was considered three years ago, there was at that time no provision for the relief of the Irish in their own country. Parliament was now deliberating on a law which would give to the Irish a permanent right to demand relief in their own country; and when they were so entitled, the time would come when it would be absolutely necessary to consider whether the Irish could not be removed to the country of their nativity in some more cheap and easy manner. At present it would be premature to enter into that subject. This Bill, though it removed some of the existing difficulties, by no means went so far as he thought it would be necessary to do with reference to the removal of the Irish. His right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department had at an early part of the evening answered a question with respect to the influx of the Irish into Liverpool, and mentioned to the House some very wise and salutary regulations which had been enforced with respect to steam vessels bringing over Irish paupers diseased, or infected with fever. If he were not much misinformed, the state of affairs at Liverpool was very anomalous. There was a stipendiary magistrate at that place, who entertained a conscientious scruple, arising from the present unhappy condition of Ireland, without reference to the difficulty of carrying the law of removal into execution, and he declined to grant a warrant of removal except upon mandamus from the Court of Queen's Bench. Thus the law was suspended by the stipendiary magistrate. Nor was this all. Measures were taken by the Liverpool ratepayers, suddenly distressed by the unexpected burden, to remove the charge in part from Liverpool and distribute it over the whole country; and thus they actually advanced money to pass the Irish paupers by cheap trains to the metropolis and other towns. There was not only danger that this would spread fever and disease, but infallibly, if this went on, the English labourer would be brought of necessity to the level of the Irish labourer. Disease, poverty, and suffering would rapidly spread in this country; and in the state of affairs about to arise, when on the one hand you provided means of subsistence and support for the Irish in their own country, self-defence would absolutely exact from the Government the taking of effective measures to return the Irish to their own country, who could not support themselves without aid from the rates of this country. He was quite certain that this measure would be found to fall short of the necessity of the case. He thought it went as far as in present circumstances they were entitled to go, whilst the fate of the measure for the relief of the Irish poor at home was still doubtful; but if that Bill should pass, the question must then come under the view of Parliament, and measures infallibly more stringent than this Bill would then seem to the wisdom of Parliament expedient.


quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that this measure would have little more effect in meeting the difficulties of the subject than a fleabite on the hide of an elephant. He thought the emigration of paupers from Ireland, for no other purpose than that of throwing themselves on the rates in England, ought to be stopped. At present a trade was springing up in the conveyance of paupers, by which cargoes of persons were tossed from one country to the other and back again, on the plan of battledore and shuttlecock.


said, that the burden of the song of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Scrope) had ever been "legislate for Ireland for the benefit of England." He regretted that on this occasion the hon. Member was supported by the right hon. Baronet opposite. The English would allow the poor Irish to come in and cut the harvest, or assist in the manufactures of the country, when anything could be got by using the labour of Irishmen; but the moment their crops failed, or trade became dull, they would throw them back for subsistence to their own country.


thought the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who last spoke an ill return for the assistance of England so liberally and cheerfully given to Ireland. The hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. French) must have forgotten the question befere the House. There was one town in the kingdom which had had the addition to its population of 100,000 Irish paupers. The number which had arrived was 150,000, but as 50,000 had emigrated, a permanent burden was imposed on that town of maintaining 100,000 strangers—a number equal to one-third of its own natural population. That burden, moreover, was coupled with every circumstance which could render it insupportable—contasrious disease and utter destitution—yet it was borne with the most exemplary patience. Every sort of kindness had been shown the strangers, both by the public officers and by the most extended private charity. Having now given the Irish the right to relief in their own country, what was the question? Why, that the Legislature should pass a measure to remove a technical difficulty which rendered the law they had just passed inoperative, as far as the Irish paupers at Liverpool were concerned. They asked the House to remedy that technical defect, and to take care for the future that the people of Liverpool and of other towns should have the full benefit of the assistance the laws could give them. It did appear to him, then, that the remarks of the hon. Member for Roscommon were perfectly uncalled for and unjustifiable.


did not think that the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Card-well) had himself read the Bill to which he had recalled the House. The object of the hon. Gentleman who commenced the debate (Sir J. D. Norreys) was to draw the attention of the House to the summary jurisdiction given by the Bill. What did the Act say? Why, that if a relieving officer "believes" a person ought to be removed, he might take him without a warrant before a justice of the peace. Was that a form of law? Was that a thing to enact in that House? Supposing he were taken up in the streets of Liverpool, and dragged before a justice of the peace, how could he bring his action against the assailant for his "belief?" Was that British law or British justice? Was it common sense? Was it not rather the sense and justice they might expect to find at Constantinople? The hon. Member for Stroud wanted a stringent law passed to prevent Irishmen from coming to England. Did he forget that Ireland was part of the British empire? Why did they not pro- pose a similar law for Scotland, for Yorkshire, or for Devonshire? The hon. Member suggested to the Government the necessity of a stringent law to prevent Irishmen from coming to England unless they could show good reason for it. Why, what sort of legislation was that? The noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Lord Sandon) suggested, and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. P. Scrope) supported him, that no Irish person should come to England unless under certain restrictions. A more dangerous, nonsensical, and impracticable measure never could be enacted. What! did they mean to say that they were to make a law to prevent Irish people from going to England? Were they to enact a law which in the worst days of the despotism of Napoleon he never would have dared to propose? Did they intend to enact a law which the autocrat of Russia would have blushed to propose? He believed the measure would have the effect of yet more estranging the Irish people from England, and he would feel it his duty to oppose it to the uttermost.


felt called upon to say a few words. He did not really think that any Gentleman in that House was favourable to a measure which would have the effect of preventing the people of Ireland from crossing the Channel and settling in England; and he regretted to see that the hon. Member for Walerford (Sir H. W. Barron) considered it necessary to indulge in such indignant exuberance of language in resenting what he supposed to be an insult to the Irish people. Great excuses were to be made for the language in which the people of Liverpool addressed that House, for really they had been very seriously aggrieved in a pecuniary manner by the great number of Irish paupers who had emigrated within the last few months to their town, and who had become chargeable upon it. He was sure the intention of the Government was merely to remove a technical objection, and not at all directed to prevent the Irish people from coming over to this country.


regretted that the hon. Baronet the Member for Waterford should hare so much mistaken the construction of the law about to be enacted. The hon. Baronet had denounced the measure as arbitrary, cruel, unnatural, and unjust, and had stated that the autocrat of Russia, with all his despotism, would not have dared to enact such a measure. Really the hon. Baronet could not have made himself conversant with the facts of the case, for it was not proposed to attempt the removal of any person until he had become chargeable to the parish, and had received relief, either himself, or his wife, or child. The present Bill provided that the person who so relieved the pauper (being a relieving officer) could take such a person before a magistrate, and so have him removed. The practical effect of the measure, which applied to all three countries alike, was to dispense with the necessity of summoning the person so relieved, and nothing more. It was repeatedly found impossible to serve a summons on such persons; and the object of this Act was merely to dispense with the necessity of serving that summons. It applied to all three countries. English poor in Ireland and Scottish poor in England would be treated in the same way.


had not expected so soon, after millions had been given to the poor of Ireland, to hear of an anti-Irish feeling existing in this country. Where did the hon. Member find evidence of the truth of his insinuation? The Irish people had themselves to blame; for, if Irish landlords and men of property had done their duty by their own poor, there would have been no necessity for the legislation that was now imperatively required. But they had not so done their duty. The poor of Ireland were, and had been for years, in a state of starvation. There was, perhaps, an appearance of harshness in this Bill, but it would not be felt practically; for he really believed that the Bill would be inoperative altogether, in consequence of the enormous expense at this moment of removals. With respect to actual removal, this Bill did not alter the existing law at all. Whence, then, the necessity for injurious language, and accusations that were so unjust? For twenty years he had been demanding a Poor Law for Ireland. He had always foreseen it must come, and now England was threatened with danger to which she ought not in justice to be exposed. He had no wish to alarm the public mind; but the fact ought to be stated, that typhus fever was rapidly spreading in some of our workhouses. He was not sure it was not in London; he knew it to be in some workhouses near London, and it had originated in the influx of Irish poor. Did Irish Gentlemen believe that the voyage to England was a pleasurable one for the Irish poor? Did they know how the unfortunate people were driven about from parish to parish, and what misery they endured, having no place of rest? Could Irish Gentlemen feel contented with this wretched condition of their own poor? Talk about confiscation of property! Why, he would rather all the estates in Ireland, and England too, should change hands to-morrow than that such a state of things should continue as now existed. He thought the Government had been most unjustly assailed in respect of their Irish measures. They had had a most difficult game to play, and great credit was due to them for what they had done. He believed they would have done more if they could. Why, but a few hours ago a Motion had been carried in another place, which deprived Irish paupers of the benefit of permanent relief. It was high time that the English voice should be heard on behalf of the Irish poor, if the Irish Gentleman would not do their duty towards the paupers of their own country.


considered the present Bill absolutely necessary, and thought the sooner it passed the better. He should not have risen on this occasion had he not been desirous that some Member should be found to stand up and defend the Irish landlords. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) had been somewhat sweeping in his condemnation; but he had omitted to notice the exertions of the Irish landlords, some of whom, Mr. Blake and Lord Lurgan, had lost their lives in their attempts to mitigate the sufferings of the people. He would vote for the Bill, but he could not refrain from exonerating the Irish landlords from the odium cast upon them by the Member for Finsbury.


thought the power given to relieving officers was too great. It would be better to make a provision authorizing a relieving officer to apprehend a person immediately upon receipt of relief, than render a man who might be walking in the street and eating a crust of bread liable to be taken up, merely because he had an Irish accent.


said, that the provision complained of was merely to remove a technical objection; the objections to it should be made in Committee.


did not object to the principle of the Bill, for he considered some measure was quite necessary; but he objected to the extensive power given to overseers. There was one effect of the Bill which he wished to bring under notice. There was power to remove the paupers from the seaports of England to the ports of Ireland; but when there no power existed to compel their removal to the parishes to which they were chargeable. The Bill might, therefore, be described as a measure to benefit the seaports of England at the expense of the seaports of Ireland.

Bill read a second time.