HC Deb 23 August 1848 vol 101 cc433-9

House in Committee of Supply.

On the question that 10,700l. be granted for the Polish and Spanish refugees,


opposed the vote. While thousands of our own people were starving we were voting this money for the Poles. The whole of this sum of 10,000l. was placed at the disposal of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone. The hon. Gentleman read a list of Polish pensioners, upwards of twenty in number, who kept large and flourishing shops. One kept a tobacconist's shop, and another a bookseller's shop, and many of the wives and children of these men had pensions. It was quite time such a vote was stopped. A large expense was incurred in dispensing these pensions. The clerk in the War Office had 273l. for superintending the payments. He should, if he had any support, move that the vote be disallowed.


said, that nothing was more popular than to call for these reductions; but when the grant under discussion was minutely investigated, it would be found to be just and proper. The hon. Member for Middlesex had complained that the distribution of the grant was subject to his (Lord Dudley Stuart's) control. His answer to that complaint was simply that the grant was not under his control at all. All he had to do with it amounted to this: that whereas by the rules of the Treasury, when three Poles were removed by death from the list of recipients, one was allowed to be substituted in the room of the three who had dropped off, the Treasury had until lately permitted him to recommend the individual who was to be so substituted. But that system of substitution had, in consequence of the recommendation of the Committee, been wholly abolished. It was true that for a period of four years the distribution of the grant had been confided to the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland, in which he (Lord D. Stuart) occupied a prominent place. But it was more than ten years since the association had ceased to distribute the grant. His hon. Friend had complained of the expense incurred by the country in paying persons to distribute this money. During the time the distribution was confided to the association to which he (Lord Dudley Stuart) belonged, it did not cost the country a farthing. When he recollected the enthusiasm with which the vote had originally been made, and the unanimity with which it had passed ever since, he would not believe that the House of Commons would do anything so harsh, so ungracious, and so ungenerous, as now to refuse to renew it. The recipients of it were men who had sacrificed everything in the defence of those things on their attachment to which Englishmen prided themselves so highly, viz., the liberty and independence of their country. Their cause was a just and righteous one, and had been felt and acknowledged to be so on all hands; and was as much so now as when the grant was first made. Some hon. Gentlemen might disapprove of the conduct of some of the Poles in recent transactions on the Continent. He (Lord Dudley Stuart) should be ready to defend, at least, most parts of that conduct on any fitting occasion; but he did not suppose that even those who might be most disposed to censure that conduct, would allow it to influence them in dividing on a vote, intended for the relief of persons in distress who had no hand in that conduct which might be disapproved of. His hon. Friend had talked of economy, and the distress of our own people. He was an advocate for economy. He had proved it by his votes. It was by such proposals as those of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, to cut down the Army and Navy, for which he (Lord Dudley Stuart) had voted, and not by withholding a pittance from brave patriots in distress, that economy was really to be promoted. Deprive these unfortunate refugees of their allowance. Would that really relieve the distress of our own people! Would it give half a glass of beer to any working man; a teaspoonful of tea, or a pinch of snuff, to any poor woman? It would not; but what it would do, would be to increase the burdens of the ratepayers in those localities which the refugees inhabited; for if they were deprived of their allowances, they would not be suffered to starve. They would not be sent out of the country under the Alien Act, which was not intended for any such purpose, and could not be so applied, even if Government were inhuman enough, which he was sure no Government would be, to wish so to use it, and the parishes would by law be forced to support these persons in the shape of casual poor. But was this grant resisted on the ground of principle, and were they determined not to spend one farthing more than was absolutely necessary for the expenses of the State? Then let them carry out their principle, and do away with the paraphernalia of a Court, with its heralds and trumpeters, a master of buckhounds, and array of tinselled courtiers. He thought it tended much more to the dignity of the Sovereign and people of this country to maintain a grant for the relief of brave patriots in distress, than to keep the splendour and empty pageant of a Court such as he had referred to. He was not one of those who cavilled at those things, or who desired to introduce into this country republican simplicity (although he thought there were some expenses which might very well be curtailed)—but he said, lot those who did desire it, not to begin by withholding the pittance of the distressed. Were those who complained of this grant aware of the sums spent yearly on foreigners in no distress, on sovereigns and princes who chose to pay a visit to this country? In the course of the last few years England had been visited by almost every crowned head and royal prince in Europe. The Emperor of Russia, King of Prussia, King of the French, King of Belgium, King of Holland, and many other personages, had all honoured us with their visits. But the people who were fond of staring and gaping at these crowned heads, would perhaps not be so well pleased if they knew that they had to pay for their keep and entertainment whilst here; yet such was the fact. And not only that, but we had also to pay for their expenses in coming and going from this country. More than that—considerable expenses were incurred in moving about royal personages on board our ships from one part of the world to another. If hon. Gentlemen would examine the civil contingencies, they would find large sums expended for conveying the King of Bavaria when on a visit to the King of Greece, and the King of Greece on a visit to the King of Bavaria, and other potentates in the same way. Yet those who were so loud for economy, had agreed to these things without complaint. Many persons who did not take the trouble to inquire into facts, imagined that England was the most generous, as well as the richest country in the world. She had not shown it with regard to the Poles; there was not a country on the Continent enjoying a constitutional government at the time of the Polish revolution that had not granted large sums for the relief of the Poles. France, Belgium, Switzerland, had all done so. At the time when England originally granted 10,000l. to the Poles in England, the French Chambers voted no less a sum than 2,500,000 francs (or 100,000l) for the Poles; and though the numbers of the Poles had since, from natural causes, decreased there as well as here, it appeared from a return he had procured from Paris, that a large sum had been annually voted by the French, and that they had voted this year about 1,200,000 francs. He did not say that we were bound to follow the example of France, nor did he deny that the Poles had stronger claims upon the French than upon this country; but he mentioned these things in order to show that in making this grant of some 8,000l., we were not committing an act of lavish and unheard-of generosity. What, too, had been the practice of this country? We had assisted the refugees of almost every country when they fled in distress to our shores. French, Corsican, Dutch, Spaniards, had all received our bounty; and if we turned to the report of the Committee on Miscellaneous Estimates, to which Gentlemen were fond of referring, we should find that in the beginning of this century, intead of 8,000l. or 10,000l., the sum voted for the relief of refugees amounted to the almost incredible sum of 260,000l.; and in subsequent years 154,000l., 160,000l., &c., were the sums voted for a similar purpose. The grant for the Poles was originally, in 1834, 10,000l.; it had been increased, in 1838, to 15,000l; since which it had been reduced, through the deaths and departures of the refugees, to 8,700l., and it was in rapid progress, according to the report of the Committee, towards final extinction, the number on the list having, in 1838, been 680, and being now reduced to 365. It must also he allowed, and that too appeared from the evidence taken before the Committee, that the conduct of the Poles in this country was, with some few exceptions, exemplary. They had been brought into their present unhappy condition by their patriotism and their virtue. He protested against being supposed indifferent to the distress of his own countrymen; but this grant did not aggravate that distress; the refusal of it would in no degree alleviate it. He therefore hoped his hon. Friend would not press his opposition to it.


said, that until he had heard the speech of the noble Lord, he had some doubt on the subject of this vote; but he was now convinced that there was no substantial ground for the vote, for if there had been any, the noble Lord would have stated it. When these people first come to this country, there was a very universal feeling that some relief of a temporary nature should be given them; but that was a very different matter from the present proposition. The noble Lord had failed to show, first, that these parties were unable by ordinary skill and industry to support themselves; and, secondly, that they had not had opportunities during a long period of years to return to their own country. If they could have gone home, they had no business to remain here at the charge of the industrious people of this country. There were many Englishmen in trade almost unable to get a living, who would be very glad to receive, like some of these parties, a pension to assist them. Unless he heard from the Government that it was their determination to put an end to this system, he should lend his aid for the purpose of getting rid of the grant.


said, it appeared from the debates of the time when this vote was first granted, that it was only brought forward as a temporary one; and there was no doubt that if there were no vote these persons would seek a living by employment. He found that one Pole on the list had actually resigned. He thought that if this Pole were to present himself before the House of Commons the House would really reward him for his magnanimity. The fact was, that John Bull was considered a great milch cow, for everybody to draw from. Those sums were extracted from the taxes of the country at a time when so many of the Queen's subjects, much more deserving of the consideration of that House, were suffering privation. Without striking off the vote on this occasion, he hoped that a pledge would be given that this should be the last, or the last but one, offered to the House for this purpose.


gave credit to the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) for humane feelings; but he thought it time that some stop should be put to this system, especially as former debates showed that the vote was only proposed as a temporary one. If, however, his hon. Friend (Mr. Osborne) received a pledge from the Government that they would revise these pensions, he would advise him not to press his Amendment.


said, that though this vote was proposed as a temporary one, it had nevertheless been continued from time to time, not only with the full consent and concurrence of the House of Commons, but the House had in one year actually pressed on the Government the increase of the vote from 10,000l. to 15,000l. Under these circumstances, they ought not to deal very lightly or summarily with the vote. The recommendation of the Select Committee on the Miscellaneous Estimates, not to add further persons to the list of pensioners, would be carried out by the Treasury. In some cases, where parties had received this allowance for many years, they might, in consequence of old age and infirmity, he unable to earn their own livelihood; and he thought it would be an act of inhumanity to deprive such persons of this charitable assistance. He was ready to allow that young persons, who were quite capable of earning their own subsistence, and who had recently been placed upon the list, were not fit objects for relief from this fund. He was prepared to assure the House that the list should undergo a strict revision, and that no persons who were not really objects of charity should be continued upon it. He hoped, however, that the Committee would enable the Government to continue these donations to such persons as had received them for many years, and who were in a state of health which precluded them from gaining their own subsistence.

On this statement the opposition to the vote was withdrawn, and it was agreed to.