HC Deb 15 April 1851 vol 116 cc209-14

said, that in the absence of his noble Friend (Lord John Russell), who had intended to state the course in which public business would be taken after the recess, he begged to make the Motion of which the noble Lord had given notice, "That the House at its rising do adjourn to Monday, the 28th of April."


wished to take that opportunity of calling the attention of the House to a matter which must be of most painful interest to every one who had paid any attention to the subject. A few days ago an hon. Member called the attention of the House to the number of deaths taking place weekly in the union of Kilrush. It appeared that out of about 5,000 persons in the workhouse of that union, 200 had died in the course of three weeks, or about 75 per cent. Since that time he had seen a report of the guardians of the union of Kilrush, reflecting upon some letters written by the Rev. Mr. Sidney Godolphin Osborne; but in that report they did not deny the statements made in that House. There could be no doubt of the fact that at some 20 hours' distance of the place in which they were sitting, 75 per cent per annum of the inhabitants of a charitable institution were dying. It had been stated in published letters, that in the neighbouring union of Ennistymon, which was under vice-guardians, the number of deaths had been infinitely greater in proportion to the number of persons in the workhouse than had occurred even in the workhouse of Kilrush; and that from the 8th to the 22nd of March, in a period of two weeks, there had been 235 deaths out of 3,893 persons. The deaths in that workhouse, therefore, had been taking place at the rate of about 170 per cent per annum. Now, he asked hon. Gentlemen to recollect what their own feelings were when out of a population of 2,000,000 in this metropolis, some 200 or 300 persons were dying of cholera daily; and he would also remind them of the attention paid by the House to railway accidents, where comparatively few lives were lost; and then he would ask whether the state of things he had mentioned ought not at once to engage their attention? He was aware it was stated the other night, by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, in answer to the question of an hon. Gentleman on this subject, that some inquiry would be made, and that the result of that inquiry would be laid upon the table of the House; but he (Mr. Monsell) begged to remind the House that from week to week the Poor Law Commissioners for Ireland received an account of the mortality in every workhouse in that country, and that they were, therefore, perfectly cognisant of the facts. It appeared, however, that, except as a statistical curiosity, no advantage was to be gained from those returns. He hoped the Government would state that they would at once give directions that steps should be taken, not merely to institute an inquiry, but to relieve the existing distress, which was, he believed, unexampled in the history of this country. The number of deaths had, he believed, been greater than had ever taken place in any charitable institution in this kingdom; and it must be remembered that no statement had been made that any disease of any kind was raging in the district, and that the deaths must be owing either to the miserable state of the poor before they entered the workhouse, or to their bad management within its walls. He was sure the noble Lord at the head of the Government must feel most deeply—as deeply as he (Mr. Monsell) or any one else could do—the existence of such a state of things. He entreated the noble Lord, at all events between this time and the reassembling of Parliament after Easter, to direct the Poor Law Commissioners to take steps to prevent so frightful a mortality; and afterwards, if necessary, measures should be proposed and discussed to remedy grievances of which every one must feel the enormity, and with regard to which they incurred a heavy responsibility for their supineness.


said, that not having been in the House when the hon. Gentleman rose, he had only hoard a portion of the statement of the hon. Gentleman; but he had had previous accounts sent him respecting the mortality in the union of Kilrush; and the Poor Law Commissioners in Ireland had reported to the Lord Lieutenant on the subject. He was sorry, however, to say that, although the facts were of a very painful nature, there did not seem to be any immediate mode of preventing such a state of things. Every step that could be taken by sending persons to Kilrush to consider what measures could be adopted, had been taken; but while the state of weakness of the people when they entered the poor-house continued to be such as it had been, he was afraid that the mortality could not be much reduced. An inquiry would also take place into the state of the Ennistymon union.


said, that one reason of the miserable condition of the poor in the Kilrush union was, that the law was not enforced, or at least its intentions were not fulfilled. The fact was that the poor did not receive the relief required to be afforded to them by law. Had the noble Lord instituted an inquiry, or would be institute an inquiry, upon that point? He (Mr. Scrope) thought it was not enough to refer the matter to the Poor Law Commissioners, because they were the parties accountable for any neglect of duty which took place, and, if insufficient relief was given either in or out of the workhouse, the Commissioners were responsible. What was required was that some independent person, upon whom the noble Lord could place implicit reliance, should be sent to Kilrush, to ascertain whether the law was properly administered, or whether there was any neglect of duty on the part of the guardians or the Poor Law Commissioners.


said, one great cause of the distress existing in the Kilrush union was that the district did not produce enough food for the people, and in the case of famine it was absolutely necessary that some other moans besides local rates, which were wholly insufficient, should be provided for the support of the people. If the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Scrope) was so anxious about the Kilrush union, why did he not contribute to the maintenance of the poor himself? The poor-law inspector, Mr. Lynch, had made a report to the Commissioners as to the state of the Ennistymon union; but the ratepayers complained, in a public document, that that report was frivolous and exaggerated, and they asked that they might be allowed to substantiate their assertion before some competent and fair tribunal. He wished to know whether any steps had been taken to ascertain whether this officer had performed his duties properly, or whether the statement of the ratepayers, which bore the respected name of Sir Lucius O'Brien, was correct?


said, that not having received any notice that the state of the Kilrush union would be discussed to-night, he had not for some days referred to the papers on the subject. It appeared to him, however, that the duty of the Poor Law Commissioners was, to see that the persons applying for relief, if they were destitute persons, received sufficient relief to support life. The statement of the Commissioners was, that relief had been given, in cases where it had been applied for, according to the rules now in force; and it was said that, in some instances, in the north of Ireland (as we understood), statements had been made that the diet was too abundant, that it was greater in quantity than was necessary for the relief of the paupers. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Scrope) seemed desirous to raise the question of the policy of the Poor Law, but he would not at that moment enter into that general question, and, indeed, if that subject were to be discussed, it was necessary that some notice should be given to the House.


considered that the subject to which the hon. Member for the county of Limerick (Mr. Monsell) had called attention, was one which ought to be thoroughly sifted.


said, it appeared to him that the great difficulty in this case was the want of money. It was very easy to charge the Poor Law Commissioners and the guardians of the Kilrush union with neglect of duty, but what was really wanted was money. Rate after rate had been raised in the Kilrush union, and in the other unions in the county of Clare. He begged to remind the noble Lord at the head of the Government that the famine was now reduced within very narrow limits, and that there were very few distressed unions now. He thought it would be but common humanity on the part of the House—though he acknowledged they had been liberal beyond all that could possibly be asked, almost, indeed, to extravagance, in relieving the distress of Ireland—to carry those few unions through this year. If he did not think the guardians of those unions had done their utmost, he would not ask this for them. He considered that it was very degrading and humiliating, as well as highly disadvantageous to a population, to be always living upon alms; but when such frightful scenes as had been described were brought before them, he did not think himself warranted in making the request, that this case might not be considered in too parsimonious a point of view.


said, that whether the cause was want of money or misconduct on the part of the guardians, the fact had been stated by an hon. Member that the poor in certain unions in Ireland—and the term "poor" applied to the whole, or nearly the whole, population of those unions—were dying at the rate of more than 100 per cent per annum. [A laugh.] He repeated, at the rate of more than 100 per cent per annum; that was to say, that at the rate of mortality now going on, they would all be swept away in less than a year. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) replied, that though he had caused an inquiry to be made into the circumstance, he saw no means by which this mortality could be prevented. In less than a year, then, under the present system, the whole population of certain unions were likely to be swept away. All he could say was, that if that were the sentence of the Government and of that House, a grave responsibility would rest upon the House, the Government, and the country.


denied that he had made any reply at all to the statement that the mortality in these unions exceeded 100 per cent per annum. That was a statement which he had not heard made, and therefore he could not have answered it. He had been aware that there was great mortality going on in the Kilrush union; and he had made such a statement on the subject as he was able to make without having had notice of the question, and in the absence of his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland.

Subject dropped.