HC Deb 24 February 1854 vol 130 cc1256-64

On the question that the House go into Committee of Supply,


rose, and begged to claim the attention of the House for a short time on a matter which he conceived to be really worthy of attention. The object he had in placing his notice on the paper was to draw the attention of the House to the harsh and unjust operation of the law for the removal of Irish poor from this country to Ireland. He was also anxious to place before the House some instances which would prove that a sufficiently harsh and stringent provision of the existing law was overstepped and exceeded by the interest or the zeal of those who were entrusted with the administration of the law in this country. He was most anxious to claim the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board to the statement he was about to make, because his (Mr. Maguire's) object was to place such a statement before the House as might induce the right hon. Gentleman to consider the case of Ireland seriously, and induce him and his colleagues to consider the necessity, on the occasion of the second reading of his Bill—of which he (Mr. Maguire) begged to say he warmly approved—of making a statement to the House to effect that Ireland should not be excluded from the humane and salutary provisions of the Bill. The main object of that Bill was to give the poor man the right to relief in whatever parish he might find himself destitute at the time of asking for that relief. That he should have a right to that relief, and have no fear, as at present, that on applying for relief he will be removed to whatever locality he may be considered chargeable upon. He (Mr. Maguire) regretted the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board did not take more into his consideration, and state more strongly, the case of Ireland. But, in the first place, how stood the law in the case of the Irish poor? By the 8 & 9 Vict. c. 117, it was provided, that —"If any person born in Ireland or Scotland, and not settled in England, became chargeable in England, by reason of relief given to him or her, or their children, such persons and such children were liable to be removed to their own country. But that law was altered by the 10 & 11 Vict. c. 33, wherein it was provided, that —"Any relieving officer, poor-law guardian, or parish overseer, might take before any two jus- tices, without warrant or summons, any person who became chargeable to the parish, or whom he believed was liable to be removed from this country. Now see the operation of that. A poor man, who might have resided for twenty years in this country, and who had not established the necessary settlement, which would be a bar to his removal, would be liable, on obtaining parochial relief, to prompt removal as coming within the meshes of the law. He was removed; and though he might have spent all his life in this country, he was flung, notwithstanding, on the most convenient part of the Irish shore by the party who held the contract for his removal, with every prospect of being henceforth a helpless and destitute pauper. The law provided, that the poor to be removed were to be brought to the port nearest the locality of their birth. However, the ports of Wexford, Waterford, Cork, and Limerick, were the only ones named. Limerick, from its inconvenient situation, did not enjoy so many of the advantages resulting from that state of the law as the other ports; but even when landed at either of the other ports, it often happened that the unfortunate pauper was 100 or 150 miles from the locality of his birth, which distance he had to trudge with heart worn out by misery, and broken down by fatigue and privation. The moment the unfortunate pauper entered the workhouse of that distant locality, he left all hope behind him, and misery and despair might be said to be his portion for the remainder of his days. He could cite many instances of the hardships which the poor people of Ireland had suffered from this state of things. Some time since, in 1849, an inquiry was instituted by the Poor Law Commissioners, who sent an inspector to inquire into the case of a woman named Murray, whose husband had been a resident in this country thirty-nine years, and herself a resident twenty-one years, the last eight years of which she lived in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The husband died, and left her with a child of about sixteen years of age, who was born in London. They got relief for about thirteen weeks, and were then shipped to Ireland against their will. Evidence in the case was taken upon oath, and he (Mr. Maguire) went to the establishment, a papier-maché warehouse near the Strand, where the husband had been employed, and found that he had been for fifteen years in the employment, and also that he was of unexceptionable character and conduct. The Cork Board of Guardians were enduring at this very moment, not 100 but over 200, cases of a similar nature, cases that they were not legally bound to administer relief in, and all because they had no idea of entering into a contest in the matter with the Poor Law Commissioners. He (Mr. Maguire) could tell those who were just now seeking the means to uphold the honour of England, that this was the time for them to soothe the feelings of the Irish people, and to prove to them that they recognised their equality, as well as solicited them to share in the toils and the chances of the approaching conflict. But he had several other cases to give to the House. On the 21st September, a woman named Condon went before the Cork bench. She had been fourteen years a resident in the parish of Marylebone. Her husband, who had always previously maintained the family, found it difficult to obtain work. He left his family to seek employment. The poor woman applied for, and obtained, parochial relief. But she was quickly shipped to Cork; and one of the constables of that city found the unfortunate woman and her four children wandering about the streets of Cork at night, having neither food nor shelter beneath which to rest their wearied limbs. The next case was one that came before him (Mr. Maguire) when he filled the office of mayor of Cork. A woman, who had resided sixteen years in Westminster, was deserted by her husband. She was advised by her friends to seek parish relief, in order to render her husband legally responsible. She did so, and was immediately shipped to Cork. The poor woman was most anxious to get back to Westminster; and he (Mr. Maguire) asked her it she had ever applied for relief before, to which she replied, "She never did, as she always worked hard for a livelihood." Now that certainly was doing more than putting the law in force; it was outraging the law, harsh and stringent as that law was of itself. A third case was that of a poor girl only sixteen years old, who, having lost half-a-crown, with which her sister had sent her out, she became afraid to go home, and applied for relief. She obtained it, and was shipped to Cork on the 6th of February. Now, hon. Gentlemen from Ireland knew the inconvenience and discomfort of crossing the sea to Holyhead—a matter of five or six hours; yet here was this wretched girl put on the deck of a steamer, against her will, clothed in a very light dress, with no head-covering what- ever. She implored to be permitted to go back to her sister, or to let her see her sister; but no, the officials knew their duty too well, and she was shipped to Cork, her sister being even ignorant of what had become of her. The next case was that of a woman who had been twenty years in England, and who was brought before the Cork bench on the 15th instant. She stated her husband had got out of employment for a short time, and she had been obliged to go into the workhouse to be confined. The workhouse authorities threatened to send her to Ireland. She supplicated them to leave her for a few days, at the end of which her husband, she said, would provide for her. But she, with her four children, all born in England, were sent to Ireland. The comment of the poor creature on the law was this:— I have lived the last ten years in Lambeth; all my children were born there; and it is a cruel thing to send a wife and children away from their provider, as it may be the means of parting us for ever. The remark of the Cork magistrate was, "If this woman were English, and twenty years amongst us, we would have no power whatever to send her away." Now, he (Mr. Maguire) asserted it was unjust to have one law for a rich and powerful country, and another for a weak and poor one. The clerk of the poor-law guardians at Cork, writing to him the other day, informed him that an old woman born in Jersey, and who knew nothing about Ireland, was shipped to Cork, and was in the Cork workhouse at present, having strayed from Jersey into England. Then there was also a blind boy, who had been born in Jersey, and having strayed into Plymouth, was got rid of by the officials there, and was at present an inmate of the blind asylum at Cork. A woman named Ellen Connor, aged twenty-one and eight years a resident in London, went into St. Luke's Hospital. After three months she applied for her discharge, which was refused, and she was shipped for Cork, to the total ignorance of her husband. Then again there was the case of a child seven years of age, born in London, but being of Irish extraction, she was shipped to that country, though she knew no person there, nor had she a single friend. There was also the case of Catherine Hogan, of Whitechapel, aged seventeen, born in London. Her father was also born in London, and died in America. She became in and went to an hospital. After some time she applied for her discharge, was refused, was forcibly put into a van, and subsequently shipped for Ireland, because she was of Irish extraction. Bridget M'Carthy, who resided thirty-three years in London, and had four children born there;—she was kept four days in St. Clement's, and then forcibly sent to Cork in May last. Mary Mahoney, six years in London, three children born here, was sent over from Westminster without the knowledge of her husband. But the worst case was that of a family of the name of Cotter, the father aged sixty, the mother fifty, with two children, one of ten and the other of five years. Cotter lived in England forty-six years, the nine last of which he spent in Liverpool. They all became afflicted with fever, applied for parochial relief, and obtained it. They were kept in the workhouse until barely recovered, and were then shipped over to become an additional burden on the ratepayers of Cork. Anne Harriss, a resident of St. Pancras for seven years, applied for relief, her husband having gone into the Middlesex Hospital with a broken leg. She obtained it, but was refused a discharge, and sent to Cork against her will and without the knowledge of her husband. The clerk of the Cork guardians assured him (Mr. Maguire) that did time permit he could easily have sent twenty additional cases. He also said:— He did not know if Cork had been peculiarly unfortunate in receiving cases of this description, but he did know that the number of poor cast helpless and penniless on the quays of Cork was really frightful. Now, hon. Gentlemen might ask, "Why don't the Commissioners of Poor Laws interfere?" The answer was this: Many cases of the kind had been from time to time stated to the Poor Law Commissioners, but no benefit ever arose from any such complaints, and, consequently, the guardians had long ceased to make representations on the subject. But the matter was now being taken up indignantly. The magistrates solicited the press to record the cases; and what, he begged to ask, did hon. Gentlemen think would be the result upon the sensitive and impulsive Irish people, whose assistance they were now anxious to secure in strengthening the power of their arms? His object was to point out this crying grievance; and it was the duty of the Government, if they intended to justify what they had stated, to grapple with the enormity of the evil im- mediately. The right hon. Secretary at War spoke, a few minutes since, of the disappearance of children during a military campaign. He (Mr. Maguire) could assure him that children also disappeared from the hardships and exposure of the unsheltered deck to which they were consigned in the depth of winter by some bloated official, some hard-hearted wretch, such as tied up the bell of the Whitechapel Workhouse, and denied the means of ingress to an unfortunate woman in the pangs of childbirth. The right hon. the President of the Poor-Law Board, had stated, in reply to a deputation which waited upon him a day or two since, in reference to the new Bill:— What he desired was to put an end to compulsory removal, which was unjust and oppressive to the poor man. The effect of the law, as it now stood, and which it was his (Mr. Baines's) wish to remedy, was, that if a man, through unforeseen circumstances, tell into distress, for instance, either in Marylebone or St. Pancras, instead of receiving relief from either of those parishes, the authorities had the power to send the poor man, and, perhaps, a wife and family, into Northumberland, or any other distant part, merely because his father some years before had a settlement there. Just in like manner might a poor man be sent up from Cornwall to one of the metropolitan parishes. The Act was unjust, impolitic, and cruel, and one which the Legislature was bound to put an end to. The present law of removal did not affect vagrants, but was calculated to oppress the industrious classes, who might fall into misfortune. Again, there could be no doubt that at present the grossest frauds were practised in some parishes by unscrupulous officers to get rid of the poor when the five years' residence was about to expire. There could be no doubt whatever of the perfect accuracy of this description of the effects of the existing law. But if there were sufficient reasons for repealing the provisions of the existing law, which permitted an Englishman to be sent back to his own parish, there was ten times more justice and humanity in pressing for the repeal of a law which at this moment permitted bloated officials and unfeeling guardians in England to fling back upon his own country the poor used-up and unfortunate man who had been all his life toiling in the creation of wealth for this country. In many cases they might as well send these unfortunate people to the backwoods of Canada as to land them in the streets of Dublin, Belfast, or Cork. He had put forward the case of these unfortunate people now, in order that the right hon. Gentleman might have sufficient time to take that part of the case into his consideration. The law could not remain in its present state, because the feeling of the people of Ireland was thoroughly aroused against it. He was grateful for the measure so far as it went, but he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would not consider the case of the helpless Irish poor unworthy of his consideration.


said, he regretted the hon. Gentleman should have supposed that he did not consider the question as one of great importance. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that he thought it of the utmost importance, and he was desirous that the house should have before it the fullest information in its power before it proceeded to legislate upon a question of so much magnitude and interest. On that account he was glad to find that an hon. Member had moved that all correspondence with the Poor Law Commissioners, both in reference to Scotland, England, and Ireland, should be laid upon the table before any legislative steps were taken. At present he felt that the House had not that information which would enable it to come to a satisfactory conclusion. He had already expressed his opinion that the law was in a most unsatisfactory state at present. In the case of Scotland and England there was now a power of removing all Irish paupers to Ireland, and the experience some years had given him of the working of the law satisfied him that it was a most injudicious arrangement, and entailed often very great hardship and injustice. At the some time, he could not help regretting that a subject like this should have been interposed by the hon. Member for Dungarvan at a time which was not well calculated to ensure it a fair amount of consideration from the House, and to which he admitted it was eminently entitled. The hon. Gentleman had brought the subject forward at a time when the House was anxious to go into Committee of Supply, and before it was in possession of sufficient information to enable it to form a satisfactory opinion upon the question. He must complain also that the hon. Gentleman had not given him any notice with regard to the nature of the statement he intended to make to the house, because if he had done so he (Mr. Baines) would have been able to meet him and state whether the information was accurate, or to show reasons for entertaining doubts of its entire accuracy. At all events, those unions and parishes to which he had referred had some reason to complain when they found the hon. Gentleman impugning the conduct of their officers without giving them intimation that such charges were to be made. Under these circumstances, the House must perceive that the only fair course would be to allow the matter to remain as it was, until the correspondence moved for by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Bateson) should be laid on the table. If that correspondence should turn out not to be sufficient for the purpose in view, he should be willing to afford every facility for investigating further the operation of the existing law, and for putting the House in possession of such information as would enable them to decide whether, as he confessed was his own opinion, the law ought to be altered.


said, he must complain that the right hon. Gentleman, while laying down the proposed alterations in the law, had wholly omitted to notice the great injustice which was perpetrated towards the Irish paupers. The right hon. Gentleman's own statement that evening showed how well justified the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) was in taking the course he had. He had himself admitted that there ought to be a change. He was aware that official Gentlemen were usually reluctant to depart from the ordinary routine of the House, but he begged to remind them that independent Members had, according to the rules of that House, very few opportunities of bringing forward cases of grievance, and the hon. Gentleman had taken the first legitimate opportunity that presented itself. However impatient the House might be to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman upon the Estimates, he must say the discussion had not been without its advantage, and he was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baines) state that he intended turning his attention to these cases of hardship. He feared the correspondence to which he had referred would fall far short of supplying all the information that was required. Not one hundredth part of the cases of injustice in which the Unions found themselves fully justified in resisting the order sent them would be found in this correspondence. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman that one Union alone of the city of Dublin had been saddled with the expense of 539 paupers, who had been shipped from England during the preceding year, and he had no doubt there were many similar cases which called for serious investigation. He might instance the case of one poor person, who, after an industrial residence of forty years in London, was, at the age of eighty-two, sent back in the winter season to Ireland. These cases showed the greatest injustice and cruelty, and no temporary inconvenience should prevent any hon. Gentleman who was cognisant of similar ones bringing them at once before the House. In the district of Westminster, he could give him a case from St. Margaret's parish of one unfortunate woman, with five children, who had been thirty-two years resident there, and nine years consecutively in one house. Having received some temporary relief, she was sent by the magistrate's order, in the custody of the police, and shipped off to Ireland, without being allowed to sell her furniture or any little matters she had to dispose of. These examples might be quoted not only from London, but other towns, and in Liverpool he had heard of the case of an unfortunate man who had been twenty years residing there, and for the last ten years had resided in the same house without ever having been destitute, till by an accident he fell from the roof of a house, and applied for and obtained some temporary relief. The poor-law officials obtained an order to have him sent to the hospital, and the moment he was able to leave it, he was seized as if he had been a felon, and although 10l. 14s. was actually due to him, at the time, for wages, he was not allowed to get it, but was shipped off and landed in Ireland, at least 100 miles from his native place. Under these circumstances he did not think they ought to stand upon the question of whether this or that was the proper time to bring forward such cases of cruelty, and he was satisfied that such an appeal to the justice of the House would never be made in vain.

Subject dropped.