HC Deb 30 July 1860 vol 160 cc408-12

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,—"That the Bill be now read the Third Time."


said, he had the other night made some strictures on the administration of the Poor Law in Ireland, and particularly on the constitution of the Poor-Law Board. He then observed that it was unfortunate that the Irish Poor Law Commissioners were not gentlemen connected either by residence, property, or religion, with the mass of the population of Ireland, and that it had a sectarian character imputed to it by the people of that country. He also stated that many gentlemen had been removed from that Commission who happened to be Roman Catholics, but he had guarded himself against saying they were removed because they were Roman Catholics. He wished to know whether the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been drawn to a letter published in the papers that day, and addressed to him without any notice having been given, by one of the Commissioners, in which the writer denied his strictures, and accused him of making groundless statements in his absence. He would say nothing of the breach of privilege committed by the writer of that letter, but it was not becoming a gentleman in his position to put forth in that manner such charges against an independent Member of Parliament, who made in his place—as he had a perfect right to do—the strictures which he passed upon the Commission the other night in the presence of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who was the first Poor-Law Commissioner of that country, and who, therefore, could contradict his statements, if they were groundless. Moreover, another of the Commissioners was sitting under the gallery at the time, and the right hon. Gentleman was in communication with that Commissioner. So that the assertion of Mr. Senior, the writer of the letter, as to his statements having been made in the absence of any Member of the Commission, was evidently erroneous. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thought it the duty of a paid subordinate of the Poor-Law Commission to publish these animadversions in the newspapers, without communication either with the right hon. Gentleman or with himself. He begged now to reiterate the statements he made the other evening. He had said that Mr. Ball, one of the Poor-Law Commissioners, when he resigned, was a Roman Catholic Gentleman, well acquainted with the wants of the people of Ireland. It was of importance that a Commissioner should be a Roman Catholic, not from any sectarian reason, but because in the circumstances of Ireland a Protestant gentleman must be totally unacquainted with the usages or the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church; and, as a consequence, in the appointment of chaplains to union workhouses, there had been constant squabbles and complaints. Mr. Ball was succeeded by a gentleman who was not an Irishman, and who was a Protestant. His successor was Mr. Senior, the writer of the letter to which he had referred. Mr. Senior said, indeed, he was a sort of Irishman, inasmuch as, like himself, he had married an Irish lady. Mr. Senior was transferred to Ireland from the English Poor-law Board, of which he had been an inspector. He believed that gentleman was a most efficient officer, but when sent to Ireland he was put over the heads of men equally efficient, and who, from being Irish- men, and possessing a knowledge of the country, were as well entitled to be put there as he. Mr. Senior denied that he was an Englishman, but did not deny that he belonged to the Established Church. That was his first charge. His next charge was, that certain officers who were Roman Catholics were dismissed from the Commission, and replaced, in many cases, by Protestants and Englishmen. Mr. Stanley, who was secretary to the Commission, and a Roman Catholic, was succeeded by Mr. Banks, an Englishman and a Protestant. Mr. Joseph Burke, Inspector, a Roman Catholic, who had been sixteen years under the Commission, and caught the famine fever, was put on one side; Dr. Pheelan was put on one side; Mr. Robert Lynch, a Roman Catholic, was put on one side; Mr. Murray and Mr. Barrow, also a Roman Catholic, were put on one side. These gentlemen were perfectly able to do their work; they were replaced by temporary inspectors, two of the five being English, and all Protestants. Mr. Senior had made it a matter of complaint against him, that he had stated the se facts. He said nothing of the taste of making such a complaint, without either communicating with the First Commissioner or himself; but if Members of Parliament were to be charged under such circumstances by members of the Board with making groundless statements in letters in the newspapers, it would not add to the efficiency of the Board. Probably he was wrong the other evening in using so strong a term as ignorance with reference to members of the Commission. It was too strong a term, and he would have withdrawn it had Mr. Senior communicated with him privately. But he stood on his right to make strictures on the construction of this Board. He reasserted what he had said—these appointments had all been given to gentlemen of the Established religion, and none of them were natives of the country.


said, he was surprised that the hon. Member should contend that none hut a Roman Catholic was fitted to administer the poor law in Ireland on the ground that they only understood the usage and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church; and because this was denied, the hon. Gentleman sought to gag the official of the Board who called it in question. Moreover, the clauses in the Continuance Bill had passed on Friday morning at three o'clock; and he therefore proposed that the Bill should be recommitted, to enable the House to judge of the whole matter.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the words "That the" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "said Order be discharged."

—instead thereof.


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liskeard, had good reason to complain of Mr. Senior's letter. Out of fifty-one officials connected with the Irish Board only eleven were Roman Catholics. A country, five-sixths of the people of which were Roman Catholics, could not have confidence in a public Board which bore upon it so evident a brand of sectarianism.


said, he was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman (Mr. B. Osborne) say, that if he had to make his speech over again he would not use the word to which reference had been made. Mr. Senior discharged his duties with great ability and great fidelity, but he would frankly admit that he could not justify the circumstances under which Mr. Senior's letter was written, and he had already communicated this opinion in a private letter to Mr. Senior. He could not help joining in the regret (in which Mr. Power and Mr. Senior both shared) that the Protestant Members and officers of the Board were in so large a proportion to the Roman Catholics. If an opportunity presented itself of reconstituting the Board, so as to make it represent both classes of the population more accurately, it would be a great improvement. The present constitution of the Board was the work of another Government many years ago. It was owing to official circumstances, and was not attributable to the desire that the new law should be administered by the Members of one persuasion. He trusted the House would not agree to the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate) that the Bill should be recommitted in order that a clause, inserted the other evening, should be reconsidered.


said, he had not ever perceived any sectarianism in the administration of the Poor Law in Ireland. At the same time he had been of opinion that the Bill was a mere Continuance Bill.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes: Majority 92.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°, and passed.

House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.