HC Deb 27 June 1879 vol 247 cc889-905

, in rising to draw attention to the condition of poor chil- dren in Irish workhouses, and to move that a Select Committee be appointed "to inquire into what steps it is desirable to take to improve the state of children in Irish workhouses," said, that it was a somewhat thankless task to bring an indictment each year against the existing Boards of Guardians in Ireland. He desired, however, at the onset, to say that he was fully sensible of the nature of the efforts of the Poor Law Guardians, and he did not wish to charge them in this matter with any direct or wilful neglect. The system adopted in Ireland in relation to pauper children was capable of great improvement, and his object in occupying the attention of the House at the present moment was two-fold—in the first place, to point out that there was an entire absence of industrial training in the Irish workhouses; and, in the second place, to show the evil consequences of the young children associating with the adult paupers. Now, he had opened a page at random in the Report of Major Trench's Commission, and from the answers given by the clerks to the Guardians in the Unions of Killarney, Listowel, Glyn, Limerick, and Newcastle, he found he was fully justified last year in saying that in Ireland there was no systematic and organized industrial training for boys and girls in workhouses. The Chairman of the Committees, in his valuable Report, himself admitted that the defect of the existing workhouses appeared to be the want of a continuous industrial training. What was the consequence of the absence of such a system? On account of the absence of industrial training, the time of the children must be squandered in idleness; because no one could sleep, without prejudice to his health, for more than eight or nine hours, and a child did not receive much benefit if it was kept in school more than four or five hours a-day. The rest of the children's time in the Irish workhouses must necessarily be spent in idleness. He recollected what wonderful results had been brought about by the establishment of industrial schools in this country. The Home Secretary, who took a very practical and lofty view of such subjects, at a meeting recently held at Chelmsford, said that between the years 1856 and 1878 the juvenile criminals of the country had been reduced 50 per cent, He (Mr. Moore) thought they had every reason to congratulate themselves upon such a result; but he was confident that it was to be attributed to the establishment of correctional institutions, the saving principle of which was the employment of children in some " labour suited to their strength." Much as he valued the Report of Major Trench, he must say that he differed from him in some respects. For instance, he did not agree with him whoa he said that the results of his inquiries bad led him to the belief that very little of the corrupting influence of association in the workhouse prevailed in Ireland; but, certainly, that was not the opinion of other capable and well-informed people. In 1875 the State of New York passed an Act of Parliament absolutely forbidding children to be committed to workhouses between the ages of 3 and 16 years old. The English Poor Law authorities had also made successful efforts in the direction of separating children from workhouse influences; and the Home Secretary had introduced a Bill saying that it should not be lawful to keep a child any longer than three months in any workhouse in Scotland. In spite of the lavish expenditure of the Poor Law system, children and adult paupers were herded together in a most disgraceful manner, two and three in a bed, and even when sick. There was an instance where two children, affected with the itch, were put in the same bed, and this was made the subject of inquiry; but the Committee found nothing reprehensible in the practice, and, to the disgrace of the Medical Profession, the doctor backed that opinion. The other day he visited one of the best-managed of agricultural workhouses, whore the contagion of the town might not be expected to have reached, and from which a large number of tramps and paupers would be absent. He saw the school, and, undoubtedly, it bore traces of great care, and it was under the care of a most efficient mistress. He asked her what became of the children after they left her care, and she said there was nothing for them to do but to go to the common day-room, where they would be associated with the worst of the old and young. And the unfortunate thing was that most objectionable persons were appointed to take care of the sick in the hospitals, and for that there was no excuse. Another objectionable feature was the early ages at which children were sent out to service. He incurred great odium last year for having, as was then understood, overstated his case when he said that children were sent out to work at the age of eight or nine years. There was evidence then that in as many as 20 Unions there was a habit of sending children of 10 years of age out to work, and never for any shorter period than three months. And what was the supervision which the Guardians afterwards exercised over these children? Why, absolutely none. In America there was a regular visiting agency appointed, and in Franco there were no less than 30 Inspectors to do this work; but there was absolutely no inspection in Ireland. It was supposed that the unfortunate relieving officer should discharge this duty; but there was small blame to him if he neglected it. What were the results which this system produced? Upon this point he would appeal to the testimony of some of the Clerks of Irish Unions, who, it must be remembered, were salaried officers dependent on the good will of the Guardians for their superannuations; and, therefore, the motive must have been a very strong one which induced them to speak out against the system in the manner in which they had spoken. The clerk of the Ballinasloe Union, whose experience extended over 30 years, said he was convinced that a workhouse was not a good place in which to bring up children, with few exceptions. The Clerk of the Castlereagh Union stated that, from his experience of workhouse training, he found, as a rule, that children did not turn out well, that they were always lazy, and preferred living in idleness to working. The Clerk of the Naas Union said he had no hesitation in stating, from his experience of 27 years, that a workhouse was the worst possible place that children could be brought up in. The clerks of Kilmacthomas, Dundalk, and other Unions, bore similar testimony to the pernicious effect which the present system had upon children. Major Trench, in reviewing this evidence, thought that it was balanced by reports of a favourable character, which, undoubtedly, had emanated from some of the Clerks of Unions. Major Trench set great value on a Return which showed that of the women who had illegitimate children in particular workhouses very few had been reared in those workhouses. But the Return really proved nothing, for there was no evidence that those women had not been reared in other workhouses. But he (Mr. A. Moore) must repeat that it was only a strong sense of duty which could induce a number of salaried officials to speak out against the system. Theirs was not the only testimony upon which he had to rely. A gentleman residing in the West of Ireland, who had set his heart upon this question, had issued a circular to workhouse chaplains of all denominations, and had thus collected a very valuable amount of testimony on the subject. A Presbyterian clergyman said workhouses were the worst places in which to train children, and that the national workhouses were cesspools, the general effect of whose atmosphere was fatal to the proper training of children. Another said workhouse training begot a lack of self-reliance; while a third stated that there was nothing in the system to teach children habits of honesty and discipline, and that girls made shipwreck early. The Catholic clergyman of Roscommon said a case could not be made out for continuing the present unsuccessful and pernicious system of training young paupers, and it would be better for the virtuous girl under 18 years of age to starve than to enter a workhouse. Dr. O'Shaughnessy, a relative of a respected Member of that House, said that, owing to the absence of classification, the system was simply demoralizing. There were no means of obtaining accurate official information about children trained in workhouses, for their careers were not traced and registered as was done in the case of children brought up in industrial schools. The question was, what should be done to remedy the state of things to which he had drawn attention? He wished rather to demonstrate the necessity for some change than to advocate any particular reform. He had no hobby in this matter, and was only anxious that some improvement on the present system should take place. He had no objection to the boarding-out system; but it was, he thought, above all things, desirable that they should have a proper and systematic system of inspection. Let the children not be got rid of out of the workhouse, and nothing be known of them in after life. With respect to orphan and deserted children, he could not see by what argument the State could possibly rid itself of the responsibility which it had undertaken in regard to these children without providing for them in well-managed industrial schools. As to the rest of the children, he would urge that if they had an extension of the system of boarding out, these children should be concentrated in such numbers as would allow of their receiving a proper and adequate training. There were at present 41 Unions in Ireland, where there were not more than a score of boys, and it was impossible to give a proper training to such a number except at immense cost. Major Trench objected to making a change for the small towns; but in some of the agricultural Unions the classification was worse than it was in the larger towns, and the children were less cared for. Two objections were urged, which he would call the fluctuation argument and the separation argument. It was said that the same children were not found in the same workhouse on the same day of two successive years; but this was rather due to the bad system of putting children out for terms of three and six months' service, and bringing them up in idleness, which produced an unwillingness to work. It would, in many cases, be an advantage to the children and to the State that the former should be separated from their parents. In England, pauper children were concentrated in large district schools, in which a variety of pursuits were carried on. The Irish system should be changed, so as to make it not only more industrial, but also more homely, by placing within the reach of the children inexpensive recreations. He hoped that, under an improved system, the odious brand bearing the name of the Union in largo letters would be abolished. Hon. Members who criticized the Army and Navy Estimates, considering that those Services cost the country too large a sum, forgot that the Poor Law system of the United Kingdom cost between £9,000,000 and £10,000,000. No one grudged what was necessary to succour classes who were unable to maintain themselves; but the least that could be expected was that this outlay would result in making the younger poor self-supporting and self-reliant when they reached maturity. He narrated the case of a child, whose father was a tramp, and his mother a convicted felon, and who was born in gaol without knowing either father or mother. The child grew up to manhood, passing his earlier years in the workhouse, and he well remembered how his unguarded career ended on the scaffold. That young man was a type of the orphan and deserted children who were sheltered by the workhouse, where, whatever the care exercised, they were necessarily surrounded by untoward circumstances. How many children now growing into useful members of the community would find better careers if they started with equal disadvantages? It was for these young unfortunates ho appealed; for the waifs and strays of the great towns and cities; and ho asked the House to give them a chance to start even with the humblest of the self-supporting classes of the community, to enable them to enter the Army and Navy, and to acquire some handicraft. He therefore begged to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire what steps it was desirable to take to improve the state of children in Irish workhouses.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that Major Trench and his Colleagues by their labours had very considerably advanced this question, because they distinctly suggested something very analogous to the recommendation of the Resolution. Major Trench's Commission suggested that there should be an inquiry into the condition of the children in Irish workhouses, and the effect upon them of the workhouse training, and it suggested what would aid the inquiries of any Committee of the House—namely, an inquiry, by inspection, of the Local Government Board into the respective effects of the workhouse, and the boarding-out systems. In England there had been a contest between the school and boarding-out systems, ending in favour of the latter. The boarding-out system, favourably as it was regarded in England, was more likely to be highly successful in Ireland, whose population was so largely agricultural leading simpler lives than those of the English people. So strongly had the House been impressed in favour of the boarding-out system that it had passed three successive Acts extending the ages at which it might be carried out. The first fixed the limit at five years, the second at 10, and the third at 13 years of age. No doubt there were dangers in connection with the boarding-out system, and in Ireland it laboured under a want of inspection. The better classes might provide voluntary aid so as to make supervision complete; but that aid should receive official authorization. Such volunteers might be appointed by the Boards of Guardians, and might come under the sanction of the Local Government Board, and they should be selected with a view to the wishes and religious feelings of the people. Major Trench and his three co-Commissioners pointed out three courses—the district schools, the boarding-out system; and they mentioned, without discussing, the extension of the system of out-door relief. Their Report showed very great danger of the corrupting influences of workhouse associations, and pointed out that of the children in Irish workhouses very few were permanent inmates, the majority being transitory, and the offspring of vicious parents who took them out when it suited their interest. District schools would involve great additional cost, though some of the workhouses might be used for that purpose; but, for his part, ho should object to any scheme increasing to any considerable degree the burthens of the ratepayers, the poor rate at present being as heavy as could be borne. On that ground alone the idea might be dismissed as impracticable. The best plan for every reason, and in particular for the moral good of the children, would be to apprentice them to learn trades at the age of 15. It was further suggested that the children should be strictly segregrated from the adults, and that a place of industrial training should be attached to each workhouse. Such a scheme was, in his opinion, feasible enough, and would have the advantage of supplementing the three R's in a useful and even a necessary manner. Much difference should be made in the industrial training of boys and girls; the former could be taught in central schools easily enough; but as the duties of female domestic servants could not be learnt in that way, in the case of girls, he wished to see the greatest possible extension of the boarding-out system. As matters at present stood, girls, when they left the workhouse, were not so useful in their sphere of life; and he trusted, therefore, the Government, in dealing with the matter, would bear in mind the great distinction which existed between the two sexes. He did not think they ought to be guided by English or Scotch experience exclusively, but that they were bound to pay due regard to the wants of the Irish people, and to the claims of that unhappy individual, the ratepayer. The more modestly and economically a change such as that proposed was begun the better.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word " That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words " a Select Committee be appointed to inquire what steps it is desirable to take to improve the state of children in Irish workhouses,"—(Mr. Arthur Moore,) —instead thereof.

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


was of opinion that in the extension of the boarding-out system would be found the most adequate remedy, and that which would be the most economical for the evils to which his hon. Friend who had brought forward the subject had drawn attention. That system, though fully developed in England, could not be said to be so in Ireland, where it had been adopted by scarcely one-half of the Unions, and by those only to a small extent. Where it had been adopted, however, the result had been found to be excellent. The Chairman of the Cork workhouse said that nearly all the children boarded out wore absorbed into the population, many of them being adopted by their foster-parents. The Chairman of the North Dublin Union said the same thing. Some came back, and at 15 they were drafted into the body of the house, and exposed to all its evils, the law making no other provision for them. In the North Dublin Union, where industrial training for boys was well carried out, the master, who had over 30 years' experience, said he would much prefer to see every boy out of the house. If, in addition to boarding out, the Guardians had power to apprentice the children to farmers or to tradesmen on the payment of a small fee, the ultimate disposal of those children who returned to the workhouse would be, in a great degree, secured. He trusted the Government would accede to the Motion, and grant a Select Committee to inquire what steps should be taken to improve the condition of the children in Irish workhouses, so that the subject might be thoroughly ventilated.


I am bound to say that those who are charged with the duty of dealing with this matter are indebted to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Moore) for the manner in which he has brought forward his Motion to-night. The hon. Gentleman has treated the subject with great moderation in a speech replete with information, and marked by great ability. Last year he spoke with great ability on the same subject; but, I venture to say, ho was hardly quite so moderate in tone on that occasion as he has been this evening. The reason I venture to assign for this difference in tone is that during the interval a Commission has inquired into the subject, and has reported upon it. To-night he has refrained from such criticisms as he felt it his duty to offer on the last occasion. I am glad to notice this change, and I am disposed to say that most hon. Members who have read the elaborate Report referred to will feel constrained to go with the hon. Gentleman in most of his remarks. I am disposed to agree with most of what has fallen from him. The system he advocates meets, I may say, with general approval. He says, with regard to education, that where it is unaccompanied with industrial training it is almost worse to the children than no training at all—I mean, without conferring upon the child the means of enabling it to acquire a livelihood, and discharge its duty to society in after years. We have heard lately of extravagant expenditure on education under the London School Board, and I largely agree in that complaint, and if anything of the kind could be shown to exist in the establishments now under discussion I would at once admit the necessity for a change; but the charge does not arise with reference to the children in Irish workhouses. The three R's seem to be the utmost, and rightly so, that the Irish ratepayers are called upon to pay for. To poor children especially industrial training is the most important of all, and Major Trench points this out very forcibly. This Report, I need hardly say, is engaging the anxious attention of the Government. I cannot say at this moment what particular remedies we may be in a position to propose; but I can assure the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion that the special points in the Report to which attention has been called have not been lost sight of. As to inspection, I think it should be conducted by those who are responsible to the authorities under whom the workhouses are placed, and that the same Inspectors should, if possible, attend to the general management of the children, and not devote their attention to one portion only of the training. As to boarding out, that, I know, is a question on which opinions very much differ; and I can only say that it, with all other matters in the Report, will receive the attention of the Government. I think the hon. Gentleman will not consider it necessary to press his Motion, as the labours of the contemplated Committee have been forestalled, and the attention of the Government has been carefully given to the subject since the hon. Gentleman first brought it under notice. I cannot go into the details of what we may propose; but we think industrial training ought to be combined with elementary education of no very ambitious kind, not going into those branches which are often improperly associated with the education of the young of the poorer classes.


said, he would not have risen had it not been for the remark that elementary education was thrown away if not accompanied by industrial education. He held that even if education went no further than the three R's it was useful; and he regretted to have heard the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) suggest that it could be injurious to the children or the State that they should receive the highest possible education. It could never be disadvantageous to pauper children that they should be even highly educated. These poor children should not be reared as if pauperism was their heritage; but should be entirely separated from the surroundings of the poorhouse by a system such as the boarding-out system. This would reduce the number of paupers, and prevent the perpetuation of a pauper class. Nothing could be more detrimental to the character of children than to herd together in special pauper schools, even of an industrial description. They ought to be boarded out amongst industrious and in- dependent workpeople, and sent to the ordinary schools of the -country. In this way they would be absorbed into the general population. He regretted that Her Majesty's Government had not thought fit to grant the Select Committee that had been asked for by the hon. Member.


regretted that the answer of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant was not more distinct. There was no more important or difficult subject than this of the treatment of pauper children in the Irish workhouses. They were not in such numbers as to facilitate industrial training, such as was given to the children in reformatories. The widest difference was observable between the boys brought up under paid teachers and those trained by men who gave their lives to the work. He thought the Chief Secretary might have held out some hope of the introduction of a measure which would enable the Guardians to give an industrial training to the poor children, his own opinion being that there might be some central institution established, to which a selection of the children from each workhouse might be drafted for industrial training, or the Guardians might be empowered to allow the religious societies to do something more with the youth of the country who formed the raw material of the labour of which it stood in need. They did not make the most of it, and the money spent, if properly applied, would do a great deal more good.


agreed that there could not be a subject of greater importance to Ireland than that which was now being discussed; and hon. Members on his side of the House were quite as anxious as hon. Members opposite that the children who were brought up in the workhouses should be properly educated and looked after; at the same time he did not see the necessity for the appointment of a Select Committee on the question after the thorough investigation by the Commission, to whose Report attention had properly been called. He hoped the hon. Member would be satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, and would not press the Motion to a Division. He knew that in the case of the Rathdown Union both the boys and the girls received industrial training to qualify them for respectable employment in afterlife.


said, he was exceedingly disappointed at the indefiniteness of the Chief Secretary's reply, which had not made them a bit wiser as to the views of the Government, nor informed them whether it preferred boarding - out or district industrial schools. Upon none of the topics raised by the hon. Member (Mr. A. Moore) had the right hon. Gentleman given the House the slightest information; and he did not know upon what grounds the right hon. Gentleman asked his hon. Friend to rest satisfied with the statement which he had made. The Rathdown Union was a most exceptional one, for there was scarcely another in which anything like such an industrial training was given. It had the advantage of being in the country, and yet corresponding to a Union in a large city, for it had to deal with the pauperism of Kingstown and all the Dublin suburban district. At all events, he thought that the Irish Members were entitled to know in what direction the consideration of the Government in this matter was likely to go. Did the Government intend to propose any alteration in the present system? Did they think it ought to be altered, and would they promise that between this time and next Session they would endeavour to devise means which would improve the existing state of things?


, in supporting the Motion, said, he did not care whether children were in England or in Ireland who really required a reasonably good education to help them to earn a livelihood; for a child depended, especially in the case of Poor Law management, upon others for his education; and he considered that where a child went into a workhouse something ought to be done for him to make him a respectable member of society, and with a view of removing him from the pauper class by making him support himself, and thereby, in all probability, preventing him, personally, from again becoming a burden to the ratepayers. It had been said that either to-day, or to-morrow, or at some future time, something might be done, or something ought to be done, for children of this class; but he was one of those who believed in the necessity of doing something during the present time. What he did want most earnestly was that some measure should be undertaken by the Government—whether it was an English child or an Irish child did not matter—to place every child in a position in which he would be able to earn his bread for himself. He thought the Resolution, as he understood it, was a very reasonable one. It was to draw attention to the condition of poor children in Irish workhouses—he did not care what workhouses they were—and to move for a Select Committee to inquire what steps it was desirable to take to improve the state of children in Irish workhouses. However a human being who professed a feeling of kindliness for his fellow subjects could doubt that such a Resolution ought to be passed he could not imagine. He was aware that very often Resolutions were introduced which were inopportune, and at a time when the subject was not likely to be productive of legislation; but that was not the case with reference to this question. If anything could be done to help the poor children of any workhouse it ought to be done, and there was no reason why they should deny investigation on the point. He did not for a moment say that anything would come out of that inquiry when held. Let relief be asked for most respectfully, and, if necessary, what he would contend for was—that if there was any necessity for investigation, in order to place these children in a better position than they were now, this House, which was the highest tribunal, with the exception of one, in the Realm, should not deny this investigation. He did not care from which side of the St. George's Channel the children came; for he looked upon the three Kingdoms as one, as far as this House was concerned, and he hoped that the House would not use its power to deny that which he considered one of the most reasonable propositions which had ever been laid upon the Table of the House. He asked the Government to look at the large number of children who were not properly educated, and the way in which they were likely to be brought up under the control of the Guardians. In the central institutions, as far as the institutions themselves were concerned, he was quite willing to admit that they did the best they could under the circumstances in which they were placed, and with the powers the ratepayers gave them; but if those powers were too confined in themselves, or too small to give the necessary education to the children, then it was their bounden duty to see that they were not kept one moment longer on the Poor Law books than was necessary. He thought that this Resolution was one which he hoped would secure better education to children in workhouses. He sincerely hoped and trusted that it would meet with the approval of the House.


expressed his disappointment that the Chief Secretary should have suggested the withdrawal of the Motion. He (Mr. D. Taylor) was of opinion that the appointment of such a Committee as the hon. Member for Clonmel desired would be productive of great good. The Commission was appointed to consider the question of amalgamation of Unions, and they took no evidence from the public in reference to the subject before the House. Had there been any idea that the Commission would have inquired into this subject, there would have been plenty of evidence obtainable. He thought the subject was worthy of the most serious consideration, and he trusted the Government would see their way to give a more definite promise. If they did not do so, he should be glad to support the Motion.


regretted that the Government should not have promised to redress the grievances complained of by the hon. Member for Clonmel. He was of opinion that had the hon. Member allowed the Government to wait for their vote in Supply, his prospects of obtaining a favourable reply from Her Majesty's Ministers would have been greater. He thought the Chief Secretary had not given the matter the attention it deserved; and as for the statement that it was receiving consideration, they all knew what that stereotyped reply meant —that they should never hear anything more of it.


said, he did not entirely understand whether the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. A. Moore) was disposed to be satisfied with the discussion that had arisen, or whether he still thought that it would be desirable or necessary that a Committee should be appointed. There could be no doubt whatever that the subject to which the hon. Member had drawn attention was one of the very highest importance. They could not doubt that this class of children to whom the attention of the House was turned was a class that required the most careful attention. It was very well known that they were children who were in the peculiar position of being withdrawn from, or of not having the advantage of, the natural influences of home, which went so far towards the education of most of the young. They knew perfectly well that children placed in such institutions as workhouses—however desirous those who had the management of those institutions might be to do their duty—must lack many of the advantages in the way of education which were enjoyed by children who were living at home. It was most desirable that whatever might be done in the way of the education of these children should not merely be confined to what was called head knowledge, and that everything should be done that could be done to fit them for after-life, and inspire them with a feeling of gratitude towards the place in which their youth was passed. The Government sympathized with the object of the hon. Gentleman, and he could only say that the subject was under the consideration of the Irish Government. He hoped and believed that this would lead to something practical being done. The Chief Secretary had spoken with the sympathy of the Government in assuring the House that the Government were thorougly anxious to inquire into the subject, and to adopt any measures which they might find to be desirable and possible. He was quite sure that the noble Duke at the head of the Irish Government would be as anxious to promote a good work of this kind as any Member of the Government. The question was, was it desirable or necessary to have a Committee after the recent Report of the Commission, considering that the Report was so recent, and that the matter was engaging the attention of the Government? It would be more convenient not to appoint a Committee at this period of the Session, and he was perfectly ready to promise that whatever measures could be taken would be taken. If the hon. Member for Clonmel, having heard all that had been said, and feeling that his object was one in which they all sympathized, was still of opinion that the appointment of a Committee was important and necessary, the Government would be prepared to concede that, on the under- standing that it was not casting any reflection on the labour of the Commission; but that they had been looking into a number of questions, and had opened a subject which it appeared desirable should be further prosecuted.


said, he was happy to accept the offer of the right hon. Gentleman.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed. "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."