HC Deb 04 June 1880 vol 252 cc1217-27

, in rising to draw attention to the condition of children in Irish Workhouses; and to move— That it is expedient that immediate steps be taken to remove poor children from the evil influences consequent upon association with adult paupers, and to provide them with an adequate system of industrial training, said, that this was not the first occasion on which he had had the honour of bringing forward that question in that House. Twice before he had laid the case of the poor children in Irish workhouses before the consideration of the Government and the House, and upon the last occasion that he did so the Government had consented to the appointment of a Committee to consider what steps it would be advisable to take in regard to the matter. But it was late in the Session, and it was thought well not to press too much the appointment of that Committee; and, therefore, the matter had rested until the present occasion. The first point to which he wished to direct the attention of the House was that in regard to the condition of children in Irish workhouses there was very great disparity in the arrangement existing in Ireland and in England. He had no desire altogether to praise the workhouse system in England; but he must admit that some very material progress had been made in advancing the condition of children in English workhouses, and he thought it would be found to consist mainly in two points, and first in the fact that the children had been separated from the adult paupers, and in many of the English Unions had been removed to districts far from the workhouse. That was a plan which had been adopted in the Metropolis, in Birmingham, and in Manchester, and others of the principal towns in England were following in the same direction. The other point of progress was that an attempt had been made to apply a system of industrial training in order to give the children a chance in the world on leaving; but he feared from all he knew that the children in Ireland had not got that chance. Now, there was in the Irish workhouses an almost entire absence of any attempt whatever to supply the children with industrial training, and that was proved to be the case from evidence not given upon mere hearsay, but which came from responsible officials and clerks of Unions, in their evidence given some two years ago before a Commission appointed to inquire into the state of the workhouses. The Poor Law Inquiry Commission sat some two years ago under the presidency of Major Trench, and the system of industrial training in workhouses was fully gone into. Among other queries addressed to the clerks of Poor Law Unions was—"What system of industrial training have you in the workhouse?" To this question the answer was repeatedly—"None whatever." The clerk to the Killarney Union said that a boy was employed in tailoring, another shoe-making, and a dozen or so were occasionally employed in the workhouse garden; but it was usually found that no employment was given, with the exception of the occasional weeding of the garden, sometimes pompously translated "the pursuit of agriculture." The result of the absence of industrial training was, he was sorry to say, that the children were brought up in idleness and ignorance. This was a strong assertion, but it was true; for how could the children fill up their time when the}' were left for many hours entirely without supervision? They were thrown on their own resources, and then they corrupted one another, the more innocent being corrupted by those more skilled in life. This was particularly the case owing to the entire want of supervision. A Roman Catholic priest, writing to a gentleman who was much interested in this question, said a considerable number of workhouse children were illegitimate, and it was not rare for the children of one mother to have four or five different fathers. The women took refuge with their children in the workhouses in the winter, and in the warm weather they went out to work or beg, and the children became quite familiar with their mothers' habits of life, and were utterly demoralized. A number of such families came together in the workhouse in the winter, and it was no use to expect that the efforts of teachers and chaplains could undo the work that had been done. In some Unions, again, the children were locked into a ward for 12 hours to sleep without anyone to look after them. But worse than this was the fact that, owing to the want of classification, the children were continually associated with the adult paupers, who, in many cases, had brought themselves to the workhouse by absolute recklessness, if not by vice. The children, unfortunately, in some workhouses occupied the same day rooms with the adult paupers; and, further, for the sake of miserable and paltry economy, some of the worst characters were employed to nurse the aged and young women. Then in Ireland the system was that any girls remaining in the house after they were 15 years of age were permitted to go from the children's quarters to the common day room, and associate with persons of the lowest class—with harlots and thieves; and their education in vice, if there was anything wanting, was very soon completed. The result could be nothing but a harvest of crime, and the perpetuation of a race of paupers to become a burden on the ratepayers of the country. The Local Government Board gave no facts or figures, so that the results could not be positively followed; whereas, in England, an accurate list was kept of all children who passed through reformatories and industrial schools, and the children were followed, so that, speaking last year on the subject, the late Secretary of State for the Home Department was able to tell the public of England that from 1856 to 1878, by the action of such schools on the juvenile population of the country, juvenile crime had been decreased 50 per cent. But the reports of clerks in Unions told what, in the judgment of those experienced officials, were the results of the present system. One said that only in a few cases he knew children so reared to turn out well. Another said that the children grew up lazy, and preferred living in idleness to working. Another said that, speaking from an experience of 27 years, he thought workhouses were the worst possible places to bring up children in. Colonel Chichester, whose name was well known to persons interested in the subject, had taken great pains to obtain the opinion of chaplains of workhouses—Presbyterian, Protestant, and Roman Catholic—and their statements were published with the authority of their names. One described the national workhouses as cesspools; another said that the boys turned out idle and came back to the house, while the girls made shipwreck early. A Roman Catholic chaplain described the present system as depraving and pernicious, and a Protestant chaplain said it was almost certain ruin to female virtue, and that all feelings of delicacy were forgotten. It might be said that these opinions were out of date; but they had been confirmed within the last few weeks by the master of the Limerick Workhouse, where the Guardians were up and doing. That official had recently stated that of 500 girls who had passed through the female school in the last 12 or 15 years, 50 fell from virtue, 12 were prostitutes, 7 had been convicted of various workhouse offences, and 43 became habitual inmates of the workhouse. Only one voice was raised to defend the system, and that was the voice of Government officials, the Inspectors; but even among those gentlemen there was one, Captain Hamilton, whose name was universally respected in the South of Ireland, who had stated that the whole workhouse system of Ireland must be remodelled, and had re-| commended that children of a certain age should be trained in Union industrial schools, the influence of which he thought was next to that of a good home and domestic life. Although he (Mr. Moore) believed that to be the general feeling throughout the country, he would not make a very large proposition at present, but would put a small practical issue to the House. He knew so important a question could not be attempted to be discussed in this short Session; but he would take upon himself the opportunity of indicating one or two plans by which he thought reform could be carried out. He wished to divide the children in workhouses into two classes—those who sought a temporary shelter there owing to poverty or sickness, and whose parents were still alive, and might afterwards maintain them; and those who were orphans and deserted children. He would not attempt to suggest any plan for dealing with the former, knowing the difficulty of the matter; but in the case of the orphans and deserted, there was a positive necessity for dealing with them, for they must not be allowed to be thrown upon the tender mercies of workhouse officials. In this time of distress he was not prepared to suggest anything which would throw any heavy extra burden upon the ratepayers; and, therefore, he would put a modest proposal before the Chief Secretary, whose appointment had given so much satisfaction in Ireland, as the best thing he could do, to give Boards of Guardians power to send orphans and deserted children to industrial schools, contributing for their maintenance the same amount as they cost in the workhouse. Such a proposal had been carried into effect in New York, France, and other places, with great success; and he would, therefore, conclude by earnestly commending his proposition to the consideration of the Government and the country.


said, he was afraid that if the proposal of the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. A. Moore) were adopted a very heavy increase of taxation would have to be borne by the Irish ratepayers, inasmuch as the Guardians would have to pay a much larger sum for the support of the children in the industrial schools than was necessary for their maintenance in the workhouse. He did not see either what advantage there would be in training up children as artizans, when that class of labour was sufficiently abundant. The children were mostly the children of agricultural labourers, and would, in the ordinary course of things, be labourers themselves. He thought the contaminating influence of adult paupers on the children, if its removal was all that was required, might be easily met, without sending them to industrial schools, by keeping the children from the adults in the workhouses themselves; but he would point out that in the very best classes of schools, as everybody knew, there was a grave moral danger which resulted from the mere accumulation of children. The hon. Gentleman's classification was imperfect, and any attempt to deal with the question, having regard only to orphan and deserted children, would be imperfect, and any expense which should be incurred in carrying it out could only result in failure. They had tried in Ireland, to some extent, the boarding-out system, and so far as it had gone it had been a success, and had been found to work fairly well. That was the experience of most Boards of Guardians, and he should be glad to see the system extended beyond its present limits. Indeed, in an extension of that system, rather than in the direction suggested by the hon. Gentleman, would be found to lie the solution of the question. For instance, he thought that a widow or widower, in poor circumstances, with several children, might be allowed to send them to be boarded out. The English had had a great experience of the relative merits of the two systems; and, as far as the Reports of the Local Government Board went, the boarding-out system seemed to be preferable. He should regard with considerable anxiety the introduction of the experiment into district industrial schools in Ireland, because of the expense which it would throw upon the ratepayers, who, at the present time, could not afford to pay any additional taxation. He thought, in conclusion, that the matter was one that might very fairly be inquired into by a Committee representing the different shades of Irish public opinion. If such a Committee were granted, the greatest advance would have been made in the solution of the question.


said, that the hon. Member who had brought the Motion forward (Mr. A. Moore) had made an interesting speech, and called their attention to the condition of the children, which certainly demanded it. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) hoped that he should not be blamed if he said that he did not feel that he was then in a position to give a very clear opinion as to the merits of his hon. Friend's proposal, or as to the question generally, as he required some further time to study the circumstances of the case. In the first place, he should have to find out more completely than he could ascertain from the present discussion what was the exact position of the children, how many of them were fluctuating, and how many were the children of paupers in workhouses. They were two very distinct classes. Then the hon. Member made a proposal with regard to industrial schools. He felt that he could hardly say whether these children should be sent to these schools till he knew more about them, and what sort of schools precisely they were. It was quite true that the Poor Law Inspectors, in their Reports for last year, admitted that there was necessity for some improvement, and that it should be, to some extent, in the direction suggested by his hon. Friend. The Report of the Commission alluded to by his hon. Friend also certainly contemplated special schools in large cities, and the better administration of schools in rural Unions. He feared, however, that the Commissioners were too sanguine, considering how very difficult it had been found in England to give pauper children a really beneficial education. The antecedents of the pauper class were usually so disadvantageous to the child, that mere instruction in a good school did not counteract or efface their influence, though that fact only made every possible exertion on their behalf still more imperative. He should make it his business, when he went to Ireland, to find out why the Report had not been acted on more extensively. The expense of industrial schools would probably be somewhat heavy, judging from what he knew of such institutions in London; but he would look into the matter thoroughly. in the hope of finding it possible to send the children both of the towns and of the rural workhouses to good schools in the districts. Very likely these schools might be established more economically in Ireland than in England; but this year was not exactly the time at which they could set them to work. In that country the proportion of the rural population to that of the cities was very much larger than it was in England; and he dared say that his hon. Friend was looking quite as much to the condition of the children in the rural districts as in the cities. It was a serious disadvantage to a pauper child to have no other than pauper associations. However good might be the arrangements of pauper schools, there was something about their influence and their discipline which was depressing to the children. For their after life it was better that, if possible, they should have been associated with another class of children. He felt, however, that that was not an easy question, but was one on which it would be very foolish for him now to give any very definite opinion. By the Rules of the House his hon. Friend could not take a division on his proposal; but he might rest content with having called the attention of the Government to it. For himself, he could only say that he should deem it his duty to look into the subject. It should be borne in mind that an industrial school was a quasi-criminal school, children being sent there by order of a magistrate. He was not sure that they could take hold of pauper children, and send them there in that way; although, perhaps, that difficulty might be got over. The number of orphan and deserted pauper children in Ireland was about 8,000 or 9,000 altogether. That was, no doubt, a great many more than there ought to be; but still he believed that number compared very favourably with the proportions existing in England. In conclusion, he would say that the disadvantage of having a Committee this year would be that they should be examining into the matter in what he trusted was an exceptional time and under exceptional circumstances; but if his hon. Friend found next year that no improvement had been made in consequence of the Report—and, for himself, he hoped the case would be otherwise—then he should be glad to have a Committee as early as possible, so as to obtain all the suggestions on the subject which were likely to be valuable.


said, he was perfectly satisfied that for orphan and deserted children the boarding-out system would be found to be the best. It was both the most economical, as regarded the ratepayers, and it was the best, he maintained, for the interests of the children themselves, for it replaced, as it were, the children in the position which Divine Providence meant for them, and which they had lost by the death or by the desertion of their parents. This system was peculiarly applicable to Ireland; because, from the affectionate disposition of the peasantry of the country, it had been found in almost every Union where the boarding-out system had been availed of, that when the children came to the age of 12 or 13, when the payment for them ceased, their foster parents had adopted them, and the number of the children who had been returned from boarding-out Unions was very small indeed. The children became merged in the general population. There were numberless instances of that; but, unfortunately, the board- ing-out system in Ireland had not had a fair trial. Only few Boards of Guardians boarded the children out, though they had power for some years past to board out all orphan and destitute children who, with the exception of some of the great towns, formed the great majority of the children in the workhouses. He did not think that quite half of the Unions had availed themselves of the system of boarding out; but where it had been availed of it had worked most admirably. He would suggest to his right hon. Friend that the solution of this question was to be found in a great extension of the boarding-out system in Ireland, which should at least be made compulsory on the Guardians in the case of orphan and deserted children.


observed, that he had some experience of the operation of the industrial and the workhouse schools in Ireland, and believed that the extension of the industrial school system, especially in the case of young girls, would effect one of the most desirable improvements in the condition of the Irish poor. Girls in the workhouses were obliged at the age of 15 to go into the adult ward amid women of bad character, if not actual prostitutes, and their association with such evil companions not unfrequently led to their early and utter ruin. The demoralizing results of workhouse training were, in many instances, most deplorable. The other day he received a letter from the Bishop of Raphoe, asking him to do all he could in and out of the House to promote industrial schools. He had been surprised at the objections urged to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Clonmel (Mr. A. Moore) by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy). He thought that if that hon. and learned Gentleman had read the evidence which had been given on the subject he would have viewed the Motion in a much more favourable light, for one of the most important witnesses was the hon. and learned Member's father. Dr. O'Shaughnessy, of Limerick. The Rev. Mr. O'Dwyer had said that it would be better for a virtuous girl under 18 to starve than to enter the workhouse; and Dr. O'Shaughnessy had stated that at the age of 15, if there were not a separation of the adult classes, he feared that the case was hopeless. He (Mr. Callan) had found everywhere a united opinion that an extension of the industrial school system, more especially in the case of young girls, was one of the most desired improvements in the condition of the Irish poor. Such were some of the unfortunate results of workhouse training. Take the case of a widow and her two daughters who went into the streets to beg, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland stated; they were taken before a magistrate, and the two daughters were sent to an industrial school, where they were taught a useful trade, being kept in the school until they were 16 years of age, and then when they left the school they were able to command a good price for their skill at the trades they had been put to. If, however, they were kept in the workhouse, they would have been sent into the adult ward, where, as stated by Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, they would learn nothing but idleness. A girl who was not a quasi-criminal, whose mother went into the workhouse, was turned adrift to earn her bread without knowing any trade on the same occasion. When in the North of Ireland he brought the matter before Dr. Logne, the Bishop of Raphoe, and his Lordship said that no later than the previous day he saw a woman who came to beg, and he asked her why she did not go into the workhouse, where the children would be taught reading and writing, when she replied she would sooner let them starve on the wayside than subject them to the horrors of a workhouse. That was not the fault of the workhouse officials, whom he had found to be most attentive and careful; it was the effect of the system; and he hoped and trusted that the Chief Secretary for Ireland, on paying his next visit to the country of his adoption, would endeavour to ascertain the two great difficulties that stood in the way—namely, the difficulty of cost and the quasi-criminal difficulty. The Bill that would come before the House on the 23rd June had for its object the apprenticing of workhouse children from the age of 10 to 16 to the managers of industrial schools; and he wascertain the more the light hon. Gentleman examined into the matter, the more he would be convinced of the necessity, not of having a special Committee of Inquiry, but of placing himself in communication with the chiefs of the Local Government Board in Ireland, and those who, like his hon. Friend, took an interest in the question; and if the right hon. Gentleman would do that, he (Mr. Callan) was sure that between himself and the Attorney General for Ireland an arrangement would easily be come to that would have the effect of removing all the disabilities that at present attached to the system that prevented Guardians sending the workhouse children to the industrial schools.