HC Deb 09 February 1897 vol 46 cc63-8

said he would detain the House but a few moments in bringing under notice the Motion standing in his name. He was sorry to say the evil to which he referred was an evil increasing in intensity. The Departmental Returns gave a total of 40,422 aliens as landing in this country during 1895, and the numbers in 1896 were 45,875, and none of these were on their way to other countries. The latest Return, for the month of January, showed 2,583, as against 2,494 in the corresponding month of last year. But he did not want to refer to statistics to tell the House the magnitude of the evil as it existed in the East End of London. All his life he had been acquainted with the East End of London. He had served on the London County Council Committee on the Housing of the Working Classes, and it was his duty to visit the crowded districts where the most terrible evils of the sweating system were to be found. These destitute foreigners were shipped to this country like sheep and were crowded into lodgings and workshops like animals. Every Member should read Mr. Charles Booth's book on Life and Labour in the East End of London, and in that book was described a sight he had often seen, and which Members might see at any time if they would go down to the wharves when the Hamburg boats arrived, men landing from the boats labelled with the address of the sweater to whom they were consigned like so many sheep or cattle, and perfectly helpless. He had visited the United States to see what was done in this matter on that side, and there he found some stringent regulations in force which, though they did not prevent them entirely, did put a stop to a large extent to the evils that attended this immigration. Evidences of the character of the evil continually appeared in the newspapers. Only a week ago there was the report of an inquest on one of these poor foreigners who had died at his work, and it was proved before the coroner, Mr. Wynne Baxter, that the pay of this miserable man was 8s. a week. Again, in a case tried before the magistrate at the Thames Police Court, it was shown that the price paid to a foreign girl for making four pairs of trousers was 14d., or 3½d. a pair. These poor people came to this country ignorant of the language and circumstances, and were sent to the sweaters; they were mere paupers, and God help them if they were in a worse condition in their own country. What he had seen in his own observations and knew as a fact was that every one of these aliens who settled in the East End of London, and in other industrial centres, drove out of employment one of our own poor workmen, and added to the large mass of the unemployed who crowded round the dock gates day after day clamouring for casual employment. Within the last month he became acquainted with two cases within his own constituency of men who had in this way lost their employment. One of these cases was that of a man who had been employed for 17 years in the boot trade. During that time he had lived in the same house and paid his rates, but the class of work out of which he had made his living was completely taken away by the underpaid foreigners who now monopolised the work. Only the other day he became acquainted with the case of a man in his constituency who for 32 years had been in one employment, and for three months he had been unable to get employment, because the work was taken away by the unfair competition of these unfortunate foreigners, who crowded our East End slums. The Motion he proposed was not conceived in any hostility to the Government, he simply wanted them to do what they had promised to do at the last General Election, and that which Lord Salisbury in another place actually proposed a couple of Sessions ago. He asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to give him some assurance which he might take to his constituents, that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government were in sympathy with the Resolution as it appeared on the Paper, and that they would take an early opportunity of putting a stop, as far as they could, to a state of things which caused untold mischief in the East End of London. He moved:— That, in the opinion of this House, the constant influx of Pauper Aliens into London and other industrial centres is prejudicially affecting and seriously displacing British labour in many industries, and demands and should receive instant attention at the hands of Her Majesty's Government.

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

seconded the Motion. His hon. Friend had stated the facts fully, and there was no occasion to repeat them. The matter had been referred to in the House on former occasions, and it had occupied public attention during the General Election. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade had referred to the subject in his address when seeking election to the House, and he felt sure that his right hon. Friend would endeavour to do all he possibly could in the matter. He had served on the Committee of 1888–9 for dealing with the question, and the evidence collected by the Committee he commended to the attention of Members. It was not alleged that the aliens were themselves a charge upon the rates, but what was alleged was, and it was confirmed by the evidence given by witnesses before the Committee, that these aliens drove English workmen on to the rates and made paupers of numbers of our poorer population. It was not that they affected the trade of the whole country, they affected the trade of certain portions of the country, and the President of the Board of Trade, who knew the East End of London, would be aware of the evil, and should do all he possibly could to find a remedy. It was the tailoring and boot-making trades that were specially injured by this alien immigration. The increased prosperity of the country which had lately prevailed had brought these aliens here in increasing numbers, and it was, therefore, incumbent on the Government and Members on the Government side of the House who had made this a great point during the General Election, to do all they possibly could to put a stop to the evil.


I am not at all surprised that my hon. Friend should have thought it necessary to draw the attention of the House to the evil under which, I cannot doubt, a considerable portion of the district he represents suffers. I, myself, have had some experience of the East End of London, and I know that although, perhaps, the number of destitute aliens who come into the country is not large, having regard to our population as a whole, and those who come to London are not largo relatively to the population of London. Yet the fact is, that these destitute aliens settle down in particular parts of the Metropolis, and what is a very small percentage over London as a whole, is a large percentage in the district where these aliens settle. The numbers are unfortunately increasing. In the last three years the number of Russian Poles, some of the least desirable of these aliens who come here, have increased 50 per cent. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are quite alive to the evils which exist in the districts where these people settle down. It is not as if the people were desirable in themselves, for that they certainly are not, and I can quite understand the feelings of the working classes in the districts where they settle are very strong. I understand that my hon. Friend does not desire a full and ample discussion of this subject to-night. He desires to bring forward this grievance as one particularly affecting the constituency he represents, and he reminds the House, that not only individual Members, but the Government as a whole are pledged to some legislation on the subject. We do not desire to depart one iota from the pledges we have given. ["Hear, hear!"] But my hon. Friend will recognise that there are other matters of far-reaching importance we have to bring before the House of Commons this Session, and perhaps he will rest content with the assurance I have given, that we adhere to every pledge we have given, and I hope at no distant time to propose to Parliament legislation in the direction he desires. ["Hear, hear!"]


said after this very satisfactory assurance from the right hon. Gentleman he had no wish to press the matter further, and would ask the permission of the House to withdraw the Motion.

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forset of Dean)

said before the Motion was withdrawn he had only a word to say. Of course it was not worth while for Members to take part in such a perfunctory Debate when the House was not even asked to pass a Resolution. But he desired to give notice—as he had on a former occasion—that whenever this Measure was introduced it would be met with the hottest possible Parliamentary opposition. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said it seemed to him that everybody was in much too great a hurry.


Not at all.


said the hon. Member had tried to bring forward this Motion on many occasions, and now, when he had a splendid opportunity, when nobody wanted to go away, when they were waiting to hear the facts upon which he asked for such a drastic policy to be adopted, the hon. Member withdrew his Motion. Not a single fact had been put forward in its support.


The hon. Member was not pressed.


said he was in the House during seven-eighths of the hon. Member's remarks. When he came in the hon. Gentleman was speaking in a great hurry, but he heard no fact in support of the Resolution. There were Returns every month published on the subject, and none of these had he quoted.


Yes, I did.


said the last Returns showed there were not so many destitute aliens arriving in this country as previously; the matter was, therefore, not at all pressing, and he thought the House might have expected something more from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who also seemed to be in a great hurry, as to the lines of the policy he intended to pursue. It was not for Members on that side to keep up the thread of Debate; but on such an important matter of policy there ought to be some little more foundation for the legislative structure proposed to be raised. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

said he desired to support the Motion. If the hon. Member were to visit our cast coast ports he would get all the information he desired as to how far these destitute aliens affected the work of the country. Workmen throughout the country were generally in favour of some legislation on the subject. This feeling had found expression at the Trade Union Congress.


Not at the last.


said he had been to a few Trade Union Congresses, and knew that resolutions in that sense had passed.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

The House was Adjourned at Five minutes after Seven of the clock till To-morrow.