HL Deb 02 March 1854 vol 131 cc188-94

said, as it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose the abolition of the present law of removal in England, he thought this was a proper opportunity of bringing under time attention of their Lordships the hardship and injustice which the Irish ratepayers suffered from the present state of the law. The 4 Will. IV. and the 7 and 8 Vict. were temporary Acts of Parliament, authorising the removal of natives of England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Channel Islands to their respective countries when they became chargeable to a parish. Those acts being radically unjust, and passed only to meet a pressing emergency, were temporary, and were renewed from time to time, but a general permanent Act had subsequently been passed, which gave magistrates the power of removing natives of Ireland and Scot- land to their respective countries when they became chargeable to the poor rates in England. This Act applied, generally speaking, to a most ignorant and uneducated class of persons who came over from Ireland in search of employment; and, when any of them applied to an English parish for relief, it was very easy for the parochial authorities to persuade them to go before a magistrate and make an affidavit which they did not understand; and then the unfortunate persons were immediately put on board a steamer, and sent to Ireland. They were not, however, sent to their respective parishes, for a native of Galway might be sent to Dublin, and, according to the present law, the authorities at Dublin would have no power to remove him to the place of his birth—to the place where, in justice, it was most proper he should be supported, or where he might be certain of the means of living without being obliged to have recourse to public charity. He would not give any opinion with a regard to the English law of removal, but he believed the law, as it existed in Ireland, was generally found to work fairly, although no doubt it cast upon some of the large towns the onerous duty of supporting a great number of the poor of their districts. At all events, it got rid of a considerable amount of legal expenses. The present law, with regard to the removal of paupers from England to Ireland, certainly fell with great injustice on the ratepayers of the six seaport towns that were mentioned in the Act, to which the transportation of paupers was authorised. He submitted to the noble Earl at the head of the Government, that if he carried out his intention of altering the law of removal in England, it would be manifestly necessary that the Act authorising the removal of Irish and Scotch paupers to their native countries should be repealed. According to the project of the Government, if a native of York became chargeable to a London parish he could not be removed; and no distinction ought to be made in this respect between a native of York and a native of Dublin. Why should men, whose only crime was that they were born on the other side of the Irish Sea, be subject to all the annoyances of removal, when a native of England was to be allowed to reside and to claim relief in any part of the kingdom he pleased? As an illustration of the law as it now stood, he would mention a case which had occurred in Cork about a fortnight ago. A woman with three children, who had resided for twenty years in London, applied at a workhouse in London for temporary relief. She remained there for three months and was delivered of a child; but, as soon as she was strong enough to bear removal, she was sent over to Ireland. She stated that she had been obliged to go into the workhouse in consequence of her husband being out of employment for a short time, and that she had been forced to return to Ireland with her children against her inclination, as her husband, who was a labouring man, was still living in London. This woman had, contrary to the spirit of the law, been humbugged into swearing an affidavit which she did not understand, in order that she might be shipped off to Cork. This was not a solitary instance, for he had for several years been a member of a board of guardians in Ireland, and had constantly met with such cases. The Act certainly gave an appeal to the Irish unions; but the time for the appeal was limited to six months, and a great deal of time was often lost before the native place of the pauper could be discovered, and then it was necessary to collect all the documents on the subject, and transmit them to the Poor-Law Board in London. The answer of the Poor-Law Board to the parish to which he belonged, on one of those occasions, was, that they would prosecute the appeal if 100l. were deposited as security for the costs, and he had advised his brother guardians to keep their 100l. instead of spending it in the costs of a proceeding over which they would have no control, as the question in dispute would probably be ultimately submitted to a jury of Middlesex ratepayers, whose feelings would be in favour of the Loudon parish. The noble Earl concluded by asking whether Her Majesty's Government intended to propose the repeal of the Act of Parliament which authorised the removal of Irish paupers found in England to their native country?


said, he was quite ready to admit that the state of the law relating to the removal of Irish paupers was very imperfect and defective, and required much revision, but it would be impossible to repeal that law at the present moment. In the other House of Parliament, an hon. Gentleman had moved for all the correspondence that had taken place between boards of guardians and the Poor-Law Board on this subject. That Motion had been agreed to, and that information, when it was produced, would also be laid on the table of their Lordships' House. He thought that information was quite indispensable before they could venture to proceed to legislate on this subject; and he thought, also, that it would be expedient to refer it to a Committee of this or of the other House of Parliament, or, perhaps, of both; but at present he would say no more than that he fully admitted, with the noble Earl, that the state of the law required revision and alteration, and that as soon as the materials for the purpose were in their possession, it would meet with the attentive consideration of the Government.


said, that in England, when a pauper was removable, he was removed to the particular parish to which he belonged; but the Irish pauper, instead of being removed to his parish, was shuffled out at the nearest port to which the ship could get. The present system inflicted a great grievance not only on the paupers, but on the ratepayers of Dublin and the other ports to which the paupers might be sent.


must express his disappointment at the answer which had been given by his noble Friend at the head of the Government to the question of the noble Earl, for he did not think it was possible that a Bill to prevent the removal of English paupers could be framed without the intention of extending it to the United Kingdom. It would be a great injustice if a Bill were passed to prevent the removal of English paupers, while the poor-law authorities were left at liberty to remove Irish and Scotch paupers. The Bills to which the noble Earl (the Earl of Donoughmore) had alluded were of a temporary nature, and he had protested against their principle, because he could conceive nothing more unjust than that a person, having been encouraged to come over here to assist in the various manufactures or in the agriculture of the country, and having remained here for a number of years, and having conducted himself well, should, when he became accidentally, through distressed circumstances or ill health, chargeable upon a parish, be liable immediately to be transported to his own country. The injustice was enhanced when they considered the manner in which it was done. The authorities had power to transport the paupers into any of the ports that were mentioned, and the result was that in those towns there was an accumulation of pau- pers, with whom the ratepayers had no more connection than the people of Yorkshire or Devonshire, or of any part of this country. He hoped what his noble Friend meant to say merely was, that the subject was not included in the Bill that had been introduced; and he hoped, if the Government passed that Bill, they would not allow the Session to pass over without introducing an auxiliary Bill to "prevent" the gross injustice which his noble Friend had so properly introduced to their notice.


thought with the noble Earls, that the answer of the noble Earl at the head of the Government was not satisfactory. The noble Earl had only expressed an intention to lay on the table of their Lordships' House the correspondence which had taken place between the Irish guardians, respecting their paupers, and the Commissioners, and that might possibly be of no use to their Lordships in arriving at a conclusion. He must say that he concurred with the noble Earl who had just sat down, that the questions respecting the general law of settlement and that of removal were so intimately connected together, that it would be almost impossible to legislate upon the one without legislating upon the other also. He would ask the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government, with reference to the correspondence on the question relating to the removal of Irish paupers, whether he intends to produce that correspondence, and to proceed with that Committee, previous to legislating on the subject of the general law of settlement in England? It was impossible that he could shut his eyes to the fact that, in discussing the practical difficulties—whatever the principle might be—in discussing the practical difficulties arising out of the matter at issue in the arrangement of the law of settlement, the question as to whether Irish paupers were to be included in, or excluded from, that arrangement, was one of the greatest importance. It was an element essential to the construction of that arrangement. He quite admitted with the noble Earl opposite that, if they were to abolish the laws of removal in this country, and to make all paupers irremovable, and, at the same time, to make an exception by which Irish paupers were to continue to be removable from this country into Ireland, while English paupers were to be irremovable from one part of the country to another, there would be an unfairness and injustice which would produce the greatest and must well- founded dissatisfaction. He hoped, at all events, that in legislating upon the law of settlement in England Her Majesty's Government would make up their minds as to whether they intended to legislate similarly for Ireland; and that they would look upon the question as one bearing upon the three kingdoms, and not only upon this.


agreed with his noble Friend who had just sat down, but at the same time thought that the course of the Government was a rational one. The question could not be disposed of except by an inquiry of that kind. It was not a question, however, that would require much delay, or the examination of many witnesses, the facts being so few; and it would be merely the duty of the Committee to consider the question of remedy. Unquestionably, that inquiry should take place before the question of removal of paupers in England was considered, because the two things could not be separated. A great delusion existed on this subject in the minds of the great bulk of those who discussed the question. The law of removal was considered by many persons in this country as the great protection they had against the influx of Irish pauperism; but he was prepared to say, however paradoxical it might sound, that the power of removing Irish paupers stimulated the movement of certain classes of paupers into this country. Every man who ventured into this country was certain that, by the exercise of the power of removal which he himself had the means of resorting to, he would be sent back from this country free of expense. They knew, too, that the time of removal to their own country depended upon themselves. An Irish pauper might, at the harvest, have earned wages, and remitted those wages to Ireland by a post-office order; and, having done so, might apply for relief, and be transferred to Ireland at the expense of the English parish. On the other hand, the enforcement of the law of removal was frequently accompanied by the grossest cases of oppression and abuse; but it was a question for inquiry, which would make the matter intelligible to the people of this country.


said, he had not got an answer on the part of Her Majesty's Government as to whether it was their intention to proceed with the Bill relative to the law of settlement pending an inquiry, or before any decision can be come to by the Committee.


said, it certainly was the intention of the Government to do so.


Before the inquiry?