HL Deb 30 June 1857 vol 146 cc616-21

THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE rose to call the attention of their Lordships to the laws in force for the removal of Irish-born poor from parishes in England and Wales; and to ask whether it was the intention of the Government to propose any Amendment in those laws. In 1854 the Government now in office proposed a measure for the abolition of the law of settlement in English parishes. It was admitted by them that if Parliament were to enact that the power of removal of English paupers should cease, it would be highly unjust to continue to remove Irish paupers from English parishes, and that therefore such an extension of the principle must take place. The measure, however, was not persevered with, and the reason assigned for abandoning it was the decided disinclination on the part of English parishes to extend the provisions of the Bill to the Irish poor. Subsequently a Committee, composed of Members of the other House of Parliament, sat for two Sessions upon the subject to which it related. That Committee took a large amount of evidence, and agreed to a report in which, although they did not go to the extent which the evidence would have justified, they recommended that some relaxation should be made in the law of removal as it now stood. They had, in the first place, recommended that the warrant of removal should be made out in open court; secondly, that the depositions of the witnesses on whose testimony the warrant was granted, should be taken down in writing; that a copy of the warrant and depositions should be sent to the board of guardians of the parish in Ireland to which the pauper happened to belong; and that power should be given to the union authorities in Ireland to appeal against the order, and to make use of the rates of the union in the prosecution of that appeal. They had also advised the adoption of other relaxations, and among them the reduction of the period entitling a pauper to the privilege of irremovability in this country from five to three years. Such was the report of the Committee; but without adverting to it further, he might inform their Lordships that the Irish poor law, in connection with the question of settlement, differed materially from that which prevailed in this country. In Ireland, indeed, there was no law of settlement at all. The Irish poor law enacted, that wherever a person became destitute there he should be relieved, no matter from what quarter of the world he might have come. The matter of chargeability had to be arranged afterwards between the union and the electoral division in which the pauper became destitute. But to revert to the system in this country, he should wish to point out to their Lordships the practical results of the mode in which it worked. Irish paupers came over here in large numbers, and were employed for harvest purposes and in the more severe forms of labour—indeed, their services in that capacity had now become necessary to England. What was the consequence? Young men and young women came over; they resided here for a period of fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years; they married and had families in this country; yet after having spent the best part of their lives in contributing to the increase of English capital and to the production of English wealth, they were, the moment that sickness or accident might have reduced them to poverty, liable to be told by the poor law authorities that in England they were not entitled to relief. Well, what was their position when they were sent back to Ireland after the lapse of the period of twenty or twenty-five years as he had just suggested? The great probability was, that when they returned to their native place they found that their parents were dead, that the other members of their family had emigrated—and he might state, of his own knowledge, that he knew instances in which paupers sent back to Ireland had been unable, in the neighbourhood in which they had been born, to discover a single relative or friend. But that was not the only mode in which the present system of removal operated as a hardship. Sickness and misery of every kind were endured by those unfortunate persons on board the steamers and sailing vessels into which they were huddled. The way in which they were transported across the Channel was such as had that evening called for their Lordships' sympathy in the case of the African slaves, and when they arrived upon the Irish coast they were landed upon the crowded quays of Dublin, Belfast, or Waterford, frequently amid all the inclemency of a winter morning, and at a distance, perhaps, of 100 miles from the parish to which they originally belonged. Now, that was a state of things which, in his opinion, loudly called for the interference of the Legislature. He was perfectly aware of the difficulties standing in the way of Government dealing with this question; for he felt that if they meant to deal in a liberal spirit towards Ireland they must be prepared to oppose themselves to the narrow selfishness of the parochial authorities of this country. Owing to the great number of Irish paupers who had, during the famine of 1847, come over to the western coast of England, the poor-law authorities of Liverpool, Bristol, and other places similarly circumstanced, might object to any proposal by which they would be saddled with a population of that description. But 1847 was an exceptional period. The social condition of Ireland had since then been greatly changed, and, even though a famine should again occur in that country, it was by no means probable that that state of things would be brought about, of which the poor law authorities of Liverpool complained before the Committee. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would take the subject into their serious consideration. In the Session of 1856 they had proposed a measure with respect to it, in which he regretted that they had not persevered. That measure had, it was true, met with opposition from some Members of the other House of Parliament connected with Ireland, who did not think it went far enough. He was, however, of opinion that a different course should have been adopted upon that occasion, and that those Gentlemen should have accepted the Bill as an instalment of those improvements in the present law which they were entitled to expect. He should, in conclusion, ask his noble Friend the President of the Council whether the Government had any measure under their consideration by means of which the grievances to which he had called their Lordships' attention might be removed, and the recommendations of the Committee of 1855 carried into effect.


tendered his thanks to his noble Friend who had just spoken for the manner in which he had brought the subject under the notice of the House, and expressed a hope that the Government would introduce some measure to amend the present law of removal.


concurred with the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Donoughmore), in thinking that great injustice was sometimes inflicted upon Irish paupers under the operation of the existing system. The Bill of 1856, however, to which the noble Earl had alluded, which had been introduced upon the recommendation of the Committee of 1855, and which had for its object the removal of that injustice, had been most violently opposed, not only by English and Scotch Members, but also by the representatives of Ireland, It had in consequence become quite impossible to pass it through the other House of Parliament, and he did not therefore think it would be wise upon the part of the Government, when many important measures were pending, to bring forward a Bill which would not be likely to obtain the support even of those whose assistance it was most natural to expect.


bore testimony to the fact that great inconvenience resulted from the present state of the law. In reply to the observation of the noble Earl (the Earl of Donoughmore), that there was no law of settlement in Ireland, he remarked that such was not exactly a correct statement of the case, inasmuch as the chargeability of a pauper upon an electoral division operated to some extent as a law of settlement. What was required in Ireland, he contended, was not alone an alteration of the law of removal in the case of paupers sent over to that country from England, but in the working of the law within the limits of Ireland itself. As things now stood a pauper landed in Ireland became at once chargeable on the rates of the port at which he happened to disembark, notwithstanding that Mayo or some other county might be the place to which he originally belonged.


complained that while the English unions had power to ship off Irish paupers who had become chargeable, the Irish unions were in that respect quite helpless. The subject was one of great importance, and would, he hoped, be taken up by the Government.


hoped that, as a member of a board of guardians in which the inconvenience arising from the present state of the law was heavily felt, he might be allowed to state two cases of great hardship. The cases to which he referred had occurred in the borough of Dungarvan within the last year. The first was that of a man who, having obtained an English settlement by residing eighteen years in one place, removed to another in search of temporary employment. Failing that, his right of settlement in his first place of residence was denied, he was shipped off to Ireland, and was now chargeable to the Dungarvan Union. The second case was that of an Englishwoman with a family of five children, who having been deserted by her husband applied to the union. The guardians were obliged to admit her, and were now maintaining her without the slightest power of sending her back to her own country. More than that, it so happened that she and her family constituted nearly the whole of the Protestant inmates of the workhouse, and application had been made by the Protestant chaplain, whose present salary was £10 a year, for an additional £10, in order that he might be the more able to administer to her spiritual consolation. But he believed that such cases were not uncommon, and therefore he concurred with the noble Lords who had spoken in pressing upon Government the necessity of taking the subject into their serious consideration.


said, that it would have been impossible to delay legislation so long on the subject, but for the wonderful improvement in the condition of the Irish people. The complaint was not now of the excess of Irish labourers in England, but of their scarcity, the improved scale of wages in their own country abating the temptation to emigration. But this afforded the strongest reason for taking the matter in hand, as a time of difficulty and distress would be the worst possible moment for legislation on such a subject.


said, that the reciprocity argued for by the noble Lords connected with Ireland was a genuine Irish reciprocity, being all on one side. He would engage to prove that a vast deal more money was spent in the English unions on Irish paupers than ever was spent in the Irish upon poor from England. As to the case of the Irish labourer who had lost his settlement, the same would have happened to an English labourer in similar circumstances, as it was an incident of the law of settlement. In the case of English paupers in Irish unions, he did not think there would be any objection to a powever of removal; but with respect to the sea-ports, it should be remembered that burden was much more heavy in Liverpool and Bristol than it could be in Cork or Belfast. The question was one of great difficulty, but they might depend upon it the advantages arising from the present state of the law were all on the side of Ireland.


, alluding to the noble Lord's charge that the reciprocity in connection with the law of poor relief was a one-sided reciprocity, begged to remind him that if there was an influx of Irish paupers on our shores the cause was to be found in English legislation, which had deprived Irish landlords of the means of improving the condition of the Irish peasantry.

House adjourned at a Quarter to Eight o'clock, to Thursday next, Two o'clock.