HC Deb 23 November 1830 vol 1 cc655-65
Mr. Wyse

presented a Petition from the labourers of the town and neighbourhood of Tipperary, praying for legislative relief in their great distress. The Petition, the hon. Member said, was most numerously signed, but couched in language the most temperate, and evinced much of that forbearance which characterizes the Irish peasant in the midst of all privations. The petitioners complained of a total want of employment for six months in the year, of the high rent of land, and of the weight of local taxation. Either of these causes was adequate to produce much misery, and, unfortunately, they were usually combined in the most fertile portions of the island. The extensive coast of Connaught and Munster exhibited an excess of wretchedness unparalleled even in the most degraded parts of continental Europe; but from this taint scarcely any portion of the country was totally exempted. Few counties in Ireland could boast a larger share of natural advantages than the county which he represented—the fertility of its soil was, even in Ireland, proverbial—yet the common cause of pauperism there, as elsewhere was uncorrected by the bounties of nature, or the anxious efforts of a patient and energetic population. In the town of Tipperary there was formerly a small but thriving manufacture of woollens, which, from the rapid superiority to which the same manufacture has attained in another country, has been totally extinguished. It supported a very considerable portion of the industrious classes, who were now, as in so many instances in Ireland, thrown exclusively on the land. The competition for land had so augmented rent, that, in the neighbourhood of that town, no less than 12l.or 13l. per acre was paid. When to this was added the burthens of local taxation, county or Grand-jury cesses, church rates, &c, scarcely sufficient was left for the mere sustenance of the lowest state of animal existence. The Petitioners stated, that even these sacrifices they would willingly submit to, were they convinced that, by what was wrung from their hard earnings, any equivalent was returned to the cultivator—but it was a vicious circle throughout—great distress produced proportionate discontent; discontent required a larger mass of physical force to control it; and the support of this physical force, necessary to the Government, drew still deeper upon the energies and gains of the peasant, augmented his distress, and would continue to augment it, until at last swelling beyond all bounds, it would overflow every dyke which mere coercion can raise against it. That Ireland had been rapidly advancing to a state of things, appalling to every eye which looked beyond the present was unhappily too notorious. The only question was, by what means the Legislature, could stay the giant evil in its terrific progress, and step in between the country and revolution by a salutary reform, which would not dally about the high places of society, but go to the root of the whole evil. Petitions like this gave a plain representation of the moral cancer which was feeding on the country. They invoked the Legislature in time to lay its healing hand on the disease; it was spreading over the sound parts—a few years longer, and it would defy remedies—and the Legislature would be in time only to witness the dissolution. What did the petitioners demand? It would be well for hon. Gentlemen, who, night after night, proclaimed in terms alarming to the boldest politician, the disorganized state of counties in the immediate neighbour hood of the metropolis,—it would be well for those hon. Gentlemen, usually so loud when any symptoms of a similar disease shewed itself on the surface in Ireland, to contrast the character and causes of these disorders in both countries. Whence arose the turbulence of Kent, Sussex, Hants, and Surrey? From the same causes as similar tumults had arisen in Ireland— want of employment, high rents, and enormous taxation. But what a difference in the demands of the labourers in the two countries The petitioners here wished to force the farmer to give them from 2s. 3d. to 2s. 6d. wages: the petitioners whose prayer had just been heard declared themselves willing to work for 6d. only. They felt that discontent and distress walked together—that idleness led to disorder— that the unoccupied hand would at last grasp the midnight torch—and that crime and bloodshed, and anarchy, would take the place which Government was preparing for them. His Majesty's present Ministers had professed, when on the other side of the House, an anxiety to attend to the wants of Ireland: they had now the power, as they had then the wish. A more glorious task never awaited any Administration. The support which they could hope from the Members for Ireland must depend upon their attention to the interests of Ireland; but that attention, if not given instantly, might as well not be given at all. To provide employment for the poor should be the first principle of the Government; and until measures were brought forward for that purpose, it would be vain to talk of the pacification, because it would be vain to talk of the prosperity of Ireland.

Mr. Hume

was afraid, that the hon. Member had imposed an impossible task on the Government, in calling on it to provide employment for the unemployed poor in Ireland. It seemed to him a prevalent error with Gentlemen from the other side of the water, to suppose that the evils complained of in Ireland could be removed by the introduction of a Bill into that House. Nothing could be more erroneous than such an opinion. He believed that a commutation of tithes, and the placing Church property on the same footing as other property, would have the effect of giving employment to the great majority of the poor of Ireland. He hoped, therefore, that some measure of this kind would be introduced by Government; and if it were supported by the hon. Members for Ireland, it would do more towards relieving that country than any plan which he had yet heard advocated for the employment of the working classes.

Sir Robert Bateson

expressed his approbation of the valuable observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Tipperary, and he hoped that he would take every opportunity of drawing the attention of the House and the Government to the situation of Ireland, and to the means of ameliorating the condition of the people. If the hon. member for Middlesex would excuse him, he would take the liberty of telling him, that there were many things which would be of material consequence to the well-being of Ireland with which he seemed to be unacquainted. He knew that that hon. Gentleman was desirous of doing everything in his power for the improvement of Ireland, but the remedies he recommended would not produce the result he wished for. There were many other things which affected the comfort and happiness of the people, besides the tithes and Church-rates. The local payments were, perhaps, more burthensome than the general taxes. He hoped that the immediate attention of the Government would be directed to improve the state of Ireland; and Ministers might be assured, that they would meet with an ample reward in the increased loyal feelings of the people. The local taxes were peculiarly oppressive; and in the county of Londonderry, many respectable farmers whose condition had been above mediocrity —were now reduced to poverty by the operation of these rates. Sums to a very large amount were annually collected in Ireland from the farmer, which in England were derived from other sources. There were many farmers who had to pay more than the amount of their rent in local taxes, called grand Jury assessments; which were devoted to purposes never thought of in this country. The assessment last year amounted to not less than 20s. an acre in the district of Magherafelt, in the county of Londonderry. The sum paid as tithes in no part of the north of Ire land was equal to that? If these rates were laid out in improving the country, there would be some remuneration to the farmer; but the larger portion was expended in a manner which could not be of the least service to him. The expenses of the County Infirmary and Hospital, and other institutions were paid out of these funds. To the farmer, those institutions, however excellent, were of no use, and that he was obliged to support them was one of the great grounds of complaint, which something must be done to relieve. With regard to the observation of the hon. Member respecting tithes and Church property, he could not agree with him that they were oppressive, or that their abolition would be such a material benefit to the farmer. At the same time he was prepared to admit, that great good had been derived from the operation of the Tithes Composition Act; he could assure the hon. Member, that in the part of the country to which he belonged, the conduct of the clergy was marked with the utmost forbearance and humanity, and that there was nothing oppressive in their mode of collecting tithes. Tithes were not nearly so oppressive as the County cess. Whatever might be the practice in other parts of the country, tithes were there only paid on corn and hay, and none were levied on green crops. Tithes were never taken on turnips, potatoes, or any other green crops in the county of Londonderry. The situation of the farmer was, however, such, that every payment was felt by him; though hardly any rate was so little oppressive as tithes. Distress prevailed to a very considerable extent in the north of Ireland, and until means were found of procuring employment for the people, little could be done for their advantage. Until inducements could be held out to capitalists to embark their money in establishing manufactures in that country, little could be done for the improvement of the people. He was not willing to adopt the opinions of political economists respecting a superabundant population existing in Ireland; yet he could not disguise from himself that capital and population did not bear a proper proportion to each other. Some of the important manufactures of Ireland were completely gone to decay, in consequence of the policy adopted by this country. The linen-trade, formerly the staple of Ireland, had for some time been on the decline, and was fast falling into decay. It supported a vast number of persons in the north of Ireland in comparative comfort, and nearly all the peasantry in those districts were enabled to pay their rent by growing flax. The introduction of foreign flax, and the importation of foreign linen, had almost driven the trade from those districts. In consequence, the condition of the farmers and the labouring population of the north of Ireland was much deteriorated. Unless means were adopted to improve the trade, the distress would increase-. At present most of the peasantry, in consequence of these circumstances, were unable to pay their rents. He did not mean to assert that a change in the commercial policy of England was not necessary, but it had been attended with the most disastrous results in Ireland. He trusted that the attention of the new Government would be directed to that part of the empire, and that its resources would be made available for the general good. He agreed with the hon. member for Middlesex, that it was not men but measures which the country desired. The new Administration he hoped would produce a change in the artificial state of that country, in which there was an appearance of great wealth, surrounded by the reality of the most squalid poverty. The misery of the poorer classes far surpassed anything to be seen in any other part of the world. He believed that his Majesty's Ministers wished to do something for Ireland, and if he saw them inclined to do that, they should have his humble support. If they pursued a system of strict retrenchment, they would find that the greater portion of the Irish Members would side with them. Notwithstanding the distress prevailing in Ireland, the spirit of discontent was not manifested nearly to the same extent there as in other parts of his Majesty's dominions. In that country, and especially in the north, obedience was shewn to the laws; and he was satisfied, that a very little exertion on the part of the House, would excite a feeling of gratitude in the peasantry of Ireland, which would be attended with the most happy results. With the improvement of the condition of the people, there would be an increased feeling of respect for the laws and the Constitution, and all classes increase in brotherly love and affection.

Sir R. H. Inglis

said, he concurred with the hon. member for Middlesex, that it would not be in the power of the new Administration—it was not, indeed, in the power of any Administration—to create employment for the people. The truth was, that a Government could rarely do good in matters of this kind, though it might do harm by interference. The hon. Member, however, went on to state another proposition, apparently in contradiction to his first; namely, that one of the measures by which the situation of Ireland could be ameliorated would be, by some Act on our part, to place Church property there on the footing of other property. Upon this subject he would only say, that he was not aware that any such measure was necessary, or that Church property was placed on any other footing than lay property. Both rested on the same laws, and must stand or fall together.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

observed, that the statements of this petition was so very extraordinary, particularly when connected with the speeches of the hon. Member who presented it, and of the hon. Member on the same bench with him, that he wished for some slight explanation of allegations which he scarcely thought it possible he could correctly have understood. The petition stated, that land in Tipperary was let for the incredible sum of 13l. per acre —that the people were totally unemployed, and in the last state of destitution. The hon. member for Tipperary stated, that these poor persons only asked for employment, and were willing to labour for 6d. a-day; and he went on to say, that his support, and the support of the Members for Ireland, would depend on the new Government affording, or not affording, to the people of Ireland that employment; and, of course, paying those sixpences. The other hon. Member stated, that the main grievance of Ireland was the amount of the Grand Jury assessments, which, in some instances, rose to 20s. per acre; that is, those very men who, as landholders, exact from a population, said to be in the extremest poverty, the most enormous rents, do, as grand Jurors, lay these additional assessments on the tenantry—and then come to England to demand employment and pay for their people, and seek to redress all Irish grievances by Act of Parliament. In point of fact, the only bond of union which existed amongst Irish Members of all descriptions, in that House, the only thing, be they of what party they might, in which they all agreed, was, that the opulent amongst the Irish, and the Irish proprietors, were never to be taxed, either for national purposes, or for the support of their own people—that England was to pay everything—and that every oppression, and all suffering consequent on it, which took place in Ireland, was, under every change of Administration, invariably to be charged on the Government of England.

Mr. O'Brien

perfectly agreed with the hon. member for Middlesex, that it was not in the power of either the Government or the Parliament to remedy the evils of Ireland, by the enactment of any measure, such as those in question, but he believed that it was in the power of the Government to produce a more healthy ratio of population to employment than at present existed there. That could only be done by relieving the land of those great masses of pauper population which were at present subsisted on it. If this evil were remedied, it would not be difficult to prevent a similar increase of the people. He was satisfied that if all the revenues of the Irish Church were confiscated, they would go but a little way to find employment for the destitute population; and he was decidedly opposed to any such measure, as it would occasion much evil. With respect to the new Administration, he must observe, that if they only fulfilled one-third of the promises held out, they would satisfy the people of Ireland.

Sir Robert Bateson

observed, in explanation, that what he said was, that the County-cess, in many districts, amounted to 20s. an acre, while the rent was not more than 30s. an acre. The cess was not the act of the landlord. The Judge directed the grand Jury to make certain assessments, which they are bound to do, by virtue of their Oath. They were compelled by the law, as laid down by the Judges, to allow certain charges, and it was the law, therefore, which was oppressive.

Mr. Ruthven

expressed his regret that a discussion of this importance should be entered into in the then thin state of the House, and that such subjects had so little interest for hon. Members.

Mr. Wyse

wished to explain, that he did not state, as the hon. member for Newton seemed to suppose, that the rent of land in the county of Tipperary, was 12l. or 13l. an acre; but that the petitioners stated, that they, at present paid that rent for small portions of land in the neighbour hood of Tipperary. At the same time, he could safely declare that this was not a singular case; potatoe ground being leased in every part of Ireland at nearly as high a rate. This high price of land did not arise from the exorbitancy of landlords, but from an unnatural and pernicious competition, the consequence of the want of manufactures or other outlets for the industry and intelligence of the community, Landlords could not control the market, and were as much affected by this state of things as the peasants themselves. The hon. Gentleman seemed surprised and irritated at the coalition and importunity of Irish Members whenever the subject of the wants of Ireland was brought before the House. The fault which he found was precisely the reverse. Irish Members were neither sufficiently warm nor importunate. They applied to England. and to whom else should they apply; not certainly from a feeling of inferiority, or from a spirit of servility, but from a sense that they had not been treated with justice. Why did Ireland apply?—because she was in a state of wretchedness bordering on desperation. But who and what had brought her into this state? How came it that her fields were neglected, her commerce contracted, and her manufactures quenched? It was, because, the people at large, the sinews and strength of all social improvement, were studiously shut out from a full participation in the advantages of the Constitution, and a faction, set up, in the place of the nation had availed itself of its toils, monopolized its benefits, and had left to the rest of the people nothing but the pain and difficulties of providing for the luxuries of their masters and oppressors. This policy, he rejoiced to say, though at a far too late period, had at length been changed; but its evil traces had remained. England had governed Ireland for many centuries and been the cause of its misery. Ireland now asked for no bounty, no patronage, but asked the payment of an old balance— the bringing up of an old arrear- -the atonement for past errors and past injuries. Little disposition had yet been evinced to make this honourable atonement, but the time had come when it could not and must not be delayed. The hon. member for Middlesex ridiculed the idea of a Bill to provide employment for the people being brought into the House, and pointed out an alteration in Church property as a substitute. He knew as well as that hon. Gentleman that it was not in the power of that House immediately to provide employment for the large population of Ireland; but that was no good reason why efforts should not be made to remove difficulties and to get rid of obstacles which stood in the way of finding that employment. Take off the charge of the grand Jury and tithe systems—take off the duty on coals, which operate as an actual impediment to its use in the manufactures which depend on it, and something would immediately be done to give the people employment. The Ball castle colliery was close to Dublin, but it was found cheaper to bring coals from Scotland for the Irish capital than to get them from the neighbouring colliery. There was not a steam engine employed in a single manufactory in Dublin. Government might grant the enterprising and industrious loans, repayable at a reasonable interest. That had already been advantageously done in Ireland; why not extend the scale of its operation? If found good in some instances, why not try it in others? All these were fit objects of legislative interference. Where then was the absurdity of calling on his Majesty's new Administration to bring forward bills on these and such remedial measures, if they value the good order and tranquillity, or, in other words, the prosperity— without which to think of tranquillity was an idle and pernicious dream—of a fine, fertile, but singularly-neglected country. With regard to the property of the Church, he felt with the hon. Member, that all property should be made to share the burthens of the state, and he thought it disgraceful that the Church property should be exempt from these burthens. He would not moot the question of vested rights, but would say, without fear of contradiction, that all property was held under certain conditions, and that the property of the Church was as much held under such conditions as any lay property in the country. One of these conditions was, the repair of churches; another the support of the poor: neither of these conditions, had been properly fulfilled; and the consequence was that two new taxes had been thrown on the country. The burthens had been shifted from the Church to the State, or rather, from the shoulders of a small and rich community to those of a large and starving community. This state of things he should like to see amended; but, in the interim, and in addition to such amendment, he could discover no good reason why the poor should not be employed, and our national resources raised, by the application of capital, from where they now sleep, into life and activity. He was fully persuaded of the obvious moral truth, that peace could only be maintained by actively engaging in useful works the physical and mental energies of that country; and desiring peace, he desired to see the means employed that was most likely to preserve it. The Reports of 1819, 1823, and 1830, could leave no shadow of doubt on this head. The only districts exempt from tumult in 1822 were those in which the inhabitants were fully employed. Contrast Clonakilty and Waterford, with the turbulent districts of Cork, Tipperary, and Limerick. The petition which he had presented he looked upon as a prayer for the happiness of the people at large, and the tranquillity and good order of the empire, and as such he warmly recommended it to the earnest consideration of the House.

Petition to he on the Table.