HC Deb 16 August 1831 vol 6 cc84-90
Lord Milton

presented a Petition from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Common Council, and Citizens of Dublin, praying for the establishment there of a Board of Trade, which might communicate with Government on the subject of Irish wants and interests, and assist the Irish Government in developing the resources of that country. The Petitioners represented, that distress was generally prevalent throughout Ireland, and that the flax and linen trades in particular, were going to decay. They expressed themselves of opinion, that it was no absence of kind feeling, but because the interests of that country were not well understood, that Parliament adopted measures detrimental to Ireland, and they therefore wished to have some intermediate body established there, whose business would be, to endeavour to promote measures favourable to their interests. He agreed with the petitioners in this opinion, for it was quite obvious, that the people of Ireland suffered great disadvantages by their distance from the seat of legislation. The expenses of private Acts in England were great, but in Ireland the cost was much enhanced. Although he feared the petitioners were too sanguine in their expectation of advantages from the establishment of a local and unpaid Board of Trade in Dublin, yet he hoped such a body might be found useful.

Mr. James Grattan

thought, from the difficulty they experienced in understanding Irish questions, the establishment of a Board of unpaid Commissioners, sitting in Dublin, upon these subjects, and communicating with intelligent persons, by letter or by personal examination, would enable Government to recommend, with much greater propriety, measures to Parliament, adapted to the exigencies of trade and commerce. The silk-trade of Dublin was in a most wretched state, as well as all other productive occupations. Such a Board, to be composed of every description of persons, might furnish most useful information on the subject of Poor-laws. It would have every facility fop the examination of witnesses who caused so much trouble and expense when brought to this country. The cost of such an establishment would be but little, chiefly for a Secretary, and he believed an institution of this nature would go far to put a stop to the cry for the Repeal of the Union.

Colonel Conolly

said, that as the city of Dublin had at present no Representative, he felt it his duty to support the prayer of the petition. The affairs of Ireland, which called for legislation, came before the House in a most crude and undigested shape, and if sound and accurate information was essential to good Government, that could only be procured by residents on the spot, acquainted with the peculiar circumstances of the country. One great cause of the embarrassment experienced in legislating for Ireland, was the frequent changes in the Government—since 1817 there had been seven Lord Lieutenants. He well knew, that it was the interest and desire of English Members to assist the sister country, and they were only prevented from doing so by their ignorance of her situation. The materials for better legislation would be found in great profusion in Dublin, and he was convinced that the establishment of such a Board, consisting of about twenty gentlemen, would much assist the endeavours of the Secretary for Ireland, and direct to proper objects the attention of the Legislature. It would also tend to obviate the frequency of well-founded complaints in various classes of society in Ireland, whose interests were inadvertently neglected by the United Parliament.

Mr. Wyse

was not prepared to say, that the establishment of such a Board would reach all the objects alluded to by the petitioners, but he thought some attention should be paid to the subject at a moment when there was such a cry for domestic legislation, in order to meet that wish in some way, if it were only to check the violence of the outcry. The Bill under discussion last night, developed the objects and machinery of a Board which it was proposed to establish, but it did not go far enough. He desired to see some measure established that would embrace all the local departments. The most plausible reason that had been urged for the dissolution of the Union was the difficulty of getting that House to pay attention to Irish questions, from want of time and knowledge to understand them. It was wise to allow self-government, wherever practicable, and he thought local establishments essential for understanding minute subjects, on which the prosperity of a country often depended, as was proved by the provincial establishments of the Netherlands, to which he attributed much of the prosperity of that country. The Board he should desire to see established in Dublin would embrace three objects—the first, the care of public works, trade and agriculture; the second, charities, prisons and police; and the third, public education, and to have branches in the respective counties, to supersede the oligarchical influence of the Grand Jurors, who administered the pro- vincial government in an arbitrary and extravagant manner. When the Catholic Relief Bill was passed, an alteration in this respect became necessary. He would leave the Grand Jury their judicial functions, and give their financial powers to a local Board, in connexion with one in the capital. He was fully persuaded, opinions of this character began to be general throughout Ireland, and the people wished to regulate their own concerns.

Mr. O'Connell

believed the condition of Ireland was such, that hardly any change could take place there which would not be for its advantage. This fresh application was symptomatic of the general appetite in Ireland at last for local legislation. Indeed, unless there was something of a local legislature adopted for Ireland, it was now clear, after thirty years experience of the Union, that nothing short of some such project as that now recommended by the Corporation of Dublin, under the advice of a very able and competent gentleman (Mr. Cecil), who had devoted his zeal and talent to this subject for some years, could possibly save Ireland from some fearful and desolating convulsion. They had no other resources but the horrors of famine or the establishment of Poor-laws. It had been said, they would be Agrarian laws, and would have no other effect than to divide the property of the rich among the poor, and ultimately reduce all to the same level. Boards might be of some use as a temporary remedy, but the only permanent cure for the evils of Ireland was a local legislature.

Colonel Torrens

said, it was impossible, whilst the connexion between this country and Ireland was unrestricted, that manufactures should flourish in Ireland. We had decisive proof in this country, that manufactures could not be forced from places possessed of local advantages, to others which wanted them. The woollen trade had wholly declined in the west, while it had prospered amazingly in the north of England, from the superior local advantages of the latter in coal and iron, together with other facilities for carrying on the trade. If such difficulties were found, therefore, in transferring manufactures even from one county to another, how would it be possible to transfer them to a country destitute of all natural advantages for carrying them on? The prayer of the petition, which alluded to the establishment of manufactures in Ireland, took an erroneous view of the question, and to say, that local legislation could overcome such obstacles was absurd. He was no less convinced that separate legislatures would unavoidably occasion, in a very short period, the total separation of the kingdoms. The moment a disputed question, such as a regency, or a doubtful succession arose, there would be an end of the connexion, for the only political union between them would be the executive. If they were to have an independent legislature for Ireland, they must also have one for Scotland, and a third for Wales, and the whole must be united into one federative union. That would be the only rational mode of establishing independent legislatures. In any other way it would be hopeless to attempt to keep up the connexion between the countries now so happily united.

Mr. Crampton

believed the Union with Ireland had neither created nor even aggravated the evils unhappily felt so sensibly in that country. On the contrary, he was prepared to contend, and he hoped at the proper time to be able to prove, that the Union had considerably benefitted Ireland, and he felt perfectly convinced that it could not be dissolved without involving the ruin of both countries. The evils of Ireland had their origin in different and deeper sources.

Petition to lie on the Table. On the motion that it be printed,

Lord Milton

hoped that Ireland would not indulge in visions of manufacturing wealth and prosperity. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Officer, that she had not the means necessary to secure that description of prosperity, though she certainly possessed ample means of securing another description—namely, agricultural prosperity. To that legitimate object of national interest and ambition her views ought to be confined. She ought to limit her desire for manufactures to the employment of her people at Manchester and Glasgow. Within her own territories she had not the means of carrying on extensive manufactures; she had neither iron nor coal, and imported machinery could not be useful without cheap fuel. Local industry might be promoted, undoubtedly, by private exertions, without the necessity of Boards. On every view the improvement of her agriculture should be her great object, and the chances of success in this way were only to be found and secured in the private exertions of the great landowners, nobility, gentry, and farmers of that eminently fertile island.

Colonel Trench

agreed with the noble Lord, that Ireland must be essentially an agricultural country, and was not well calculated for a manufacturing country. He believed there was a difficulty interposed to her success in manufactures, because of her want of capital and skill, The proposed alteration in the Corn-laws, for which the noble Lord was an advocate, he altogether deprecated, as likely to materially prejudice Irish agricultural interests.

Mr. O'Connell

denied there was such a want of either skill or capital as must frustrate all efforts to succeed in manufactures. He allowed they had neither coals nor iron, and could not compete with England in these respects, but they might avail themselves to a great extent of the power of machinery, for it must be recollected, that Ireland had, at least, the greatest water-power applicable to manufactures of any country in the whole world. To what other cause than the Union could the decay of Ireland be attributed? He should like to hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman who had asserted, that Ireland had been benefitted by it, in what manner that had been effected. They were now about to be driven to the adoption of Poor-laws, to support a starving population, and all persons who had realized property left that unhappy country; were those the proofs of the benefits she had received? When the circumstances of other countries were recollected, there was little reason to doubt that Ireland might continue a constituent portion of this great empire with a separate legislature. It was well known that Austria had for ages retained Brabant, as well as Hungary and Bohemia, constituent parts of that empire, notwithstanding they each possessed separate legislatures. The hon. and gallant Officer had asserted, that in the event of the Union being dissolved, a regency or a disputed succession would put an end to the political connexion between the two countries. A disputed succession had divided England itself into contending parties; it was a case against which no legislative authority could guard. A disputed regency might be obviated by an Act declaring that the person who should be declared Regent of England, should, de facto, be Regent of Ireland. He therefore denied the positions of the hon. and gallant Officer, and fully expected that petitions would yet come from the Corporation of Dublin for a local Legislature instead of local Boards.

Lord Ebrington

said, he had some acquaintance with Ireland, where much distress undoubtedly prevailed, particularly in the south and west, but he hoped it was not increasing, and he was sure the cause of it could not be traced to the Union.

Sir George

Rose wished the hon. and learned member for Kerry to recollect, that the Union with Scotland prevented a much more severe contest than actually took place upon the occasion of a disputed succession.

Lord Milton

said, that the repeal of the Corn-laws might have the effect of reducing the price of corn, and lowering rents in Ireland, but that result, though it might be felt as a grievance by the Irish landlords, he believed would be found to be beneficial to the Irish population at large.

Petition to be printed.