HC Deb 11 July 1833 vol 19 cc583-92
Mr. Baldwin

rose to submit the Motion of which he had given notice, relative to the Expenditure of Absentees from Ireland. In doing so, he could not help expressing the astonishment he felt at seeing scarcely any of the Members for Ireland in their places. This circumstance proved what value was to be attached to their professions. According to the most accurate information which could be obtained, the number of absentee proprietors from Ireland was so large that 4,000,000l. a-year was spent by them abroad. Among other expenditures of Irish money in England, he thought it right to refer them to the 13,000l. per annum (as we understood the hon. and learned Gentleman) spent in contesting elections before Parliamentary Committees. Then let them recollect that the large majority of Irish bishoprics were filled by Englishmen, who became the founders of families in England on their accumulations in Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman was proceeding to argue that the 1,000,000l. of Irish money annually lodged in the English funds, which Mr. Spring Rice had quoted as an instance of the increasing prosperity of Ireland, was so much annually drained from the capital of that country, when

An Hon. Member

moved, that the House be counted. Forty-one Members being present,

Mr. Baldwin

proceeded. Wealth, he argued, was of no value, except as it was used. Money was made for man, not man for money. The proper distribution of wealth was the great benefit which it conferred on nations. The wealth taken out of Ireland by absentees might, had they continued to reside, have been used for the benefit of the Irish people. If a country exported all its raw material, and imported all its manufactures, the people of that country must necessarily be idle and discontented, and exposed to all the evils flowing from idleness and discontent. Such was, in a great measure, the state of Ireland. The landlord who drew all his rent away from that country, inflicted the injury upon it of withdrawing the most powerful stimulus to exertion. At present Ireland exported all her raw material to England and other countries—thereby throwing away the advantages which she might otherwise enjoy. By these means the incitement to labour was taken away, which might render the Irish an industrious and a happy people. It had been stated, on one authority, that one-fifth, if not one-fourth, of the population of Ireland was at present unemployed. on another authority, that, out of a population of 8,000,000,2,000,000 were unemployed. That was the true source of all the disorders in Ireland. The rioters and disturbers were arranged in different classes; but idleness was the mother of all the mischief. If they could not employ the population in doing good, the population would employ themselves in doing evil. The first mischief of absenteeism was the want of that moral example which the higher orders in every country ought to set to the lower orders. The ancient hospitality of Ireland was almost at an end. Those mansions, the doors of which were wont to be ever open to the stranger and the needy, were now falling into utter decay. Another evil of absenteeism, was the destruction of those ties of affection and attachment which formerly existed between the landlords and the peasantry. Another evil was, that the estates, not having the eye of the master upon them, were neglected; and no portion of the rent was applied to the improvement of them. Another effect of absenteeism was, that for want of revenue, there was no accumulation of capital. When capital was abundant in Ireland, the Irish could produce and manufacture as cheaply as other nations. But now, the diminution of revenue prevented the accumulation of capital. The consequence was, that workmen and tradesmen of every description were reduced in number, and were left almost without employment. He admitted, that the cotton manufacture in the North of Ireland, and the making of kelp in Gal way were tolerably prosperous; but with those exceptions, trade and manufactures were in a most decayed state throughout Ireland. The hon. and learned Member proceeded to read a voluminous paper, describing the number of persons belonging to different trades in Dublin before the Union, and the number at present, as also the wages of the two periods, to show the extensive falling off' that had taken place;—in the middle of which,

An Hon. Member,

for a second time, moved, that the House be counted; but there being forty Members present,

Mr. Baldwin

proceeded to read the paper. It related principally to the number of artizans and manufacturers in Dublin in 1799 and the present moment, and showed the decrease in their numbers, and that the same decrease had taken place in Cork and Limerick. This referred, he said, merely to some towns, but, at all events, one-fourth of the people of Ireland were unemployed; and if the population continued to increase, and a young, brave, and idle race were brought up without feelings of attachment or respect for the class above them, the landlords who now enjoyed the sky of Italy, and the luxuries of London, might lose their estates, and the military force of 22,000 men would fail to preserve them. The Irish, like all uncivilized people, were vindictive, and no one knew the moment at which a crisis might arrive. The hon. and learned Member below him (Mr. Sheil) had a Motion relative to a tax on absentees, and he would not interfere with that subject, not even pronounce an opinion upon it. The remedy he would propose was the having local bodies to legislate on local subjects, and that these local Parliaments should sit for three months in Ireland and three months in Scotland, while the Imperial Legislature should go on here. This would diffuse a part of the revenue exacted from the people of Ireland, over that country, and the people would have the feeling that they were not, neglected and deserted. The hon. Gentleman then referred to the history of Rome and Lacedæmon, to prove that the moment the revenues of the provinces were spent in the capital without any return, the State became corrupt, and gradually fell to decay. A federal government was in his opinion the best; and the instances of America, and of our own colonies, proved, that the principle of separate Legislatures for countries united under one head, worked very advantageously. Would they, he asked, after thirty-three years' experience, which proved that Ireland was not happier, although perhaps some individuals were richer, and the country was more populous, continue the same system? It had been said by a right hon. Gentleman, that the reason Ireland was ill-treated by England was because she had a Parliament of her own; and the hon. Gentleman went into a statement to show, that from 1720 to 1822 the reverse was the case, and that the Irish Parliament was the only protection the country had from monopoly and injustice. In conclusion, the hon. and learned Gentleman moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the various forms of absentee expenditure by which Ireland is afflicted, to ascertain its effects on the prosperity of the country, and on the happiness of the people, and to discover a remedy, if possible, for the evils it occasions.

The Motion having been put,

Mr. Baldwin said,

it was his wish not to press his Motion at present, but to record his own sentiments on the subject.

Mr. Spring Rice

suggested, whether it would not be better for the hon. Gentleman to give a notice for the next Session.

Mr. O'Dwyer

said, that the Motion was a very important one, and that hon. Members who brought forward questions relating to Ireland were not to be laughed at.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that there had been no such thing, and that it was only to save trouble he made the suggestion. He knew the subject ought to be inquired into, but the hon. Mover himself saw that at this period no practical result could follow from his Motion. Neither could it be supposed that indifference on the subject influenced the House; for, if so, it was equally chargeable upon some of those Irish Members who claimed most emphatically to be the Representatives of the people of that country, and who were absent upon this discussion. When the proposition should be made, he would be ready, as he was then, to negative it, particularly because a Motion professing to inquire into absenteeism was in reality one for the introduction of a federal Government; and when such a proposition as that was to be considered, it was one to be considered by the whole Legislature, and not delegated to a Committee. To a Committee on absenteeism he should have no objection, as he was not one of those political economists who did not consider it an evil, and above all, an evil in a country circumstanced like Ireland. This he admitted, but how was it possible to remedy it? That could not be done without destroying the right of property, as well as degrading the people of Ireland, by leaving them without the power of free agency and making them mere adscripti glebœ—without the liberty of leaving their country. For the benefit of any country, the freer property, capital, and population, were, the better. The hon. Gentleman had read a paper relative to the decrease of manufactures, but every fact he had stated, was traceable to other sources than the Union, as the introduction of machinery alone would account for all he had mentioned. There was only one way to bring the absentees back to Ireland; that was, to make the country happy, and to put an end to all feelings of irritation and division. The hon. Gentleman had entertained the House by reading a long paper, giving an account of the number of persons engaged in the different branches of trade in Ireland. He was aware of the danger of referring to papers of any description; but, upon a subject which not only called the attention of the people of Ireland, but excited their passions in no inconsiderable degree, would the House indulge him whilst he read a single paragraph, not so long as the hon. Gentleman's paper, but as good an authority—the authority of an Irishman—of one of the best and greatest Irishmen who ever did honour to his country. He begged to call the attention of the House to a single passage in a letter from Mr. Burke to Sir Charles Bingham. The hon. Gentleman admitted, that one of the great evils of a tax upon absentees was—that you must apply it to absentees generally. The hon. Gentleman seemed fully aware of this fact, because he appeared to imagine that many of his observations were equally applicable to Scotland; and he wished to adopt the principle of compulsory residence in that country. He certainly was disposed to think that the Scotch people were perfectly able to judge for themselves; and when the Representatives of the. Scotch people neither asked for a Repeal of the Union, nor a tax upon absentees, he thought that a primâ facie case was made out, that they did not suffer from this cause, as the hon. Gentleman would induce the House to believe. Burke said, and he begged the attention of the House to the remark: "A man may have property in more than two parts of this empire; he may have property in Jamaica, and in North America, as well as in England and Ireland. What shall we say to this case? After the poor distracted citizen of the whole empire has, in compliance with your partial law, removed his family, hid adieu to his connexions, and settled himself quietly and snug in a pretty box by the Liffey, he hears that the Parliament of Great Britain is of opinion that all English estates ought to be spent in England, and that they will tax him double if he does not return. Suppose him then (if the nature of the two laws will permit it) providing a flying camp, and dividing his year as well as he can between England and Ireland, and at the charge of two town houses and two country houses: in this situation he receives an account that a law is transmitted from Jamaica and another from Canada to tax absentees from those provinces which are impoverished by the European residence of the possessors of their lands. How is he to escape from this ricochet cross-firing of so many opposite batteries of police and regulation? if he attempts to comply, he is likely to be more a citizen of the Atlantic Ocean than of any of these countries. The matter is absurd and ridiculous, and while ever the idea of mutual marriages, inheritances, purchases, and privileges, subsist, it can never be carried into execution with common sense or common justice. I do not know how gentlemen of Ireland reconcile such an idea to their own liberties or to the natural use and enjoyment of their estates." The hon. Gentleman might say, that this was an extreme case. It was; but it was only by extreme cases that a fair test to try an argument of this kind could be found. If it were right to confine Irish landlords within the limits of Ireland, it was certainly equally right to confine all persons possessing estates in England within the limits of England. He deeply lamented the existence of absenteeism, and sincerely wished it should cease. He hoped it would. It was ceasing in his own county. He would refer to proofs. Let the hon. Gentleman who doubted it go to the great architects of Ireland, and inquire what number of great houses had been built by the nobility and gentry within the last ten years. He would find, that there never was so large an outlay of capital in that species of property, in the course of any ten preceding years, in the history of Ireland. Let the hon. Gentleman start from Dublin and view the various mansions, of the nobility and gentry in different parts of Ireland, and then let him say whether there had not been a considerable expenditure. That was the case in Limerick, and he must say it, with all possible respect for the hon. Gentleman, that his statement was much exaggerated. To say that the property of the absentees was 15,000,000l. was monstrous; the whole income of Ireland not exceeding 20,000,000l. He had been very reluctant to offer a word on the subject, but was induced to do so, by a wish to reply to the hon. Gentleman, guarding himself, however, against the supposition that he was indifferent upon the subject of absenteeism. He admitted it to be a great evil, but it was not a subject for legislative interference.

Mr. Robinson

observed, that the indifference with which Irish Members were often pleased to charge English Members upon the subject of Irish affairs, was not an indifference to the interests of Ireland, but was the result of the want of conduct and discretion on the part of the Irish Members themselves. Whenever any matter of practical advantage to Ireland was to be considered, the English Members were attentive enough; but it was impossible to expect them to be so when hon. Members from the Sister Country brought forward mere formal Resolutions for the purpose of making them the means of introducing a series of observations to the House. He trusted that that system would not be persevered in, and that these unfounded accusations would not be repeated.

Mr. O'Dwyer

did not wonder at the lecture read the Irish Members by the hon. member for Worcester, for that hon. Member had experienced the evil effects of the practice he reprobated in his own instance, when he effectually depopulated that House by a Motion regarding taxation. He thought that there ought to be a tax upon absentees; but, if they did not like that, they might effect the same object by increasing the facilities for the transfer of property. The evils of absenteeism were very great. Most of the disturbances that took place were on the estates of absentee landlords, and were occasioned by the misconduct of those who represented them. The people on other estates were at the same time quite tranquil. Such had been the case with the tenantry of Lord Cloncurry, who resided on his property, and who, in the year of the famine, had not only supported the poor among his own tenantry, but many others.

Lord Althorp

was ready to admit that absenteeism was an evil. But the remedy now proposed would be a greater evil. Absenteeism was an evil in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Those who said that to remedy the evils of Ireland, it was necessary to increase the value of property there, spoke truly, but those who proposed restrictions on property were proposing that which would diminish, not improve the value of property there. In fact, he believed that most of the plans recommended by the hon. member for Cork, would be found to have a tendency rather to increase than lessen the evil.

Mr. Sheil

said, that the evils of absenteeism were admitted. But what was done to get rid of them? Nothing—only a wish was expressed that quiet might be restored, and then it was said there would be no more absenteeism. He almost doubted that. It was a habit of the landlords to be absentees. Scotland suffered from absenteeism, but not so much as Ireland, and there was this difference between the two countries, that in the first place, there were no confiscated Scotch estates possessed by large English proprietors; and in the next, Scotland was a tranquil country. He observed then, with regard to Ireland, that every year England gave less and less to Ireland. In the year of the cholera morbus, England sent over to Ireland 40,000l., but in the same year the amount of the estimates showed that less was to be given to Ireland than in the year before. [Mr. Hume observed: So much the better.] The hon. Member said so much the better; but it was admitted that absenteeism was an evil. How, then, was it to be cured? The hon. Member surely would not deny that absenteeism was an evil. [Mr. Hume: Yes, in the way you think it.] The Irish had observed the magnificent liberality with which Parliament had given the 20,000,000l. in what he must say he thought the holiest cause in which that money could be expended; but while his country admired the liberality of the Parliament to the negroes, she could not but contrast that with its parsimony to herself.

Mr. Hume

thought, that there was a great delusion as to the evils of absenteeism, and he hoped the opportunity would soon arrive when the question would be fairly discussed, and that delusion put an end to. Absenteeism was an evil, but the remedy now proposed was a greater evil. The real and the greatest evil in Ireland was the want of employment. That employment could not be given without capital—there was plenty of capital in England that the owners were anxious to send over to Ireland, but they were prevented by the disordered state of the country. Civil discord, anarchy, and bad Government were the causes of the evils of Ireland, and taxes on absentees would not mend those evils. Capital would not go over to Ireland while that country continued in its present unquiet state.

Mr. Finn

said, that absenteeism was the great evil of Ireland. She made more progress than any other country—than even England between the years 1782 and 1796, when she had an independent Legislature of her own.

Mr. Littleton

never had been able to comprehend how an absentee tax could effect any good for Ireland. It would prevent any Englishman from investing his surplus capital in Irish property, and it would make Irishmen invest their surplus capital in England, where they might enjoy it with freedom, and thus, instead of tending to increase the means of employment in Ireland, it would diminish them.

Mr. Baldwin replied,

and withdrew his Motion.