§ On the motion that the first order of the day be read,
§ Mr. Poulett Scrope
rose to bring forward the resolutions of which he had given notice, and first required the Clerk to read that part of the King's Speech at the opening of the Session which related to the introduction of Poor-laws into Ireland. The following are the words of the Speech:—"A further Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the condition of the poorer classes of my subjects in Ireland will speedily be laid before you. You will approach this subject with the caution due to its importance and difficulty; and the experience of the salutary effects already produced by the Act for the amendment of the laws relative to the poor in England and Wales, may, in many-respects, assist your deliberations." The hon. Member then said, in entering on this subject I would recal to the recollection of the House the history and present state of this great question. England, it is well known, and Scotland, had their system of poor-laws established in the beginning of the 17th century. It is now known that it was contemplated by the Legislature very shortly afterwards to transfer the same valuable institution to Ireland. In the year 1640 an Act, the almost literal transcript of the 43d of Elizabeth, passed both. Houses of Parliament in Ireland, and received the Royal Assent; but, by some accident, owing most probably to the troubled state of the times, just at the breaking out of the great rebellion, it was never promulgated, and has remained a dead letter ever since. From that time till very lately no attempt was made to introduce any public provision for the poor into Ireland. A few years since some writers in the public press, struck by this contrast of the condition of the poorer classes of the population of England and Ireland, the one without, the other with, the protection of a poor-law, advocated the extension of this salutary institution to the sister island. But their views were discountenanced by the then reigning school of political economy, which had espoused the doctrine of Mr. Malthus, that poverty was solely the consequence of excess of population; that any relief to the poor only led to an increase of their numbers, and consequently to an increase of pauperism and misery. In vain was it urged that the comparative rate of increase 591 of the population of Ireland and England demonstrated the very reverse of this doc-trine, and proved that a sound system of Poor-laws acts as a restraint on excessive increase; that want and misery unrelieved, on the other hand, stimulate the multiplication of wretched beings, who cannot be worse off than they are, and therefore are reckless of the future. However, the evidence given before several successive Parliamentary Committees on the state of Ireland, began to make an impression on the public and the House, especially the able and eloquent evidence of Dr. Doyle, which was widely circulated. Some, too, even of the most bigotted political economists, recanted their opinions, and declared in favour of a legal relief to the destitute, as a necessary element of all social institutions. One noted instance is well known to the House. The opinion in favour of an Irish Poor-law thus was so strengthened, that when, in 1833, the hon. Member for Knaresborough brought forward a resolution for its adoption, Lord Althorp felt himself obliged to meet the question by proposing to appoint a commission to inquire into the expediency of the measure. That Commission began its sittings in October of that year. Meantime the English Poor-law Commission was carrying on its inquiries into the abuses of the Poor-law of this country; and it was very much feared by some, and by myself among the number, that the Commissioners themselves were prejudiced in favour of the Malthusian doctrine, and were likely, by confounding the recent abuse of the Poor-law with its ancient and valuable principle, to stigmatise that principle in their Report, and thus increase the difficulties of the Irish question. Some great authorities, indeed, who are said to have been all-powerful in that Commission, I mean particularly Lord Brougham, certainly did fall into this error; but, happily, or rather, I would say, owing to the force of truth and reason, the Commissioners avoided the fallacy; and the Report, when it came out, laid down the doctrine of the expediency of a Poor-law in every civilized country, as the only means of repressing mendicancy and vagrancy, and withholding all excuse and apology for crime. From that moment I felt that the question of a Poor-law for Ireland was virtually carried, and that all that remained was a question of time. The Irish Commissioners of Inquiry were, however, very slow in their proceed- 592 ings; and, indeed, it was suspected that the appointment of the Commission was merely a ruse, for the purpose of giving the question the go by, or at least of delaying its determination sine die. Complaints were made by myself, and other Members, of this delay. I own that I thought the wretchedness of the Irish poor was a fact that lay on the surface, or had been at least sufficiently made known to Parliament, in the Reports of nearly half a dozen different Committees that between 1816, and 1832 had sat on the subject. I thought the necessity of a legislative provision for the poor equally clear, and that a Commission was not wanted to determine that which the Government and Legislature were at least equally competent to judge of. I thought that it was little better than a mockery to spend Session after Session, in debating laws upon Irish tithes, Irish Church property, Irish Corporations, Irish constabulary, Irish coercion, while the real evils of Ireland, the master grievance, the misery, starvation, and consequent despair of the Irish population, which alone made them turbulent and criminal, and rendered Coercion Bills necessary, was blinked and evaded, or even denied; and the one, real, true, and only remedy for those ills, a legislative protection from famine, a guarantee for the lives of the Irish people, was still refused, and all discussion upon it stifled. I felt this, and more than once I endeavoured to express my feelings; but the House was, against me, and the delay continued. At length, however, the Commissioners began to report. Even so early as last autumn, before the close of last Session, one large volume of evidence, collected by them, was placed on the table; and I own I did think, that after the disclosure of the horrible picture of the state of the poor in Ireland, which that volume contained, the Government would have been prepared at the beginning of this Session with some measures for the mitigation of this mass of evil. Something like a promise to this effect was indeed held out by the Government at the close of last Session. I expected this still more when I heard in his Majesty's Speech, at the opening of the Session, that passage which has been read to the House. Now, I own I thought that this was intended to raise an expectation in the minds of the poor Irish, that at length their wants were to be attended to, their 593 cries had been heard, and that measures were to be taken to ameliorate their wretched lot. Alas! I was mistaken, Sir, the Commission of Inquiry has now finally reported. What do we wait for now? The evidence collected by that Commission is of a character so awful as to have silenced, if it has not convinced, all who hitherto have opposed the enactment of an Irish Poor-law. The Commissioners themselves have reported in favour of one, and have sketched the outline of the measure they would recommend, and of other subsidiary measures by which they think it should be accompanied. The Commissioners' Report was in the hands of Government before the Easter holidays, and I should have thought that Bills might have been framed in the recess to carry out the principles of their recommendations. I ask again, why this further delay? The noble Lord, the other day, urged the immense importance of the subject, and the necessity of caution in its adjustment. Sir, no one is more impressed than myself with the paramount importance of this question, which is what I have been urging for years past on the Government and Legislature as superior in importance to every other topic. But it is its very importance and urgency, that makes me press its consideration on the House without loss of time; and as to the necessity of caution and deliberation, let it be recollected that it was on this very ground, that three years' delay had already taken place. Three years have been already consumed in cautious inquiries and investigations. How many more years of suffering are the wretched people of Ireland to endure, while the Government is procrastinating this subject; and, on the plea of the necessity of caution, inquiry, and deliberation, are deliberating on every other conceivable subject under the sun, except this one most pressing and supremely important one? Let us recollect, that while we delay our deliberations, the Irish are starving! I will not enter into the details of all the horrors of which the evidence collected by the Commission is full. But this I may say, that by that evidence, and the Report that accompanies it, it has been proved on the authority of a Royal Commission of Inquiry, that there exists in the heart of the British dominions—within the bosom of this country, which SO proudly vaunts its superior in- 594 telligence, wealth, general comfort, and, above all, its institutions for the benefit of the people, a depth and extent of misery, a mass of human suffering, unparalleled in any other country, savage or civilized. It has been proved that the great body of the population of Ireland habitually live on the very lowest kind of food, and have gradually been driven to the use of the very worst species of that plant, a watery, white, soft, innutritious kind of potatoe, on which even a pig will not thrive; that they are, moreover, subject to periodical scarcities even of this wretched diet, in fact to an annual famine; that a large number of them, amounting to upwards of two millions, are, during more than one-half of every year, "insufficiently supplied with even this miserable food," and that many are driven, during a portion of the year, to endeavour to prolong existence, by feeding on weeds of the earth or sea, so unwholesome as to turn their very blood yellow! It has been proved that the dwellings of this great body of our fellow-countrymen are hovels inferior in comfort and healthiness, and the means of shelter, to the sties in which we lodge our swine; that very many sleep on rotten straw or the damp earth, without a bed-covering of any sort, even in the most inclement weather; that their clothing by day (if such it can be called) consists of mere rags, or the very tattered remnant of rags! It has been proved that the sufferings thus endured from cold, nakedness, and hunger, bring on premature old age, besides malignant fevers, and other diseases which shorten the lives of all, and mow down, by a sort of slow torture, thousands of victims, whom direct famine has spared! It is proved that this universal wretchedness has made Ireland one great lazar-house, swarming with mendicants and idle vagrants from end to end; that at certain times of the year one-half of the Irish people are engaged in begging from the other half, the poor supporting the poor, each sharing his pittance, even to the last potatoe, with some wretch more destitute than himself; and that the result is, the propagation of filth, disease, idleness, discontent, and crime throughout the entire length and breadth of the land! Finally, it has been proved, that in the utter absence of any legislative security against absolute starvation, the peasantry of Ireland, to whom the occu- 595 pation of a bit of land is the sine quâ non of existence, are driven by the necessity of self-preservation to league themselves together in secret associations, with a view to maintain one another in their several holdings, and to resist compulsory ejectments by a system of terrorism. They have established a law more powerful and more respected than the law of the land— a law which awards death to any one who resists its mandates, and wants not agents to execute its sentences. It has been proved, that so completely has the horrible state of things, I have described, perverted all moral feeling among this suffering people, that the commission of murder in revenge for ejectment, or the taking of land from which the former tenant was ejected, is a recognized title to popular sympathy, protection, support, and gratitude; and this from the same people whose kindly feelings towards each other are so acute, that they will share their last potatoe with a starving neighbour. These are facts. They require no comment. But, after their disclosure has taken place upon the authority of a Royal Commission—after the veil has been torn off, which had hitherto concealed a state of things so repulsive to humanity, so disgraceful to a Christian community, who will say that it is to be allowed to remain a day without an attempt being made for its improvement? And is nothing to be done? No one now disputes that Ireland must have a Poor-law! No one now, I imagine, will contend, after the Report of the Commission, that it must not be a complete measure, going the full length of all that I, or any of the most zealous advocates of the principle, have ever asked—the full length of affording relief to every class of the destitute poor of Ireland—of affording a security that no one in that country need starve from want. I never had the least doubt, that when once the subject was fully investigated by reasonable men, whatever their prepossessions may have previously been, that it would be discovered that nothing less than this could be offered. I have never asked for or proposed more. The principle, then, being conceded on all hands that the poor of Ireland must no longer be allowed to starve for want of relief, if infirm—of the means of earning their livelihood by the sweat of their brow, if willing to work, it only remains to consider how this principle is to be worked 596 out. And here, with the light afforded by the recommendations of the Commissioners, by the experience of England and Scotland, through two centuries, and, above all, by the searching examination and practical experience we have had of the English system, under the Poor-law Amendment Act, I cannot see any such extraordinary difficulties in our way, to make it necessary to postpone the consideration of the question to another Session, and render ourselves responsible for protracting the agonies of the Irish poor for another twelvemonth. But if all cannot be done, at least is there nothing that can be done? What are the recommendations of the Commissioners—recommendations, in the wisdom and expediency of which, for the most part, I cordially coincide? They propose measures of two kinds; first, a Poor-law; and, next, some subsidiary measures to facilitate its working, by encouraging the employment of the surplus labour of Ireland in the improvement of its soil. The Poor-law they propose includes the establishment of a Central Board, who shall divide Ireland into relief districts, which are to be surveyed and valued preparatory to the assessment. They recommend the building in the different districts of infirmaries, hospitals, and asylums, for the different classes of diseased and sick poor. And they recommend an extensive system of emigration, and the provision of intermediate depots for the destitute able-bodied out of work. Now, it is quite clear to me that the merely preliminary arrangements of the Poor-law Board, the division, survey, and valuations of the entire country, and of every individual tenement in it, the hearing of appeals after appeals from this valuation, will consume at least one twelvemonth, after the appointment of the Poor-law Commission, before one farthing of rate can be levied, or one potatoe given away, to fill a famishing mouth. If, therefore, steps are taken this Session for the appointment of a Poor-law Commission (if only to make these preliminary arrangements and lay down the basis of the future assessment for the relief of the Irish poor)—if this be adjourned till next year, two whole years more of Irish misery must be suffered before a beginning of relief can be made! Two whole years! What a mass of human suffering that period will take in! What an exasperation of the daily increasing misery 597 and turbulence of that wretched and distracted country! Oh, Sir, there is a homely proverb, which I cannot but quote on this occasion, "Where there's a will, there's a way;" and if the Government are really anxious to put a stop as soon as possible to the frightful state of things which at present desolates Ireland, I cannot but think that means might have been found at an earlier period, nay, might be found now, for taking the matter into consideration, and introducing some preparatory and lenitive, if they have not time to frame and carry a complete and perfect, measure of relief. Without presuming to dictate to his Majesty's Government as to what they should or should not do, I will venture to say, that the least that can be done is to bring forward and pass such Bills as may be required to enable the Government to appoint a Poor-law Board, which shall immediately commence its preliminary surveys and valuations, &c., to commence without a day's delay the emigration of the redundant labourers, and the building of such hospitals, infirmaries, asylums, and other public buildings, as must be wanted; leaving it to a measure of next Session to determine among what precise parties, and in what proportions the expense of these arrangements should be divided. A liberal expenditure on public works, and some steps for employing the poor extensively on the country roads, bridges, bogs, &c., ought to be instantly adopted. This is the least that can be done towards mitigating the immediate pressure of the frightful evils the Commissioners have brought before our view, and laying the foundation of those complete measures which mature consideration will no doubt enable the Government to frame during the next recess. I am quite aware that the measure must emanate from Government. I have therefore abstained from vexatiously pushing forward my own Bill for the purpose; though I will say this, that with respect to the simple Poor-law branch of the subject, that Bill embodies the precise recommendations of the Commissioners, and would, if it were taken up as it stands, and carried forward by the Government, effectually answer the purpose the Commissioners and all of us have in view. But I say again, all I am anxious for is, that something should be done—all that the time allows this Session—that the Legislature may not lie 598 under the endless disgrace which I think would rest on it, if, the Report of the Commissioners having been presented before Easter, containing the description of so frightful a mass of evils affecting so large a portion of his Majesty's subjects, the rest of the Session were to be allowed to slip by without an effort made to diminish those horrible evils. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following resolutions:—That the Commissioners appointed by his Majesty to inquire into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland, having finally reported, in which Report it is stated, among other facts—1. That 'a great portion of the labouring population of Ireland are insufficiently provided with the common necessaries of life;' that 'not less than 2,385,000 persons of that class are in distress, and require relief for thirty weeks in the year, owing to want of work;'2. That 'the wives and children of many are obliged reluctantly, and with shame, to beg;'3. That 'mendicancy is likewise the sole resource of the aged and impotent of the poorer classes in general, whereby encouragement is given to idleness, imposture, and general crime.'And the Commissioners having recommended several legislative measures for the cure of these appalling evils—This House is of opinion that no time should be lost in taking such steps as may tend to relieve this large portion of his Majesty's subjects from so calamitous a condition.
said, that he thought the resolution proposed by his hon. Friend was imperatively called for by the announcement of the noble Lord, the Home-Secretary, a few days since, which he considered tantamount to a declaration that no measure for the relief of the poor in Ireland would be submitted to Parliament by the Government during the present Session. Now he would ask the House, if a Royal Commission of Inquiry were to send down to that House a Report, that 2,300,000 persons in England were in a state of the most extreme destitution during thirty weeks in the year, would the House lose a moment in taking the subject into its most grave and serious consideration? Would it not determine that all other questions ought to be postponed as of subordinate importance, until measures were taken to mitigate the suffering of so large a proportion of the population? Did the case differ because 599 this frightful record of facts referred, not to England, but to the people of Ireland? Or was it less deserving the immediate attention of the House, because the persons of whom it was told were habituated to suffering? What were the circumstances under which this Commission made their Report? Three years since a number of gentlemen, high in station and eminent for their known intelligence, were selected for the duty of inquiry into the condition of the poor of Ireland. Many of them were known to entertain opinions hostile to the introduction of a Poor-law into Ireland—yet, after a patient, and he would say, a too much prolonged investigation, they brought down to the House a Report containing a more frightful picture of human misery than was ever exhibited in the annals of any country, and they urged upon the adoption of Parliament a series of measures having for their object the relief or mitigation of that misery; nor was it upon the opinion of these Commissioners alone that the public sentiment upon this subject rested. If we might judge by the uniform language of those organs through which public opinion is spoken, it appeared that upon no subject of political concern was there so universal a concurrence of opinion as upon the propriety of framing legislative measures for the relief of the poor in Ireland. Indeed, Europe itself cried shame upon that House and upon the British Government, for leaving in so disastrous a condition such an important portion of the population of these kingdoms, and it was a theme of just reproach in the mouth of every intelligent traveller who visited these realms. Even the landlords of Ireland, who had so long resisted the introduction of any measure which was likely to impose on their properties an assessment, were now prepared to acquiesce in a modified provision for the poor; yet, notwithstanding the appalling nature of the distress which was acknowledged to exist—notwithstanding the almost unanimous concurrence of opinion that it ought to be relieved, Government again told us that they were not prepared to submit to Parliament measures, the expediency of which they could not deny. If this were a new question, there might be some apology for the delay. But for ten successive years it had been annually brought under discussion in that House, and as often had been postponed by some 600 evasive or dilatory plea. Why this unaccountable delay? Were his Majesty's Ministers the only persons in the community incapable of forming an opinion upon a question of such great national importance? If such were the case they were unfit for the office which they held. But he would not pay so bad a compliment to their intellect. He was compelled to adopt the belief that they had formed opinions upon the subject, and that among the opinions entertained by the Cabinet there were some decidedly hostile to the introduction of a Poor-law in any shape. If such were the case, he would ask whether it was probable that these opinions would be more favourable in an ensuing year than in the present? For himself, he could not believe that this change would be effected by any other means than by the coercion of public feeling, and it was for this reason he thought it the duty of that House to give an unequivocal expression to its own sentiments upon the subject. He knew that it would be urged that the Commissioners had recommended such a multiplicity of measures, that they could not all be introduced without mature deliberation. He was ready to admit that several of the suggestions of the Report were, to a certain extent, new to that House, and on account of their novelty, might by some be deemed speculative, but there were others that were in accordance with the views of every individual who had sincerely advocated a provision for the poor in Ireland. Upon the question, for instance, that a well-regulated system of voluntary emigration should be provided for the able-bodied labourer who was unable to procure employment in Ireland, there was no difference of opinion among the supporters of the Poor-law. In like manner, all were agreed that provision should be made for the helpless and infirm poor. Let the Government then immediately come forward with measures calculated to give effect to those suggestions, with regard to which there was no difference of opinion, and refer to a succeeding Session those of a more questionable character. No Bill that could be introduced could be brought into practical operation for a period of from six months to a-year from the day it passed both Houses of Parliament, so that if another Session were allowed to elapse, all relief to the poor in Ireland would in fact be postponed for a period of from 601 eighteen months to two years; It was a mockery to hold out hopes thus indefinitely postponed. If this question were a matter of party interest—if upon its settlement the popularity of an administration depended—no difficulties would have appeared of such magnitude as to occasion this unnecessary delay. The benches of that House would have been crowded, and the advocate of a Poor-law would not have had to contend with the apathy with which the proposal had that night been received. He was not disposed to undervalue the political rights of a nation, but he conceived that questions relating to the sustenance and the comforts of a people should be paramount, even to those which concerned their political interests. It might be said, that it was too late in the Session for the introduction of a measure for the relief of the poor during the present year; but he would observe, that the Tithe Bill, the most important measure of the Session, had not yet been produced; and with the legal assistance which the Government could command, it was impossible that there could be any delay in framing the details of such a measure, if ministers were sincerely desirous for its adoption. Let them call upon his hon. Friend, the Attorney-General for Ireland, whom he believed sincerely anxious for such a measure; or let them invite the able and eminent individual who had been concerned in drawing the Report of the Commissioners, to frame a Bill which should carry into effect any principle upon which Ministers were agreed, and he would undertake to say that within one fortnight there would be a Bill upon the Table of the House. There were three measures already before the House—his own Bill, and those of the hon. Members for Waterford and Stroud. He was not disposed to say which deserved the preference. He had always felt that this was a question which it became the bounden duty of the Government of the country to carry to its ultimate settlement. He would not now enter into any argument upon the general question, whether or not it was expedient that legislative measures should make provision for the poor in Ireland. The question had been repeatedly discussed in that House, and he would take it for granted that the advocates of a Poor-law had triumphed in argument, since their opponents had on no one occasion met the proposition by 602 a direct negative, but had always resorted to the subterfuge afforded either by the previous question or the appointment of a Committee or Commission. He would take it then as a conceded point, that there ought to be a provision for the poor in Ireland, and his argument that night had been solely directed to show that the Government were not justified in postponing its introduction to another Session. He had been taunted by a Gentleman, who now professed himself an advocate for this measure, with exhibiting upon this subject more zeal than discretion. If he were zealous, it was no new zeal, for during the last six or seven years he had laboured to awaken the attention of the country and of that House to a sense of the deplorable condition of the poor in Ireland; and if that Gentleman were present, he would tell him, that if he had taken a different tone upon this subject, there would at that moment have been a Bill before the House. He knew not what part other Members might feel it their duty to take, but for himself he would not shrink from avowing it as his opinion, that if Government allowed this Session to pass away without taking initiatory steps for the introduction into Ireland of a legalised provision for the poor, they would be wanting in a duty which they owed, not only to the people of Ireland, but to the well being of the empire intrusted to their care. He begged leave cordially to second the motion of the hon. Member for Stroud.
§ Viscount Morpeth
said, that in the absence of his noble Friend, the Secretary for the Home Department, he felt that it would be unbecoming, and even unnecessary for him to detain the House with more than a few words in answer to the resolution which had been proposed, and these few words should be applied rather to the subject of the motion than to the terms in which it had been introduced. This much, however, he must be allowed to say, that some of the strictures which had been made upon the conduct of the Government did not appear to be prompted by a candid and conciliatory spirit. After stating several facts, the last resolution of the hon. Member for Stroud was to this effect:—"That it is the opinion of this House that no time should be lost in relieving so large a portion of his Majesty's subjects from their present calamitous condition." Now who was to define the 603 precise meaning of the expression that "no time is to be lost?" Or when several Bills were before the House on the subject, which of the views contained in them would the hon. Member have the House to sanction? He did not mean to deny that these Bills contained some suggestions which it would be advisable to adopt; but looking at the whole of them, he was not prepared to say that he was willing to assent to any one of them becoming the law of the land. He was most willing to admit, that the hideous nature of the evils which prevailed amongst the poor classes in Ireland called earnestly for redress. He thought no duty more urgent on the Government and the Parliament than to devise a remedy for them; but he could not conceal from himself, at the same time, that the mode in which that duty was to be discharged, and that remedy concocted and introduced, was a most difficult and delicate question; and in the event of any mistaken views being adopted, or evil steps taken in its settlement, a most hazardous and dangerous one. He had only further on this occasion to say, that his Majesty's Government were not leaving this question at rest. They not only did not forego its consideration, but they were now engaged in determining the proper and necessary steps to be taken for its adjustment; and at the first moment when they were in a condition to propose such a general measure as they could recommend to the adoption of Parliament on their own responsibility, that moment they would do so, without subterfuge or delay. Therefore, on a subject of this great importance and complexity, upon which so many novel considerations were brought under the attention of Government by the Report of the Commissioners, he could not give any pledge that a measure would be immediately brought forward to meet the great ends which they had in view; but assuring the House that there would be as little delay, in introducing such a measure, as circumstances would admit, he must refuse his assent to the motion of the hon. Member for Stroud, and call on the House to go on with the other Orders of the Day.
§ Mr. William Roche
was of opinion, that after the announcement which they had just heard from the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, this motion ought not to be pressed to a division.
§ Mr. J. Grattan
regretted that the hon. Member for the county of Limerick (Mr. 604 O'Brien) should, in supporting this question have used any language of censure towards the Government. That Government had conferred signal advantages to Ireland, and he hoped it would yet give it Poor-laws. He expected at least that the Government would introduce a measure such as he had introduced eleven years ago for the relief of the aged, infirm, and destitute.
§ Mr. Sharman Crawford
confessed that he heard with the deepest regret that no measure was to be brought forward this Session for the suffering poor of Ireland. At least he understood the speech of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, to mean that he could give no pledge that such a measure would be introduced within the period which he had stated. It was universally admitted that the distress of the Irish poor proceeded from no fault of theirs, and that the Irish landlords were not, in the slightest degree, responsible for their condition. The misery and destitution of the Irish poor were now more appalling than ever, and the present state of things had been brought about by several causes. First, the abolition of the 40s. freeholders, in order to create 10l. holders; next, by enlarging farms for the purpose of emolument, which when enlarged were applied to pasture; and, lastly, the expulsion of their tenantry by the landlords, which was resorted to for the purpose of punishment, on account of their voting in an independent manner. He regretted exceedingly that the hon. and learned Member for Dublin was not then present. He understood from the speeches of the hon. and learned Gentleman during the recess, that he would support a measure for Poor-laws for Ireland, the necessity of which was admitted by him. Since that period the hon. and learned Gentleman had not come forward to express his approval or disapproval of such a measure. His (Mr. O'Connell's) opinion had justly been considered of great weight with the people of Ireland, and if he were unfavourable to the passing of such a Bill, his declaration to that effect would be received with the greatest deference and respect by the people of that country; whilst if he were (as he had stated himself to be) convinced of the necessity of some legislative proceeding on this subject, the promulgation of such an opinion would be attended with the greatest advantages. Never was there a question relating to 605 Ireland on which there was such an unanimity of opinion as to its necessity. In the city of Dublin a petition was agreed to by persons of all parties, which he regretted to say had not yet arrived. When the Report of the Committee had disclosed the fact, that some of the people had actually perished from starvation, whilst others were enabled merely to prolong a wretched existence, he thought the Government were bound not to allow another Session to pass, without taking some preparatory step towards alleviating the miseries of the poor of Ireland. When he had last year brought before the House the distresses of the starving peasantry of Mayo, and his Majesty's Government refused to give that relief which he pleaded for in behalf of those unfortunate people, he understood them at that time to say, that a measure for the relief of the poor would be brought forward this Session. Again, when the modified Coercion Act of last Session was introduced, he opposed that Bill on the grounds that pains and penalties should not be enacted against the people of Ireland; that they should not be deprived of the just privileges of freemen, so long as they were debarred of those rights which Englishmen possessed in having claims by law for employment or support from the land on which their profitable industry was applied for the benefit of others. It was not fit that such an Act should remain on the Statute-book, whilst such injustice was perpetrated, and he gave notice that in case some legal system of relief was not provided this Session, he would before its termination move for the repeal of the Act he had alluded to. The hon. Member read an extract from evidence recorded by the Commissioners of Poor Inquiry, relating to a case which had occurred in Dundalk, where a large number of persons expelled by a neighbouring landlord took refuge in the town, in utter destitution. The landlord was applied to for a subscription in aid of their relief, which he positively refused, saying, it was a matter of indifference to him what became of his tenantry after being ejected from his estate. He referred to this document to show the absolute necessity of a compulsory enactment, which would render the landed proprietors responsible for the poverty they created. He then referred to resolutions agreed to at Castlebar, in the county of Mayo, and read extracts which showed the state of the peasantry in 606 that county, and the necessity for an immediate attention to their condition. There was no question which came under the consideration of Parliament of such pressing importance as this. Compared with it, the tithe question was altogether an insignificant one. That Bill was for the protection of the clergy, while the poor were left to destitution and misery. Parliament was bound in the first instance, and before all other considerations, to look to the physical condition of the people of Ireland, and to preserve them from starvation.
§ Sir Robert Bateson
had hoped that a question relative to the distress of the Irish poor would have been temperately discussed on either side of the House, and free from party allusions. He must say, that the hon. Member for Dundalk had, in the observations he had made upon them, done no less than libel the landlords of Ireland, in attributing to them the wholesale expulsion complained of, and he would content himself with giving that part of the hon. Gentleman's speech his decided contradiction. In the name of the landlords of Ireland he denied such a statement could be maintained. Without wishing to give the slightest offence to the hon. Member for Stroud, he would tell him he did not quite understand the case of the Irish people. There was not a parish in Ireland without a dispensary or an hospital for the sick poor; and as to emigration, he was sorry to say, that instead of ridding the country of the idle and poor, it had in too many instances deprived it of a most useful class of persons. He thought it better not to press this question at present, but to wait until another Session should produce some well-digested measure upon the subject. He trusted Government would give it their undivided attention, and begged it to be understood that the feelings of Gentlemen on his side of the House were as acute with regard to the sufferings of their fellow-countrymen as those upon the opposite benches.
§ Mr. Poulett Scrope
said, that after what had fallen from the noble Secretary for Ireland, he should not think it necessary to divide the House. He still thought, however, that there was considerable ambiguity as to the intentions of the Government.
§ Lord John Russell
was understood to say, that the hon. Member for Stroud had interpreted his noble Friend's answer to 607 him correctly, in the supposition which he had made that no measure would be introduced, during the present Session, on this subject. By that declaration, however, he did not wish it to be understood that the Government was precluded from introducing some initiatory measure on the subject, if the result of the inquiries which they were now engaged in making, from persons perfectly competent to supply them with the requisite information, proved that such a course was advisable.
§ Motion withdrawn.