HC Deb 19 July 1843 vol 70 cc1268-73

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair to go into a committee on the Medical Charities (Ireland) Bill,

Mr. F. French

said, he had not anticipated that her Majesty's Government would carry their hostility or their indifference to the interests of Ireland so far as to oppose going into committee on the sole remedial measure relating to that country at present before Parliament. He had not anticipated that they would endeavour to render the proceedings of the select committee, appointed at a very considerable expense to the country to inquire into the state of the medical charities in Ireland, as abortive, as the noble Lord the Secretary for that country had contrived to render their report. He had not anticipated that because the abuses of the system under which medical relief was administered to the sick poor in Ireland were not to be remedied in the objectionable manner proposed by the noble Lord, that the fiat of her Majesty's Government was about to go forth that they should not be remedied at all. Whether their powers of obstruction would ultimately prove equal to their inclination remained to be seen. He for one did not, rate their strength as highly as they did themselves. Placed in power by the united exertions of three great parties—the Irish Conservatives, the opponents of the New Poor-law, and the English agriculturists, how did they at present stand in respect to each of these bodies? The support they received from the Irish Conservatives proceeded more from shame than affection; the most sanguine adherent of the present Government could hardly, after the course they had adopted, anticipate any future support from the opponents of the Poor-law, and he believed the divisions on the Canada Corn Bill had clearly shown that more of the agricultural party than the Honiton farmer "had discovered there was a worse devil in existence than Lord John." His object in asking the House to go into committee on the bill was threefold —immediate legislation, central control, and medical inspection; and he should endeavour from the evidence to show he did not seek for anything unreasonable, or to which any fair objection might be made. [The hon. Member quoted the report of the committee on Medical Charities (Ireland) to show that the bill was required.] If public opinion is of any weight, this question ought long since to have been settled. The committee appointed this session to report on the Irish medical charities advised a certain plan of legislation, but conceived that, considering the difficulties which at present prevail with respect to the administration of the Poor-law, they cannot advise the immediate adoption of any part of the plan but that relating to the appointment of the central board and inspectors. They went on to say, The witnesses examined before your committee, whilst differing on other particulars, are unanimous in recommending the establishment of inspection; and your committee would observe, that the preliminary inquiries and suggestions to be made in the progress of such inspection will tend to render more satisfactory and complete the other parts of the plan they offer as a substitute for the present mode of maintaining and administering the medical charities of Ireland. These resolutions were agreed to by the committee, and, as a matter of course, would have been reported by him as chairman of the committee to the House the same evening; but it was proposed they should be read over the next day, as several amendments had been introduced, to see that there was nothing contradictory in them. On this understanding lie left town, and he was surprised to learn by a letter from his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Dublin, that the noble Lord had managed in his absence that those resolutions, though agreed to, should not be reported to the House. He was not about to pursue a course to which the noble Lord had already objected that of complimenting him at the expense of his Colleagues. Was he disposed so to do, which he frankly admitted he was not, he knew no subject save his personal courtesy on which he could be complimented. The noble Lord owed his official station, according to the more than once repeated declaration of the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government, to his having thwarted the views of that right hon. Gentleman when leader of the Opposition in that House; and, certainly, the noble Lord seemed well disposed to pursue a course, which, in his solitary case, had led to place and power, by disregarding as much as possible the views, as shown in the case then before them, and the claims, as heretofore shown in his conduct to the late Mr. West, of his political supporters in Ireland. The right hon. Baronet had declared himself well satisfied with his selection; was the right hon. Baronet the only person to be satisfied? Was that right lion. Gentleman placed in power for his personal gratification? Did he not conceive, in the words of an eminent writer of the present day,— There might be danger in showing to men, that to have served you, was discouragement, to have warred against you was guerdon and grace. Short as the time was which the noble Lord had been in office, he had managed to enstrange from his Government the affections of the Conservative party in Ireland to an extent scarcely possible to have been contemplated, and this he had done without conciliating one single individual amongst his political opponents. The sole acts by which the noble Lord was known in Ireland, were, his identifying himself with the Poor-law commissioners, his taking on himself their unpopularity, his placing himself in direct and hostile collision with a powerful body, whom from their education, their abilities, their personal influence, scattered as they were throughout the country, it was most desirable at the present crisis to have conciliated—the medical profession, a body no statesman would have neglected. In this, and his ungracious attempt to exclude from the representation of the University of Dublin one to whom his party owed much, who had spent thousands and tens of thousands in battling for the Conservative cause at a time the return of that party to power seemed hopeless—one of whose support any Government might justly feel proud—he rejoiced to say that the noble Lord had failed in every thing. The medical profession and the public with one voice indignantly rejected his attempt to degrade the profession, to sever the sole remaining links between rich and poor in that already too-much divided country—to place the medical charities in Ireland under the heartless control of the Poor - law commissioners. Ingratitude, come from what quarter it may, found but little favour in Ireland; notwithstanding the admitted claims, the acknowledged professional abilities of his right hon. Friend the Attorney-general—claims which were he unconnected with the noble Lord, would have rendered him a formidable competitor for the representation of the University—coming forward, as he was supposed to do, the nominee of an ungrateful Government, he was unable to muster sufficient force to appear at the hustings. In that House had the noble Lord originated, or even supported, one single conciliatory measure for Ireland; amongst his twenty-three bills he claims but two—the Drainage and Fishing acts to have been of this nature—measures he found left behind by the Whigs, the success of which is yet to be proved, the advantages of which are more than doubtful. Every proposal to improve the condition of the people, ay, or even to inquire into admitted grievances, has experienced the hostility of the noble Lord. It is true that he assisted in calling into existence the liberal corporations of Ireland; but in the bill whereby this was effected, provisions are contained which in most cases leave these corporations without any corporate functions to execute, a grievance which he has taken no step to remedy. The right hon. Baronet considered that those would become normal schools of agitation. The most ready method has been taken to make them so, by leaving them little else than political subjects upon which to bestow their attention and occupy their official existence. The noble Lord refused information even as to the principle upon which the unjust and unequal taxation for the improvement of the Government property on the river Shannon was thrown upon the adjacent counties. He refused inquiry into the reckless extravagance and gross mismanagement of the Poor-law commissioners. He refused his assistance to obtain for Ireland a system of railway communication; and the consequence was, that the English capital, which, with a little encouragement from Government, would have been employed in those works, had been invested in similar works in France and other countries. He refused within these few days to consider in committee the state of Ireland, although the condition which that country has reached under his Administration has been allowed on all hands to be deplorable. The only measures, in fact, which the noble Lord can claim as his own, are the Poor-law Evil-Aggression-Act, and the Arms bill destined to go down to posterity branded with his name. However largely the noble Lord may have contributed to his Satanic Majesty's pavement, he asserted without fear of condition that he had neither passed nor attempted to pass any measure to develope the resources of the country, to improve the condition of the people, to remedy existing grievances, or to allay the discontent admitted justly to follow from them. And discontent must continue to exist in Ireland, as long as that country is made the refuge for political inexperience—for untried capacity—as long as the head of every department there, to throw them back their own term, is to be an alien—as long as the opinions of her representatives are to be despised or disregarded. But the inexperience or inefficiency of the noble Lord could not be considered as an excuse for the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government. He himself had been Secretary for Ireland; the noble Duke the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and gallant Officer the Secretary at War, all served in the same capacity. There was no want of experience or information on Irish subjects in his Cabinet, were he disposed to avail himself of them. The right hon. Baronet had stated, that Ireland would be the chief difficulty of his Administration. Was it not to be expected as a matter of common sense that he would in the first instance have turned his attention to that country? that he would have looked his difficulties in the face, and have endeavoured to obviate or have prepared to meet them? But, no, the right hon. Baronet was so engaged in preparing his uncalled-for Tariff, that he had not a moment of leisure to bestow on Ireland or her affairs. He was so busily employed unsettling everything, he had no time to settle anything; and for the first time he turns his almost bewildered attention to that country, when he believes insurrection to be thundering at his gates. Before he sat down he (Mr. French) would ask the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department if he considered it fair to assent ro the appointment of a committee, at a considerable expense to the country, if he had beforehand determined not to avail himself of any information they might collect? Did he consider it fair to allow men in high professional practice to be summoned as witnesses from Ireland at a great pecuniary loss to themselves, probably from 200l. to 300l. each, if their opinions were not to be attended to? Did he consider it fair to ask Members of that House to sit for six or seven weeks in committee, if the resolutions they agreed to were to be treated merely as waste paper? Did he conceive that declining to remedy acknowledged abuses, and refusing permission to another to do so, was a course likely to lead the Irish people to imagine that their interests were fairly attended to in the Imperial Parliament, or to allay the excitement, daily—hourly increasing it favour of repeal of the legislative union between the two countries? The hon. Member concluded by moving that the Speaker do now leave the Chair.

Lord Eliot

said, he should oppose the motion, because he did not think the bill would realise the object the hon. Member had in view, and would entail considerable expense upon the country.

An hon. Member

moved that the House be counted, and forty Members not being present, the House adjourned.