HC Deb 08 April 1846 vol 85 cc693-700

then said: Sir, I wish to be excused by hon. Members for taking this opportunity of mentioning a subject of immense importance. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will make no answer to my statement or my appeal, and that what I am about to say will lead to no discussion. I trust that hon. Gentlemen will consider that I am influenced solely by my strong impressions as to the state of the country. I believe that a great revolution is taking place in Ireland by the introduction of meal made of Indian corn; and that there has been created a new taste for a better and more generous description of food. We find from the example of workmen on railways, who are subsisting for the first time on an article of foreign produce on which they have never before been accustomed to live, that they are able to work much longer, and are much better, than when they subsisted on that watery food, the potato. Notwithstanding the prejudices which have existed against this meal, but which are in the course of removal, there is an immense demand for the publication pointing out the way in which the meal can be cooked and dressed in the most approved manner in Ireland. Indian corn, however, is now admitted by a sort of sufferance under an order of the Treasury. What is wanted is the decision of Parliament. It would, Sir, give increased confidence to the importers if the law were settled, and if those engaged in these speculations in the United States could have the guarantee of an Act of Parliament, instead of an order of the Treasury. Then, let us bear in mind that foreign wheat, which is necessary to mix with our own, is now subject to a duty of 18s. Let it be remembered, too, that if we could get foreign oats and barley-meal at a duty of 1s., instead of 5s. or 6s., we should have great additional means of supply. I believe that we should have considerable imports of oatmeal from foreign countries if it were known with certainty that Parliament had come to a determination, and that oatmeal could be brought here at a duty of 1s. At present no Treasury Order has been issued to suspend the duties on these articles, except on Indian corn and buckwheat; and uncertainty will attach till there is some decision of the Legislature. I only wish, however, to express a hope that the Returns now laid upon the Table will be read by hon. Gentlemen connected with Ireland, and that they will see the state of that country. I am sure that the hon. Members for Clare and Limerick must have received the same accounts that we have, and must know the distress which now exists; and I believe that if the decision of the Legislature can be taken on the Corn Bill, we shall greatly increase the available supply of food. All I can say is, that if those hon. Gentlemen could reconcile it with their sense of public duty—under any protest as to future opposition on any stage to the Irish Protection of Life Bill—if they could allow the decision of this House to be taken on the first reading of the Coercion Bill, and then proceed with the Corn Bill, they would confer a great benefit on many districts even of their own country. I do not wish to provoke any discussion. I speak after reading these Reports, under the strong impression of the distress existing in many districts of Ireland, and I only ask hon. Members to read these Reports, and then to form their own decision.


could bear testimony to the fact that the settlement of the Corn Bill was of great importance to the commercial classes. The railway speculations of the last autumn were pressing on the owners of small concerns, who were decreasing their business, and many labourers therefore were without employment. With regard to the Irish Coercion Bill, he earnestly requested his hon. Friends to consider how far they could think it consistent with their public duty to allow the debate on the first reading to be shortened. He was equally opposed to the Bill with them: he meant, with them, to oppose it. He did not think that the Government had made out a case for it; and he believed that all Coercion Bills had failed. He hoped, however, when all the commercial interests of England were in a state of stagnation and difficulty, if his hon. Friends could deem it consistent with their public duty, they would curtail the debate and allow the first reading to be got over, that they might go into Committee on the Corn Bill, which was a measure for the benefit of both countries. He really thought such a course would entitle his hon. Friends to the respect and regard of the nation, and that they would not forfeit the deserved confidence of the people ot Ireland. He assured them that the deepest anxiety and gloom pervaded the trade of the United Kingdom at this moment, and would produce the most serious results, unless some arrangement could be made under which the House could proceed with the Corn Bill.


said: The right hon. Baronet has again repeated his appeal to the Members for Irish constituencies; but I cannot answer that appeal, and I should not feel authorized to do so, even if I were disposed. Still I must say that we have not invited these discussions, and that it is in the power of the Government, this day, I believe, if they so please, to postpone the adjourned debate over Friday next. The right hon. Gentleman requires us to attend on that day, when it will be most inconvenient to us, and most mischievous to the country to take us from home at this period; but if the right hon. Gentleman would fix a later period—say four weeks hence—for proceeding with the Irish Bill, he will enable the House to come to a final decision on the Corn Bill, and he will be able to resume with perfect good temper the discussion on the Irish Coercion Bill. I know, Sir, that it is the disposition of the Irish Members to discuss most minutely and most fully the details of the Irish Coercion Bill. With regard to Indian corn, which is not now admitted under an Act of Parliament, I believe there would be a general acquiescence, and, indeed, no objection to a separate Bill to admit Indian corn; for I am bound to corroborate the statement of the right hon. Baronet that Indian meal has proved itself a very valuable auxiliary in the present circumstances of the country. In conclusion, I will only ask whether the right hon. Baronet has any objection to state to the House, or to lay before us, any official Papers to show the extent of the applications for aid under the Public Works Act, and also to what extent the County Presentment Act has been carried into effect? I believe that there has been no disposition shown by the grand juries to avail themselves of one of the great resources of the country on which the right hon. Gentleman relied for warding off the present distress; and I think that the amount of applications under the Public Works Acts are far and away beyond what was anticipated.


In reply to the hon. Gentleman, I can state that the applications under the Public Works Act have been very numerous; and I am glad to say that in general they have been favourably entertained by the Commissioners. I am not in a condition to state to what extent they have gone, but they are certainly very numerous; and I am glad that they are, because the relief afforded by those means is of the most legitimate character; it enables the parties to work for wages, and is not a gratuity of the Parliament of England and Ireland to the Irish, but partakes partly of a loan, and partly of a grant. With reference to the second question, as to the remedial measures of which the grand juries might have availed themselves to the extent of 100,000l., I am sorry to say that there is an indisposition on the part of grand juries to make that mode of relief available.


was as anxious to promote the commercial freedom of England as he was to obstruct the political servitude of his own country. He thought that the Irish Members, though a small number in that House, were justified in availing themselves of every constitutional means to stop the Coercion Bill; for, though they were a small minority in that House, they were backed by 7,000,000 in Ireland. All they wanted was, to state to the country and to record their justification for rejecting the measures of the Government.


thought the statement of the right hon. Baronet threw some imputation on hon. Members on both sides of the House, and was made on the presumption that the Corn Bill was likely to pass, whereas that was very doubtful, and it was more likely that it would not. He agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. S. O'Brien) that the best course would be to bring in a Bill for the purpose of liberating Indian corn, and any quantity of wheat which the necessities of the season required.


Really the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I stated. I threw out no imputation against any hon. Members. I did not complain of hon. Members opposite for their course of conduct on the Irish Bill; I did not complain of the hon. Gentleman and his friends for their course on the Corn Bill; so far from it they did not insist on notices, but on every Notice day permitted the debate on the Corn Bill to proceed. Even if the belief of the hon. Gentleman be correct, and the Corn Bill is to be defeated, depend upon it it will be infinitely better that the decision of the Legislature should be known at once. I never inferred that the Corn Bill is certain of suocess. I said nothing of the kind; but even if the hon. Gentleman's impressions be correct, he must see that the sooner the determination of the Legislature upon such a subject shall be known, the better it will be for all parties in the country.


was sure the right hon. Baronet must admit that if any doubt existed in the public mind as to the success of the Corn Law, it resulted from the conduct of the Government. Government could put an end to the uncertainty tomorrow. But independently of this, he thought that in this sort of conflict the Irish Members were unfairly used. The right hon. Baronet, who was followed by the hon. Member for Lambeth, threw the whole blame of the delay on the Irish Members. The hon. Member stated that he was opposed to the Bill, but asked the Irish Members whether they could not think it consistent with their duty to allow it to be read a second time? [Mr. HAWES: To imit the discussion.] Well, the Ministers could limit the discussion. Who had introduced the Bill? The Government; and then they made an appeal to that side of the House, and tried to throw the blame of the delay of the commercial measures on the Irish Members. He told them that the public did not blame the Irish Members. The public thought the Irish Members were quite right; but the same public, he was sorry to say, were beginning to doubt the sincerity of the Government to carry their great commercial measures. Why was that done for which Government were throwing the blame on others? Why was this discussion provoked? Out of courtesy, it was said, to the House of Lords. He had not yet heard that the House of Lords had sent down to search their journals; but even if they had, that House had nothing to do with the House of Lords. They had sent down a Bill, but he did not know why it should not remain on their Table a dead letter, if that House so liked. It was no concern of the House of Lords. And yet they were to take up this Bill to please the House of Lords, and also because, as the right hon. Baronet said, of the moral effect it would have in Ireland. But no moral effect would be produced in Ireland if the Irish people saw those Members in whom they had confidence, opposing by every means in their power this Bill. The moral effect of this Bill was perfectly gone in Ireland, and therefore, when they appealed to the Irish Members to consider during the recess whether they would not allow this Bill to be read a first time, he would ask the Government also to take into consideration whether they would persist in pressing a Bill which they must know they had no chance of passing into a law during this Session.


could understand the Government, being desirous of introducing this measure as early as possible, if they thought it would prevent crimes in Ireland; but the moment they ascertained that on the first reading there would be a discussion on the principle, it must have been clear to them that there would be a lengthened discussion upon the various Irish Coercion Bills, if not upon all the grievances of Ireland, and that several nights must be occupied in the discussion; and from that moment he thought the responsibility of any delay in proceeding with the measures relating to corn rested with the Government. The public were not at all aware of the reasons which could induce the Government to postpone those measures to take the debate upon the Irish Coercion Bill; and if there were the same delay after Easter, in consequence of the Government still forcing the discussion of that Bill, and giving it precedence over the corn measures, the public would be still more strongly of opinion that the delay of those measures rested on the unexplained and inconceivable pertinacity of the Government in forcing on the discussion of the Irish Coercion Bill in preference to the Corn Bill.


begged to correct an expression which had been made by the hon. Member for Evesham, and which was calculated to lead to misapprehension of the real state of Ireland. The hon. Member had alluded to the importation of potatoes into Wales, and he inferred from that that there was a surplus over the quantity required. He could assure the hon. Member that in this he was perfectly mistaken. The fact was, that the prevalent disease was on the increase, and they were glad to dispose of their potatoes before they would be utterly ruined. He gave the right hon. Baronet credit for the measures he had introduced for the purpose of giving relief to Ireland; and with regard to the Coercion Bill, he could assure the right hon. Baronet that the opposition given to it by Irish Members did not arise from any desire to thrown impediments in the way of the Corn Bill, but solely because they considered the Coercion Bill ill-timed and uncalled for. He found that, during the last assizes in Tipperary, there had been no capital conviction, and that in the north crime had also diminished.


thought the conduct of the Irish Members in offering every opposition to this measure could not be impugned. They felt bound to do so, in compliance with the wishes of their constituents, and because they considered the Bill an odious and unjust one. The Government had it in their power to adjourn the measure, and thus they would secure the good wishes and hearty co-operation of the Irish Members in the future stages of the Corn Bill.


said, he fully agreed with the hon. Members who had just sat down. He gave the Irish Members all credit for the open, manly, and straightforward, and he would also say the consistent manner in which they had opposed the Coercion Bill. He wished the present measure of Her Majesty's Government was one calculated to conciliate the people of Ireland. He wished to see the people of that country prosperous, and he was compelled to say that the measures brought forward for the last twenty years in that House were not calculated to promote the welfare of that country. The Government should introduce a measure that by its beneficial results would restore peace and plenty to the peasantry of Ireland. Such a measure would always meet with his (Col. Sibthorp's) concurrence and hearty support, for he considered it would be more adapted to the condition of the country than the Coercion Act proposed by Her Majesty's Ministers.

The Reports of the Scarcity Commissioners (Ireland) presented by Sir J. Graham ordered to lie on the Table, and be printed.