§ MR. W. SMITH O'BRIEN
rose to put a question to the noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Bentinck), of which he had given him notice, and which he had been good enough to say he would answer. It was this: Suppose Government were to bring in a Bill to suspend the operation of the Corn Laws, as regards Ireland, so as to admit grain duty free, would the noble Lord, and the party with which he was connected, support such a measure? The noble Lord would be sure to feel that the circumstances of the present hour were not of an ordinary character; and since this day week, when he (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) had called the attention of the House to the lamentable condition of his countrymen, Ministers had laid some documents upon the Table, which had been printed, and were now in the hands of every Member. He was confident that every Member must 981 have read them, and would have seen from them that famine was rapidly approaching, or rather that it actually existed, in Ireland. With these documents before them, he could hardly believe that Government would persevere in a measure which took away from the people the right of being out of doors half an hour after sunset. He presumed that the official documents lately presented must have been read by every Member, but still he felt it his duty to direct attention to some parts of their contents, showing that the progress of the potato disease was rapid, that complaints were loud and general, and the applications for relief innumerable. [The hon. Member read a variety of quotations from the Printed Papers, including details of distress from Tipperary, Lowth, Cork, Limerick, King's County, Queen's County, Westmeath, Galway, Donegal, the Isles of Arran, &c.] It was impossible, he said, that such a state of things should continue without some resort to violence on the part of the people. Ministers had declared that they foresaw the evil; why, then, had they not taken due precautions against it? On that day week, he had adverted in his place to certain outrages that had been committed, and he now begged to be allowed to read an extract of a letter from Tipperary, dated the 13th of April, upon the same painful subject. After he had concluded it, he observed that the information was derived from all classes—from magistrates as well as labourers—and that all spoke the same language. In confirmation, he wished to add an extract from a communication of a gentleman who had been despatched to Ireland by the Morning Chronicle newspaper, for the purpose of collecting and transmitting correct intelligence. [The hon. Member read a quotation from the letter, describing the people of Ireland as being in a famishing condition.] He had told the Government some time ago that adequate provision had not been made, and the House would do him the justice to recollect that Ministers had said in reply what was equivalent to this language: "You need not give yourself any trouble to urge upon us the subject; we are fully prepared for all emergencies, and cannot be taken by surprise." He appealed to the House whether Ministers had not been taken by surprise. If the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government saw so clearly in November what had since occurred, was it not his business to have taken precautions, and to have made such arrangements, either local or 982 general, as to prevent starvation? Employment should have been given on the one hand, and food on the other. He did not mean to detail the measures by which this end should have been accomplished, but it was his firm conviction that the evil, now only commencing, might by timely exertions have been arrested; much useful labour might have been afforded, profitable to the labourer and beneficial to the State. He had charged the Government with having failed in the performance of their duty, and what had been the answer? "We can do nothing but by co-operating with the landlords, and the landlords have not done their duty." He was not prepared to say that the landlords of Ireland ought not to have done a great deal more than they had done; but it was only fair to them to state that, in the county of Limerick, at least, there was hardly a parish where distress prevailed in which a considerable subscription had not been raised. At this moment, Government was doing what was least of all desirable: they were giving eleemosynary relief, when what had been required of them was employment. The right hon. Secretary for the Home Department would do him (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) the justice to admit, that from the time he had entered the House, and before he entered it, at public meetings in Ireland, he had said that the present was a case which ought to be met by a special rate. The Government, therefore, were not to throw upon the landlords of Ireland the blame of not having co-operated with them in this measure. Then, the Government turned round upon the Irish Members and taunted them: "You," they said, "are preventing an influx of food into Ireland, because we cannot discuss the Corn Bill until the Coercion Bill has been read a first time." He denied the imputation, and he really could not understand how the Government could blame anybody but themselves. The Irish Members were prepared to make some sacrifices, and they had already offered Government their own days for the discussion of the Corn Bill, if they chose to proceed with it; therefore, whatever declamatory attacks might be made upon them, or whatever might be suggested to them upon the part of the Liberals of England, it could not be said that the Irish Members, upon this question, had behaved badly. The Irish Members, indeed, had attended in their place for the purpose of supporting those measures of free trade which the English Liberals considered so essential to 983 the welfare of the country. They might, therefore, have reasonably expected that the English Liberals would have concurred with them in offering such resistance to the Coercion Bill as would render it impossible for the Minister to pass it. If they had taken that course, was it to be supposed that the Government, with its 112 supporters, would have pressed a Bill so obnoxious, and which was resisted by every representative from Ireland who had yet spoken? But he had a fine sample of English feeling in the newspapers. For the last month almost, he had found upon his breakfast table every day, the Morning Chronicle and the Times, denouncing the course which the Irish Members were taking. But he and his brother Members from Ireland were only doing their duty to their country by taking that course, and they cared not what might be said against them for it; and so long as coercive enactments were carried by an English majority against the opinion of all the Irish Members, he welcomed vituperation. But it was not alone to the Irish Members that blame was imputed. The noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Bentinck) and his Friends came in for a share of it. They were present to answer for themselves. They had been told they were preventing the people of Ireland from obtaining food. He did not know what answer he should receive from the noble Lord to a question that he intended to put to him, but as far as he could see, the course of the protectionists up to the present moment had been this—"You have no right," they said to the Government, "to couple the question of Irish famine with the question of free trade; and if you had come down to this House and told us the people of Ireland were starving, we would have assented to placing a greater abundance of food at the disposition of the Irish Government." He would not accuse the right hon. Gentleman opposite of hypocrisy; but he was bound to say there was at least a want of candour in putting forward the question of Irish famine with the Corn Law discussions. The measure of Corn Law repeal was essentially an English measure, and not an Irish measure. It was a measure which, whatever might be its influence upon Ireland, was no doubt called for by the public opinion of England; it would chiefly benefit the manufacturers of England, and not the agricultural population of Ireland. He had not yet spoken upon the question in the House; but he now felt bound to 984 state what were his personal opinions upon it, in the avowal of which he did not regard unpopularity. He was now, as he had been in 1842, an advocate for a fixed duty. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) whom he followed on that occasion had left him in the rear. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Peel) had shot beyond him. But he (Mr. W. S. O'Brien), at least, had seen no reason to change his views, which, he considered, were best for Ireland and for England too. As regarded the interests of England, whilst he thought the present amount of protection too high, a fixed duty on the importation of corn was better than free trade for Ireland. In the present crisis of Ireland he did not see any prospect of the prices of food being materially lower; but the general policy on this subject was a different question, into which he should not now enter further. "What is to be the expedient adopted for providing food at a reasonable price for the starving people of Ireland?" was the great question to which every man of whatever party ought now to attend. Before the month of June importations of grain would be consumed. The potatoes would be gone. The supplies of Indian meal were now utterly inadequate to supply the deficiency of food, arising from the failure of the potato crop. The next substitute would be oats; and as to oats and oatmeal, it was right to observe prices had been rising for two months, till, at this moment, they were upwards of one-third more than what was usually considered remunerative. The last quotation of oats at Limerick was 1s. per stone, whilst 8d. was usually considered a remunerative price. Now the introduction of foreign oats free of duty was a measure which even the protectionists might safely concede, for it would not produce much effect except as tending to keep down prices. With regard to wheat, he must say it had not risen in proportion to oats; but then wheat had not, since the Union, been the food of the people of Ireland. Although he was not prepared for a total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws, yet, looking at the existing necessities of the people of Ireland, he considered the crisis must be met by admitting oats and wheat free of duty till the next winter; and he begged to ask the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) whether he and his friends would consent to suspend for three months the operation of the present Corn Laws, so as to admit those descriptions of grain, free of duty, into Ireland?
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said: Sir, I will first offer to the hon. Member my thanks for his courtesy in giving me ample notice of the question he has addressed to me. I concur entirely with him, that under ordinary circumstances it would not be fair to ask an independent and insulated Member what his intentions were, as to any measure to be introduced into the House. But I do admit, Sir, that under the particular circumstances in which we are placed—when we have a Ministry endeavouring to govern the country, while no more than 112 hon. Members place confidence in them—and while those with whom I have the honour to act and agree, number 240, constituting, together with the Irish Members, a clear majority of the House—under such extraordinary circumstances, the hon. Member was entitled to put to me the question he has asked, and to which I shall be glad to give a frank and honest answer. Sir, the question put to me is, whether my hon. Friends around me would support Ministers, were they to introduce a measure—not for the abrogation and abolition—but simply for the suspension of the Corn Laws as respects Ireland—for three months? Sir, I may be permitted to enter perhaps at some length into the subject, in answering this question. The hon. Member has gone into a long catalogue of calamities, distressing to listen to, now prevailing in Ireland. It must have been painful to every Gentleman in the House to hear such an enumeration of miseries existing in Ireland. But I think it is yet more painful to the House to reflect that the present is no insulated or isolated case of such calamity, but that a similar story of woe might, year after year, with too sad truth be told. Sir, we have learnt from the Report of Earl Devon, and it is confirmed by the hon. and learned Member for Cork, that, taking one year with another, there are 2,300,000 destitute poor in Ireland. And there is nothing in the long statement we have heard, to lead me to suppose the distress now existing in Ireland exceeds much the distress that occurs in all times at this season of the year. Sir, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he is not more anxious to supply relief to the people of Ireland, and assuage their miseries, than the Gentlemen who sit around me. But in our belief the measure alluded to by him would not afford any relief to the present distresses of the people of Ireland. I shall state to the House the reasons which induce those around me to be of opinion that 986 no measure for the abolition of the Corn Laws—no measure for the suspension of the Corn Laws—would afford the slightest relief to the people of Ireland. But, Sir, any measure proposed to the House by a Gentleman who so justly stands so high in the confidence of the people of that country as the hon. Member does—any measure proposed by him for their relief, is worthy of the most favourable consideration of every Member of the House. And, therefore, Sir, though for reasons I shall hereafter state, I do not believe that the suspension of the Corn Laws would afford any relief to the people of Ireland, I believe I speak the opinions of the great majority of my friends around me, when I say, that if proposed by the Irish Members, or by the Government at their instance, such a measure will have our cordial support. We believe that it is not the want of food which creates the present distress in Ireland, but the want of money with which to purchase food, as regards the lower classes of society, in a partial sense, though not generally, through the country: and we think that a local remedy to the local evil should be applied. Money must be afforded, or the employment which may be the means of obtaining money, in order to enable the people to purchase food. Such, Sir, are the measures which we think the Government should have introduced. But if, Sir, through the cry that has been raised by the Ministry, a feeling has been created in Ireland that the protectionist party, or the opponents of the Coercion Bill, are standing between the starving people of Ireland and their food—Sir, we are willing to remove that delusion by passing, instantly, a measure which for the period present shall open the ports of Ireland. But in so doing, we earnestly and solemnly protest against the assumption that we believe such a measure will afford any relief to the people of Ireland. The Government may delude the people of Ireland, most cruelly have the Government deluded them, by assuring them that a repeal of the Corn Laws would relieve their distress; but, Sir, we think no such thing, and we will hold out no such false hopes; we will practise no such wicked delusion upon the people of Ireland. Sir, what is the state of things at present as to the prices of grain in that country? Into the ports of London and Glasgow alone, within the three months subsequent to the 1st of January, 260,000 quarters of oats have been imported from Ire- 987 land. The hon. Gentleman has referred to Limerick. Well, from Limerick alone there were exported 34,000 quarters to the London market. How is it possible, by suspending the Corn Laws in Ireland, to supply oats for the people when the price of oats in the London market, exclusive of duty, is now, according to the quality, 1s. or 9d. a quarter higher than in Cork, which I believe is the highest market in Ireland. I find, upon perusal of a Cork corn circular, that the average price of Irish white oats last week, was 23s. 6d. a quarter; and the average price of the corresponding kind of foreign oats was 24s. 6d. a quarter, exclusive of duty, in Mark-lane. On the 18th instant the average price of Irish oats was 21s. 9d. per quarter; and the average price of foreign oats, in Mark-lane, exclusive of duty, was 22s. 6d. per quarter. So that prices are 1s. per quarter, and 9d. a quarter lower in Ireland than in this country. Unless, therefore, foreigners are prepared to make a sacrifice to the Irish people of that difference, how is it possible—even if grain could be conveyed by magic from Mark-lane to Ireland—how is it possible that, by the repeal or suspension of the Corn Laws, a single grain of oats should find its way to the Irish market? So as to wheat, the average price of wheat in Cork was last week 49s. 6d. per quarter; while foreign wheat in bond, exclusive of duty, averaged 54s., leaving a difference of 4s. 6d. per quarter. I believe there is no part of Ireland in which distress exists to a greater extent than in the county of Cork. Now I will give the House a comparative statement of the produce in grain which came into the market of Cork in this and in former years. I find that the aggregate amount of grain which came in the year 1844, amounted to 344,947 barrels; in the year 1845 it amounted to 337,654 barrels; but in the present year, 1846, this year of scarcity, it rose to 386,839 barrels. If then the people of Cork are starving, they are not starving for the want of food, but for the want of money to purchase food, and the want of employment. If there are riots in Ireland is it surprising? When the people of that country see 23,000 carts loaded with meal, and 100 tons of flour going out of the country, is it to be wondered at that they rise in arms and try to prevent the food going out of their country, leaving famine and starvation amongst them? Sir, if the truth were known—and I have it stated 988 here upon the authority of a nobleman of the county of Cork, the Earl of Shannon, who says that he believes that though there may be great scarcity in many places, yet around him the scarcity does not exist—much of the distress arises, not altogether from the want of potatoes, but because people are holding back their potatoes, and refusing to sell them. Ministers, to serve their own purposes, have told them, from November and December down to the present time, that a grievous famine exists. When they told this country that a potato famine existed in England, I can answer for many counties in which the price of potatoes from 7s. 6d. a sack fell to 5s. a sack. They were 1s. 6d. a peck last year, and are 1s. 6d. at the present time. I lately heard a statement that a farmer had refused to sell 200 sacks at 7s. a sack in the month of December, believing in the statements of famine, and that now he is unable to get 2s. 6d. per sack. I have received a letter from a gentleman in Huntingdonshire, who tells me that ten days ago the annual auction of potatoes took place in Caldecott, in Bedfordshire, when, instead of the famine price, they sold at 2l. 10s. a ton, with six months' credit, while they were 3l. 10s. per ton, and six months' credit, last year. He states that he can have any quantity of potatoes at 1s. 4d. per bushel. I was once a grower of potatoes myself in the county of Sussex. In November last, having potatoes to sell, I was told that they were fetching 7s. 6d. a sack in Chichester market. I was told I might be quite sure of getting 10s. a sack; but in the month of April the price of potatoes has fallen to 6s., which is cheaper than they were in December. The present cry is a false alarm, got up by the Ministers; and the people of Ireland, as is stated by the Earl of Shannon, a Whig nobleman, are suffering from the consequences. I recollect a statement in a Cork newspaper the other day, of one or two old women who did not mean to sell their potatoes till they could get a farthing a-piece for them. I believe that the scarcity of potatoes is greatly exaggerated. That there is a high price of potatoes, and that many people are not enabled to purchase them, arises in a great measure from people's holding back their potatoes. But as I said before, if it will allay any feelings that now exist in the breast of the Irish people, though we do not believe it will do any good, yet we are willing to support their proposal. Far 989 from thinking that the abolition of the Corn Laws will benefit Ireland, it is my firm and conscientious belief that the abolition of the Corn Laws will be the destruction of Ireland. I concur in every word that fell on that subject from the hon. Member for Limerick; and I am sorry to say that I must concur in other statements announced by him in Conciliation Hall. I believe that it will not benefit, but that it will injure, the labourers of Ireland. I do believe, with the hon. Member, that there will be a reaction arising out of the distress that will be created if a repeal of the Corn Laws should be carried, which will very much help on the Repeal of the Union. The hon. Gentleman is a high authority himself. I will read a letter to the House which is from another high authority; it is addressed by the Rev. Mr. Hughes, a Roman Catholic priest of considerable distinction in the county of Mayo, and a gentleman of high character and independent principles, to Mr. Moore, on the eve of the late election. I think there is much to learn from the statements therein expressed. I must state that Mr. Hughes is a friend of Mr. Moore, and looks up with feelings of great respect and regard to Mr. Moore; but at the same time, he is not the man to sacrifice his principles to any other feelings. On the 6th of February Mr. Hughes addressed his letter to Mr. Moore. He says—The Repeal question shall be the qualification test for the representation of this county. My feelings on this subject, and those of all the Catholic clergy of this country, are in full coincidence with those of Mr. O'Connell. My writing to you only on this matter demonstrates the preference which I feel disposed to give you of my own vote, and whatever little influence I may possess, if I can do so with consistency.Mr. Hughes goes on to state, that he expects Parliament to continue for another year, and that if so, there can be no doubt but that that county will be in a better position to return a Repeal Member. He then says—I have always considered, and every passing day satisfies me more, that no two questions can be more identified than the repeal of the present Legislative Union, and the future prosperity of our country. The commercial views of Sir R. Peel will, I am satisfied, in a very short time become the law of this country; if so, they must have the happiest results for a Repeal of the Union, as they cannot fail to make Repealers of the landed aristocracy of Ireland. There is not a gentleman that I have conversed with on this subject that don't coincide with this view. The legislative enactments of Sir Robert Peel will drive out of the English market the agricultural produce of Ireland. Ireland will then have to 990 establish a home market, which can be successfully accomplished only by the establishment of Irish manufactures, and an Irish Parliament to protect and foster them.It is now no mystery why Irish Members are found to support a repeal of the Corn Laws. I know not whether Sir R. Peel is not secretly advocating their cause. What is the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman? He has turned round upon all his past opinions; and I see consequences arising from his vacillation which must ultimately terminate in the dismemberment of the Empire, and which will be much facilitated by his measures. I can well conceive that the distress which will be brought upon Ireland, may drive the Irish people to frenzy. Why, we have been told by the latest convert—the last noble convert to the ranks of those who wish to repeal the Corn Laws—we have been told by the Earl of Essex that there is one class of farmers who must suffer by a repeal of those Corn Laws—a class of farmers, who, in the estimation of the noble Earl, ought never to have been farmers—farmers who are not possessed of capital. Those are the farmers with no capital but honesty and industry, who were once described as the strength and pride of the country. But, Sir, if all farmers without capital are to be sacrificed—if the round frocks of England are to be sacrificed—what will happen to the frieze coats of Ireland? There are 558,000 farmers in Ireland holding farms under fifteen acres of land. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, how much capital are these farmers in Ireland possessed of? I ask them what capital they have but their own hard horny hands and arms with which they cultivate the land—558,000 Irish farmers? Then, if the Earl of Essex is right, this large number must be sacrificed. If we estimate, as I believe we may estimate, not five persons, but six persons to a family in Ireland—for it is to the honour and credit of the Irish peasantry and Irish people, that, instead of maintaining themselves and children only, the practice and custom, the honoured custom, of the peasantry and lower classes in Ireland, is to support their aged and infirm fathers and mothers—we reckon, then, not five persons, but six persons to each family, you will have at once three millions and a half of people in Ireland, who are to be deprived of subsistence by the measures of the right hon. Baronet. If you are to add this number of people to those already destitute, some other mea- 991 sures will be required to provide for so much misery as must ensue. I, for one, can see no remedy for the evil, but in a Poor Law of a different construction from that which now exists. I can see no salvation and no peace for Ireland, until a liberal and generous Poor Law, on the same footing as the English Poor Law, shall be carried out upon the principle, that no person in Ireland, more than those in England, shall starve. We were told the other night by the hon. and learned Member for Cork, that out of the 256,000l. levied as poor rates in Ireland, the sum of 90,000l. does not go to the relief of the poor at all, but is paid as interest for the money laid out on workhouses, and to support the staff of the Poor Law Commissioners. Deducting that sum from the former there only remains 166,000l. a year to provide for the sustenance of 2,300,000 of the destitute poor of Ireland. That amounts to something like one farthing and one-third of a farthing per head per week. I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that there are 37,000 persons in the workhouses. 166,000l. will give these persons something more than 1s. per head per week. And there will then be left 2,263,000 destitute persons in Ireland. In such a state of things can you wonder that riots and agrarian outrages take place? That must be the case when the people are starving. I say there is but one remedy, and that is to make a sufficient provision for the poor of Ireland. Is it to be endured that 10,000,000l. sterling in food should come from Ireland, and that no more than 256,000l. should be given to the poor of that country? I am aware that a Poor Law cannot be carried without much consideration, and that it cannot pass in a week, or perhaps in three months. But then some immediate provision must be made for these evils. I recollect that in the year 1833, the House almost unanimously supported a proposition for granting 1,000,000l. to the destitute Protestant clergy of Ireland, whose arrears of tithes could not be obtained for the years 1831 and 1832. In the first instance, it was an advance to the tithe-owners, but it afterwards became a gift. If we could, in the year 1833, make a gift of 1,000,000l. sterling to the titheowners of Ireland, cannot we now, if the people are starving, break through the rigid rules of political economy, and endeavour to supply the immediate wants of the people? Let us supply the wants of the Irish people 992 for the time being from the funds of this country, and then let us seriously endeavour to make a permanent provision for them. These are the opinions of my Friends who sit around me; and if the Members for Ireland will introduce such measures as these, they will have our cordial and generous support. These are not new opinions. They are the opinions of an eminent statesman, who possessed the full confidence of this House. Mr. Huskisson said, that in a Poor Law for Ireland would be found the introduction of a feeling of security which would invite and retain the employment of English capital in that country. It was that feeling of security which had occasioned the greatness and wealth of this country, and which alone would produce similar results in Ireland. Mr. Huskisson went on to say, that unless such a measure were quickly brought forward, all the hopes which he entertained of the benefit to Ireland which could be derived from the passing of the Roman Catholic Emancipation Bill would be dissipated. I look to that period with the greatest satisfaction. In my humble office of private secretary to Mr. Canning, nearly 25 years ago, I had the satisfaction of possessing the confidence of that illustrious statesman. I have often heard Mr. Canning say, that it was to the Poor Laws of this country that England owed her success in her struggles with Europe and America—that the Poor Laws had enabled the people of England to meet the burdens of the war—and that the Poor Laws had saved the country from revolution. These are substantially the measures to which my hon. Friends around me look for the salvation of Ireland—for quieting disturbances and promoting peace in that country. And whilst we consent, in deference to the feeling which has been expressed by the hon. Gentleman who stands so high in the confidence of the people of Ireland—whilst we cordially defer to him, and to the feelings of the people of Ireland, by consenting to support a suspension of the Corn Law with respect to that country, we wish emphatically to guard ourselves from being supposed to think that either in the suspension of the Corn Laws, or in their abolition, any relief whatever can be afforded to the misery of one single individual in Ireland.
MR. V. SMITH
would not enter into the details which had been gone into on the present occasion, astutely enough, by the hon. Member for Limerick, for the purpose, no doubt, of procrastinating the 993 business of the evening. The hon. Gentleman had introduced the question of the Returns that had been presented with reference to the distress in Ireland, but he must say that he had not adverted to the only painful part of that Return. That document did undoubtedly exhibit a deficiency of exertion on the part of persons holding property in Ireland; and that, in spite of all the exertions shown by the Government, they had not been met by corresponding efforts on the part of the people of Ireland. This was a question that gravely affected the people of this country as well as Ireland. They were submitting without a murmur to the payment of sums of money in Ireland; but it was incumbent on the Government to show, and on Parliament to ask, what had been done by the landlords of Ireland in these circumstances? A statement presented the other day showed not only an apparent absence of exertion, but applications of the most extraordinary nature he had ever heard of. One of these was actually from a noble Earl, whose name he need not hesitate to mention, the Earl of Kingston—who made application for a grant of 500l. to make a pond in his own domain; and this without any statement that he meant to contribute a similar sum. Now, the Return was deficient in this respect, that it did not state what answers had been made by the Scarcity Commissioners to such applications as these. But he would not for a moment suppose that such an application as the one he had instanced had been acceded to by the Commissioners. He was disposed, however, to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would submit a Return, showing the amount of contributions, by persons having property in Ireland, to relieve the distress in their neighbourhood; or whether he could state on what grounds, and in what proportion, Government, in cases where they had given contributions for that distress had received contributions from proprietors in those localities? This was due to the people of England, and to those individuals who had paid money out of their own purses to relieve the wants of the Irish people. It ought to be known who were the proprietors, absent or resident, who declined in the present emergency to subscribe towards the relief of Ireland.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
, in answer to the question put by the hon. Gentleman, said it was the invariable rule laid down in every Act of Parliament, where money was given for public works, that one moiety was only 994 advanced by the public, and that the other moiety was secured in a sufficient manner upon the whole property of the country. No advance had, in the present instance, been made except on that ground; and on any occasion where in particular localities money had been granted to improve the property of individuals, they also had been called on to contribute a certain proportion of the amount. It was understood that advances in the shape of public works were preferred, and this accordingly was the general rule adhered to. But in reference to districts situated near large towns, it was not possible to pursue this course. In those suburban vicinities private subscriptions had been carried out; and though he saw great objections, under any circumstances, even of extreme depression, to the State giving public alms, yet, in the circumstances of these particular localities, and looking at the urgency of the case, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had been authorized by Government to grant a sum equal to the amount of local subscription so required. With regard to the application of the noble Earl (the Earl of Kingston), he was enabled to state with confidence that the application had not been entertained. When the British Parliament was called on to make good the advances, the fullest Returns should be laid before the public.
§ MR. E. B. ROCHE
said, he had never listened to a speech in that House which gave him greater gratification and pleasure than the speech of the noble Lord opposite. Were it only for one principle laid down in that speech, namely, that on Irish subjects the voice of the Irish people, expressed through their representatives, ought to be potential, the speech of the noble Lord afford him the highest gratification. The noble Lord's weight in that House as a stateman, could not fail to cause such a principle to be hailed by the Irish people with the greatest hope and satisfaction. For his part, he (Mr. E. B. Roche) never felt greater hope for the prosperity and peace of Ireland, than he did on that occasion. For that principle, so boldly and clearly laid down by the noble Lord, he (Mr. Roche) thanked him most sincerely; standing, as the noble Lord did, at the head of a party whose confidence he possessed, and so justly. As an Irishman, he thanked him for the desire which he had expressed to relieve the people of Ireland from the abject misery which they were suffering; and now, if the people were treated with neglect or worse by the pre- 995 sent Administration, they were afforded some hopes from the proximate. It was painful and humiliating in the greatest degree to an Irishman to come down to that House evening after evening, and to be obliged to mate statements, often not to the most willing audience, of the details of the misery and suffering which his fellow countrymen endured; nevertheless, if it were only to justify themselves in any course which they might hereafter be compelled to adopt, they would not hesitate, at a sacrifice of self-esteem and self-respect, to proclaim the misery which the people of Ireland were suffering. He had in his possession a letter from a Roman Catholic clergyman in his neighbourhood, which gave a most shooting account of the destitution to which the people were reduced; being obliged to eat water-cresses for food in some instances, and turnips being considered a luxury. The parish to which he referred was the parish of Aghadah, barony of Imokilly. The letter also stated that potatoes in that parish were 11d. per stone, and that it was hard to procure them even at that price. Now, when he saw his neighbours, who had always behaved themselves peaceably and with tranquillity, starving and treated with less care for their wants than the beasts of the field, was he not to represent that to the House? or was he to be told, when he appealed to the House of Commons and the Government for relief for them, was he to be told he was coming between the people of England and free trade? What cared he for the Anti-Corn-Law League or free trade as an objection to those representations? If he went to the Anti-Corn-Law League, he would be met with some cold principle of political economy, true enough, perhaps, but of no use in meeting the necessities of Ireland. But when he appealed to the noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Bentinck), he agreed to give relief to the people of Ireland, even against his principles: he said he would give them food and money too, if necessary. He (Mr. Roche) was acquainted with the condition of the people of Ireland; and because he and his brother Irish Members attempted to obtain relief for that destitution, every scribe of this country who wished, every party whipster who wrote for the press in this country, applied epithets to them that must recoil on those who used them. It was a common thing with the press to apply to the Irish Members the epithet "impracticable malignants." [An hon. MEMBER: The 996 Morning Herald.] It was not by the Herald that epithet was applied; it was by the Times. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government boasted of the great advantages which his free-trade measures would produce to Ireland; but if he were so sanguine as to its effects, why did he not proceed with it at once? Why did he dovetail the measure for free trade with a measure for coercion in Ireland? Why did he put the Irish people in this dilemma: if you remain free you must starve; if you get food it will be accompanied with the brand of slavery? When on former occasions the Government was asked what had been done, or what they were doing for the people of Ireland, they answered that they were taking every necessary step, and that their measures would be seen in time; indeed, that statement took him in on the first night of the Session, and he cheered the right hon. Baronet; but as yet he had seen nothing done. Irish Members were in constant communication with their constituents; and if any of the mysterious manipulations of the Government had produced a good effect, they must have heard of it. He was not aware that the least good had been done for the people of Ireland by the Government in this emergency. He had occasion recently to make an application to the Board of Works for assistance in making a particular line of road in his neighbourhood; which project was highly approved of by the landlords in the neighbourhood, on the ground of its being calculated to be a very desirable public work, whilst its construction would afford immediate employment to the people. The application was made about six weeks ago; and the Board of Works, in answer to the application, stated that they would send down an engineer to inspect the projected line; that gentleman did survey the line, and he believed reported favourably of it. He was not in a position to say how that gentleman reported; but he had reason to believe that he reported in favour of the work. Just at that moment, while he had been making the strongest possible representations to the Board of Works that the people were in great distress, and that time was a great object to the relief committee, so that they might be able to set the people at work at once, he wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Board of Works, dated the 6th of April, and asking for information on one or two points, without which, as he told the Secretary, it was impossible that they could get 997 on. The Secretary to the Board of Works, a gentleman with a hieroglyphical name, which he could never read, answered his inquiries in a letter dated the 18th of April, so that from the 6th of April till the 18th, not one single thing was done by these gentlemen of the Board of Works. Now what did this show? It showed that the Executive Government of Ireland, whoever they were—for they were not represented in the House—were not applying themselves to the question as they ought to do, but were only going on in the old, ordinary, jogtrot way of doing business, which was bad enough, Heaven knew, when the people had enough to eat; but now that they were living from hand to mouth, was a perfect farce, and worse than a farce. Under the circumstances in which Ireland was placed, such a mode of doing business became tragical; and it was not to be endured that gentlemen should ride about the Phoenix Park, instead of answering letters addressed to them, and attending to the important question before them. It was painful for him to be obliged to make these remarks. No doubt the gentleman, whose name he could not read, would be not very well pleased to see himself in the papers to-morrow; but it was not his (Mr. Roche's) fault, but that of the Government, who had placed the country gentlemen of Ireland in this fix. By going on in the old jogtrot way of doing business, they were only mystifying the people of England, and deceiving the people of Ireland. He again asked the right hon. Baronet opposite, the political father of the Coercion Bill, he who directed the Home Office and controlled the Executive of Ireland—he asked him again what it was the Government was doing, and what they were prepared to do, to relieve the present distress? From all places he received complaints that the Government were doing nothing. In Cork, thank God, they had not yet what they had in Tipparary. They had not yet had a town sacked; and therefore, he supposed that Cork would not receive any attention. It was necessary to press this subject upon the attention of the Government, both in season and out of season; and he, for one, thanked his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick for pressing it to-night, if for no other reason than that it had brought out a declaration by the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, which was so honourable to himself, and likely to be so beneficial to the country.
§ MR. BELLEW
agreed with the hon. 998 Member who had just spoken, with respect to the neglect which took place on the part of the Board of Works in reference to matters committed to their care; but he believed that they had had too much business to attend to, and that there was not a sufficient number of people employed by the Government to do the business. The consequence was, that in many places the works committed to them were completely at a standstill. In his own county the Board of Works had behaved perfectly well, as far as regarded the granting of their requests. The applications made to them had in general been approved of; but, although the grants had been made three weeks ago, not a single spade had yet been put into the ground; and he Would, therefore, press upon the Government the importance of having a sufficient number of hands to enable the works to be put in motion for which the grants had been made. With respect to the speech of the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) he could not say he exactly agreed with his hon. Friend who had just sat down in his estimate of it. He was not to be caught either with the noble Lord's speculations or his offers. He was one of those who were in favour of a repeal of the Corn Laws, but he was not in favour of a Repeal of the Union; and he should not be induced by any of the arguments of the noble Lord to forego his opinions on the Corn Laws. He was also desirous on that occasion of expressing his conviction that, in a large number of instances, the landlords of Ireland did not do their duty to the people. It was quite true that there were a number of landlords who discharged their duties as well as the landlords of any other country, and very onerous duties they had to discharge every one knew who knew anything of Ireland; but that there were many who did not discharge a single duty which they ought to do. The fact was, that public opinion in Ireland was not strong enough to make them do so; and that the whole relation of landlord and tenant was a great hindrance to every attempt to set matters right; though he was of opinion that what had occured this Session would do more than had ever been done before to lead to a legislative enactment for the settlement of this question. If no other means could be devised, he, for one, would agree to a law which would make every man who had means contribute to the support of those who had not; and he was happy to think that the hon. and learn- 999 ed Member for Cork, who commanded such respect and influence in Ireland, had stated that he had become a convert to that principle. To meet the present emergency, he, for one, would agree to a law for imposing an income-tax upon the landlords, or a charge upon their rental, or, indeed, to anything which would render the mass of property liable for the mass of poverty in Ireland.
§ MR. A. STAFFORD O'BRIEN
did not wish to bear hardly on any individual; but he must say, this was not the first time that he had had reason to suspect the Board of Works in Ireland. That Board, he thought, was not constituted in sufficient strength. When he went over to Ireland, a short time ago, he found the potato disease in his district was worse than he had expected. On finding what was the state of things, he immediately wrote to the Board of Works in Dublin; and the answer he got was of such a nature as to convince him that to write to them was of no use. He therefore wrote directly to Lord Lincoln, stating that he was willing and ready to employ his own people; but that many of the people in the neighbourhood were the tenants of non-resident landlords, and that it was totally impossible for him to employ them. He also warned Lord Lincoln that if he went on in the ordinary jogtrot way of the Irish Government, he (Mr. A. S. O'Brien) would not be responsible for the peace of the district; but that if employment were at once given, he was sure that all would go on well. He wrote to Lord Lincoln on the Friday, and on the Saturday his letter was received. On the Sunday he received a reply from Lord Lincoln, stating that he would take upon himself the responsibility of sending down an officer of the Government; and on Tuesday Mr. Griffith went over the ground, and the poor people were set to work on the Wednesday. Whatever, therefore, the hon. Member might say of the Board of Works, it would always be a pleasure to him to bear witness to the energy and patriotism of Lord Lincoln. He had great confidence in that noble Lord; and he believed that the right hon. Baronet might receive with great respect and deference any suggestions which were made by Lord Lincoln. He thanked the noble Lord over 1000 and over again; and was happy to express, in his place in Parliament, the grateful sense which he entertained of the manner in which he had conducted himself in the discharge of his official duties.
§ MR. CALEB POWELL
observed that an account had appeared stating that Lord Kingston had applied for 500l. for excavating a pond on his own domain. That noble Lord resided on his own domain, and if he was to be reproached for any thing, it was for the profusion of employment which he gave the people.
§ MR. R. DILLON BROWNE
could not agree with the hon. Member for Cork in thinking that Her Majesty's Government had done nothing on this occasion. He thought that they had shown a very benevolent disposition towards Ireland: but he considered that they had mistaken the means of carrying out their benevolent policy. With respect to what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, he quite agreed with him in thinking that there was a want of money, and not a want of food, in Ireland. He agreed that there was an abundance of food produced in that country, and that if there were employment for the people, and the means of purchasing food, there was a sufficient supply in the country itself to meet the distress. He also agreed with the noble Lord in thinking that the Legislature must establish some Poor Law system in Ireland. He had lately become a convert to this opinion. Some system must be established which would give to the people of Ireland an absolute title to relief. It had been said that Mr. Hughes had stated that the abolition of the Corn Laws would make the landlords of Ireland repealers; but Mr. Hughes did not make that statement, because he was not an advocate for the repeal of the Corn Laws himself. He firmly believed that Mr. Hughes was a friend to their repeal. If the repeal took place, the people of Ireland would get greater remuneration for their labour, because that labour would be employed in manufactures. He quite disagreed with the noble Lord the Member for Lynn in thinking that the repeal of the Corn Laws would be disadvantageous to the people of that country. He knew nothing more unfounded than such a notion. In the time of Charles II., there was an application from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Lord Ormonde, he believed), stating that if the introduction of meat into this country from Ireland were 1001 not permitted, the consequences would be ruinous to the Irish people. Lord Ormonde's application was not attended to; but Hume stated, that after a short time the Irish turned their attention to manufactures, and soon attained to such excellence in making cloth, that the English Lords and Commons petitioned the king to put a tax on the importation of Irish cloth. He must say that he wished to express his gratitude to the noble Lord for the conciliatory tone in which he spoke of the people of Ireland, and for the very generous manner in which he expressed his willingness not only to allow foreign corn to be imported into Ireland free from duty for a certain period, but even to vote money from the Treasury to relieve their distress. He would now beg to call the attention of the Government to the distress in the immediate neighbourhood where he resided, the parish of Cong, county Mayo, and shortly to allude to great indifference and disrespect shown to the representations of a highly respectable Protestant clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Moore, the rector of that parish. That gentleman, being alarmed on account of the prospects of famine in his immediate locality—and here he (Mr. Browne) might remark that his conduct was most praiseworthy and his philanthropy most disinterested, for the unfortunate persons the objects of his concern and solicitude were all Roman Catholics—applied at the Castle of Dublin to the Secretary of the Commissioners of Scarcity, Mr. Kennedy, stating his apprehensions, who received him with great disrespect and discourtesy, giving orders to his clerks and to his printers on other matters, as Mr. Moore stated (and no one who knew the rev. gentleman could discredit his assertions), while he was pleading the urgent claims of his parishioners upon the benevolence of the Government. He would ask, was that befitting conduct towards a highly respectable clergyman of the Established Church? and when he did attend to Mr. Moore, he referred him for relief to the poor-house of Ballinrobe, which could not harbour, even if the guardians were willing to admit them, one out of every fifty of those likely to be reduced to want in the electoral division where Mr. Moore resided. Mr. Moore then returned home, and addressed a letter to the Chief Secretary, calling his attention to the subject. The Chief Secretary did not personally deign to reply to him. He (Mr. Browne) felt confident, had Mr. Moore ad- 1002 dressed the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, notwithstanding his numerous duties, that he would have received more courteous attention. Lord Lincoln referred the rev. rector of Cong to Mr. Pennefather, who wrote him a most unintelligible answer. Mr. Pennefather stated that Mr. Moore's letter had been referred to the Relief Commissioners, but "that any assistance rendered by the Government should be auxiliary to what was the duty of the proprietors in the neighbourhood to subscribe." Was he to understand by that, that as a preliminary step, before relief was administered in any case, there was to be a commission of inquiry into the conscientious and moral duties of the landlords; that relief was to be tested by the scale of moral obligations, which would be a process of inquiry rather too theoretical for the patience of the people and the practical cravings of hunger. The rev. Mr. Moore then addressed a letter to his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, stating that he did not want any gratuity—he only required that a cargo of Indian corn should be sent to Cong, which could easily be done, as Cong was situated on the banks of Lough Corrib, which debouches itself into the sea at Galway, in order to regulate the market, and moderate the prices. Provisions were at a famine price, potatoes being 5d. per stone, and oatmeal 16s. the cwt., while labour was at 4d. per day. He stated that it would be most desirable to do so in cases of public works being established, as, if the markets continued as they were, it would be impossible to calculate what would be the amount of wages demanded for labour. It might be so high that in all probability it would furnish as great an antithesis to the maximum of labour in Ireland as 4d. per day was to the minimum of labour in England. He also stated that he would give stowage for the corn, and superintend its sale, being accountable for the amount sold. To this letter he received no reply for ten days, during which period it was impossible to calculate what amount of urgent distress might have arisen. He should read a few passages in the correspondence alluded to. The first was a short letter addressed to the Chief Secretary, and the other to the Lord Lieutenant:—
§ "Cong Rectory, Ballinrobe, April 7, 1846.
§ "My Lord—Anxious to avoid troubling your Lordship when I had hoped information could have been afforded from a subordinate, I attended, 1003 a few days since, at the Relief Office, in the Castle Yard, to inquire of Mr. Kennedy what means were to be adopted to meet some pressing cases of distress in my neighbourhood. I was not a little surprised at the answer I received from him, namely, that the poor-house was the only resource under the rapidly arising starvation crisis. I see by the papers that Indian meal has been supplied by the authorities for sale in other districts; may I ask, are we not to be favoured in the same way? Potatoes are now with us at a starvation price, 5d. per stone; oatmeal, 16s. per cwt.; while labour rates from 4d. to 6d. per diem. A cargo of Indian meal would, no doubt, at once lower our markets; without this the wages that will be required by the persons employed at the public works must far exceed anything that can even have been contemplated. — I have the honour to subscribe myself, your Lordship's obedient servant,
§ "E. S. MOORE."
§ "Cong Rectory, Ballinrobe, April 10, 1846.
§ "My Lord—I have just been favoured with a letter, signed 'Richard Pennefather,' dated April 8, in answer to one written by me to the Chief Secretary, in which I stated I had called at the Relief Office, in the Castle Yard, to mention that our markets were now at a starvation price, potatoes, 5d. per stone; oatmeal, 16s. per cwt.; while labour is but 6d. per diem. I mentioned to Mr. Kennedy some cases of distress that had come under my own immediate cognizance; he, however, told me, there were no means of relief but in the poor-house. I find, my Lord, Indian meal has been supplied to other districts at first cost prices; now, all I want for our suffering poor is, that such an opportunity of supporting their families should be afforded them, in connexion with the public works, and that the respectable householders, and tenant-farmers, having from three to ten acres of land—such were the cases I brought before Mr. Kennedy—should be enabled, without going to a poor-house, or consuming the seed which should be put in the ground now, to insure a better prospect for next year, to purchase the common necessaries of life at a moderate rate. I ask no gratuitous assistance for our peaceable and industrious poor. There are no resident gentlemen here from whom I could hope for aid; and, even were I sure of getting it on application from our non-resident landlords, I tremble for the consequences of the delay there must necessarily occur between the writing and receiving answers to my letters, and the communicating again with the Castle.
§ "My Lord—I have done my duty; at heavy personal expense, I have been to the Relief Office in Dublin, to make our distress known; having been repulsed there, I have applied to the Chief Secretary, and now, in the last instance, I put the case directly before your Excellency. If the Government send down meal, I will give storage; and if they allow a salary for a clerk, I will superintend the sale, and hold myself responsible for the amount sold. I have the honour to subscribe myself, your Excellency's obedient humble servant,
§ "E. S. MOORE, Rector and Vicar of Cong."
§ Now, what was the deduction from that correspondence? The deduction was, that there existed a very hazardous delay in the administration of relief, and that it was subjected to the conditions which made it 1004 defeat the objects of benevolence. He blamed not the Government; on the contrary, he thought the people of Ireland ought to be grateful to them for their generous conduct, but their benevolent intentions might be defeated by the system, machinery, and policy which they had adopted. He particularly alluded to the policy which they had stated so frequently in that House principally directed them, namely, waiting upon the landlords for assistance. The people might starve while the Central Committee of Relief in Dublin were deliberating upon the propriety of administering relief, and awaiting the proceedings of the landlords, upon whom the people of Ireland had waited in vain for centuries. But the case of Mr. Moore was, unfortunately, not an isolated case. Other such instances had occurred in Tipperary, where famine was well set in and on the increase. In such a state of things they could not wait for the landlords doing their duty without the compliance of conditions. He took the liberty the other night, in alluding to the disturbances in Clonmel, where there was an émeute dangerous to the peace of society, in consequence of the people being driven to desperation, by the want of food and actual hunger, to ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government a question, to which he had received no distinct or satisfactory reply. He wished to ascertain if Her Majesty's Government in England had communicated with the authorities in Ireland, and insisted that relief should be promptly, fully, and unconditionally administered wherever such urgent necessity presented itself, and wherever hunger was actually endured. He again put that question, and might he entreat a reply, particularly as to the unconditional administering of relief under peculiar circumstances? If that were not done, consequences might ensue which it was impossible to contemplate without the utmost apprehension. It was the duty of the Relief Committee to provide unconditional relief under such circumstances. Great would be the responsibility they incurred if any one through their neglect or denial died of hunger. It should be recollected that the people of Ireland had no one to apply to except to the Commissioners. In England the tenant upon every estate, where the landlords were good landlords, and where they recognized the principle that property had its duties as well as its rights, had an abso- 1005 lute title to relief. But in Ireland they had no title, where the landlords to a great extent were indifferent to the wants of the people, and converted their very food into the golden tribute of indifferent and heartless absenteeism.
§ MR. SHARMAN CRAWFORD
said, that the Government had taken upon themselves the responsibility of providing food and employment for the Irish people; he quite acknowledged that they had used every effort to accomplish these objects; but they had fallen into the mistake of thinking that it was impossible to do any thing without the landlords. Now he put it to them whether their attempts had not failed, and whether it was not necessary, even in justice to the landholders themselves, to adopt some principle of taxation by which the holders of land would be compelled to contribute to the support of the poor. He was clear for establishing a system of taxation on that principle, and he hoped that either in the shape of a poor or a labour Bill some such plan would soon be brought forward. He had heard with sorrow his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick describe the repeal of the Corn Laws as simply an English question. He (Mr. S. Crawford) knew it was an English question; but his opinion was, that it was infinitely more important as an Irish question. What advantage had Ireland ever reaped from the Corn Laws? Where were the proofs to be found, either in the condition of the people or the improvement of the country? Let the question be tested by one circumstance—and let him be shown whether all the protection that Ireland ever had received had tended in a single instance to her prosperity. If they were to have taxation for the poor, then it was the more necessary that the supply of food should be ample and its price low. He did not approve of the Coercion Bill. He saw no value in it, and in any legitimate opposition to it on the part of the Irish Members he saw nothing to blame. At the same time, he hoped that they would not prolong the discussion longer than was necessary for the purposes of fair opposition. It was of great importance that the repeal of the Corn Laws should be gone on with as speedily as possible, for the interests of Ireland, as well as those of England. He did not approve of the proposition made that evening for the opening of the ports for three months, as far as Ireland was concerned, for he thought that the effect of such a measure would be to throw ob- 1006 stacles in the way of the final accomplishment of the still greater one of total repeal. These were his views. He wished for, and would support, any measure calculated to give cheap food to the people of Ireland.
I am sure I have never been churlish in acknowledging the evident disposition of the Government to adopt measures to meet the present emergency. I should have been ashamed of myself had I been so; but I have now to complain, I have to join in the general complaint, of the inactivity of the persons employed by Government in Ireland to superintend the distribution of food, of their unnecessary diplomacy, their wearisome references from one to the other, of the wanton delay in some localities, the tediousness everywhere. Why, can Government point to one single spot in which effectual relief has been administered? But while I say this, I must add that I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford O'Brien) speak as he did in high praise of Lord Lincoln and his commission in Ireland, and I hope that Government will strengthen their hands. But, Sir, I think that Government has fallen short—that more money—a great deal more money will be necessary. I am not asking it as a favour. I am not here in mendicant form, appealing to you for alms for Ireland. Advance money. You have a security for it—tax landed proprietors—take a discretionary power—you have done so in the Coercion Bill. Well, transfer that discretionary power of taxation from the Coercion Bill, and employ it better. Send round persons to find out the situation and circumstances of each landlord, and tax him accordingly. Does the landlord, like the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, do his duty? Then tax him lightly; and as he neglected it, then tax him heavily. It may be said these are unconstitutional doctrines. Sir, the people are starving, they are dying: while you are here canvassing constitutional doctrines they are perishing of hunger. Did you not hear the evidence given in the returns laid on the Table of the House? Did you not hear how this family had but two, that family had but one day's supply—how another family again had been eight-and-forty hours without food—and how a further eight-and-forty hours' suffering would land them in their graves. Then, I say to Government, do not delay. Act firmly—act boldly. We have heard from every side declarations of benevo- 1007 lence to Ireland. Act, then. The House will not shrink from giving you an indemnity. But let there be no longer unnecessary delay. If you cannot meet my challenge to point out a single place where you have given effectual relief—if it be true that not a shilling has been advanced—then for Heaven's sake begin. Begin tomorrow morning, strengthen the hands of your officials in Dublin Castle. Let not a day, not an hour be lost. I may be told that I am throwing out opinions contrary to those I have always entertained on the subject of outdoor relief. I do not shrink from my old view of the subject. I still think outdoor relief but another name for the confiscation of property; but in the present state of Ireland I prefer confiscation to letting the people die of starvation. Make the experiment for one year—administer for this year out-of-door relief—tax the landholder for this—you can relax next year—but this is the time for making the experiment. Don't bring your Coercion Bill against the poorer classes—coerce the landlords. Compel them to prevent the people dying of hunger: it is necessary to compel them. I do not disparage the landlords. There are abundance of good landlords in Ireland; and abundance of bad landlords—of clearing landlords—of destroying (not angels, but) landlords, in Ireland. I do not commit myself to the doctrine of outdoor relief. It will be seen that I have very strong objections to it, but none of them apply on this occasion—in this emergency. Sir, I was sorry to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Limerick so adverse to the total repeal of the Corn Laws. My conviction is that nothing can do good to Ireland but that repeal. The existence of the Corn Laws has done us no good. Can any man contradict that? They have been concomitant with increasing misery—concomitant with increasing destitution; and therefore, if any man praise the Corn Laws to me, he must draw on his imagination, for as to Ireland the facts of the case are against him. Corn Law repeal would increase manufacturing enterprise, it would raise wages—agriculture cannot raise them—the Corn Law has not raised them. They say the Corn Bill was passed to keep up wages. Is there any country where wages are so low? Notoriously none. The only chance of raising them is in the repeal of the Corn Laws, and I wish to Heaven you would set about it at once.
§ MR. G. P. SCROPE
rose to express 1008 his satisfaction at the discussion which had been brought on by the question of the hon. Member for Limerick. He did not think that the time of the House would be thrown away, even if the debate upon the Coercion Bill might be delayed for two or three hours. He thought the result of the discussion which had taken place would be the means of inducing many hon. Members to consider the propriety of giving to the Iriah people the same security for their honest industry and peaceable employment that the English had enjoyed for centuries. He could not understand upon what argument the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. O'Connell) objected to the Poor Laws. The people of Ireland were there, and there was no wish to starve them—they must be maintained in some way or other—they were fed and must continue to be fed. If that was conceded to him, the question then came to be, how were they to be fed? At present they were fed in the most wasteful, extravagant, profligate, and unwise manner that any nation ever fed its poor. They were fed by almsgiving and mendicancy—surrounding almost every door whilst a meal was going on, and begging from its inmates. In other countries mendicancy was declared to be the worst way of feeding the poor, tending not only to engender habits of idleness, but destruction generally of the moral character. The right rev. Dr. Doyle, than whom no man's opinion was more highly respected in Ireland, also declared that the present mode of relief in Ireland was not only most profligate, but was most destructive of the morals of the country, and ought to be superseded by some organized and systematic method. It would also be advisable, in a pecuniary point of view. There was no doubt but that mendicancy was connected with great waste. A man travelled round the country hogging, or he stayed at home, and his wife and children got enough to support them, and the probability was that they got a deal more, and there was great waste in consequence. The knowledge that this abundance of food would probably be collected, induced habits of idleness, inasmuch as the able-bodied man remained at home, either sitting over the fire with a pipe in his mouth, or lying in his bed doing nothing. Now, he asked whether, putting it as a question of pecuniary advantage, it was not preferable to collect the amount which would otherwise be distributed in alms, in a methodical and economical system? He would have them 1009 collect as well from those who were now unwilling to support the mendicant and the poor, as from those who did so—from the absentees as well as those who were resident—from those who might be surrounded by high park walls, shut out from the sight of distress, as well as those who looked upon it day after day. In a word, he would have them collect from all parties who held property in Ireland; and, placing the sum in one fund, distribute it in a methodical manner. With regard to the relief which would be given to the able-bodied, he might say they would be able to obtain a return for it all by setting them to work, and they would get much more than the value of the food and money that was spent upon them. Therefore he thought, instead of confiscation, that the adoption of an effective Poor Law system in Ireland would be the most complete mode of relieving distress economically; at the same time it would have the effect of opening up the resources of Ireland. It would improve the estate of the landlord more than any measure which could be devised. He believed it only required a stimulus of that kind to induce the landlords to set about the improvement of their estates. He regretted that when the Government were aware of the emergency that was coming upon them, they did not at once adopt the compulsory system instead of the voluntary. To meet this temporary distress they had been relying upon the voluntary co-operation of the landlords up to the present time; and that it had failed the Government themselves admitted. He regretted that the experience of past years did not induce the Government, at the latter end of the last year, when the pressure of this distress was coming upon them, to take a decided step, and call upon the local authorities of Ireland, whose duty it was to relieve the poor, to make ample provision for the coming emergency. If that duty had been imposed upon them, there was no doubt but that they would now have been enabled to meet the crisis. He thought the Government had incurred a very heavy responsibility in delaying to do this. It was not the first time that distress had occurred in Ireland when the landlords had been asked to do their duty and had failed to do it. The subscriptions had been from time to time raised in England for the relief of Irish distress, and but for which aids the greater part of the people must have died, whilst at the same time provisions were being exported in great abundance 1010 from Ireland for the purpose of paying the landlord his rent, and were actually re-imported into Ireland and bought with the subscriptions of the benevolent, so that the money raised in England for the relief of the Irish almost invariably found its way into the landlords pockets. He therefore hoped the result of this discussion would be the adoption of some permanent measure of relief for the population of that unhappy country. There were doubtless many good and benevolent landlords in Ireland, and it was to their relief, in one respect, he was looking, as he was anxious to relieve them from the burden of being obliged to support the labourers of a neighbouring estate. It was his wish to see some measure introduced which would have the effect of making the people of Ireland industrious and useful members of society, and peaceable and contented subjects.
§ MR. COBDEN
It appears to me, Sir, that we have rather lost sight of the origin of this discussion, and I only wish to say a few words on that point. This rather irregular and unexpected debate has originated in a question put by the hon. Member for Limerick to the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, which it seems has arisen out of a private communication between them. That question of the hon. Member for Limerick was, whether the noble Lord the Member for Lynn and those who usually act with him would be willing to vote for a suspension of the Corn Law for three months, that suspension to be applicable to Ireland only. That I believe is a correct statement of the question of the hon. Member. But, Sir, we have another proposition before us, a proposition not to suspend, but to abolish the Corn Law, and I therefore infer that the object of the hon. Member for Limerick is, that instead of our abolishing altogether the Corn Law as regards England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, there shall be substituted a three months' suspension applying to Ireland only. Now, I beg in the first place to tell the hon. Member for Limerick, and the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, and the 240 Members who sit behind him, and who cheered the speech he has made to-night, that there are other parties to be consulted with regard to such a proposition—that there are the people of England—I don't mean the country party, but the people living in the towns, and who will govern this country. I tell him that the English people and the Scotch, and the Welch, and I believe the Irish too, are, from what I have heard, 1011 determined not to be content with a suspension, but to have a total abolition of the Corn Law. I think, therefore, the matter is taken out of the hands of this House altogether; and I must say I rejoice that this question of the Corn Laws can no longer be made matter for manœuvring and compacts within the walls of this House. It is disposed of, settled, out of doors; and, although your artifices here may delay this measure, and cause anxiety out of doors, still they can only delay it; and in fact the only thing you could substitute for it would be total and immediate repeal in the place of this deferred measure. When I hear the noble Lord talk in the way he is accustomed to do, using arguments with that unconsciousness that they had been so often refuted, that must arise from his having given his attention for the last seven years to some other objects wholly unconnected with public measures, and boasting of the 240 Gentlemen of England who support him, and who cheer him while he speaks—when I hear speeches which show that such a delusion exists in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the state of public opinion on this question, I do feel anxious that it were possible that the right hon. Baronet could appeal to the country, without that inconvenience to the trade of the country, and that inconvenience to the private business of this House—I do feel anxious, I say, were it not for those reasons, that the right hon. Baronet should appeal to the country; for the country would make an example of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway which they little anticipate. But now, Sir, as to this proposition of the hon. Member for Limerick. Has he considered the practicability of opening the ports in Ireland, while he at the same time keeps them shut in England? What sort of Bill would be that brought in by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Smith O'Brien), and the noble Lord the Member for Lynn (Lord G. Bentinck)? I suppose the hon. Gentleman will have a contrivance to prevent the introduction of provisions from Ireland to England. Seeing there are no customhouses between England and Ireland, I perceive no means of preventing the free circulation of grain from Ireland to England, and supplying the place of what was transferred from one country to the other, by corn brought from America or the Baltic. The noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) told us it was money that was wanted, not provisions; and I heard the sentiment 1012 echoed on this side of the House. Why, if I understand the matter rightly, there is a positive deficiency; there has been a failure. Has there or has there not been a failure of the potato crop in Ireland? I presume there is no one in this House to deny that proposition. How will money supply the place of food? The noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) says there is plenty of corn in Ireland, and it is being sent to England. Have you the means of stopping that—of keeping it in Ireland? Where are the people to be fed? The hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. S. O'Brien) leaves the English people out of the question. No! he does not leave us out of the question. He is trying by a compact with the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) to shut the ports to the English, while he opens the ports to the Irish people. I will not go into the argument to show that Ireland will be benefited by the repeal of the Corn Laws. If I wanted an argument of greater force than another in favour of that repeal, I should always quote with the greatest effect the case of Ireland. It is enough that to people who are feeding on water-cresses, seaweed, and turnip tops, the Corn Laws have done no good, and the repeal of them can do harm. I agree with the hon. Member for Cork, that the repeal of the Corn Laws is the best means of introducing manufactures into Ireland. Give the people of that country free trade across the Atlantic with the United States. That people must be idle—the Irish people are not an idle people—but that people must be liable to the imputation, if manufactures did not spring up along the west coast on their magnificent rivers, when they had the grain of America wafted across the Atlantic. I have intruded but seldom in this debate. I am anxious to be a party to nothing which, in reference to the Coercion Bill, stands in the way of the Corn Bill. I deeply regret that those two measures should have got into a dead lock. The people of England are utterly puzzled and perplexed at the state of things here. I am almost perplexed myself. During the recess I was repeatedly asked to attend meetings at Manchester and elsewhere to censure the delay. Upon my honour, I know not whom to blame. I cannot blame the Government, for, though I were disposed to do so, I see them so much blamed by other Gentlemen that I may well abstain. I have no right to blame the Members from Ireland. It is not for me to judge how far they deem it their duty 1013 to oppose the first reading of the Coercion Bill; but I deeply regret that this obstruction has taken place. I hope that Gentlemen around me, coming from Ireland, will at all events deem that I and those who think with me are quite as much in alliance with them as the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck). While I do not blame them, I ask them not to dispense censures upon the Liberal Members with the same breath that they compliment others in. I hope on this side of the House we shall be able to maintain a cordial feeling with each other; and I do trust that on another evening we shall be able to proceed to the consideration of another measure, in which, I believe, Ireland is fully more interested than England.
§ MR. W. MILES
said, that he should not have risen to address the House on that debate, but for the observations thrown out by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken. He could assure that hon. Gentleman, that he did not then wish to touch upon the question of the Corn Laws, as other opportunities would arise for him to do so. He wished to state to the hon. Member for Stockport, that that debate had entirely arisen from the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. S. O'Brien) having put a question to, and which was answered by, his noble Friend (Lord G. Bentinck) the Member for Lynn; and that question had been put by the hon. Member in accordance with the desire expressed by his noble Friend for him to do so, which was a matter of ordinary courtesy adopted by any hon. Members in that House who might wish to be in their place to reply to any proposition that they had previously received notice was to be made to them on any particular night; there was no compact, he said, between his noble Friend and the hon. Member opposite, beyond that ordinary courtesy which he had mentioned. He most sincerely lamented the state of misery which existed in Ireland. His noble Friend had answered the question put to him by the hon. Member for Limerick, and stated that he (Lord G. Bentinck) and the body—of which he was proud to say his noble Friend was the head—that they were willing to grant what the hon. Member asked, namely—would they give their support to the introduction of a measure, not for the abrogation and abolition but simply for the suspension of the Corn Laws, as regarded Ireland, for three months, in order that a sufficient supply of provision should be imported there to meet the wants of the 1014 people? There was no compact, however, entered into. He had stated on the first night that the abrogation of the Corn Laws had been proposed, that had the Government opened the ports for a time and admitted corn duty free to provide for the threatened famine, that the House would have immediately given their sanction to a Bill of Indemnity—and that the people of England would have said they were right in affording relief to a starving population. His hon. Friend had stated the same that evening; but he had also stated his belief that the proposition then made by the hon. Member for Limerick, if carried into effect, would not be attended with the beneficial results that the hon. Gentleman anticipated. He was sure, however, that in the course of the debate, the greatest sympathy had been expressed for the people of Ireland by hon. Members on both sides of the House; and that they were quite ready to do what they could; and he believed, also, that their wish was to act speedily, and effect something that would be for the ultimate benefit of Ireland, and thereby abolish the misery which so often prevailed, and that, he said, had been the purport of his noble Friend's speech. The Irish people would always find them acting with sympathy towards Ireland, and as far as possible improving the physical condition of the poorer orders of society. With regard to what had been stated about the abolition of the Corn Laws, it was not then the time, he said, to enter into it; and the House and the country would see, that however they might differ on that or other subjects, they had all shown the greatest sympathy for the Irish people; and that they were prepared to afford additional relief if it should appear necessary necessary for them to do so.
§ MR. W. SMITH O'BRIEN
said, perhaps he might be allowed to ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, if he was prepared to give an answer as to whether he could accede to the proposition he had made; but if the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to give an answer, then, he (Mr. O'Brien) would give notice of his intention to ask the right hon. Baronet the question on Monday night.
§ SIR R. PEEL
Though somewhat indistinctly put, I can answer the question at once, and without hesitation. The hon. Gentleman wishes to know whether I am willing to substitute for the measure of the Government, leading ultimately to the utter 1015 abolition of the Corn Laws, a proposal for a suspension of those laws for three months, as regards Ireland. I say at once I can consent to no such proposal.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I wish to say a few words with reference to a circumstance which occurred during the discussion. I cannot help noticing an observation made use of by the hon. Member for Stockport, relative to a subject which at any time, or in any place, is well deserving of notice. I therefore think I may be permitted to advert to it in a few words. In making that observation the hon. Gentleman has favoured us with a definition, which, if public men were to indulge in very often, might be considered advantageous. He did more. He has threatened us with imputations: he has held up to us the terrors of popular reprobation; and has imitated the conduct of many great examples in not shrinking from adding a definition of that with which he has menaced us. The authority he has followed is familiar to all of us—even its locality is recollected—but I can inform the hon. Member that the street in which the three celebrated individuals who conceived they were the people of England lived is not any street in Stockport. We are told by the hon. Gentleman, without the slightest exception or modification, that the people of England are the people who live in the towns, and that definition was loudly cheered by one Gentleman, the expression of whose opinion or of whose feelings must always make a great impression on this House and throughout this country. I say, Sir, the right hon. Baronet the First Minister of the Crown, at the moment that the hon. Member for Stockport held up what he called the country party: I repeat it—I say again that the First Minister of the Crown—at a moment when the country party was threatened by the hon. Member for Stockport with the indignation of the people, when that threat was followed by a neat and terse definition of what the people are—namely, that they are the persons who live in towns cheered that definition. [Cheers.] Yes. There was a very warm cheer from the First Minister of the Crown. The right hon. Baronet immediately cheered that expression. The circumstance struck me at the time; for it came from the same right hon. individual who was once so proud of being at the head of the gentlemen of England. At the moment that the hon. Member for Stockport, in a tone of menace, threatened the country 1016 party with the control of public opinion, and said that a powerful sentiment of indignation would arise among the people of England at their conduct, in the most frank and open spirit he gave them his definition of what the people were, as being the inhabitants of the towns. The right hon. Baronet cheered that sentiment—he accepted that definition. [Sir R. PEEL (emphatically): I totally deny it.] If the right hon. Baronet means to say that anything I have said is false, of course I cease—I sit down.
MR. M. O'CONNELL
said, as the present discussion had lasted so long, he would move that the House should adjourn.
§ MR. W. SMITH O'BRIEN
rose to make a personal explanation of the part he had taken in the question before the House. He would not have taken the liberty of trespassing a second time upon the House if it had not been for the insinuations thrown out in the course of the discussion as to the motives which had actuated him and his hon. Friends around him. He begged to assure the House that he alone was responsible for what had occurred. On his arrival last Saturday the Papers relating to the distress in Ireland struck him so much, he felt so strongly the necessity of making provision for the coming danger, that he thought it his duty to write a letter to the noble Member for Lynn, which he would read to the House if they considered it desirable. As to the motives of the hon. Friends around him (Mr. O'Brien) who had co-operated with him, he could only say that not one of them knew of his intention to write till the letter had been sent.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Sir, I really think I must have been mistaken in my hearing. I beg to ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government if he said that an assertion made by an hon. Member of this House—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury—was false?
§ SIR R. PEEL
Sir, the hon. Member who asked me that question must have been mistaken—totally mistaken in his hearing. I never used the word false in reference to any assertion of the hon. Gentleman. What I said was, "I totally deny it." The hon. Gentleman the Member for Shrewsbury said that I cheered a particular expression of the hon. Member for Stockport—namely, 1017 that the inhabitants of the towns had a right to dictate to the country party, and that I accepted his definition of the word "people." I said, "I totally deny it." The hon. Member who asked me the question said his hearing must have been erroneous. It was so; for he said I used the word "false" in reference to a statement of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury; I said nothing of the kind. But when he said I cheered the assertion of the hon. Member for Stockport that the people of the towns had a right to dictate to the country party, I said I totally deny it.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I beg leave to apologize to the House. I was entirely mistaken as to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet. But I beg—as he has adverted to the very marked denial he has given to the assertion of the hon. Member for Stockport—to make him aware that the assertion is but a repetition of what the hon. Member for Stockport a short time ago stated in a meeting at Leeds to be his impression as to the real meaning and feelings of the right hon. Baronet.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
wished to state how the case stood. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury made an assertion, and repeated it. The right hon. Baronet rose and said, "I totally deny it." The hon. Member for Shrewsbury immediately said, in language which could not be misunderstood, "If the right hon. Member says that anything I said is false I cease," and then sat down. He regretted exceedingly that the right hon. Baronet did not then take that opportunity of explaining what he meant. If the hon. Member for Shrewsbury had not been of the same opinion as the hon. Member for Warwickshire, would he not have arisen again and continued his address? Was it less probable that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury should have been mistaken than the hon. Member for Warwick, or was the misapprehension of the former of less importance than that of the latter? He thought the right hon. Baronet would, on consideration, agree with him in the opinion he had expressed.
§ MAJOR MACNAMARA
I think the right hon. Baronet has already sufficiently explained. He is not responsible for the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport, If any hon. Member thinks him responsible for it, or wish any explanation, this is not the place to call him to account.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
was not in the House when the hon. Member for Stockport made his speech; but he understood 1018 an impression generally prevailed among those hon. Members who sat around him, that the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government had cheered the particular observation alluded to. If the right hon. Baronet had so cheered these observations, his hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury would have been perfectly justified in making any inference he pleased on the right hon. Baronet doing so. But it was possible his hon. Friend had been mistaken in imagining he heard a cheer emanate from the right hon. Gentleman. Certainly his impression was, that the right hon. Baronet had cheered. The denial of the right hon. Baronet must be taken as perfectly satisfactory; and he was quite sure that no hon. Member, after that denial, could believe the cheer had really been given. After what had passed, he trusted there would be an end to any feeling of excitement on the subject.
MR. H. HINDE
might have laboured under a wrong impression, but he certainly noticed that the right hon. Baronet had cheered; and, noticing that, he (Mr. Hinde) was about to protest against it, to appeal to the good taste of the right hon. Gentleman, and to ask him if it were right or proper that he should cheer such sentiments as those of the hon. Member for Stockport. He had also noticed—and he might be mistaken—that the right hon. Baronet had been cheering some time before, and it had appeared to him that when the right hon. Baronet first ceased to cheer it was not at the expression referred to, but at the succeeding expression—to the effect that the feeling out of doors had settled the matter long ago. He had never entertained a doubt of the correctness of his observations, and now, when an hon. Gentleman had made a statement to the House, under an erroneous impression, and had been called to account for that statement, those who, with him, had entertained the same impression, were bound, in fairness, to come forward and state the fact, in order to show that the hon. Gentleman had said nothing which was unreasonable or extraordinary.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
After what has fallen from my noble Friend the Member for Lynn (Lord G. Bentinck), it is very inexpedient, and quite unnecessary, to prolong a discussion on this personal quarrel; but as I sat next to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, I am, I think, more competent for that reason than any hon. Gentleman in the House to ex- 1019 press my opinion on this matter. I must, however, say, that it is somewhat hard to be called on to account for any particular cheer of the right hon. Baronet. I myself cheered warmly the very able speech made by the hon. Member for Stockport on this particular occasion; I agreed with many of the sentiments which fell from the hon. Gentleman; and I did not hesitate, by cheering, to mark my approbation. I certainly did cheer, and I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government did not cheer, the declaration of the hon. Member, that whatever might be the opinion in this House with respect to the passing of the measure for the freer importation of corn—whatever might be the intention among the representatives of the people—the people themselves had settled the question long ago. I cheered that, I agreed with it; but when I heard it I did demur to the definition of the hon. Member for Stockport, that the inhabitants of towns constituted the people of this country. I did not cheer that sentiment; I differed from it; and I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government abstained likewise from cheering that sentiment. I trust that this statement will be satisfactory to the feelings of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shrewsbury. I can positively assure him that he is in error in supposing that that particular passage was cheered by my right hon. Friend; he labours under a greater—a much greater misapprehension, if he believes that my right hon. Friend used any term, in explanation, in the least degree inconsistent with the rules of the House. I am positive that the word "false" never dropped from my right hon. Friend. He said distinctly, clearly, and not in a manner at all offensive, that he wholly denied what had been attributed to him. The statement of the hon. Member was erroneous, and required to be denied in terms as positive as those used by my right hon. Friend. I am perfectly aware how inexpedient it always is needlessly to prolong a personal discussion of this kind; but I hope that, for the reasons I have given, the House will pardon my having made these observations.
§ MR. W. MILES
could corroborate the statement of the hon. Member. He had been most attentive to the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport, and directly the observations fell from him that the inhabitants of towns, and they only, were the population, he (Mr. Miles) looked towards the right hon. Baronet; he directed the 1020 observation of two other Gentlemen to the same quarter; and they had certainly thought they had perceived the right hon. Gentleman cheering. They had themselves cheered ironically.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY
had sat exactly half-way between the right hon. Baronet and the hon. Gentleman. He heard the remark of the hon. Member for Stockport; it was cheered ironically by his noble Friend the Member for Lynn, and by his Friends around; but the right hon. Baronet did not cheer it at all.
impression was, the right hon. Baronet had not given any approbation to the definition of the hon. Member for Stockport, that the towns constituted the people. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury, with his actual acuteness, generally managed to pervert some expression, and to turn it against the right hon. Baronet; that was the hon. Member's cleverness; but on this occasion it was a gross perversion.
§ MR. M. CORBALLY
had had his eye, it so happened, upon the right hon. Baronet, and he did not observe that he had cheered.
§ SIR. R. PEEL
I totally dissent from the principle stated by the hon. Member for Stockport. I don't recognize, on the part of the people of towns, any sort of right to dictate to the people of this country. And why should I cheer? I did not cheer that particular expression referred to.
§ MR. COBDEN
The language which the hon. Member for Shrewsbury attributed to me has now been adopted by the right hon. Baronet. It is not my language. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury states, and the right hon. Baronet repeats, that I said the inhabitants of towns would dictate to the country. Now, that was not my expression. I said that the majority of the people would always do so; and I think I am correct in saying that the majority of the people of this country live in towns. I do not wish or desire that one section should dictate to another; but the majority will govern in all constitutional States; and the majority now will be found in towns.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I need not say I greatly regret to trouble the House with this subject. I never anticipated this discussion; but as it has so unfortunately arisen, perhaps the House will not think I am arrogating to myself anything in now intruding for a few moments. I desire 1021 that, as regards the right hon. Gentleman, and as regards the House, there should be no mistake as to what was my intention, what were my motives or my expressions. The hon. Member for Stockport made a speech; I need not advert, as many hon. Gentlemen have adverted, to any particular expressions in that speech; and there was a cheer. An hon. Gentleman, a Member of this House—I need not bring his name forward—it was an hon. Gentleman who has since addressed the House, and who frankly and honourably admitted that he was under the same impression, said, that the definition of the hon. Member for Stockport which was cheered, was cheered in a most decided manner by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. I had not the slightest doubt that the hon. Member had made no mistake; but now I am quite convinced that the right hon. Gentleman did not cheer. I am not speaking in conventional language, or in the mere language of form; I say I am quite sure he did not cheer. But I would wish the House to understand that—whatever may be our party struggles, or what is called personal acrimony, which I never did feel, that is the truth—I would not for a moment think of rising to take advantage of a cheer, and to make a charge, had I the slightest doubt about the matter. The House will admit, the right hon. Gentleman has admitted, that in a debate of this kind nothing could be more fair than that, if I believed the right hon. Gentleman had cheered the definition to which allusion has been made, I should seize hold of that and comment upon it. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would seize hold of it himself, had he been in my place, and if I, had I been a Minister, had cheered such a definition. That is the nature of a Parliamentary debate; and certainly, when the right hon. Gentleman got up and contradicted me and spoke in so energetic a tone, I thought he spoke to me in an offensive manner. On reflection, I admit that I misapprehended the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman in this instance departed from his usual tactics; he seldom interposes; he generally delays speaking until a very late hour, and he then takes advantage of any mistake, and invariably pays you off for it. And I was, therefore, rather surprised when the right hon. Gentleman rose to interrupt me. I assuredly was under the impression, and I did think, so far as I am personally concerned, that the right hon. Gentleman meant to make an 1022 offensive imputation. I think if any hon. Gentleman, under the same circumstances, were under the same impression, he would feel it impossible to go on addressing the House; I, therefore, sat down; it was a mere matter, then, of private feeling, of private consideration, and I trust that it will not be thought I said or did anything offensive to the House, or that it was wrong in me at once to sit down. I wish the right hon. Gentleman and the House to understand that I did not make that charge under a mere erroneous impression of my own; other hon. Gentlemen fell into the same error; and they have admitted this. I also wish the House to feel and to agree with me, as I think they will, that if I was under that impression, it was permissible for me to use it in debate.
§ SIR R. PEEL
I, of course, take for granted that there is an end of all unpleasant feeling in this matter. When there is a cheer, any hon. Gentleman has a perfect right to advert to that, and to draw an inference. But the hon. Gentleman will recollect his statement was, that I not only cheered, but that I accepted the definition. [MR. DISRAELI: In consequence of the cheer.] Yes; and then I rose and totally denied it. We were both under an erroneous impression; but I must say, that if we are not allowed to deny an erroneous assertion and the inference founded on that, without giving personal offence, there must then be an end to all freedom of discussion.
§ Motion for adjournment withdrawn.