LORD J. RUSSELL
Sir, it is with great pain I rise to call the attention of the House to the present state of the distress in Ireland; and in doing so, I shall consider it my duty to refer to what has been done in the course of last year, and the spring of this year by the late Government on the subject of the failure of the potato crop; and whatever sorrow I may feel in having to bring this subject before the House in the present state of the crop in Ireland, yet I shall endeavour in doing so to avoid any subject which can give rise to any party division or excite any feelings of animosity. The Committee may recollect, that towards the end of last year considerable alarm was felt with regard to the state of the potato crop in Ireland, and also in some parts of Scotland. I think it necessary to state that alarm was felt to a great degree, if not a greater degree than usual, 767 of an apprehended scarcity; and I shall state three circumstances which were calculated to inspire the public at large with that feeling. The first is, that potatoes being one of the cheapest and lowest of all kinds of food, on a failure of the crop of potatoes, which is the chief article of nourishment for the great mass of the population, there is no kind of food of a cheaper kind that the population could have recourse to. That is the chief distinction between a country in which the population lives on potatoes, or any cheap sort of food, and a country in which the population is chiefly fed on wheat, or some higher description of food. Another circumstance is this, that the disease in the potatoes is, to a great degree, unknown. No one can tell to what extent it might be carried. If the crop of wheat or barley fall off, we can, within six weeks or two months after the harvests, pretty well ascertain what is the deficiency, and how much remains; conclusions are easily made as to the quantity of food which remains for sustenance of the people, and what supplies are required. The third circumstance which I have to mention, and which is connected with the first which I stated, is, that a great portion of the people of Ireland are in a state of very great poverty, verging upon destitution. This has been ascertained and stated by repeated statistical documents which have been laid before Parliament. The Report of the Commissioners of the Poor Law Inquiry, the Report of the Land Commission over which Lord Devon presided, and the Report on the Census, all show how great a portion of the people of Ireland live in a state of extreme poverty. In fact, they do not receive wages which enable them to pay for the food which they require. They receive wages only during a portion of the year, and these very low in amount, and during a considerable portion of the year they are fed upon potatoes of a very inferior kind, which they themselves crop, very often by an agreement on what is called the conacre system, with a farmer in their neighbourhood. Above them there is another class who, although farmers, are very little better off than those I have just mentioned, and who, when there is any extraordinary pressure of want, are unable to afford out of their means and substance maintenance or wages to those below them. These three circumstances were calculated to make the Government of the country look with very considerable alarm 768 at the prospect before them; and—I am not now adverting to any other measure than those they thought it necessary to take—they took measures in their opinion directly applicable to these evils. The first measure they took was by a minute of the Treasury, of the 9th of December, to order a quantity of Indian corn, amounting in money to 100,000l., to be purchased by the house of Baring & Co., either in the ports of this country or from foreign countries. With respect to this measure it is to be observed, that it was very wisely, and likewise with great good fortune, for a long time kept a secret both here and in Ireland. The arrival of this supply was not known; so that when it did come it had both a much greater effect in relieving the people of Ireland, whose expectations were not raised by the prospect of its arrival, and had a much less injurious effect in disturbing the regular trade of the country than might have been expected otherwise from this measure. There is another measure to which the Government resorted; and that was, to grant donations in aid of subscriptions. Subscriptions were collected in Ireland to a large amount, and from some of the very poorest farmers in the country. These subscriptions and donations amounted to a sum exceeding 100,000l. There was another measure which was introduced at the commencement of the Session, to the effect that public works should be presented by certain authorities to the barony or county sessions, who were empowered to make such works, provided one-half of the expense of such should be made by advances to be repaid, and the other half by grants from the Treasury of the State. Another measure which was proposed and carried in this House was, that general presentments should be made for the purpose of executing public works of which the whole expenses should be repaid. The general amount of money for all these measures is stated in the book which was lately presented to this House, called Correspondence relative to the Measures for the Relief of Distress arising from the Failure of the Potato Crop in Ireland. The first item is the purchase of Indian corn and oatmeal, and freight, grinding, and other expenses connected therewith, amounting to 185,432l. The second item is sums issued as donations in aid of subscriptions made by relief committees, amounting to 67,911l. The third item is works authorized to be executed under the Act 9 Victoria, 769 c. 1, if required, for the relief of urgent distress—of which one-half is to be repaid — amounting to 452,727l. The fourth item is sums authorized to be advanced, if required, under the Act 9 Victoria, c. 2, and of which the whole is to be repaid, amounting to 133,536l. The fifth, sixth, and seventh are smaller items, granted for the employment of the people in cases of great emergency, and other purposes. The whole amount of the expenditure is 852,481l., of which there is repaid, or to be repaid, 494,851l. The sum which has been granted or expended, without expectation or intention of repayment is 357,630l. Now, with regard to the evil which this large expenditure was intended to meet, and with respect to which a great deal of information will be found among the voluminous correspondence which has been presented to the House—with respect to that evil it will be found that, as might be expected from what I have already stated, its amount was differently calculated at different times, and that in fact it has not as yet been completely ascertained. The first account, which you will find in the first page of this volume, stated that upon the whole, taking the four provinces of Ireland, the loss of the potato crop amounted to one-fourth. It was afterwards stated by Colonel Macgregor, that he estimated the loss to be not above one-eighth; and the calculation of the Commissioners who were sent to Ireland to investigate the matter, was, that the loss amounted to one-half of the whole crop. As I have stated, it is very difficult to ascertain what is the real amount of the evil; but I think the House will believe that there has been a very great failure of the potato crop, and that the disease has been destructive to a great portion of the crop of 1845. Now, this is a disease which was not peculiar to Ireland or Scotland last year; but was experienced in various parts of the Continent of Europe, and likewise in various parts of America. I have before me various statements, some of which were made in 1840 by directions of the Congress of the United States, and others were made in answer to a circular which had been issued by the Colonial Office here, from which it appears that this disease, which for some years has been known in America as the "rust in the potatoes," first appeared in 1832, in consequence of which a considerable portion of the crops was lost; and that, in 1845, it was more destructive than it was ever known to have been before. With respect 770 to the measures which were taken by the Government to meet this evil, and of which I have just stated to the Committee the cost, I think we may say, upon the whole, that their effects have been in Ireland exceedingly beneficial. There are contained in this volume various accounts of the effects which have been produced by the different measures to which I have alluded. They show that in places where the people have been deprived of food and employment, food and employment were afforded; that in other places where the people were almost in a state of despair, so far from there having been any outrage, peace and tranquillity have been preserved, and those feelings of fear which arose from distress, changed into feelings of satisfaction and contentment. One of the letters to which I allude is from Mr. E. Russell to Mr. Radcliff. It refers to the county of Clare, in which county there was a greater number of persons employed than in any other county in Ireland. He says—The works, considering the materials with which we have to work, are progressing, except in very few instances, satisfactorily; and I may add, that the works undertaken have been works of public utility. Distress would at this moment be general though out the country, were it not that the Government have by means of the public works rescued the people from the deadly grasp of starvation which threatened them; and I am happy in having it in my power to state, on the best authority, that the poor people of Clare were never so well provided for as they have been this season. There are some localities where distress pressed with some severity, but was in most cases promptly relieved; and I believe I could say with confidence that there has not been a single case of starvation throughout this county, and there are fewer cases of sickness, particularly fever, than for many years past. I have heard this remark made by the Roman Catholic clergy throughout the entire county.In this book there is also an abstract of the number of persons employed by the Board of Works in the various counties in July last, from which it appears that in Clare the number was 102,130 for each day's work. The measure of providing Indian corn seems especially to have afforded very considerable relief. It is to be observed that this measure of Government introduced a greater quantity of food into Ireland than in all probability would have been introduced had not that measure been taken, at least at that time; but beyond this they provided a kind of food which, after a short experience, and some prejudice having been got over, has proved a most nutritious food, and, at the same time, is sold at a reasonable rate. It has been sold, in various 771 instances, as these papers show, at 10l. a ton, and by retail at 1d. a pound. Now, a pound of Indian corn is quite sufficient to provide sustenance for a strong-bodied labourer for a day. With respect to the donations, likewise, I have to state that these donations did bring out the large amount of subscriptions to which I have already alluded. These subscriptions were made by all classes of persons. They evinced the readiness of all classes in Ireland to relieve the existing distress. Of course I shall not enter into the invidious question whether individuals contributed who ought to have contributed under the circumstances. But I must say that the various accounts seem to show that large subscriptions were received from nearly all persons who were able to afford them. It is likewise so be observed that the amount of subscriptions was no test of the charity which was afforded. Persons of the largest property generally undertook works which gave employment to the people; and as the payment for these came out of their own resources, of course no account was given of them to the public, although they materially contributed to the relief of the people. With respect to the works for which sums were advanced in cases of great emergency, there has likewise been the greatest relief afforded from this source. But it was impossible for the Government and the Legislature, in endeavouring to meet the alarming cases of distress, and to get over the period of the year from December to the gathering in of the harvest in August, when there is much employment of the people in harvest work—it was impossible to preserve them as they have been preserved, from deficiency of food, affording to them due employment, preserving the peace of the country, and, at the same time, affording the satisfaction which must be afforded by the spectacle of the Government and the Legislature of the United Kingdom, so far from being indifferent, eager to supply the necessities of the people — I say it is impossible to produce this great result without some very serious concurrent evils. In the first place, I think that the supply of Indian corn in the emergency which happened, was a measure of great prudence; but if it were to become the established practice for the Government of this country, out of the resources of the Treasury, to purchase food for the people, and that this food should be sold by retail at a low price, it is evident that trade would be disturbed; 772 that the supplies which are brought to us by the natural operations of commerce would be suspended; that the intermediate traders who deal in provisions in local districts would have their business entirely deranged; and that Government would find themselves charged with that which it is impossible they can perform adequately—I mean, the duty of feeding the people. With respect to many of the public works, for which advances were granted, although they were in themselves useful, yet the effect was that ordinary work was abandoned, and that the public works were sought in preference to other works, so that here again the ordinary operations of industry were disturbed. In a letter from the Commissioners of Public Works to the Lords of the Treasury, it is stated that—From personal inspections of some of the works in progress, the Board discovered that many individuals were employed who had not been supplied with tickets. Instructions were immediately given to put a stop to such improper and irregular proceedings, which became the more necessary as we experienced the injurious results of it. The great public works of the improvement of the Shannon and drainage were left without workmen; and, strange as it may appear, men who were, by measurement, earning 1s. 6d. and 1s. 7d. a day, quitted these works to take employment on the relief roads at 9d. a day.Now there was not only the effect of the ordinary farm labour being left for the public works, where, though they received less money, the work was easier, but in many instances great numbers of persons were sent to the works by gentlemen who distributed tickets without proper inquiry, and in this way persons were employed who ought never to have had employment from the Board of Works. Then, again, many of the labourers who have hitherto been in the habit of coming to England and Scotland to the harvest, finding they could get work close to their own doors with sufficient to maintain them, abandoned the idea of resorting to England and Scotland, and the consequence has been that in many portions of the north of England, and in Scotland, the harvest has been delayed from want of labourers, and I believe that a great deal of the food of the country has in this way been lost. In a letter from Major Simmonds to Mr. Trevelyan, dated the 4th of the present month, he says—Nothing can be finer than the corn crops now being cut, but slowly, I am told, for want of labourers, resulting, it is to be feared, from the injudicious continuance of public works, as well as in the mismanagement of some committees, in not 773 gradually withdrawing relief from persons able to work.These are injurious consequences, which are so far inevitable from the large employment given by these public works, especially as the emergency was unexpected, the measures which were taken sudden, and carried into effect, of course, by persons who had not previously had experience in that country. This is always the case when employment is given by way of public charity, and not from the regular and wholesome demand of the public. Instead of a fair day's wages for a fair day's work, you have an unfair day's wages for an unfair day's work. The persons employed in conducting public works finding that labourers came to them rather than take private employment, reduced the wages to 6d. and 5d. a day; and the labourers finding that they were not paid more, did not work so effectually, and, in fact, did not give work that was worthy of the wages. Such are the evils which are necessarily consequent upon this kind of employment. There have, of course, been many other irregularities from this extraordinary measure. But I am sorry I cannot say that which any one in my situation would wish to be able to say, that this extraordinary remedy had put an end to the extraordinary evil, and that the time was come when we could go back to the ordinary rules which should govern our proceedings, and leave the demand for labour uninterfered with and underanged by any public measures. This time, however, has not come. I am sorry to be obliged to state that although there is at present in the greater part of the counties of Ireland harvest work sufficient and wages sufficient for the support of the labouring population, yet the prospect of the potato crop this year is even more distressing than last year—that the disease has appeared earlier, and its ravages are far more extensive. Sir, I have here some papers which have been furnished me by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. They are private letters, and contain statements which have been confirmed by letters I have myself received, and by letters that have been received by my right hon. Friend near me, and by the statements in the public newspapers. Here is one from Lord Shannon, in which he says—I regret to say that the destruction of the potato crop is proceeding more rapidly than could ever have been expected. It is the same with my own, which have had the benefit of the best care and draining in the cultivation. They are now 774 completely destroyed. Already the small farmers are assembling in great numbers, and I am sorry to say I very much doubt whether the same sums could again be collected which this year supplied the relief committee. I do not think that there will be a potato within reach of the labouring classes by next Christmas. Those which they are now eating are most unwholesome and unfit for human food. Within my recollection the prospects of this country were never so awful, and even in the most peaceful districts I can conceive that there may be the most fearful consequences among the labouring classes.I have also a letter from Lord Enniskillen, addressed to the Lord Lieutenant, and dated from Florence-court. Lord Enniskillen says—It is my painful duty to write to you on the state of the county of Fermanagh, and of that part of the county of Cavan which borders upon it. Till within the last three weeks the potato crop was most promising; but the disease has since broken out in it with such violence, and so universally, that there is no prospect of a potato in the county at Christmas. My own fields are as bad, if not worse than those of my neighbours, although they have had all the advantage of good drainage. I consider it my duty to report the fearful state of the county.I have also a letter from Lord Bernard (as we understood) to the same effect, and stating the resolutions which had been come to in consequence in the Bandon Union. The accounts from the north and from other parts are equally bad. Here is a letter addressed by Colonel Jones, from Galway, to Mr. Redington the Under Secretary. He says—I beg leave to report to you the result of our examination of the potato crop in Athlone. We proceeded in the direction of two lines diverging from the high road between the two towns mentioned. My attention was directed to the appearance of the potato ground, and the result of my observations was that there was scarcely a field that had not received the blight. It was easy to see this by the state of the stalks which were blackened. But we also entered a great number of fields, and had the roots taken up; in almost every case the tubers were diseased. The conclusion to which I have come, is that the crops for the present year will have lost three-fourths of their produce. The wheat crops are already under the sickle, and are very fine. The oats will be in in about ten days, and they also are very good crops. It now becomes my duty to state to you the condition of the relief works, and what I think it would be necessary to do in consequence. In consequence of the farmers paying higher wages just at present than the Board of Works, the number of persons employed on the public works, is much decreased. An order has therefore, been made, that if labourers do not present themselves within a given time, those works shall be stopped which have been deserted by the workmen. But I have every reason to believe that as soon as the crops shall have been finally gathered in, which will be in about ten days' time, there will then be a general rush for 775 employment on the public works, and great evils will ensue if there should not be employment.And, Sir, the accounts from Sligo, from the south of Ireland, and from various parts of the country, all concur in representing the disease as being this year more fearful than it was in the last. The accounts in the newspapers from their various correspondents are to the same effect. Sir, it has, therefore, become our duty to consider in what manner we should propose to Parliament to make provision for some employment for the labouring people of Ireland—proposing that to Parliament for which we require the direct sanction of Parliament, and at the same time affording to the Government a discretion to take such measures as any emergency may in their opinion render necessary, of which measures they would afterwards give an account to Parliament. Sir, it has appeared to us, with regard to the first measure to be adopted, that while there ought to be public works, and those public works ought to be undertaken under due control, we should not, with regard at least to the general measures proposed, defray the cost of those works by means of grants, but by loans, to be repaid by the baronies and the counties in the districts for which they are granted. We, therefore, propose to introduce a Bill to this effect, that the Lord Lieutenant shall have power, on recommendation made to him, to summon a barony sessions or a county sessions for works for relief of the poor. When those sessions shall been assembled, they will be empowered and required to order such public works as may be necessary for the employment of the people and for their relief. I say, "empowered and required," because it is intended that it shall be incumbent on them, on being summoned to those sessions, to order those works. The choice of the works will be left to them, and they will be put in execution by the officers of the Board of Works. When I say that the choice will be left to them, I mean that they shall point out the works which they consider necessary, but the approbation of the Government will be required, that is to say, of the Board of Works, before those works can be finally undertaken. It is further proposed, that advances shall be made from the Treasury, for the purposes of those works, to be repaid in ten years at 3½ per cent interest, the lowest rate ever taken for works of this kind. The whole amount so advanced by the Government will, however, have to 776 be repaid. I should also state that in levying for the repayment of the money, and for the interest, those levies will not be made according to the assessment for the county rate, but according to the assessment for the poor rate. So that owners will be obliged to pay their proportion as under the poor-law assessment, and the poor occupiers will be, in a great measure, relieved from the assessment. I should add, also, that we propose to provide for another case—that of the very poor districts, where it would be impossible that the money should be repaid. We propose that there should be a grant, by Act of Parliament, of 50,000l. for the purposes of such districts, where works shall be provided by the Government to be undertaken only on the ground of their being works of public utility, and of the districts being so poor as not to be able to undertake the expense of such works. In some such cases works of the kind have been undertaken. One case of the kind is stated in the correspondence, where, in consequence of the poverty of the district, a subscription to only a certain amount was taken, and a larger amount was given by the Government than the Act of Parliament authorized. The Bill to be introduced for the purpose will be similar to many other Acts of the same kind. The 1st Victoria, c. 21, is that which we propose to follow. We also propose that there shall be commissariat officers stationed in different parts of Ireland, who shall be in correspondence with Sir Randolph Routh, and who shall, from time to time, communicate with him on the state of distress in their several districts. Having already stated the evils which have in practice arisen from interference by the Government with the supply of the public food, I have only to add that we do not propose to interfere with the regular mode by which Indian corn and other kinds of grain may be brought into the country. We propose to leave that trade as much at liberty as possible. But there may be particular cases, as there were in 1836 and 1839, where, in consequence of the part of the country where the famine prevailed being very inaccessible, it became necessary to employ the commissariat officers. As a general rule, however, we still take care not to interfere with the regular operations of merchants for the supply of food to the country, or with the retail trade, which was much deranged by the operations of last year. With regard to relief committees, we propose 777 that they should for a time be constituted, taking care to avoid those errors which have hitherto ensued from want of experience, and guided by the lights we have received from the practice as hitherto established. In particular, we shall endeavour to avoid the giving of tickets, by members of the relief committees, to persons who are not in need of relief. I should add that all the officers to be employed in the commisariat, and those employed by the Board of Works, will be paid by the Government for the services they perform. And here I feel bound to say, that the correspondence on the Table, and everything I have heard from private sources, show that there never was work undertaken with more zeal and intelligence, and with a more earnest desire for the relief of the prevalent distress, than that which was undertaken, last year, by the persons employed by the Government in this affair; that, whether I have to speak of that most intelligent officer Sir Randolph Routh, or of Colonel Jones, or of the officers of the Board of Works, whose correspondence is in these papers, or of the local persons employed; and likewise, generally speaking, of the relief committees, there has been shown the utmost desire to give all their time and attention to the relief of distress, and likewise to endeavour as much as possible to afford every light to the Government, by which abuses might be averted, and permanent inconvenience might not be produced. With these objects, Sir, I shall propose, first, that a sum shall be voted to defray the expenses already incurred, then a vote for direct advances by Exchequer Bills for the purposes stated, and also that grant which I have mentioned for those districts which may speedily require it. Sir, as I stated at the commencement, this is a special case, requiring the intervention of Parliament. I consider that the circumstances I have stated, of that kind of food which constitutes the subsistence of millions of people in Ireland, being subjected to the dreadful ravages of this disease, constitute this a case of exception, and render it imperative on the Government and the Parliament to take extraordinary measures for relief. I trust that the course I propose to pursue will not be without its counterbalancing advantages; that it will show the poorest among the Irish people that we are not insensible, here, to the claims which they have on us as the Parliament of the United Kingdom; that the whole credit of the Treasury and 778 means of the country are ready to be used as it is our bounden duty to use them, and will, whenever they can be usefully applied, be so disposed as to avert famine, and to maintain the people of Ireland; and that we are now disposed to take advantage of the unfortunate spread of this disease among the potatoes, to establish public works which may be of permanent utility. I trust, Sir, that the present state of things will have that counterbalancing advantage in the midst of many misfortunes and evil consequences. I know not that I need detain you any longer, than to assure the Committee and the House, that we consider that our predecessors in office did show a very laudable anxiety to meet the evil—that the remedies they applied were suited to the occasion—that we shall endeavour to imitate the spirit in which they acted, while we shall endeavour to take advantage of their experience to correct errors which were inevitable in consequence of such unforeseen difficulties. The noble Lord concluded by moving the first of the following Resolutions:—
- "1. That the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized to direct the issue, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or the issue of Exchequer Bills, of any sum not exceeding 175,000l., to be made by way of Grant, and of any sum not exceeding 255,000l., to be made by way of Loan for Public Works for the Relief of Distress in Ireland
- "2. That the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized to direct Advances to be made by way of Loan out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or by the issue of Exchequer Bills, to defray the expense of Public Works presented for in Ireland, to facilitate the employment of the labouring Poor.
- "3. That the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized to direct the issue of any sum not exceeding 50,000l. out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or by the issue of Exchequer Bills, for the purpose of aiding in the execution of Public Works of acknowledged utility, in such districts in Ireland as are too poor themselves to bear the whole expense of executing such works."
The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he would take that opportunity to read one of two letters he had received that morning, and which he believed would be satisfactory to the House. He might, however, state, in addition to what his noble Friend had said, that it was not the intention at all to import food for the use of the people of Ireland. In fact, many merchants had declared that they would not import food at all if it were the intention of the Government to do so, and unless 779 the Government would given such an assurance. The letter which he would read afforded every ground for believing that the Government were taking the right course, and that there was every reason to hope that the food of the people would be provided by private importation. This was the letter:—Liverpool, August 15, 1846.Dear Sir—I think it right to mention to you that I am informed by some of the leading merchants in the corn trade that very large orders for Indian corn have been sent out to America, and they are now being sent out to an unprecedentedly large extent, for the supply of Ireland, the vessels, in many cases, being chartered to call at Cork or Falmouth (as the wind may serve) for orders.Indian corn has also been ordered, to a great extent, from Trieste, Corfu, and other ports in the Mediterranean. The trade in Indian corn being now quite free, it is hoped that Government will not interfere with the regular operations of commerce, as they did last year, when, owing to commercial restrictions, the Government alone could make the importation.The supply of Ireland may now be safely left to the merchants, who will manage the transaction much more economically that can be done by the Government.The price of Indian corn in this market is from 28s. to 32s. per 480 lb.
MR. D. BROWNE
said, if anything could convince him that a local Parliament for Ireland would not be necessary, it would be the speech and the proposition of the noble Lord, and the way in which both had been received by the House. He felt confident that both would meet with the approbation of the people of Ireland, and would induce them to place dependence on the good disposition of the Government; and, furthermore, that they would not be led into those excesses into which a more patient people might be betrayed under prospects so disastrous as those of Ireland appeared to be. From the county he represented, he had received the most fearful details, not only of the present distress, but also of the prospect for the future, and he had petitions to present to the House in which it was stated that in two months there would be in the county of Mayo no food for the people. In giving this praise to the present Government, he by no means wished, however, to make any invidious comparison with the late one, which had acted with the greatest alacrity and benevolence. Nothing was more calculated than their conduct had been to remove from the minds of the people of Ireland the impressions produced by their conduct in other matters, to which he would not now allude. But if the late Government 780 were solicitous for the preservation of life and peace in Ireland, under the excitement and despair incident to the fear of famine, it was much more the duty of the present Administration, under circumstances of still more aggravated distress, to take measures for the purpose of providing against the threatening danger. While it was necessary to make those who were rich contribute to those who were without food, it was most dangerous to raise inordinate hopes in the minds of the people of Ireland. It would be most dangerous to make the people of any country dependent on anything but their own exertions. The tendency was to demoralize them, and to depress them from a condition of honourable freedom and self-reliance to a condition of abject dependence upon the pity of others. Great caution ought also to be exercised in regard to interference with the markets. Such interference, in many instances, had had the effect of increasing the prices and diminishing the supplies of food, because legitimate speculation was checked by the interposition of the Government. One advantage, he thought, would arise from the proposals submitted to the House. The attention of Parliament must necessarily be turned to some measure which should provide, that hereafter the people of Ireland should not be left dependent upon the generosity of this country. There must be some law enacted, which should take from the landlord and give to the tenant as much as amounted to the difference between starvation and comfort—some law to regulate the tenure of land for that purpose. A more extensive system of Poor Laws must be established for the purpose of making the landlords attend to the interests of their tenantry. Matters could not go on as at present. Another good result was, that the potato would no longer continue the staple food of Ireland. Mr. Cobbett's wish on that point was about to be realized. Energy and enterprise would be stimulated by the introduction of a higher standard of living. He trusted the attention of the Government would be turned to promoting manufactures in Ireland, so that the people should not remain altogether dependent upon agricultural pursuits, whence the least remuneration was derived from their labour; and not only to promoting manufactures but to improving harbours, fisheries, and the means of intercourse both by land and by water. The disposition of England was to give the people of Ireland, under present circumstances, 781 a fair chance of bettering their condition: and he believed that the House of Commons was most willing to take steps for carrying out the general wish, and promoting the material and social improvement of that country.
considered that the Government and Parliament were only discharging their duty in taking measures to provide against the threatened famine in Ireland. Under the system of Poor Laws established in England, provision was made for every man. That provision might not be so adequate as it ought to be; but still no human being could be placed in a position of destitution without having the means, by law, of obtaining relief. The same system must be extended to Ireland. He was quite convinced that if a system of Poor Laws, enforcing outdoor relief, were introduced into Ireland, the landlords would then discover means of obtaining employment for the poor, and the destitution of that country would, to a very great extent, be superseded by an extension of labour such as would prove highly advantageous to the landlords of Ireland themselves.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
had no intention of entering on the difficult and controverted question as to the introduction of a system of Poor Laws into Ireland different from that which had already been established in that part of the United Kingdom. Any person who had paid the most cursory attention to the subject knew its difficulty. But while it deserved the most careful consideration on its own merits, he must be permitted to observe, that any incidental discussion upon such a question seemed to be altogether useless. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had stated that the Government had altogether abstained from calling upon the landlords of Ireland to take measures in reference to the distress which was impending. The hon. Gentleman could not have attended to the statement of the noble Lord at the head of the Government (Lord J. Russell). For what did the noble Lord propose to do in the measure he had submitted to the House? He proposed, and rightly, not only to empower, but to require the property of Ireland to meet the circumstances of distress and destitution which the failure of the potato crop had brought upon their country. But while the State required that the landlords should take upon themselves this burden and responsibility, it was due to them, in the circumstances 782 in which they were placed, that they should receive the assistance which the House had it in its power to offer. It was proposed to give the property of Ireland every facility for the purpose of enabling it to undertake the task. It was impossible to deny that Ireland was placed at this moment in a position almost unexampled in the history of a nation. A failure of the potato crop, the main article of subsistence among the people, and that people, or a large proportion of them, always in a state bordering upon destitution—a failure so wide, so sudden, so sweeping, in itself presented a very extraordinary state of matters, which required very extraordinary remedies; and all arguments drawn from an ordinary state of things were plainly inapplicable under the circumstances. The measures of the late Government on this subject had been characterized as wise measures. The Corn Laws had not been repealed; a heavy duty existed on Indian corn; and hence Government would thus be induced to take extraordinary measures for introducing a supply of it into Ireland. But now the trade was perfectly open, and nothing could be more fatal to the interests of the country than that the Government should undertake the business of the merchant. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had read some letters, showing the advantages already produced by the assurances which Government had given that they would not interfere with the importation of grain by the ordinary channels of trade. A very remarkable instance had occurred within his own experience. A few days ago, a very large provision merchant in one of the principal ports on the west coast of Ireland said to him at an interview, "I am very much disposed to speculate largely in Indian corn; but I wish to have an assurance that Government will not interfere with my market. I wish to know upon what principle the Government means to proceed." The reply was, that in regard to articles of food the Government would under no circumstances import any; but that the same unqualified assurance could not be given against temporary and partial interference in particular cases where communication was difficult, though the Government were equally sensible of the necessity of leaving the retail trade in the hands of the dealers as well as the wholesale. On leaving the room, the gentleman went forthwith and purchased two cargoes of Indian corn, and had them sent 783 round to Ireland. What better proof could be adduced that it was not advisable for a Government to interfere with the commerce of the people; and that when a Government did interfere, the tendency was to stop the common processes and exertions of trade so as in reality to deprive the people of the subsistence which they required? He was quite willing to give credit to the late Administration in regard to the course they had pursued. Their proceedings had been actuated by the best intentions; their measures had been, conducted with very considerable ability; but it was impossible not to notice what was going on in Ireland at this moment, without being impressed with the evil consequences of interference by Government either with the import trade or with the markets of the country. He did not mean to say that the late Government did not act properly under the circumstances; but he felt it necessary to state some circumstances which rendered it inexpedient to persevere in the same course. In the first place, the provision trade was paralysed. In the next place, the labour market was utterly deranged; and by doing so very much, in many cases they had demoralized the habits of the labouring classes. The blue book on the Table was full of instances in illustration. A communication had that morning been put into his hands, which strongly confirmed the view he had taken. It was from a gentleman whose name he should not mention, but who was intimately acquainted with the subject. The gentleman said—The Indian meal was sold indiscriminately 20 per cent under prime cost, and the greater part was bought up in large quantities by the farmers with the proceeds of their potatoes in — market, and almost all the farmers have reared their calves upon it.["Where?"] He would rather not mention the neighbourhood. In another passage which he should read it was stated that—The — got a large sum to spend, and set about public works; allowed the highest wages, employed a great number of men, mostly not persons in want, allowed those to bully them into letting them do as they pleased, and so scandalous an exhibition as these crowds of people working pro formâ, I never thought I should see.The people preferred the relief works to ordinary employment. The Shannon works were deserted and the harvest operations relaxed, whilst the people flocked to those relief works, though the rate of wages was inferior. And why did they 784 do so? The relief work was not real work, it was looked upon as furnished in charity, and the work was not done in a proper manner. Though it was proper for the Government to see that the people were not in a state of destitution, yet unless a due check were imposed upon such efforts on the part of Government, they were likely to do more harm than good. He did not mean to say that in what was to be done next year, it would be possible to avoid altogether these evils. He trusted that by the adoption of suitable checks, those evils might, in a great degree, be avoided. They must not forget, however, that their first duty was to take care that the people did not starve. He hoped that the Bill which it would be his duty, in accordance with the intentions expressed by his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), to lay on the Table of the House, would, as far as possible, prevent the Irish people from being left in a state of destitution, while at the same time it would provide efficient checks to control the administration of the measures for their relief. He hoped that by rendering it the interest, as well as the duty, of the landed proprietors to afford employment to the people, a vigilant and efficient control of the funds appropriated to their relief might be ensured. While, on the one hand, the Government called upon the landed proprietors of Ireland to tax themselves for the support of their poorer neighbours, on the other hand they held out every inducement to those proprietors to discharge that duty, by advancing them public money at an easy rate of interest, and extending its repayment over a period of ten years. He hoped and believed that this measure was as well calculated as any that could be devised for meeting and remedying the distress which unfortunately prevailed among the population of Ireland.
The EARL of LINCOLN
regretted that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) had not omitted the last portion of his speech, and that he had not left the case in the position in which it had been left by the First Lord of the Treasury; for certainly he had not expected to hear from the Secretary for Ireland so strong an argument, not only against everything that had been done by the late Government, but against everything that the present Government was about to do. If any reliance could be placed upon the letters which the right hon. Gentleman had read, if it could be proved that such gross and monstrous 785 abuses had been committed in Ireland under the system adopted by the late Government, he should not think of accepting from the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, or from any Member of the present Government, those commendations for the success of the measures proposed by the Ministry with which he had been associated, to which he felt bound to say with all humility he thought they were entitled. On the contrary, he should at once say that they deserved the condemnation of the House, and that those able public officers who had been employed by the late Government in Ireland, instead of discharging their functions properly, had most grossly neglected their duty. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman had filled the office of Secretary for Ireland, even for so short a space of time as that during which he had held the same position, he believed that right hon. Gentleman would admit that it was not safe to read such letters as those he had produced without previously substantiating not only the names of the writers, but the facts to which they referred. If they could suppose that Sir Randolph Routh, whose conduct had been highly and deservedly eulogized on all sides, had allowed the Indian meal, which had been imported by the public authorities, and which had been paid for by large sums devoted to that purpose by the Legislature, to be appropriated to fattening the calves of the Irish farmers, he would have been guilty of a gross breach of duty, which could scarcely have been committed by the merest tyro. The right hon. Gentleman, however, did not stop here; but he stated that the grossest abuses existed with regard to the public works which had been carried on in Ireland. He was far from denying that abuses had occurred; indeed it was impossible, though the Government might exercise the most careful and vigilant superintendence, to prevent such abuses. He did not, however, believe that those abuses had existed to anything like one-tenth, or one-twentieth, or one-fiftieth the extent represented in the letters which had been read by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. That right hon. Gentleman, after commending the course the late Government had pursued, proceeded, by a course of ratiocination in which he confessed he was unable to follow the right hon. Gentleman, to contend that the result of their measures had been to demoralize the habits of the labouring poor, to paralyse the 786 labour market, and utterly to ruin the provision market. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: I said, to derange the labour market.] He must say this was the first time he had heard, even from the most violent opponents of the course the late Government had pursued, so grave a charge as that advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. If it could be proved that the measures adopted by the late Government had demoralized the labouring population of Ireland, he must say that in the course the present Government intended to pursue, which had been to-night announced by the noble Lord opposite, and of which he might say he most highly approved, they were unwisely treading in the footsteps of their predecessors, and contemplating measures which would not merely demoralize the habits of the poor, but reduce them to a state which it was fearful to contemplate. What was the difference between the course pursued by the late Government on this subject, and that which was proposed by the noble Lord opposite? The difference between the measures of the late and of the present Government was this: first, that the noble Lord opposite and his Colleagues did not intend any longer to import provisions from foreign countries on behalf of the Government; and, secondly, that they proposed to advance money on loan, and not by grant. It must, however, be remembered that the measures they contemplated would give a fictitious excitement to the labour market. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite were going to encourage public works in Ireland; they were going to carry on, though not perhaps to the same extent as the late Ministry, precisely similar operations to those they had sanctioned. If, then, the late Government could be justly charged with demoralizing the habits of the labouring poor, it was evident that the noble Lord opposite and his Colleagues would expose themselves to the same imputation. But he denied that this had been the result of the course pursued by the late Government. On the contrary, he felt the greatest confidence, although there might have been—and he admitted there had been—great attendant evils on the measures they had felt bound to adopt, yet that, so far from occasioning anything like a permanent demoralization of the people, very considerable moral advantages would eventually result from them. He hoped the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. D. Browne) would, on his return to Ireland, inform his 787 countrymen that no English Member had risen to object to the proposition of the noble Lord; and that even the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Williams), who was perhaps more jealous than any other Member of that House of the management of the public purse, had not said one word in opposition to the noble Lord's proposal; but, on the contrary, though he objected to largesses from the public funds, he had expressed his opinion that under the existing circumstances of Ireland such a measure was necessary. He hoped this fact would go forth to the sister country; and the people of Ireland would then see that whatever Government might be in power, they would not allow the poor of that country to starve. It would then be seen that the Government regarded the poor of Ireland with at least equal care and solicitude to that which they evinced towards the poor of this country; and our fellow subjects in Ireland would also know that even the most economical Member in that House had raised no objection to the measures proposed for meeting the emergency which had arisen. He believed that other advantages would result from the measures which had been adopted, and which were about to be adopted, by Government with regard to Ireland. Not the least of those advantages was the probability of inducing the labouring poor of Ireland to look to wages wherewith to purchase food, rather than to depend upon the produce of their small crops. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) had stated that the effect of the measures adopted for relieving the population of Ireland, had been to derange the labour market in that country. He admitted, that to some degree that might have been the result, but by no means to any considerable extent. The measures now proposed by the Government would, however, have a precisely similar effect—an effect which they could by no means prevent. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that the measures brought forward by the late Government had paralysed the provision market. He (Lord Lincoln) believed, that if the right hon. Gentleman made any inquiries on this subject, he would find that the charge was utterly groundless. If the right hon. Gentleman applied to Sir Randolph Routh, or any of those persons who had watched, with most scrutinizing eyes, every turn in the market, in order to obviate inconvenience from this source, he would find that this accusation could not be substantiated. Not long before he 788 quitted the office of Secretary for Ireland, he was called upon by a gentleman who made grave complaints respecting the administration of the commissariat department in that country. He might remark, in passing, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) seemed to have forgotten some of the habits of the office he had formerly held; for the right hon. Gentleman admitted that he had given private information to a gentleman who applied to him to ascertain what course the Government intended to adopt, and who immediately went and purchased two cargoes of grain. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would have acted more in accordance with the rules of the Board of Trade if he had abstained from giving information of that kind. As he had before said, however, a gentleman complained to him, when he held the office of Secretary for Ireland, that there had been a gross maladministration in the commissariat department, by which his interests had been materially affected. He immediately wrote to Sir R. Routh, stating the accusation, and requesting that gentleman to inquire into the case. Inquiries were accordingly instituted, and their result convinced him that the charges were wholly at variance with the facts. He was not, however, inclined to say, that the measures adopted by the late Government for affording a supply of provisions to Ireland should be continued by their successors in office. If the late Government had remained in office, it by no means followed that they would have persevered in the course they had, for a time, felt bound to adopt; and he must say, that he fully approved of the intentions of Her Majesty's present advisers on this subject. The circumstances under which the late Government interfered on this subject, differed very materially from those of the present time. When the Government of which he was a Member were called upon to adopt measures for the relief of the people of Ireland, Indian meal was unknown—or comparatively unknown—in the country. It was impossible to expect that private parties would speculate in that article. It had been tried in a small locality in Ireland, where it had been disapproved; and it was evident that, if introduced at all, it must be introduced by the Government with care and caution. He thought, however, that the course taken by the late Government with regard to the importation of Indian meal, had been much misunderstood. 789 The hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. D. Browne) had stated that the importation of Indian meal by the Government, had greatly discouraged private speculation in that article. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that he was entirely mistaken. He (Lord Lincoln) believed that, but for the efforts of the Government to introduce Indian meal into Ireland, and to persuade the people to adopt it as an article of food, no private importations would have taken place—at least to any considerable extent. But the moment an example was set by the Government in introducing this meal, private individuals engaged in the trade, and it had been carried on to the present time. [Mr. D. BROWNE had referred to speculation in the usual provision trade.] He fully concurred in the opinion expressed by the noble Member for the city of London, that if the Government were now to import provisions, they would paralyse trade, and prevent those private exertions to which every country must look for a permanent supply for the sustenance of its inhabitants. After the speech of the noble Lord, who had fully explained his intentions, who had given ample credit to the late Government for the manner in which they had met the frightful emergency of the last year, and who had admitted that their views and intentions had been fully carried into effect by the able officers under their direction, he should not have thought it necessary to trouble the House, but for the observations which had been made by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland. He considered that, under such circumstances as those in which Ireland was now placed, any Government that might be in power ought to be very largely trusted; and he believed the noble Lord had given to the House all the information he felt justified in affording them. He felt bound to bear his testimony to the admirable and efficient manner in which the officers of the commissariat department in Ireland had discharged their duties; he was satisfied the Government would derive great advantage from continuing their services during the winter; and he hoped no considerations of economy would induce the noble Lord to withdraw any of those gentlemen from the posts to which they had been appointed under the direction of Sir R. Routh. He need scarcely say that he entirely concurred in the approbation which had been expressed by the First Lord of the Treasury of the admirable manner in which those officers had performed the duties 790 that devolved upon them. He might also assure the House that his right hon. Friend under whom he recently held office, had felt the greatest anxiety with reference to the subject now under discussion. Never during the many years that he had been acquainted with his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) had he seen him so nervously anxious on any subject—anxious that the means for relieving the people of Ireland should be fully efficacious, while they should be unproductive of inconvenience and derangement to the trade and labour of the country. With all those good intentions, however, and notwithstanding that the schemes of the Government had been well digested, it would have been impossible for them to have carried out their plans efficiently but for the co-operation they had received from their officers in the sister country. It was impossible to give too much praise to Sir R. Routh, to the Board of Works, and to two gentlemen who, at his (Lord Lincoln's) solicitation, had, in March last, most handsomely given their services to the Board of Works, in subordinate situations—Captain Larkom and Mr. Griffith. He must add, that those gentlemen had displayed the greatest zeal, and an ability that could hardly have been expected from individuals who had been so little habituated to service of the description in which they were engaged.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
feared what he had said had been misapprehended by the noble Lord who had just sat down. He thought he had done ample justice to the late Government for the measures they had adopted for preventing a famine in Ireland. He had, however, deemed it right to state that, though those measures might have been necessary, they had been attended with some evil effects. In order to justify this statement, he might appeal to the published correspondence, page 341, where, in a Treasury minute, it was stated that—Those parts of the operations for the relief of the people which stand most in need of correction, are stated to be connected with the imperfect manner in which some of the local relief committees have executed the duties entrusted to them.The noble Lord seemed to think that he (Mr. Labouchere) had made a general charge against the relief committees of Ireland. Nothing of the kind. He had only said, that in particular cases abuses had existed; and that his assertion was not unfounded was proved by the following extract from the minute:— 791It appears, as well from the report now before this Board as from the previous correspondence on the subject, that tickets for employment on the relief works have, in numerous instances, been distributed by the members of those committees, without regard either to the real circumstances of the applicants, or to the number of persons who could properly be employed—that the ordinary resort of Irish labourers to England, for the purpose of participating in the high wages consequent on the getting in of the hay and corn harvest, has been in some parts of the country suspended—that the great public works for the improvement of the Shannon and for the drainage of the country have to a considerable extent been left without workmen; and the people employed on the relief works have indulged in habits of indolence, preferring the receipt of an eleemosynary allowance under the name of wages to higher wages proportioned to the labour performed.He (Mr. Labouchere) should be sorry to think that the noble Lord supposed he was disposed to underrate the manner in which the late Government, in circumstances of unexampled difficulty, had performed their Important duties; but he had considered himself justified in pointing out the difficulties with which any Government had to contend in dealing with a subject of this nature.
§ MR. HENLEY
would not say anything in opposition to the measure, for he thought that, with the prospect which the country presented before them, a more wise arrangement could not have been adopted. But it was vain to look at the measure as one of a mere temporary nature to meet a present emergency. The disease in the potato had been going on in America for four years past. It was known in these countries only two years. It had not ceased in America as yet; and there was no telling what the final result would be in this country. His main object in rising was to call attention to those matters, in order that the House might not be called upon in another Session for another temporary measure. They should be prepared to do something permanent. It would, however, be satisfactory to the people of this country to know that the House was much more liberal to their poor fellow subjects in Ireland than to the poor of England; for in the instructions to the inspectors of relief works, the very first was—The inspecting officer will in every case revise the lists of labourers employed upon relief works, so as to confine the persons to whom wages are for the future to be paid to those who are proved to have no other means of subsistence; and he will take care that the rule, that tickets are to be signed by two members, and are to be issued only through the secretary, as well as the other regulations 792 which have been prescribed to the relief committees for the purpose of preventing persons who are not really in distress from being employed upon the works, are properly observed.It would be seen from these instructions that outdoor relief was to be given to the destitute poor of Ireland, who should appear to have no other means of subsistence; whilst in England they were obliged, not only to prove their utter destitution, but also that they had sought for employment and could not get it. They were opening a door which they would find it extremely difficult to shut. He trusted that some permanent measure would be adopted to prevent the recurrence of seasons of such helpless distress, and to put upon a better footing the general prospects of the country.
SIR J. D. NORREYS
wished that the Legislature of the country would, in a future Session, bring forward such measures for the permanent relief of Ireland as would remove from the people of that country the necessity of coming to the British Legislature in the character of supplicants. Ireland had mines of the most extensive and valuable description; it had rivers peculiarly adapted for commerce and manufactures; and yet, in consequence of the Legislature not looking to the subject of the improvement of Ireland in a proper light, all those natural resources of wealth and comfort were allowed to lie waste and useless. He hoped the noble Lord would have the courage to attack the grand jury system in Ireland. The noble Lord wished to remove from the old grand jury system the power of taxation. He (Sir J. D. Norreys) would recommend him, instead of letting the selection of what was to be done in the way of public works remain with the baronies, to transfer the selection to the poor-law unions. Let the electoral divisions make the selections, and the unions have power to tax themselves. They would thus get rid of the baronies and the grand jury system at once.
§ MR. HUME
was pleased to hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, because that was the language that ought to come from an Irish landed proprietor. He was pleased to hear that the landlords of Ireland were prepared to provide for the necessities of the people of that country as far as possible, in the encouragement of public works; for until they were prepared to do so, and to raise the funds from their own lands for their 793 improvement, it would be vain to look to England for relief of a permanent or improving nature. When the measure of the late Government was proposed, he (Mr. Hume) prophesied that it would derange the labour and the provision markets. The prophecy had come to pass. The effect of the relief works had been actually to prevent the labour from coming over to England and Scotland from Ireland, as heretofore; and a friend of his from a midland district had told him that such was the demand for labourers upon railroads, and the want of Irish harvest labourers, that they could not procure labourers for the usual agricultural purposes. It was dangerous for the public to interfere with the labour market Public money had been expended to no useful purpose whatsoever. They should go deeper, and strike at the root of the evil. Why should the Government be called upon to supply food for Ireland, and not for England or Scotland? Were the people of Ireland less disposed to work for their daily bread than those of England or Scotland? He believed not. They had abundant proof in England and Scotland that the Irish labourers worked hard and willingly; and was it likely that at home they were a whit less industrious? It was the result of misrule that the Irish people were thus destitute and helpless; and it was for the Government to look deeply into the causes, and remove them. They had hitherto mistaken the course they should have pursued. They had made a grievous mistake in keeping up a Government in Ireland of a nature opposed to the will and wishes of the people, in keeping up institutions that were hateful to them, and which they abominated. Those evils should be struck at; and it would be the duty of the Government to examine into them with a view to their removal. But to meet the existing distress, he approved of the measures and the present course of the noble Lord's Government.
§ MR. M. MILNES
said, that all eleemosynary grants of this kind established very bad and corrupting principles. He perfectly concurred with the hon. Member for Montrose, that it was at once the duty of the English Legislature to place Ireland on a footing similr to England and Scotland in respect of its laws. He believed that if the landlords of Ireland were assisted by the Legislature in improving their estates, they would be conferring incalculable good upon the people of that country. 794 The people of England were undoubtedly willing to make great sacrifices for the relief of their Irish brethren; but they must, nevertheless, tell the landlords of Ireland that it was their duty to conduct themselves towards their dependents in the same manner as did the country gentlemen of England. The landlords of Ireland must retrench their luxuries, and devote themselves to the improvement of their country.
SIR R. FERGUSON
thought that the sums to be raised should be raised upon the poor-law assessment, through the poor-law guardians, and the electoral divisions should be made responsible for the sums to be laid out within them. Provision should be made, of course, for the election of the boards of guardians. The election was at present excellent; but if they were to have the arrangement of assessment for public works, there would be much difficulty. There was one point to which he wished to draw attention, which had been overlooked as yet, and that was that the Board of Works in Ireland had been totally incompetent to the business entrusted to it. He gave the Board credit for the best possible intentions; but they were unable to manage the business which devolved upon them. He would read an extract from their report, which would exemplify the fact:—There is no doubt that many works were commenced without necessity. It is true the representations were extremely urgent and pressing, and therefore great precaution and judgment were necessary.There was a great want in some way or other of a controlling power. The Board of Works threw the blame upon the relief committees; and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland brought forward two anonymous statements casting blame also. He thought it very unfair to make statements such as those without mentioning the districts from whence they had been forwarded, and in which the matters complained of were stated to have occurred. The local committee had been completely overborne in many instances; but if the assessment were made local there would be a different result.
§ MR. B. ESCOTT
said, it appeared to him that they were agreed on all hands as to the necessity of doing something for the Irish people. The Government of the noble Lord and of the right hon. Baronet were equally desirous of doing good for, and had equally good intentions towards, 795 that people. The only question was, how those intentions were to be carried into effect; and the great difficulty was, to reconcile the good intentions with the bad effects of the measures hitherto adopted. It could not be denied that the late Government were quite right in adopting extraordinary measures to meet an extraordinary exigency; but it was a fair question to be asked, whether there were not some ordinary measures which, although not sufficient for the present crisis, ought nevertheless to be proposed for the general and future welfare of the country. There were still heavy duties upon the importation of ccrtain articles of food. Would the noble Lord consult any great historian—would he look back, and say whether in the history of this country, or any other, they had, in a period of famine, in a period of distress for want of food—at a time when they were told that extraordinary measures were requisite to supply the deficiency in Ireland—whether he had ever heard in such circumstances of restrictions by law upon its importation for the purpose of making food dear? Why should not all such restrictions be removed at once? He was aware that the general feeling was, that the great question having been just settled, it ought not to be reopened; but when it was settled it was not known that the distress would be continued; and if the noble Lord oppsite (Lord G. Bentinck) were himself in power, he would hardly propose the re-enactment of the Corn Laws in the face of the pressing wants of a great body of the community. It was the duty of the noble Lord now at the head of the Government to erase from the Statute-book all acts restricting the import of food. At this moment beans and peas paid the same duty as that until recently imposed upon Indian meal, but now happily repealed. Parliament was bound under existing circumstances to remove the duty from all articles of food.
The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had heard nearly all the speeches delivered that evening with great satisfaction, and especially the speeches of the hon. Members for Coventry and Mallow, though they spoke on different sides of the question. He most willingly bore testimony to the wisdom of the measures taken by the late Government. The present Government had had the benefit of those measures, and if they had been able to improve upon them it should not be forgotten that they had had the benefit of 796 nine or ten months' experience of the existing system, to which some portion of the merit of their measures must be justly attributed. He could not agree that the measures of the late Government had failed. On the contrary, he thought they had been attended with most extraordinary success, considering the unprecedented difficulties and nature of the occasion. He did not hesitate to say, that the very existence of the people of Ireland in many districts was owing to the measures of the late Government, and not merely the existence of the people, but the preservation of the country from the outrages and disorders consequent upon a period of starvation. He thought also the noble Lord was justified in saying that they had introduced a new trade into Ireland, when, contemporaneously with the supplies ordered by Government, it appeared that supplies ordered by private persons had poured into that country. He rejoiced at the introduction in this manner into that country of a cheaper and more nutritious supply of food. He was sanguine enough to expect that it would prove a great blessing to the people of Ireland, by preventing their habitual dependence upon an inferior description of food, below which they could not fall even in time of famine. He rejoiced to find also that, in some instances, people in Ireland were giving up their dependence upon the produce of a little plot of ground, and availing themselves of the system of wages now known almost for the first time in that country. He thought this would produce a change that must be most beneficial to Ireland. With respect to the public works, he should, however, be sorry that it should be considered the measures taken by the late Government, or those proposed by the present Government, were to be a permanent system of relief for Ireland. They were only to be justified by the necessity which had arisen in consequence of the late and present failure in the potato crops, and which made it necessary they should afford extraordinary relief to that country. The hon. Baronet opposite complained somewhat of the expense incurred in comparison with the work accomplished; but it must be remembered the works were not commenced for the sake of the works themselves so much as to supply the wants of the people of Ireland, by affording them employment. It was quite true that in consequence of the very short notice at which they had been commenced it had been found impossible, 797 in some instances, to procure adequate superintendence; but here again, he hoped they should profit by the experience of last year, and that no complaints on this head would be made in future. He could not agree in the suggestion that the works should be executed by the counties themselves. If this plan were adopted, they would be executed in a different manner, and by a totally different class of persons. Works executed upon county presentments were executed by contractors in their own way and by their own men, so that if this system were adopted, the chief object the Government had in view would be frustrated. He, therefore, held it to be indispensably necessary that the works to be carried on in Ireland should be executed under the control of the officers of the Board of Works, aided and assisted, as far as practicable, by the local relief committees. When these committees did their duty, nothing could be more beneficial than the effect produced by their aid and assistance; and, therefore, he was most anxious to have local co-operation, because he was perfectly sensible that without it the system could not be carried out in as satisfactory a manner as it otherwise would be. With respect to the hon. Member's observations on the subject of levying the rate to be fixed by unions, he apprehended that there would, on that point, be no difficulty whatever; for he had it on the authority of Mr. Griffiths that it would be quite easy to levy the cess upon each barony, which would be in a form distinct from the parochial rate, as it was intended it should be. The Government were most anxious to propose a measure of temporary relief for the present distress of Ireland; but they were also desirous to avoid, as much as possible, mixing it up with the poor-law system that prevailed in that country. Having in his official capacity had to examine most of those matters in question, he was bound to confirm to the fullest extent, and in the strongest manner, the statements of the noble Lord opposite, as to the conduct of the officers who had been employed in carrying out the plan of the late Government. He thought it was the best mode that could be proposed to permit the local magistrates to make the assessment, because, from the nature of their connexion with the several places, they would assess just sufficient for the purposes contemplated, and no more. It was because he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) wished to see the Irish govern themselves in, these matters, 798 and work their own machinery, that the present system was proposed. It was, however, only right that the burden should be ultimately thrown on the landed interest of Ireland, and not on the shoulders of the people of this country.
§ MR. M. GORE
said, there was one circumstance that had not yet been alluded to in the course of these discussions, and as it bore materially on the condition of Ireland, he should now allude to it. He referred to the fact of a very inferior species of potato having been cultivated in Ireland for some years past. This had been pointed out some years ago, and the opinion was then expressed, that it could not fail to lead to disease. He held in his hand a statement on this subject, which could not be suspected, as it had appeared in a railway report of 1838, and was never intended to be brought forward in a discussion of this nature. This passage stated that want of employment in Ireland had led to a great deterioration of the food of the peasantry—that the species of potato cultivated, was much inferior to what it had formerly been—and that the great tendency of such a state of things, was to lead to disease among the potato crops generally. This was in 1838, and the evil had gone on increasing since, so that there must needs be no great surprise at finding that there was a failure, and that disease should have succeeded. He wished to take that opportunity of pressing upon the Government the great importance of attending to the fisheries of Ireland, which, by giving employment to the population, and at the same time producing supplies of food, was a matter which ought to attract their most serious attention; the propriety of diffusing information among the people by providing them with instruction as to the different kinds of fishing tackle, &c., to be used, was also a matter deserving attention. He also hoped that measures would be be taken to promote, on an extensive scale, the drainage of land throughout Ireland. These were matters which he trusted the Government would not overlook, as the best means of giving employment to the population, and attaching them to the interest of this country, making Ireland in peace a source of wealth to England, and in war one of its strongest bulwarks.
§ MR. B. ESCOTT
said, he would tomorrow ask the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell), if it was his intention to continue, under existing circumstances, and 799 in the distressed condition of the people, the laws imposing restrictions on the importation of food?
LORD J. RUSSELL
thought the hon. Gentleman himself had given a very distinct answer to the question, when he said the Corn Laws were settled. And to-morrow he should certainly say no more than he said now, that it was not his intention to unsettle that Corn Law.
§ Resolutions agreed to. The House resumed. Resolutions to be reported.