HC Deb 28 January 1846 vol 83 cc332-7

moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Public Works (Ireland) Bill.

On the Question that the Bill be now read a second time,


inquired if it was the intention of the right hon. Baronet to bring in a Bill for amending the valuation of Ireland during this Session.


said, that it was his intention to introduce such a Bill.


said, that he had looked carefully over the Bill, and he found great difficulty in arriving clearly at its meaning. It would have been better to bring in a Bill to repeal former Acts, and re-enact the necessary provisions of them in one Bill. The greatest advantage had resulted from the Consolidation of the Customs Acts by Mr. Deacon Hume, and the re-enacting the necessary provisions in one Bill.


perfectly concurred with the general observations of the hon. Member for Montrose, as regarded general alterations in the law; but those observations did not apply to the present Bill. The object of this Bill was merely to give an additional grant of 50,000l. for the construction of public works in Ire-Ireland. It was true there were proposed in this Bill one or two alterations of the law—but they were alterations of details, and not of the principles of the law—alterations which merely had reference to the repayment of the sum advanced and the rate of interest.


said, that the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose would apply only to permanent laws—laws which were intended to be perpetual. This, however, was not intended to be a permanent law of that nature, as it was a particular Act of Parliament to regulate the expenditure of a particular sum of money, of a very limited extent he would say, and too small a sum for the purpose which it was proposed to effect by it. He would not oppose the Bill—on the contrary, he would support it; but under the protest that the Government should not, by the introduction of the Bill, be entitled to hold themselves discharged from the duty of providing against the distress which was to be expected in Ireland in a very short period. This Bill was a small instalment of that relief for which the condition of Ireland was crying out. It was impossible to exaggerate the state of things produced in Ireland by the failure of the potato crop. Indeed, it was not too much to say that within three or four weeks a great portion of the population might be in a state of actual famine, if measures were not speedily adopted to advert that calamity. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in urging forward the Bill as fast as possible, and he would co-operate in that object. There were some details which he might feel it necessary to advert to in the Committee; but it would be cruelty to delay its progress, and he was ready to support it, protesting at the same time that the Ministers must not suppose that by this small instalment they discharged any essential part of the duty which devolved upon them to find employment and food for the people of Ireland during the ensuing period of distress.


called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir T. Fremantle) to the propriety of adopting the best means of securing the proper and efficient outlay of the money to be advanced.


said, that this paltry sum of 50,000l. was altogether insufficient for providing employment and relief for the immense population which would be exposed to the danger of famine in the ensuing spring and summer. He had reason to believe that the Commission appointed by the Government to inquire into this subject in Dublin calculated that no less than four millions of the Irish people would be in a state of destitution in the ensuing spring and summer, and to meet that destitution this Bill would give 3d. a head to those people to support them for three months. Was that to be supposed a measure for giving employment and relief to the people of Ireland during the approaching time of distress? He hoped the Government would not suppose that this was sufficient to relieve the people of Ireland, or that it was more than a drop of water in the sea, as compared with the great wants of that country, in consequence of the severe visitation of Providence which had occurred. It was not charity that the people required, but employment, and that employment the Government were bound to give them. It was the first principle of all governments that the care of the people should precede every other consideration: salus populi lex suprema was a principle which no political economist could deny. He sincerely wished that he had sufficient power to impress upon the Government the absolute necessity of taking timely precautions against the approaching famine; and he hoped that the gentry of Ireland would immediately come forward to assist in relieving their fellow countrymen, who by the circumstance of the failure of the potato crop were in danger of being reduced to a state of the utmost destitution. It should be recollected by the Government that many of the landed proprietors of Ireland were absentees; and that many other proprietors, who were resident in Ireland, had not the means at their command of giving sufficient employment to those around them. Under these circumstances, therefore, it was the imperative duty of the Government to come forward and provide the means of employment for the people of Ireland. If a sufficiently large sum were provided, it would not only relieve the distress of the people, but effect great public good, for there was scarcely a river or harbour in Ireland that was not capable of great and profitable improvement, whilst all the public improvements could be greatly facilitated by the assistance and co-operation of the county surveyors in that country. It was said on a former occasion that they ought not to tax the English people in order to give money to the Irish. But he would ask, did not the Irish nation pay her share, and more than her share, of the taxes? Had not every Chancellor of the Exchequer since the Union stated that the Irish people were taxed more heavily in proportion to their means than any other people in Europe? He believed that the Irish people were more taxed in proportion to their means of payment than any other people on the face of the globe. Those who made such observations as that which he alluded to were not the friends of the Union between both countries, for if it were said that the Irish had no claim on a fair proportion of the taxation of the United Kingdom, they would say, "Then in God's name let us manage our own affairs." The Irish people did not ask to receive money from English taxation, but they demanded as a right a fair proportion of the general taxation. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would come forward with a more extensive measure of relief than that which this Bill would afford.


said, that in giving his support to the Bill he was anxious to express his opinion, without saying whether it was a contemptible sum or not—that it was totally inadequate for the great purpose which it was intended to effect— and that it ought rather to be taken as a sign and token of English sympathy and interest, than as meant for a sufficient remedy for the evils which threatened Ireland. He believed that this great evil, the failure of the potato crop in Ireland, ought to be met in a totally different manner. It ought not to be met by English charity or Government assistance, but by the cordial sympathy and aid of the landed proprietors in Ireland, exhibited towards their distressed and unhappy tenantry. That was a duty which could not be properly discharged by deputation or by the appointment of a commission, but every landed proprietor who had an estate in Ireland ought to go to that estate and apply every shilling he possessed to the relief of the people; nay, he ought to borrow money, if he possessed none, for that purpose; and he was sure that the Irish people would make an ample return in their gratitude for that conduct towards them. He would except no one from that duty. There were Dukes and Marquesses who had palaces in this city, and estates in this country, but who, nevertheless, possessed large estates in Ireland; and it was their duty—a duty which he would willingly discharge if he possessed estates in that country—to betake themselves to their Irish property, and bestow from their private means relief to the people. That was the duty of the aristocracy; Sume superbiam quæsitam meritis; and England would co-operate in the exertions to alleviate the evil.


rejoiced to hear the speech of the right hon. Member who had just sat down; and he was convinced that if facilities were afforded to the landed proprietors of Ireland they would be found ready to undertake their part in assisting to relieve the distress which threatened a large portion of its population. His chief object in rising was to endeavour to impress on the mind of the right hon. Baronet the objectionable nature of the 5th and 6th clauses of the Bill. He hoped that some deference would be paid to the opinion of the country Gentlemen of Ireland on this subject; but, judging from the clauses to which he had adverted, it would seem that the Government thought their opinions of no moment.


agreed with the hon. Member for Roscommon in thinking that the landed gentry ought to have a voice in the matter. He was very happy to find that the money intended to be advanced on loan was to be lent out at a low and reasonable interest. It was his firm conviction that there would be an ample return for the money about to be so judiciously invested.

Bill read a second time.

House adjourned at a quarter past two o'clock.