HC Deb 27 July 1846 vol 88 cc29-32

referred to a report he had seen in the newspapers, that the supply of food by the Government in Ireland was to cease on the 15th of August. He wished to be informed what truth there might be in this statement, or whether Ministers had any intention to stop the supply of food at the date specified? If such a notion were to get abroad, he feared it would be received in Ireland with the deepest dissatisfaction. Nothing could have been conducted with greater wisdom and discretion than the supply of food by the late Government.


I saw in the papers of this morning the report to which the hon. and learned Member has referred, namely, that the supply of provisions would be stopped on the 15th of August. Relief has been afforded in Ireland, partly by means of employment given by the public, partly by employment given by persons residing in the neighbourhood, and partly by the Government, which furnished supplies of food in different districts of the country. We are in hopes that the last may, for the most part, be stopped on the 15th of August. I entirely concur in what has been said by the hon. and learned Member on the beneficial effects of the relief afforded; and from all the accounts I have received since I had the honour of holding the situation I now fill, I can bear my testimony to the excellent manner in which aid was given, so as to save the people almost from famine, and to preserve the peace of the country. At the same time I must observe, that this was a measure calculated to meet temporary and urgent distress; but that it may grow into an evil of no small magnitude, if it be converted into anything like a permanent system. If the people are taught to rely upon the Government for a supply of food, it will become not only a great but a growing evil. I have, I am sorry to say, some proof of the beginning of a feeling of the kind in Ireland; and it is, therefore, essentially necessary to have it clearly understood that it is not the intention to turn that which was a temporary remedy into a permanent system. We are in hopes that it will only be necessary to persevere in supplying food until the 15th of August, when the harvest will be partly gathered in; and directions have been issued to the Commissary General, who has the superintendence of the supply of food, to stop that supply as far as possible on the 15th of August. This is carrying it to a further period than was originally intended, in order that we may know whether the early crop of potatoes will be available. In the first instance, the period fixed was the 1st of August; but it has been extended to the 15th of that month. This was done before we had any reason to anticipate any failure of the crop; and it was most fortunate that such orders were given, because there is too much ground to believe that the early crop of potatoes has to a considerable extent failed. We have not taken this step without doing our best to ascertain whether an adequate supply of food may be expected from other and private sources. I shall, with the permission of the House, read a portion of a letter from the Commissary General at Cork, dated the 12th of July, which will show that there is no prospect of an adequate supply of food in the ports and in the neighbouring districts. [The right hon. Gentleman here read the extract. It stated, that considerable consignments of Indian corn had arrived, or were on their way, and that half a dozen vessels were waiting for orders, whose cargoes, if left much longer on board, would heat.] The fact is, that they were unwilling to unload their cargoes and bring their grain to market as long as the Government supplies lasted, because they were unable to enter into competition. [The writer went on to state, under date of the 15th July, that other ships had come in laden with maize, and were waiting in confidence that sooner or later they should be wanted.] The directions given to him were dated July 22, and he was told that, if other supplies were exhausted, he was at liberty to make use of the biscuit under his charge. The intention was to wind up and bring the matter to a close by the 15th of August; but this applies solely to the supply of food by Government; the employment upon public works is to be continued, and care will be taken that, in remote parts of Ireland, the people shall not unnecessarily suffer from a sudden stoppage of what they have been accustomed to receive. It is not only a just but a wise measure not to teach the people permanently to depend upon the Government for supplies. The stoppage will not be made until it can be done safely, and at no period can it be so well effected as when the harvest affords a good prospect of adequate means of subsistence.


said, the early crop of potatoes had been nearly lost; the hope founded upon this prospect had therefore been disappointed. It seemed to him absolutely necessary not to discontinue the supplies hitherto afforded, at all events until the latter end of September. The present Government had nothing to do but to follow the excellent example of their predecessors, with the same readiness to relieve cases of distress.


wished to be informed whether there would be any objection speedily to lay upon the Table an account of the manner in which assistance had been afforded—whether in the shape of provisions or employment?


was anxious to ascertain, another point. Did Government intend to lay upon the Table an account of the contributions by private parties in aid of the object of Government? What had been done by the relief committees in various districts to alleviate distress? Would that information, if supplied, be in sufficient detail to enable the public to understand whether the contributions by individuals were at all in proportion to the means they possessed, and the amount of their property? It would have considerable influence in deciding whether in the present year the relief ought to be continued.


referred to the Grand Jury Presentment Bill passed in the present Session, by which 100,000l. was placed in the hands of the treasurers of the different counties, in order to enable prompt payment to be made for works under that Act, and under the Grand Jury Act. He understood that no portion of that fund was now remaining', owing to the increase of distress. He wished to know whether it were intended that an additional sum, in accordance with the provisions of the law, should be placed at the disposal of the Irish Government.


With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Montrose, I have to reply, that it is the intention of Government, ere long, to lay on the Table a number of papers explanatory of all that has been done in affording relief to the people of Ireland. Government is also per- fectly ready to produce an account of the amount of private contributions; but I am not prepared to say that it would be expedient to give the names of individuals with the sums they severally gave. I am bound to say, however, that the gentlemen of Ireland have come forward most liberally, and contributed in the whole a large sum. As to the question put to me, the whole of the 100,000l. was placed at the disposal of the Irish Government, and we have received applications for a further amount. Not only has relief to a great amount been afforded under the first Act of this Session, but under the second Act, authorizing the issue of 100,000l. The whole of that sum, and more, has been placed at the disposal of the Irish Government. Presentments to the further amount of 30,000l. have been made to the Government, and I believe they have now come to a close; but we have to sanction the issue of 30,000l. more. The hon. Member is wrong if he supposes that the 100,000l. has not been advanced; they have had that sum, and, as I said, 30,000l. more. I assure him that the most anxious attention of Ministers is constantly directed to Ireland and to the state of her crops; we receive reports on the subject from day to day; and although I shall be very sorry to find that we are again called upon, we shall nevertheless not be unprepared.