HC Deb 13 March 1846 vol 84 cc979-80

would ask a question now which he had given notice he would put yesterday, when the House did not sit. It was this—Whether the measures of Government for meeting the impending scarcity in Ireland, contained any guarantee that every individual in immediate danger of perishing from want, should be enabled to obtain relief from some local authority, as in England? Every day more and more distressing accounts were received; and the right hon. Secretary of State would, therefore, not think it impertinent in him to inquire whether Ministers meant to undertake the responsibility of securing those who were in danger of perishing from destitution in Ireland, from such a calamity? Not that he considered it within their province so to do; but the course they had taken seemed to impose upon them that responsibility. He thought that the duty properly belonged to the local authorities, to the boards of guardians and the landlords; but Ministers appeared to have taken the burden off their shoulders, and to have put it upon their own. In England, if any such calamity occurred as that which now threatened Ireland, it would not be the duty of Government to interfere: the Poor Law guardians in the different Unions would have to apply a remedy to the emergency. They would have done so, no doubt, from the commencement of the winter; but in Ireland the case was different; there, the boards of guardians had not only no right to relieve the poor out of doors, but they were expressly forbidden from giving relief in any other shape than by admission into the workhouse. The workhouses were only calculated to contain about one per cent of the population, so that in some Unions not more than twenty or thirty paupers could be relieved. Under these circumstances, the course that seemed to him open to Government was, to bring in a Bill into Parliament, at the beginning of the Session, to require and authorize guardians of the poor to make provision for the relief of the destitute in their districts. That, in his opiuion, would have been the proper course; but Government had undertaken to secure the population of Ireland against famine. He had no wish to detain the House, but merely to preface his question, and to explain how it was that Ministers had volunteered a responsibility that in fact belonged to the owners of land and property in Ireland. He thought that the first right to the food grown in Ireland lay in the people of Ireland. If it should be the determination of Ministers not to allow outdoor relief, he should feel it his duty to bring a measure or a resolution upon the subject before the House. The hon. Member concluded by repeating his question in the terms he had before used.


wished to answer the question immediately. Certainly, the attention of Government had been directed with peculiar anxiety to this very difficult subject. The hon. Member sitting next to the hon. Gentleman who put the question, had spoken to him (Sir J. Graham) upon the point about a fortnight ago, and he had then said that it was not the intention of a Government to propose any permanent measure for outdoor relief to the people of Ireland.