§ MR. W. SMITH O'BRIEN
wished to ask the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who had brought in a Bill with reference to the fever prevailing in Ireland, whether he had any objection to state when the discussion on that Bill would be taken, and whether the second reading, which was fixed for this evening, would come on.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
was understood to say that he really hoped the second reading of this Bill would come on to-night, even if it were after twelve o'clock. He hoped the hon. Member would allow the second reading of the Bill to proceed. It was his earnest desire to give the House the fullest opportunity of discussing the Bill.
§ MR. W. SMITH O'BRIEN
said, his object was not so much to discuss the Bill, as to call the attention of the House to the measures which were required on other grounds than the representations of Government. The obvious course to be adopted was that recommended by the hon. Member for Finsbury, to send the starving people supplies of food, and thereby avert the necessity of sending them physic.
§ MR. P. SCROPE
said, he had read the Papers which had been laid on the Table by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), and since printed; and the inference he drew from them certainly was, first, that what the Irish people wanted was not physic, but food, to prevent the impending famine, and what arose as a consequence; and, in the next place, that no time was to be lost. If they were to go through the debate on corn, and the Tariff, before they had an opportunity of discussing the question whether any further measures besides fever hospitals were required, the delay would be a most unfortunate one. He must ask the right hon. Baronet to give the House the opportunity, when the Bill went into Committee, of discussing whether any ulterior measures, with the view of giving food rather than physic, were not desirable. He should then move, either as an Amendment, or an additional clause to the Bill—That, in order to avert the impending famine from the people of Ireland, it is expedient to enlarge the provisions of the Irish Poor Law, so as not merely to secure medical relief to the poor in the sick hospitals, but, likewise, by timely supplies of food, to prevent their being reduced to that state of starvation.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
said, that the documents which the hon. Member had referred 1049 to proved to demonstration that no time should be lost in providing a suitable remedy to prevent the progress of fever in Ireland; and he hoped the hon. Member would concur in thinking that this measure was most pressing, however important and necessary other measures might be to which he had referred. The alteration of the Irish Poor Law was certainly a very important question; and if the hon. Member wished it to be discussed, it might be made the subject of a future and substantive Motion. But he hoped the hon. Member would not allow it to interfere with this question of providing the means of arresting the progress of fever—a measure in which there ought to be no delay whatever. He might state, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury with respect to the supply of food, that in cases of urgent necessity, very ample arrangements had been made by the Government to meet that necessity; and when the proper time arrived, Government would ask for the sanction of Parliament to the steps which had been taken, availing themselves of their responsibility to make such provision.
§ MR. HUME
hoped the Government would not think of distributing food: what the Irish people wanted was employment. He hoped that no gratuitous distribution would be made, except in cases of very urgent necessity; and the line might be drawn pretty accurately. He wished strongly to protest against the idea of making the whole populace of Ireland a nation of paupers. Let employment be given them: that was what was wanted.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
What the Government proposes to do is to give them labour whereby an opportunity will be afforded them of obtaining wages; and in addition to that, facilities will also be given them for obtaining food for the wages so earned, at a very reasonable price.
That is just what the Irish Members desire; but I must also remind the right hon. Baronet, that not a shilling of the sums voted for public works, or of the money subscribed for the construction of railways, has as yet been laid out.
§ MR. WAKLEY
said, it appeared from all the Reports that the fever owed its origin to want of food. To provide labour must be a work of time; and he wanted to know why the poor Irish and the poor English should receive different treatment under the same Government? In England, 1050 if a number of the labouring people were destitute, the law provided them a maintenance at once; and if a poor man died from starvation, after his application for relief was refused, the officers refusing were, in the eyes of the law, guilty of murder. But in Ireland it appeared that hundreds and thousands of destitute people might die from starvation, and no law was violated. He was astonished that the Irish Members could be quiet under such circumstances; if he were an Irish Member, the English Parliament should have no rest so long as such a state of things existed. So far from condemning the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) who gave vent the other night to his feelings in terms which the occasion demanded, he admired him for the spirit he had displayed. He wished it to be explained why a different course of policy should be adopted with regard to the two countries. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose as to the desirableness of giving the people work, and he would support any measure having that object. But it was now apparent, from the official returns which Government had received, that throughout Ireland the most frightful distress prevailed; and from whom did this information come? From the medical officers of the poor-law districts in Ireland, who had opportunities not only of obtaining information from the infirmaries and dispensaries in the country, but were well acquainted with the state of the poor in the various districts in which they practised. Now the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government stood better with the people of England in respect of this subject than any other Member of the House. In the first week of November, foreseeing what was likely to arise, the right hon. Baronet had proposed that the ports of the country should be opened; and because he could not carry such a proposal, be resigned his office in the Government. Such conduct was in the highest degree commendable; and he for one envied the feelings the right hon. Baronet must experience at that moment. The public expected that when the noble Lord the Member for the city of London had an opportunity of forming an Administration, he would have done so, and would have acted upon the principles which he propounded in his letter to his constituents. Instead, however, of doing so, after some petty squabble, the noble Lord abandoned the prospect of forming an Administration, and 1051 the predictions which the right hon. Baronet made at the close of the last year had since been fulfilled. Now, he should like to ask the hon. and learned Recorder for Dublin, whether he was satisfied that the accounts with regard to the deplorable condition of the people of Ireland the right hon. Baronet had given to the House were not exaggerated? He should propose that the Poor Law should be at once amended in preference to their passing any fever Bills. If that were not done, or if it were not distinctly stated why a different rule of conduct was to be observed by the Imperial Parliament towards the poor of the one country and of the other; until that statement were made, he for one (although he acknowledged that what the Government was doing with respect to supplying the Irish poor with fever hospitals was very right and proper), thought that one paramount duty was being neglected, namely, that the law should be made to provide for the poor of Ireland. It was admitted by nearly every one who had furnished these statistics, that the cause of fever was to be found in the deficiency of food, or the bad quality of it. He had stated on a previous night that prevention was better than cure, and he considered it the Government's bounden duty to adopt such measures as would, for the time coming, render the sister country less liable to the visitations of famine, and, consequently, of fever.
§ SIR R. PEEL
Sir, I do hope that the House will not be led into a debate, the effect of which must necessarily be to postpone the consideration of that measure which it is understood is to occupy our attention this evening. The hon. Gentleman and the House will recollect that the Tariff provides for the remission or the repeal of duty on many articles of subsistence—and that, so soon as the Tariff shall have received the sanction of this House, that is to say, so soon as the Resolutions affirmed by the Committee shall have been reported, there will be the opportunity on the part of the Government, with respect to every article excepting those in the Corn Bill, of immediately making an order for remitting the duty on those articles in bond. Therefore, the more haste we can make in passing the Tariff, the more are we prepared to provide the people of Ireland with free access to many articles of subsistence; and I do hope, therefore, that however important or interesting this subject may be, the House will not allow itself to be led away from the debate which is immediately 1052 connected with our progress in supplying the people of Ireland with food. I do assure the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Scrope), that there cannot be a matter of higher importance than that to which he has adverted, namely, what shall be the claim or rights on the part of the destitute poor of Ireland to relief. I am sure the hon. Gentleman must recollect what difficulty the noble Lord had in passing the Irish Poor Law Bill, in applying those qualifications which that Bill imposes; and how many persons there were professing, and I believe feeling, the deepest interest in the welfare of Ireland, who did offer to that Bill, even with all its qualifications and restrictions, their most strenuous opposition, thinking that the tendency of it was rather to interfere with the current of private charity, and to lower, rather than to improve, the condition of the Irish people. If you are to go on the ground of the absolute right to relief of the destitute in Ireland, I can only say, that you will be opening a question which, as regards their social condition, will be attended with the most serious consequences. In the present case, I would strongly advise the House not to attempt any legislative rule as to the principles on which relief is to be given. It requires very great tact and discretion on the part of the Executive; and, if you attempt to apply any general principle as to the relief you will give, or the regulations on which you will give it, you will find that utterly impossible. In the case of a number of rich landed proprietors living together, surely Government has a right to throw upon them the duty of providing relief, and the responsibility of refusing to do so, supposing they did refuse. But, on the other hand, there may be in remote districts, as in Galway or Nenagh, an absolute necessity for Government interference, neglecting all such other modes of relief. The circumstances of different districts and parishes are so various, that no legislative rule can be laid down. You had much better trust Government with the discretion. You had much better not ask them what the principles are on which they propose to act in this matter, in order that persons may not take advantage of that knowledge when applying for relief. Let us, in some cases, encourage private liberality; in others, dispense with it; hoping that there will be no abuse of the authority we assume; and hereafter we shall come down to Parliament, lay the whole case before you, and ask for an indemnity, 1053 if indemnity be required. That is the course which has been pursued in former cases. There was no jealousy on the part of the Executive Government; and if the emergency was one requiring so much tact and local knowledge in the application of a remedy, for the purpose of not establishing a precedent, and preventing dangerous abuses, the House was induced to leave it in the hands of Government. I assure the House that the fullest information with reference to every farthing that is granted will be hereafter given them. But, on the other hand, considering what effect the passing of these Resolutions, which embody so many articles of food, will have upon trade, upon employment, and upon the supply of articles of food, I hope that Gentlemen will have some control upon those feelings of sympathy which do them so much honour; and, seeing the advantage that is to be gained by the House deciding upon the great commercial questions that are now before it, I hope we shall endeavour to abstain from being needlessly led aside from their consideration.
§ CAPTAIN JONES
believed that no applications for relief in Ireland had been refused. In the beginning of January, the number of persons in the poor house, receiving relief, was smaller than it was at the same period in the year before, by at least five per cent; and it had been gradually falling off.
§ MR. W. SMITH O'BRIEN
said, he did not see how the reduction of the duty on butter, silks, and other articles in the Tariff, could have any effect on the relief of the Irish poor. He did not believe the measures of Government were sufficient for the purpose in view. Of course, after the statement of the right hon. Baronet, that he took on himself the full responsibility of making provision for the distress, be was not entitled to make any further observations; but he must enter his protest against the House considering anything of more importance than the relief of the Irish destitute poor.
§ Subject at an end.