HC Deb 20 December 1847 vol 95 cc1421-36

LORD J. RUSSELL moved that the House at its rising do adjourn to Thursday, the 3rd of February next. He believed nothing required at present that there should be an earlier meeting of the House, and as he believed the time named for adjournment was approved of by the House generally, he begged to move accordingly.


said, it was with regret he perceived the noble Lord had thought fit to move so long an adjournment. The noble Lord could not have attended to the statement in a petition he had the honour to present to that House, otherwise the noble Lord would have seen the necessity for naming an earlier time of meeting. He could only attribute the long adjournment to a total ignorance on the part of the noble Lord of the distress prevailing among the manufacturing population, and the fearful state in which some of the vast iron manufacturers in Staffordshire and in Wales were at this moment placed. He could tell the noble Lord that masses of people had been discharged, and were daily being discharged, in the great manufacturing districts, and that in consequence of this want of employment for so many labouring men, and a reduction of wages to the employed, it was impossible to fathom the depth of the distress which existed. What course had the House taken to meet existing and coming difficulties? They had appointed a Committee, which Committee could not be expected to make a report before the lapse of several months. The Committee were to inquire into the cause of the monetary distress; but they were not expected to support any remedies for the evils under which the people at present suffered. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries) had a notice on the books which, had it been allowed to be brought forward, would have placed the whole subject under the consideration of the House. The result, no doubt, would have been that remedial measures would have been recommended. By means of a measure adopted by Her Majesty's Ministers, the commercial distress had been arrested. By the same means the large failures which were then taking place, had been stopped. So far, good had been done; but distress was now falling on a class of society which more particularly called for the attention of that House. The happiness and prosperity of the class he referred to, were, in his opinion, essential to the prosperity of the kingdom. Let it be recollected, that thousands were being thrown out of bread. Government had stopped commercial failures, but had broken down the industry of the country. When they talked of there not being sufficient capital in the country, he would ask what was the poor man's capital? The poor man's capital was his labour. It was ne- cessary the poor man's only capital should be employed, as that was the only means he had of supplying the wants of his family. When the labourer was employed, all classes were benefited. They might have arrested difficulties in one quarter, but they would find that the pressure on the industrious classes was becoming every day more intense. He would not enter upon the large field of the causes of our embarrassments. He would not force a debate on the House, as many hon. Members were absent whom he should wish to be present when he made his observations. He would, however, just say, that though he granted railway speculation had been carried to an improvident extent, yet he by no means agreed with those who asserted that this speculation had caused the late panic in the commercial world. While he admitted the evil of improvident speculation, he yet declared that had our monetary system been sound, the whole result of this over-speculation would have fallen on individuals, and would not have created that disarrangement of our monetary system which had occurred, and which was attributed to railway speculation. But if over-speculation caused distress, what did they think would be the result of a sudden stoppage of railway undertakings? Did Government really think they had done good by throwing so many thousand railway labourers out of work? It might be said that Parliament could not remedy this state of things. He denied it. He asserted that it was in the power of Parliament to provide a remedy. It was to Parliament that the people must come for a remedy under such circumstances, for the relief of the pressure which prevailed. If the House added insult to injury by refusing to interfere, they would do much to bring their legislative functions into contempt with the people. He would allude shortly to the state of distress which was rapidly spreading throughout the country—more especially from the stoppage of railway works. It was not only the labourer who suffered from being deprived of work—the small tradesman who supplied the wants of the labourer also suffered. The evil did not stop here. Those traders who had calculated their incomes on the previous half year, were obliged to pay the income-tax on that amount, though they actually sustained loss. This, he could tell the Government, would soon be felt in the country. He would also point out another circumstance which had come within his own knowledge. Considerable orders had come from America, and many more were coming. A merchant largely engaged in the American trade had told him that he had suspended the execution of the orders he had received, because the same distress which prevailed in our money market, and which had produced here such disastrous effects, was manifesting itself in the American money market. The Americans were taking the same steps that we were to keep the gold in their hands; and this struggle must inevitably produce a baneful action in our own market. This was another reason why Government ought not to adjourn Parliament until they had done something to set the Bank of England free from the shackles which the Act of 1844 imposed on it. The hon. Gentleman concluded by saying that he desired it should appear on the face of the proceedings of the House that at least one Member disapproved of the lengthened adjournment proposed by the noble Lord. He, therefore, proposed, as an Amendment, to leave out the words "Thursday, the 3rd of February," for the purpose of inserting the "13th of January."


seconded the Amendment. He must corroborate the statement of his Colleague as to the depression of trade and the distress of the manufacturing districts, and warned the Government that the distress was increasing with fearful rapidity.


, though not prepared to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member, could not allow the question to pass without calling their attention to the condition of the able-bodied destitute poor of Ireland. He thought he should best discharge his duty, not by supporting the Amendment, but by urging upon the Government the absolute necessity of considering the condition of those unfortunate persons before the meeting of Parliament in February—of bringing forward measures at that time to place the relations of capital and labour upon a better footing than at present. Unless they were at once prepared so as to be ready before their next meeting, it would be utterly impossible to pass them in time to alleviate the distress which would certainly take place in the spring and summer. As an Irishman, he never could hesitate to express the gratitude he felt for the large sums which had been voted for the aid of his unfortunate countrymen by the liberality of the House; but all that money had been spent rather in dealing with the effects than in removing the causes of their misery. Unless measures were speedily adopted to check the onward course of the people towards pauperism, and to change their social condition, the whole of them would sink into misery and ruin. Every day reduced those who before had been in comparative comfort to the class of those who were most wretchedly circumstanced; and the number of those able to pay rates was decreasing gradually, but certainly, week after week; so that it was evident Ireland could not but fall into the depths of misery if some measures were not adopted to check these evils.


expressed his regret that the Government had not passed a short measure providing for the employment of able-bodied poor in productive labour, especially in the cultivation of the land. It would have had a most advantageous operation if some system of parochial productive labour had been found, instead of unproductive and profitless public works, or mere soup distribution, and other eleemosynary relief. There was an enormous amount of waste labour and waste land in Ireland; and it was ridiculous to expend millions in maintaining the poor in idleness in workhouses, when the cultivation of the soil would return remunerating profit for any labour employed upon it. The want of employment in Ireland drove the people, in hundreds of thousands, to this country, taking the bread out of the mouths of our own people, and burdening the poor-rates. There was a desire on the part of the Irish landlords to clear their estates, and get rid of their small tenantry, who of course could only come over here, being offered a few shillings a head for the purpose. This winter an extraordinary immigration was to be expected, and would evidently prove extremely oppressive. There was a positive premium upon the practice of "clearance," and there were some hundreds of thousands of the poorer tenantry in Ireland. He urged upon the Government the necessity of some compulsory measure for the employment of labour in Ireland.


rose to ask the Government respecting their proceedings upon a Motion which he had made last Session upon colonisation, as regarded the Irish poor. It was most desirable that the House should be in full possession of all the information the Government could af- ford respecting colonisation, as it had an especial bearing upon, and reference to, the state of Ireland. To the Motion he made upon the question, the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) and the House assented; but the noble Lord said he would not recommend Her Majesty to appoint a commission, but would, by means of reports from the various Governors of the British colonies, obtain all the information sought for. Assuming that such instructions had been sent out to the colonial Governors, he had now to ask the noble Lord whether any and what information had been received upon this subject, and whether he was in possession of a sufficient number of those reports to place before the House at an early period?


wished to make a few observations, as his constituents were extremely anxious respecting the state of the commercial affairs of this country; and he had no doubt that when hon. Members returned to their constituents, the first question that they would put to them would be, what Parliament had done to mitigate this distress, and how they had attempted to meet the emergency which had arisen? To such questions all hon. Members could say was, that they had been called together for the purpose of indemnifying the Government; but that as the steps had not been taken by the Government which it must be presumed they intended to take, such indemnity had not been asked or needed. He must say—and he made the remark in no unfriendly spirit—that he thought the Government was to blame for not having acted with more stringency and energy upon the question of railways. Let them call to mind the position in which the House was in 1845. Parliament passed Railway Bills in that year, authorising the raising of 45,000,000l. of money; in 1846, they passed Bills authorising the raising of 132,000,000l. of money; and last Session for 40,000,000l., making somewhere about 215,000,000l.of money to be raised in a few years. Could any man in his senses think this was a wise or proper proceeding? and yet it had been sanctioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth, and the noble Lord at the head of the Government. Did the noble Lord or the right hon. Baronet think that the people of England could subsist by travelling on railways, which could only be made out of the surplus of the savings of the people, and the capital raised in the manufacturing districts? A great cause of the disasters among the trading community had been that mercantile men, when they wanted money, found the railway companies competitors with them in the money market, thus raising the rate of interest, and increasing the difficulty of obtaining money. He wished the Government to consider whether or no they could obtain the cooperation of the leading railway companies towards an enactment by which directors of railways would not be allowed to make calls upon the shareholders unless with the consent of two-thirds of the body, and that they should not, for six months, be allowed to raise money at more than five per cent interest? Many people were of opinion that this new Committee for the purpose of inquiry into the causes of the recent commercial distress was appointed for the purpose of relieving the Government from responsibility, and shelving discussion in Parliament upon those matters. He was not inclined to think so harshly; but must, at the same time, observe that the objects of the Committee were much too onerous, and the boundaries of their investigation too wide, and even indistinct, to afford much probability of their coming to any practical conclusion, or of much solid advantage being derived from their labours. He disagreed with most hon. Members who found fault with the Bank Charter Act; for whereas they thought it was blame-able for its want of accommodation in seasons of distress, he thought it was chiefly reprehensible for its giving no warning in seasons of prosperity. They were a spirited, enthusiastic, enterprising, and energetic people; and some still small voice to whisper in their ears was most necessary at periods when the nation was buoyed up with the prospect of sudden wealth— Oh, if Fortune fill thy sail With more than a propitious gale Take half thy canvass in. He thought the Times newspaper demanded the gratitude of the public, for its exertions in repressing railway speculation. He blamed the Bank of England for the undue stimulus it had given by suddenly lowering the interest of money, and again in raising it to an excessive height.


wished to make a remark respecting the business of the Session. In answer to a question put to him, the noble Lord at the head of the Government said, he did not expect he should be able to introduce any measure with reference to the Navigation Laws (alluded to in the Speech from the Throne) at an early period after the recess. He (Mr. Gladstone) heard that answer with very great regret. He was not surprised that the noble Lord should find some difficulty in bringing under the notice of the House at an early period all his measures; but he apprehended that if there was any one subject more than another which all classes were desirous of seeing definitively settled, one way or the other, during the present Session, it was the Navigation Laws. The subject was ripe for discussion, and much useful information had been elicited regarding it by the Committee of last Session. It would be highly satisfactory if the noble Lord would, at as early a period as possible after the recess—early enough, at all events, to give full time for discussion and deliberation to both Houses of Parliament before the close of the Session—bring forward this question, so that the commercial and shipping interests might not be kept in a state of suspense injurious to their own interests and to the country generally.


said, that Parliament had been called together at an unusually early period—it would seem as if they met merely for the purpose of adjourning—for what had they done? And again he would ask them why should they now adjourn? They had passed a Coercion Bill for Ireland; but the Government did not wish Parliament to sit to see its working, and, if found inoperative or inefficient, murders and crime might go on as usual. Surely there ought to be some reason assigned for their being called together. He believed the fact was, the Government felt themselves in a most uncomfortable position—they felt themselves unequal to their duties, and they wished to shelve upon Parliament that responsibility which ought to attach to themselves. They found themselves in a dilemma, and they called upon the House to extricate them. And what was the cause of their adjournment? Where would the noble Lord at the head of the Government be during the recess? Probably hunting, or shooting, or dancing. There was a Member of the Government absent in another country. What was he doing? Was he on public business or on a pleasure excursion? Was he living on his own fortune, or receiving the public money? How long was he to be absent, and what was he doing, or what did he intend to do? He supposed one of the main reasons for this sudden adjournment was the anxiety of the Government to escape from those questions which hon. Members might, from time to time, think fit to put to them. But the question the English people would ask was, what had Parliament, what had the Government, done to relieve the distress under which the country now suffered? What had been done to mitigate those sufferings in the commercial world which were so keenly felt? What had been done to alleviate the sufferings of the unemployed operatives? The answer was, a Committee had been appointed. The country would feel very proud to hear that the Government had determined to relieve its sufferings with a blue book, which would be produced when those sufferings had terminated fatally, something after the manner of the physician, who had his medicine compounded just when the patient was dead. If the present Government was as weak, incapable, and irresolute as it seemed to be, they had better quit office than ruin the country. Let them have another body of men who would, at all events, strive to do business, and not call the representatives of ths people together merely for the purpose of extricating them from the position in which their imbecility and imprudence had placed them.


wished to call the attention of the House to the distressed state of Ireland, and more particularly of the western part of it, with which he was more immediately connected. He would never cease to bear testimony to all that had been done for Ireland by this country during the last year; and he regretted to have heard some of the language that had been used in that House on the subject. But it was right that the House should be made acquainted with the difficulties with which the gentry of Ireland had to contend. They were surrounded by starving multitudes whom it was impossible for them, by any effort, to provide with sustenance; and he greatly feared that in many parts of the country any exertion they could make would be wholly insufficient to keep the people alive; and that the task would thus again fall on that House of saving the people from starvation. He was of opinion that Parliament had taken the proper course in passing the Bill for the suppression of crime and outrage in Ireland, in the first instance; but he hoped that after the recess they would lose no time in considering other measures for the relief of that country. Considering that the crop on which depended the whole support of the people had been altogether destroyed, it was no wonder that the great distress which prevailed last year should have existed. The efforts made by Parliament had no doubt the effect of saving the lives of many of the people; but it should not be forgotten that one consequence of these efforts was, that the people were taken away from the cultivation of the soil, and that there was necessarily a great diminution in the crops for the present year, and a proportionate want of the means of support. He was glad, however, to be able to say that he saw the prospect of a much more extensive cultivation of the soil next year.


hoped that his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment. No hon. Member could hesitate to sacrifice his own personal convenience to the public interest, if it were shown that it really would conduce to the public interest that that House should meet at an earlier period than that proposed; but on this subject he was quite willing to give his confidence to the Government, for they would not have fixed the day they had, unless they believed it would be for the furtherance of the public interest. He hoped that the statements that had fallen from the two hon. Members for North Warwick concerning the lamentable condition of the manufacturing classes in those districts with which they were best acquainted, would not be lost upon the House. The attention of the House had been much called to the distress of the people of Ireland; but little attention—he regretted to say too little—had been bestowed during the present short Session on the embarrassment under which the manufacturers were now labouring, and the depression of the operatives in those districts. It had been stated, upon authority which he supposed was correct, that two-fifths of the working classes in the manufacturing districts were at present out of employment; that of the remainder a portion only were in full employ; and that a large number of factories and mills were working short time, and no inconsiderable number working not at all. If to these things were added the fact that merchants abroad were purchasing cotton at a lower price than our merchants, and carrying away to foreign countries produce which ought to be in the hands of our own operatives, it proved that the most anxious deliberation, not only of the Government, but of Parliament itself, was required; and he trusted that the subject would be brought under consideration at an early period. Another topic of great interest in the country was the present state of the country and the law of banking. He did not intend to say a word now that could by possibility lead to a discussion; but the subject had been pressed upon his attention from various quarters, and he had had that very day a petition committed to his care, which, owing to an accident, he had not been able to present, signed by 132 highly respectable firms in Liverpool, praying some remedial measure to what they conceived was the obstructive character of the Bank Charter Act. He, therefore, hoped to be able to bring forward the subject on one of the earliest days after the reassembling of Parliament. Hitherto he had yielded, as he felt it his duty to do, to the wish of the House, that the Bill relating to crimes and outrages in Ireland should have precedence of all other subjects; but he now hoped for the assistance of the Government to enable him to bring forward the subjects to which he had alluded as speedily as possible after the meeting of Parliament.


I wish to address myself in the first place to some observations which fell from the hon. Baronet the Member for Clare, relative to the distress which exists in various parts of Ireland, and the exertions which have been made by gentlemen of property to alleviate that distress. I cannot contradict the first part of his statement, as to the distress; but, I am happy to say, with reference to the second part, that all the accounts I have received show me that great exertions are made by gentlemen possessing property to alleviate that distress, and to find employment for the people. The applications under the Land Improvement Act show that there is a disposition on the part of those who possess property in Ireland to give employment, and thereby to prevent a recurrence of the distress of last year. But when the hon. Baronet goes on to express his hope and expectation that relief will be given by Parliament, I must say, in the first place, that I think it will be necessary we should have proofs that every possible exertion has been made in the different unions of Ireland, to carry into effect the law passed in the last Session of Parliament for the better relief of the poor. I do not at all regret the measures of last year; but, at the time they gave relief, they were a serious burden to other parts of the country, under the dis- astrous circumstances of the high price of provisions and the commercial distress. I do not say that this should be a reason why we should not in any extreme case afford assistance to distress in Ireland; but I beg at the same time to call the attention of the hon. Baronet, and other Members of the House representing Irish towns and counties, to the statements that have been made, and, as I believe, very truly made, by the hon. Members for North Warwickshire, of the dreadful state of distress arising from want of employment which prevails in the manufacturing districts of this country. As no one asks, and no one probably will ask, that persons in constant employ should be sustained by grants from the Consolidated Fund in England, so it cannot be supposed that any relief from the Imperial Treasury should be granted for Ireland until all the means under the law for the relief of the poor have been duly used. With respect to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I am glad to find that he does not approve of the Motion for a shorter period of adjournment. I think the better course is an adjournment to February. With reference to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman upon the subject of the currency, when that Motion shall come on, Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to state their views to the House; and until then I rest in confidence, that although we may happen to differ from the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the operation of the Act of 1844, we shall not differ from him in this respect—that he is as desirous as we ourselves of the convertibility of that portion of our currency which is in paper into gold, and that he will not give the countenance of his high authority to those opinions which are propounded by some Gentlemen from Birmingham—opinions which I believe to be injurious, not only to the prosperity, but to the character and good faith of the empire. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford has asked a question with regard to the bringing forward of measures by the Government relative to the Navigation Laws. I certainly hesitated to make any promise that that measure should be brought forward immediately after the recess; and I beg him to consider—as a fact within his own knowledge—that the proportion of time allotted to the Government for bringing forward those measures which they think necessary should be adopted by Parlia- ment only consists of eight days in the month; and it was only this evening that the right hon. Member for Stamford appealed to the Government that one of those days should be given to the discussion of his Motion. Owing to the very short time allotted for the proposal and debate of Government measures, I was unwilling to pledge myself to bring forward this measure early in the Session. Until we have all the returns of the revenue before us, it is impossible to say how early we can succeed in bringing this question before Parliament; and I must, therefore, reserve the period of its introduction to the discretion of the Government. But I am ready to say that the question shall be brought forward at such a time as to give ample opportunity for the consideration of all matters connected with it. We likewise wish, immediately after the recess, to bring forward some of the Irish measures of which we have spoken. An hon. Gentleman said, that after we had passed the measure for the prevention of offences in Ireland, he doubted whether we should proceed with any others. I think the hon. Gentleman may spare himself any anxiety on that subject. My noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland has given his best consideration to the state of Ireland; and the result of that consideration will not rest in empty declamations or words, and he is prepared to act with that vigour and energy which belong to his character in carrying the law into effect. Let me add, that I think it of the utmost importance that the Government should not be frustrated in their attempts; and I shall be prepared on the part of the Government in this country to give every support to my noble Friend in his measures for the prevention of those offences which have recently taken place in Ireland. The noble Lord the Member for Falkirk asked a question with respect to emigration. I can only say in reply, that the papers will be laid on the table of the House; and if the noble Lord had spoken a day or two sooner, they could have been laid on the table, I believe, this evening. In some places, especially in Canada, great prejudice has been excited against emigration, in consequence of the unfortunate condition in which certain emigrants from Ireland arrived there, and the mortality that has taken place. We shall, however, lay on the table all the information on the subject which we possess. In conclusion I can only say, that seeing the sense of the House upon the subject, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press his Motion for an earlier adjournment.


said, there was a subject of some importance to Ireland which he wished to bring under the notice of the Government and of the country. When the Parliament passed the Poor Law Bill last year, it was decided that the rating should take place generally in electoral divisions, and not in unions, except in cases where the boards of guardians were unanimous on the subject. It was so very seldom that the boards were unanimous, that he believed there was only one case where a union rating had been made with consent of the board. But it happened in some cases that the boards of guardians had been dismissed, and paid guardians appointed. These paid guardians, being only two in number, had no difficulty in coming to a unanimous decision, and rating the union. This, however, he considered an evasion of the law, and he therefore brought the matter under the consideration of the House.


rose to ask a question of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. His noble Friend had stated that no further sum would be granted for the relief of Irish distress until they saw the poor-law carried into full effect in that country. Now, a report had been laid upon the table of the House, showing the contributions made in England and Ireland respectively for the relief of the poor, from which it appeared that the average amount over England last year was Is. 7¾d. in the pound, and that in Ireland it was 8¼d. in the pound; and this amount was rendered in Ireland up to the 1st of January, 1847. He hoped, as the subject of Ireland did form a prominent part of their deliberations, when they met again that his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would have a similar return made up to the 1st of January, 1848. Some hon. Gentlemen had spoken of the distress existing in Ireland, and he could assure those hon. Gentlemen that the English Members were willing and anxious to grant what they could; but, at the same time, they must look to the position of their own constituents. With regard to the metropolis, there was one of the parishes which he represented—probably the richest parish or district in the world—he meant the parish of Marylebone, where, if hon. Gentlemen drove though it, they would see nothing but wealth; yet in that parish, out of a population of 140,000, I out of every 17 in the population were in the receipt of parochial aid; and there was another parish where 27,000 persons were receiving parochial aid, while of these, exactly ten per cent, or 2,700, were Irish. He therefore trusted that the representatives of Ireland would see that English Members had duties to perform towards those whom they represented; and they might rest assured that they would be ready to grant the Irish all reasonable and proper assistance after they had discharged the duties proper to their own constituents.


said, that the comparison between the burden of the poor-rate in England and Ireland was scarcely fair, considering that so much money was carried out of Ireland by the absentee landlords in this country. If they sent back the money taken away by the rich proprietors, the Irish would be as able to pay poor-rates as the English were; but after taking away the rich proprietor, and exhausting the poor proprietor who remained, it was rather unfair to taunt Ireland with paying only 8d. in the pound, while England paid Is. 7d. If they did not take care of the operation of the out-door relief clause in the Poor Law Bill, the Irish resident proprietors would be brought to poverty and distress, and the result would be that they would come over to England as the French refugees did after the Revolution, and they should have to give them a shilling a day to maintain them. The passing of the Encumbered Estates and the Landlord and Tenant Bills would go far of themselves to pacify Ireland. He advised the Government, however, to put entirely out of their minds any speeches by the hon. Member for Marylebone.


, in reference to the remark of the hon. Member for Marylebone, begged to say that a paper had been printed, and would be in the hands of Members in two or three days, showing what had been the amount of rates collected in Ireland in every month of the present year up to the latest period. With reference to the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington, he had to say that he was not aware of any such case as that which had been referred to. He was quite sure that no general system of union rating had been adopted, and that if any paid board of guardians had thought it their duty to adopt that course, they must have done so with the sanction of the Poor Law Commissoners upon a full consideration of the circumstances of the case.


, with reference to the remarks which had been made respecting the different ratings for the poor in England and Ireland, begged to say that in the twenty-seven parishes which constituted the borough he represented (Aylesbury), the average poor-rate was 6s. in the pound. He was quite certain it was as high as 6s. 6d. in his own parish. When Irish Gentlemen were rated to that extent, it would be time enough for them to come over and ask his constituents to contribute to their relief.


said, that as he had gathered that it was not the wish of the House that he should press his Amendment, he should ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment withdrawn, and the Motion for the Adjournment of the House till the 3rd of February was agreed to.