LORD J. RUSSELL
moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Labouring Poor (Ireland) Bill.
rose to move—That the Second Reading and all other stages in that House of the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill should have precedence of the said Labouring Poor (Ireland) Bill.616 If he thought that the clauses of the latter Bill granting an indemnity to the Government would be opposed, he should not for a moment think of interposing the proposition he now made. On the contrary, he believed that Bill would pass with the unanimous approbation of the House. The Lord Lieutenant and Government of Ireland had taken upon themselves the responsibility of an extreme exercise of power. Such extreme exercises of power were viewed with the utmost jealousy by the people of this country, except in cases of pressing necessity; but it was agreed on all hands that in the present instance a pressing necessity existed; immediate measures were called for from all parts of Ireland; the Government responded to that call; and the course they had taken met with universal approbation. The hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Smith O'Brien) alone had objected, and stated that the Members of the Irish Government ought to be impeached. No difference, however, was likely to arise on that part of the Bill which related to an indemnity. But there were other portions of it which were likely to excite discussion, and he thought the Poor Law Amendment Bill ought to take precedence of all the measures proposed by the Government. That measure he regarded as the keystone of all measures for permanently relieving the difficulties of Ireland with the least possible expense. It was the only means by which the recurrence of the present calamity could be averted. All attempts to introduce other remedial measures would fail; and it must come at last to the establishment of an efficient poor law. It was high time that measures should be taken for the removal of those evils which had produced so much estrangement of feeling from this country in Ireland. If an efficient poor law had been introduced into Ireland last year instead of the Labour-rate Act, the country would have saved an expenditure of 4,000,000l.; and that expenditure had been made in a great degree upon idleness, and perhaps in an equal degree upon worthless works. Instead of being employed in preparing the ground for corn, so as to afford some hope for the ensuing harvest, the people were all running after this half-idle labour, neglecting their fields; and there was no security that the country would not next year be called upon to make similar sacrifices for the relief of distress in Ireland. Her Majesty's Government had introduced another mea- 617 sure, under the title of the Destitute Persons (Ireland) Bill, which proposed to establish a vast extent of machinery for carrying out its object, which at all events ought to make the measure efficient. The first clause contained nothing but a provision for the appointment of officers under all manner of names. Power was given to the Government to do what they pleased, and spend what money they pleased, a sort of demidictatorial power; but the operation of the Bill was limited to the 1st of October this year. The noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government thought 7,000,000l. would be required before the 1st of August for the relief of Ireland. When the 1st of August arrived the noble Lord would, he believed, have his eyes opened—would discover that he had only got to the beginning of the end, and be forced to introduce other measures instead of the one now proposed. The House was called upon to adopt measures of permanent relief for destitution in Ireland. There was none which could accomplish the object without an efficient poor law. The resources of Ireland were amply sufficient for the maintenance of her own poor without drawing upon the means of the hard-working people of this country. The noble Lord had referred to Sir R. Kane's opinion that Ireland might maintain 17,000,000 of population, which was more than double her present population. The grain and cattle she exported to England last year were valued at upwards of 7,000,000l., and if a return could be got as to butter, cheese, and the supplies to the army, navy ordnance, and commissariat, the amount might be estimated at nearly 10,000,000l. These were extraordinary supplies for a country upon the point of starvation to send from her shores in one year; and the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland ought to ascertain into whose pockets the proceeds went before he asked the House to take so much from the hard-earned wages of the people of this country. In regard to the Poor Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Government, he (Mr. Williams) did not express any approbation of that measure. As it stood, he thought it defective; it was not a material improvement upon the existing poor law of Ireland. There were 98,982 poor persons in the workhouses of Ireland on the 2nd of January this year, of whom 18,988 were able-bodied persons. It could not be doubted that the aged and infirm, to whom the Bill gave a right to be relieved, were provided for under the exist- 618 ing poor law before the able-bodied were admitted into the workhouses. Certain powers were to be vested in the Lord Lieutenant. But, scanty as were the provisions of the Bill, it was uncertain whether they would be carried out, for one Member of Her Majesty's Government had expressed an opinion of so peculiar a character as to suggest a suspicion that the result would be doubtful. The Marquess of Lansdowne had stated that—Above all, you know that such a measure, in the nature of what is called out-door relief, would be utterly unsafe. That any general system of out-door relief in that country would be, in other terms, a general confiscation of property there; for the experience of the last few months has demonstrated that the people would have recourse to public charity in preference to making any efforts to obtain their own support, and would use for that purpose unlawful means, which it would be impossible for the local authorities to control. But there are a class of persons for whom, in the event of their not being received into the workhouse in the present state of society, something should be done to secure relief; I mean the aged, the sick, and the infirm. It is proposed that if they cannot be admitted into the workhouse, from its being full, there shall be authority given to the guardians to give them sustenance from the workhouse, in the manner most beneficial to themselves. Connected with this, there must be provision for particular cases of extreme destitution, amounting to the hazard of death; these must be relieved by an officer appointed for that purpose, who should have power to afford relief for the moment, and the guardians should afterwards deal with the case. This subject requires much more attention than it can receive while those other and more pressing measures are under consideration. Nevertheless, I thought it but right to inform you that such an intention is entertained; the more so, because I believe a great many persons, who might otherwise be disposed to vote the large sums of money, or to make the large advances which I believe the present state of Ireland requires, and which will, so far as respects the future improvement of estates, be repaid, would feel an unwillingness to make those advances unless assured that permanent measures for the improvement of the condition of the poor were devised, and proposed to be carried into effect.Were those measures more wanted than an efficient poor law? If the Government carried other measures alone, he apprehended that the result would be of a most unfavourable character. There was no provision in the Bill for the enforcement of the payment of rates for the purposes of relief. There was no mode of meeting such a case as that which occurred only a few days ago at Castlebar. It appeared from a report which had been published in the newspapers, that the guardians of the poor of the Castlebar union assembled on Saturday, the 23rd of January, to take the 619 bankrupt state of the union into consideration.Mr. Otway, the assistant commissioner, was present, and in very forcible language urged the guardians to strike a rate, by which to raise a sufficient sum to enable them to receive 600 paupers into the workhouse, the number it was erected to contain. On a division, it was found that thirteen voted against, and only three for the new rate. In the majority were the agents of Lord Lucan and Sir Roger Palmer.These were two of the largest landed proprietors of that district, and here were their agents appearing at a meeting of the guardians opposing the imposition of a sufficient rate to meet the extreme destitution existing in that part of Ireland. But what followed? "After the guardians," said the same local paper from which he had quoted—Had decided on not striking a new rate, or to levy funds for the support of the poor, Mr. Otway pressed upon them the actual necessity of arranging for the support of the 106 paupers in the house. They, however, made no arrangement, trusting, as they stated, that the collector would be enabled to collect sufficient funds to procure food for the weekly support of the pauper inmates. This, however, is a very precarious provision, for the collector declared he would not undertake to collect unless protected by the military and civil power.It would appear from this, that the country was in a most woful condition, when the collector declared he could not collect rates to provide for the famishing poor, or even for one-sixth of what they ought to provide for, without the aid of the military and civil power. It was a remarkable fact, however, that although it was found so difficult to collect rates, the landlords were enforcing payment of their rents. At the last meeting of the Repeal Association, in Conciliation-hall, Dublin, Mr. W. F. Kelly, solicitor—[Mr. O'CONNELL: A most respectable man]—a most respectable man the hon. and learned Gentleman said, and he (Mr. Williams) had no doubt of it, stated—That amidst the general distress and wholesale destruction of crops, the landlords of Mayo are pursuing their miserable tenants for rent. At the sessions held in Ballinrobe there were entered 1,600 civil bills; upwards of 900 were at the suit of landlords and agents, some for the recovery of November rent. At Ballina, in the same county, there were between 5,000 and 6,000 civil bills and ejectments; the average number of civil bills being under 1,500. The excess was caused by the proceedings of the landlords. At Castlebar," (where, as the noble Lord said, the doors of an almost empty workhouse were closed up in the face of famine), "there were 1,600 civil bills; the greatest number were brought at the suit of landlords, and many for November rents.620 Mr. Kelly had added, that—The landlords—the drivers—have, in order, as I believe, to avoid public reprobation in that division, got up a system of inducing the poor tenants to pass notes for accruing rent. Several actions have been brought, grounded on these notes, against these half-starved wretches, and in several cases, actions were brought in this way for the November rent. ['Name, name.'] Mr. John Browne, of Mount Browne, brought several actions, as plaintiff, to those sessions, several for the recovery of notes so passed, and for use and occupation to November last. This is the gentleman who writes so much, calling on the Government to alleviate the condition of the poor. Is this a model of an Irish landlord?When facts like these appeared before the public, he did say that the House was called upon to pause before they voted away public money without due inquiry for the relief of distress in Ireland. He felt sure that it was a feeling almost universal in this country, that the people would do all in their power to alleviate the distress in Ireland, wherever a fair and just case of necessity was made out. But he asked the Government how long were they going to pursue that system of proposing one inefficient measure after another? They had tried their first Poor Law Bill, and what had it done for the people of Ireland? The Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of the people of Ireland, with the view of making out a case of necessity for a poor law, had reported that, in 1835, there were 1,131,000 agricultural labourers who only received from 2s. to 2s. 6d. a week wages; and that for thirty weeks out of the fifty-two in each year, one-half of those persons were entirely out of employment. Including their families, here were 2,355,000 dependent on those miserable wages. And what provision had Her Majesty's then Government—of which the present Government was principally composed—made for these 2,355,000 persons? They had provided accommodation in workhouses for only 99,200, so that there were more than 2,250,000 still left destitute. It would be in the recollection of the House, that the noble Lord at the head of the Government related to the House, with proper feeling, the condition of the people of England as described in a work by Sir Thomas More. Now, he considered that extract as precisely describing the condition of Ireland at the present time; and he regarded the state of things in England then, and the state of things in Ireland now, as springing from precisely the same cause, namely, the oppression of the landed proprietors. The noble Lord had here also 621 referred to the state of England just previous to the passing of the Poor Law Act of Elizabeth, and mentioned that not less than 70,000 persons had been executed for crimes committed against persons and property in the course of two years; but the landlords of that period were forced to make due provision for the poor, in order to provide security for their own lives and property; and no sooner was the poor law of Elizabeth put in operation than tranquillity was restored. Let the Government pursue the same course as regarded Ireland, and he had no doubt that similar good consequences would follow. He had heard various reasons given for the unhappy condition of Ireland; one of which was, that owing to an inherent defect in the race to which they belonged, the Irish were too lazy to work. Now, he had seen the Irish in Canada and in the United States, where they had an open field for their labour, and had found them maintaining a perfect equality as to industry and love of personal comfort, with the English, Scotch, Germans, Americans, and others by whom they were there surrounded; and all they wanted to enable them to exhibit the same characteristics in their own country, was fair play. But while they were kept on such miserable wages as 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week, what could be expected from them? He had only one other observation to make. He begged to call the attention of the House to a class of persons who, he thought, ought to be made to bear a part of the burdens of Ireland—much more so than the hard-working people of this country. It had been stated by Lord Mountcashell that the rental of Ireland was 13,000,000l. a year, and that out of this 10,000,000l., at least, were paid in incumbrances; so that the landlords had only 3,000,000l. left. Now, it might be very true that this was all that went into the pockets of the landlords, but how much went into the pockets of the middlemen? He should like to see the middlemen made to pay their share of the poor rates. The mortgagees should also be made to pay their share. Ireland paid no portion of the income tax, the assessed taxes, the soap tax, or the tax on tiles, which amounted to about 12,000,000l. a year. She likewise paid a lower rate of duty on home-made spirits than was paid in England, which amounted to 2,000,000l. last year. In short, Ireland, during the last forty-six years, had paid only one- 622 twelfth of the taxes of the United Kingdom, her quota being on the average not more than four millions and a half annually. No country in Europe was so lightly taxed, in proportion to its population, as Ireland. He trusted that the Government would at once endeavour to devise measures to prevent the recurrence of those scenes of distress which had periodically afflicted Ireland—to remove the heartburnings which prevailed in that country—and cordially unite it to England, both in feeling and interest. If the noble Lord at the head of the Government should be able to accomplish that great object, he would leave behind him a name unsurpassed by that of any Minister who had ever conducted the affairs of this country. The hon. Member concluded by submitting his Motion to the House.
§ The Motion was not seconded.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
thought that Members connected with Ireland were justified in asking, as they had done, for time in order to consider the proposal of the noble Lord; and he, for one, did not think it would have been respectful either to the noble Lord or to the House, if he had offered any crude observations on the proposal of the noble Lord when it was first introduced—a proposal which, whatever might be the opinions entertained of certain parts of it, must be confessed to have been prepared with great care, amidst the greatest difficulties. And whilst he concurred with the hon. Member for Louth in his commendation of the tone and temper of the noble Lord in introducing his measures—whilst he admitted the clearness of statement and the lucid arrangement which the noble Lord exhibited, he could not draw the most favourable auspices as to his future government of Ireland from the plan submitted by the noble Lord. What did the noble Lord propose to do? It appeared to him that the scheme laid down by the noble Lord did not propose to do anything more than what was proposed at all periods and by all the Governments of Ireland. The noble Lord appeared to him to persevere in the same bit-by-bit system of legislation—to adopt plans suited to the exigencies of the moment, without laying the foundation of any great and comprehensive measure for improving the social condition of the Irish people. Parliament had for a series of years shut its eyes to the fact that there were 2,500,000 destitute poor in Ireland. They had been suddenly awakened to a knowledge of the cir- 623 cumstance by the potato famine, and they were now endeavouring by convulsive efforts of legislation to correct evils which had been in a great measure incurred through the neglect and carelessness of that House. He must say he thought the Irish Members had discharged their duties nobly, first of all by calling the attention of the Government to the fact that an additional supply of food was requisite to save the people from destruction; and next in seconding the Government, whatever mistakes they might have committed as to the first measures which they took for dealing with the famine in Ireland, in the laudable anxiety they now exhibited to better the condition of the people. Before he entered on the few observations which he meant to make as to the proposal of Government, he would make a remark or two by way of review of the measures which they had already passed. He meant particularly to refer to a measure not much commented on in that House, but dwelt upon at far greater length in another place—he alluded to the 9th & 10th Victoria. It was difficult, he could assure the House, for any Member who had witnessed the pernicious and destructive nature of that Act, to speak of it with moderation, for it had done nothing but broken up the roads, impoverished the country, demoralized the people, and burdened the finances of England. The noble Lord, in introducing the measure on the 17th of August, said—I trust that the course I intend to pursue will not be without its counterbalancing advantages; that it will show the poorest among the Irish people that we are not insensible, here, to the claims which they have on us as the Parliament of the United Kingdom; that the whole credit of the Treasury and means of the country are ready to be used as it is our bounden duty to use them, and will, whenever they can be usefully applied, be so disposed as to avert famine, and to maintain the people of Ireland; and that we are now disposed to take advantage of the unfortunate spread of this disease among the potatoes, to establish public works which may be of permanent utility. I trust, Sir, that the present state of things will have that counterbalancing advantage in the midst of many misfortunes and evil consequences.It was clear that, on the 17th of August last, the noble Lord contemplated that half, at least, of the expense should be borne by the finances of the country. It was not his intention to attack the noble Lord on account of the defects of that measure. August legislation was apt to be of a hasty and careless character. When the charms of grouse entered into competition with 624 the duties of statesmanship, there was little chance of a Bill of that nature being properly considered. But this measure had no precedent, so far as the contradictory nature of its enactments went, but the Act passed in an Irish Parliament, which he had heard of, and which was for making fifty miles of turnpike road, and passed as a rider to a Tobacco Bill. If the Irish Members had known what were the provisions of the Labour-rate Act, they never would have allowed it to pass even as a temporary measure. The noble Lord stated a few nights since that he did not attach much importance to the objection that the works executed in Ireland were useless. Now, it appeared to him that the noble Lord committed a gross blunder in the science of political economy in confounding works of charity with works of labour. By confounding those two different objects, the noble Lord had neither reaped any benefit, nor conferred any favour. He had stated that it was not his intention to attack the noble Lord, but he thought that Government had committed a grave mistake in suffering five months to pass without calling Parliament together. It must be borne in mind that the Act of the 17th of August was proposed, not in contemplation of a famine, but as a remedy for the distress likely to ensue from a "partial failure of the potato crop." Early in September, however, the actual state of things was known, and yet Ireland was left until the middle of January with nothing but an Act framed with a view to "a partial failure of the potato crop." When the awful fact burst upon the country, Parliament ought to have been summoned to meet instantly. If the noble Lord wanted a precedent, there was that of 1800, when, in consequence of the high price of provisions in a time of scarcity, Parliament was suddenly assembled in November. It was a futile excuse to allege that it would have been unwise to withdraw the Irish Members from their country at that time; they could have been better spared in the autumn than now. There was no difficulty in collecting the last harvest; but there might be much difficulty in getting the people to prepare the ground for the next. It was alleged that, upon this point, the noble Lord had acted in accordance with the expressed opinion of the Lord Lieutenant. Lord Besborough's opinion was entitled to respect. That noble Lord had many opportunities of knowing the condition and circumstances of the country. He 625 was a resident landlord, an improving landowner, and enjoyed the confidence of all classes. As the noble Lord had stated that he refrained from assembling Parliament under the advice of the Lord Lieutenant, he was desirous of knowing whether the noble Lord had adopted the suggestions of the Lord Lieutenant with respect to other matters, because there was a prevalent notion in Ireland that the Lord Lieutenant had called for the advance of funds for the construction of railroads and other productive works, which would have repaid the whole of the money expended upon them. He protested against making the real property of Ireland pay for the whole expense of this national calamity, as had been done under the Labour-rate Act. There was no precedent for throwing the burden exclusively upon the land in a case of this kind. It had been said that the Irish gentry had been parties to a wasteful expenditure of money; but he begged the House to remember, that in the first instance, the gentry were obliged to part with their money under compulsion. They voted the money in sessions, but it was voted in some cases under a protest. In the second place, the gentry were superseded by the Board of Works, and a numerous and brilliant staff, such as the world never before saw—a staff of 11,785 officers and stewards, all influenced doubtless by the best motives, and all profoundly ignorant of the localities in which they were appointed to act. In 1845, the gentry of Ireland were called upon to make large abatements of rent, and to raise subscriptions of money, for the support of the people. In 1846, they were required to make still greater exertions, with decreasing means. They were obliged to do what they had done nolens volens, and he might say, pro malo publico. The hon. Member for Coventry should have recollected that the Irish gentry were placed in most extraordinary circumstances, and should not have attempted to hold them up to scorn when, at an appalling crisis, they were manfully doing their duty. The noble Lord had informed the House that the Labour-rate Act was to come to an end, and that the plans now proposed were to be substituted for it; but he had some doubt as to the practicability of carrying those plans into effect, and of getting the people off the roads, and inducing them to resume their ordinary occupations. He confessed he did not see the means for effecting this mportant 626 change. The Minister of the Crown was in the same situation as the author in the Critic; all his dramatis personæ were on their knees, and he, puzzled as to the manner in which they should make their exeunt, was obliged to suggest that they should go off kneeling. There were 500,000 men employed on the roads; and the noble Lord supposed that, by the aid of soup-kitchens and the levying of rates, these men might be absorbed by the farmers employed in agricultural pursuits. That was to him a strange supposition. He was at a loss to know how the fanners could give employment to any considerable number of persons. The farmers were suffering by famine, and had supported themselves, though very scantily, by going on the roads, and getting wages from the Board of Works. Then, the noble Lord talked of collecting rates. Sir John Burgoyne had been engaged in some of the most stormy scenes in the Peninsula; but if he were to be responsible for the collection of rates in Ireland, he would undertake a service far more chivalrous and arduous than any in which he had heretofore been employed. The noble Lord said that his plan had been approved by the officers of the Board of Works, and of the Commissariat Department; and great stress had been laid on that circumstance. Turn to the blue book upon this subject, and it would be found that there was no plan, be it what it might, which was submitted to them, by any Government, of which they were not ready to approve. The noble Lord would have exercised a sounder discretion if, besides establishing soup-kitchens, he had paid greater attention to the tilling of the land for the next harvest. The number of farms in Ireland was about 750,000, and of these more than half were under twenty acres; 310,000 under five acres, 152,000 under ten acres, 79,000 from fifteen to thirty acres, and 47,000 above thirty acres. If the noble Lord was prepared with the machinery to carry his plans into execution, he called upon him to employ it in cultivating all the farms in Ireland under ten acres, otherwise he might be assured they would remain uncultivated. Then, again, if the prospect of the next harvest depended upon the grant of 50,000l. to the landlords for seed, the state of affairs next year would be worse than it was in this. At a rough calculation, the noble Lord's grant for seed would amount to about 2d. per acre, and would only sow 125,000 acres. Such a sum as 50,000l. might do very well if the 627 noble Lord were anxious to encourage a good breed of poultry in Ireland; but it was a mere farce to speak of it as applicable to the supply of seed. If it were not increased, it was so inadequate that the land would remain in its present neglected state. The noble Lord, in the course of his speech, took occasion to deprecate the idea which he said was entertained by a great many people, that it was either the duty or in the power of Government to provide food for a whole people. He agreed with the noble Lord that it was impossible for any Government to provide food for the entire population of the country; but that was pushing the argument ad absurdum. It would be perfectly proper to call upon the Government to provide depôts of food for the destitute portion of the population, in order to mitigate the evil, and that was all that the Irish gentry had done. Before the noble Lord indulged in the observations which he had made respecting the Marquess of Sligo, he might have taken the trouble to ascertain what had been the course pursued by that nobleman. The noble Marquess had not only sacrificed an extensive deer-park, of no fewer than 600 head of deer, in order to establish and supply a soup-kitchen, but was giving 70l. weekly to keep open the poorhouse at Westport. The noble Lord mistook the noble Marquess's meaning when he attributed to him an assertion of the doctrine that it was the duty of the Government to feed the whole people. The correspondence to which the noble Lord had referred, had its origin in a dispute which the Marquess of Sligo had with Sir R. Routh, respecting the employment of the people on unproductive works, to which the noble Marquess objected. The Marquess of Sligo also called upon the Government, in October last, to remove the 4s. duty upon corn. That was not an unnatural call for the noble Marquess to make, bearing in mind a certain letter which had been written from Edinburgh in November, 1845, which commenced in these words:—The present state of the country in regard to the supply of food cannot be viewed without apprehension. Forethought and hold precaution may avert any serious evils—indecision and procrastination may produce a state of suffering which it is frightful to contemplate.That letter was signed by Lord John Russell, and was written on the 22nd of November, 1845. Affairs had changed since then; but, looking at the terms of that letter, it was natural that the Marquess of 628 Sligo should call upon the noble Lord to remove the 4s. duty, and open the ports in October, 1846. Whilst upon this part of the subject, he would take occasion to compliment the hon. Member for Winchester on the singular foresight which he had displayed in some observations which he had made in the House on the 17th of August. It appeared to him (Mr. Osborne) that the noble Lord could not be correctly informed as to the real state of Ireland, and the condition of the people in certain parts of the country. He had in his pocket a letter from an inspector of mining companies in Ireland. He stated that they would have been obliged to close their mines but for the munificence of the company, who subscribed a large sum to procure a supply of food, for the men actually lay in bed from Saturday night till Monday, unable to procure food, though with money in their pockets, because there was none in the country. He came now to another subject—the proposed reclaiming of the waste lands in Ireland. The noble Lord stated the quantity of waste land capable of improvement to be 4,600,000 acres; Mr. Griffiths estimated it at 6,290,000 acres, of which 3,755,000 acres were improvable; but of these 2,330,000 acres could only be made rough meadow, as pasture for sheep. On this subject they had some evidence, of which it was as well the House should be in possession. The Government had already reclaimed some waste lands, and there was at the present time a considerable model farm upon land of that kind, called King William's-town. Mr. Griffiths, in his report from this farm in 1836, says—The cost of reclaiming 'flow bog' is 9l. 9s. 10d. per aero; the produce for four years is worth 24l. 3s. 5d.; the expenditure for the same time is 25l. 12s. 6d.; leaving a loss at the end of four years of 1l. 9s. 1d. The estimate for reclaiming 'compact bog' is 6l. 3s. per acre; produce for four years, 24l. 3s. 5d.; the expenditure for the same period 22l. 5s. 8d.; leaving a profit of 1l. 17s. 9d. on reclaimed land of the best quality.He was sure the House of Commons would look with a little caution before it voted a million of money for this rather Utopian scheme. He had no objection to the principle of taking a man's land and improving it, if it could be proved that it was for the good of the commonwealth; but he had an objection to the people of England paying all this money for a scheme at best problematical. Mr. Griffiths, in his report for 1844, further said of this kind of reclaimed land— 629Unfortunately, during the three previous years the seasons were so unfavourable, only a small portion of the crops of oats and potatoes grown on the reclaimed land came to maturity; the people in consequence were reduced to great distress.And again, of the model farm—The crops of all kinds are unusually subject to the vicissitudes of the seasons; but it has been so far able to keep its head above water as to return a deficit in three years of 23l. 11s. 9½d.The House ought to pause before it engaged in such an undertaking; and what did the Government propose to do? There were 4,600,000 acres of waste land: a grant of 1,000,000l. would be about equal to 4s. per acre to reclaim land worth only 2s. 6d. per acre. What improvement could be effected by such a sum, which he supposed would include the expense of surveying by the staff of the Board of Works, which in Ireland was very heavy? He thought this plan the most complete bubble a Government had ever brought before Parliament. He was naturally led from this subject to the effect of the small holdings in Ireland. He did not know what the size of the holdings on these reclaimed lauds was to be; if he could gather anything from the speech of the noble Lord, he seemed to think the smaller the better. Of all the astounding doctrines ever laid down by a Minister of the Crown professing to know the condition of Ireland, the assertion that small holdings were not disadvantageous to the country was the most extraordinary; it was only fit to go with the bubble project of reclaiming the waste lands. Had the noble Lord ever had any conversation on this subject with his noble Colleague the Secretary for Foreign Affairs? That noble Lord could tell him something of the effect of small holdings; if he had read even the Earl of Devon's blue book, he could have drawn such a deduction; the prosperity of a country did not arise from its ratio to surface, but its ratio to capital. The noble Lord had instanced Armagh as a prosperous county; there were small holdings in Armagh, but it was a wealthy county, that was able to employ its surplus population in manufactures; but this was not the case in the south and west of Ireland. The noble Lord had committed, to say the least of it, a manifest blunder in saying that small holdings were not injurious. He believed, on the contrary, that the small holdings were at the root of half their present evils. The population had become so dense and crowded that no food but the potato could 630 have furnished them with subsistence. It was very well for Sir R. Kane to tell them that Ireland could support 17,000,000 of people; at present nothing could support the population of Tipperary but the potato. He knew one estate in his locality that had been in the market for years, for which no one would offer more than ten years' purchase, because it was eaten out by a cottier tenantry, who not only could not pay a shilling of rent, but were not able to support themselves. He would quote the evidence of Mr. Kincaid, from Lord Devon's Report, as to the condition of an estate belonging to the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) in Sligo. He said—It was let about seventy years ago in large farms for three lives, or thirty-one years. In one instance, comprising a surface of 1,400 acres, where there were six leases, there were found 280 tenants at the expiration of the leases; other parts divided as low as an acre and a half. Taking the number of occupiers at about 2,000, and the rental at 4,000l., and allowing 1s. per diem as the cost of feeding each occupier, and his family gives 100l. a day as the outlay necessary to preserve the people; that is to say, the whole rental of 4,000l;. would be spent in forty days.Mr. Otway stated in his evidence as to the state of Donegal—Owing to the subdivision of the property, the people were in a state of the most extreme poverty I ever witnessed, most of them emaciated from want, and confined to their beds from want of clothing. The poverty of these people has arisen from the incompetency of the land to afford the means of subsistence to so large a number: they cannot get food enough off it, let alone pay rent out of it.These were rather strong facts with regard to small holdings, and there was another subject connected with them which the House ought to consider with more discretion than had been evinced by the hon. Member for Coventry. When that hon. Gentleman and others were so eager to force an extension of the poor law on Ireland, they ought to bear in mind that the Bill was only printed on the 29th, and had not yet been circulated in Ireland; if the House were determined to force forward that Bill, contrary to the opinion of the Irish representatives, the least they could do was to give them time to consider it. With reference to the discussion, he was delighted that the hon. Member for Coventry had not found a seconder, and that the discussion would be deferred to a future day. As far as extending out-door relief to the aged, the infirm, and the impotent, he thought the opinions of all the Irish Members would be unanimous; but when they came to give out-door relief to the 631 able-bodied in Ireland, he asked them to remember that circumstances were very different in that country from what they were in England. An eminent pathologist defined the cholera to be "a disease that began with death;" the proposal for giving out-door relief to the able-bodied in Ireland might be called "a revolution commencing by confiscation." So low was the standard of comfort in Ireland, so philosophical was the resolve of the Irish peasant to want but little and to do with still less; that if they once instituted the system of out-door relief in Ireland, without the workhouse test, he was confident they would extinguish the last spark of self-reliance and independence in the Irish peasant's bosom. That was a moral objection to the proposal; but there were economic objections of equal force. The rental of Ireland was calculated at 10,000,000l.; the number of the population entitled to relief would be 2,500,000; who, at 1s. 9d. a-week per head, would, in a year, require 11,375,000l. Having thus absorbed the whole rental of Ireland, what would be the consequence? That the whole of this burden must fall upon England, and the English people. The Poor Law Commissioners, who reported on the effect of a system of out-door relief in Ireland, at the time the poor law was passed, said—As the parish of Cholesbury became to other parishes in England, so, we are persuaded, would very many of the parishes in Ireland be to the residue at the end of a year, from the commencement of any system for charging the land indefinitely with the support of the whole labouring part of the community; and as these parishes must shortly bring down all others to their level, the whole of Ireland would shortly have to lean on Great Britain for support.But he contended that this was not only a landlords' question; hon. Gentlemen were very anxious to put the screw on the landlords. To a certain extent he thought they were right; for he could not say the landlords had in all cases done their duty; but it was also a tenant-farmers' question. In Ireland the landlord paid half the poor-rate, and the tenant the other. If there was to be any experiment, let them have the English law at once and entirely; here the tenant bore some of the burden; but, from his own experience, he knew that the cottier tenantry had the whole of the rate paid for them. They had been told that a poor law would have saved them 5,000,000l. or 6,000,000l.; but he denied that a poor law was of any avail in a time of actual famine. In 1597, shortly after the pass- 632 ing of the celebrated Act of Elizabeth, there was a famine in England, and it was impossible to make the parish relief meet the difficulty of the time. Again, in 1800, there was another famine; and a Committee of that House declared the poor law to be insufficient under the circumstances, and passed other and extraordinary measures of relief. Had a poor law been in active operation, it would not have been of any avail in staving off the calamity. In a plan for the regeneration of Ireland, the noble Lord had made a great omission in not entertaining some scheme—not of emigration, the word was unpopular in Ireland—but of systematic colonization. He had hoped the talent and ability of the Judge Advocate (Mr. C. Buller) would have been called into exercise on this subject; the hon. and learned Gentleman had given great attention to it, and he had thought a Government that included him would have been prepared with some plan of colonization, to forward which the landlords would cheerfully have submitted to a tax. It should not have been done in a petty manner; but, conducted under the auspices of the ministers of religion, he had no doubt it would have been extensively carried out by the younger branches of families in Ireland. Another omission of the noble Lord's was not looking at the Irish system of grand juries. A great many of the evils of Ireland had been increased by that system, and he thought that measures of reform which omitted a total reform of the grand jury laws was not worth the consideration of the House. He could assure the noble Lord he had not made these remarks on the measures of the Government in any bad spirit; he gave it full credit for its anxiety to ameliorate the condition of Ireland; but, taking those measures as a whole, they would not sufficiently elevate the condition of the peasantry of that country. It appeared to him that the noble Lord's speech was, to use the words of an eloquent writer, rather "the enunciation of a sentiment, than the declaration of a policy." The noble Lord had told them, that at some future time—possibly when the pressure was sufficiently great—he should be prepared to do other things for Ireland; he told them they must not despair, and had drawn an eloquent comparison between the peasant "idling on the mountain side in Tipperary," and his brother working hard in Liverpool or London. But the noble Lord had avoided touching the root of the calamity, the cause 633 of the evil; why was one man so idle in Tipperary, and why was the other so industrious in London or Liverpool? The small holdings of Ireland caused the difference between them. The small holdings had totally destroyed the labouring class in Ireland. Every man there was a farmer, and as soon as his crop was in the ground he had nothing to do, or perhaps he went to look for work; as a class there were no agricultural labourers in Ireland. The man who was idle in Tipperary would be industrious in London, because, in London, his work was wanted and well paid for; in Ireland it was not wanted, or if wanted was very poorly paid for; but if their labour was rewarded, there was no description of toil the Irish peasantry would not undertake. A more industrious, persevering, honest people, he would defy the world to produce. The subject of absenteeism had been alluded to; but there was one class of proprietors he thought much worse than absentees—they were the nominal owners of land, men who neither enjoyed the rights, nor were able to perform the duties of property; whose estates were at the mercy of some agent, who exacted the last penny from the tenants, to be spent by some person abroad. This class was the curse of Ireland, and this class the noble Lord proposed to increase. Was the House to prop up this falling and effete system by giving loans to these men, who were of no use to themselves or to any one else? The noble Lord must look to the root of these evils. He might depend on it that the day was fast coming when he must look into the subject of Irish entails with a view of breaking them. There was another subject connected with the Government of Ireland the House would do well to take into consideration; he was convinced the whole system of the Irish executive Government must be changed. They must make the office of Lord Lieutenant a reality; they must make him a real king as far as delegated power was concerned, or they must abolish it altogether. The House ought to consider too the importance of the Parliament meeting, at stated intervals, at Dublin Castle. What was the use of sending an effective Lord Lieutenant to Ireland—and he acknowledged the efficiency of the noble Lord who now held that office—if he was only to sit behind the cumbrous vehicle of Irish Government, in his state livery, merely to sound the horn when some English state-coachman was driving them over roads made impracticable and 634 dangerous by the Board of Public Works, or by the proverbial paviours of "another place?" If the Lord Lieutenant was of any service at all, he ought to have a seat in the Cabinet. Ireland ought not to be left to those well-meaning men who would probably do a great deal of harm while intending to do a great deal of good; they must reform that system of government if they wished the Union to continue what it ought to be. He had studiously avoided political subjects; at the same time he had his doubts whether the noble Lord had not let slip a great opportunity of bringing forward a real plan for the redemption of Ireland; he passed over that, but could not resume his seat without saying, unless certain parties who never showed any great zeal for religion, except when, according to Burke, it was employed in mortifying their neighbours — unless they divested themselves of the odium theologicum that rankled in their breasts, the union between the countries would never be anything but one of parchment. The assistance rendered by England to Ireland in times of emergency could not be received with gratitude, because there was always evidence that, in some quarters, the good was granted with an effort. There should be no pharisaical pride in affording such relief; there should no anathema of the tongue to lessen the merit of the charity. They had not shown that charity which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things;" they had manifested only that spirit which enacted the penal laws, that spirit which would echo and call back the errors and the barbarisms of the 16th century. If they would feed the starving, they must delay the work of making converts. Those who were but as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal should remember the Universal Prayer:—Let not this weak, unknowing hand,Presume thy bolts to throw,And deal damnation round the landOn each I judge thy foe.The noble Lord must search in the page of history for the records of England's misgovernment in Ireland, and for the evidence of the evils which it was now incumbent on them to avoid. M. de Beaumont, a modern historian, wrote thus on this point:—Assuredly the spite of England against Ireland has produced the most terrible and iniquitous acts ever perpetrated by one people on another. For my part, I find no reason to accuse the justice of God in these cruel wars and sanguinary controversies; I only see that the forgetfulness of a 635 single principle costs mankind much Mood and much iniquity; and in the frightful desolation I perceive the evidence of the great truths which are important to the happiness of nations, viz., that there are certain principles which cannot be mistaken with impunity, the violation of which entails the most lasting and fatal consequences. This is the true interpretation of the visitations which have occurred.This country owed a vast debt to Ireland for ages of misrule, and that debt was not to be cancelled by mere pecuniary compensation. The only way in which they could meet the responsibility was for that House to pass laws in a wide, large, and comprehensive spirit—laws which should be free both from sectarian intolerance and parochial bigotry. Thus only could they cancel that debt; these were the things the Crown could grant, and these were the laws which Parliament should enact.
§ MR. W. SMITH O'BRIEN
would avail himself of the present opportunity to address the House, as it appeared to be their wish that Members who had any observations to offer should do so in the present stage of the Bill. He did not think he could do better than follow the order of the speech of the noble Member for London. The noble Lord had exhibited forcible pictures of the past and the present state of Ireland, and had referred to the melancholy topics so often brought before the House, for the purpose of showing how extensive was the misery of that country. But he had forgotten to draw a deduction which appeared perfectly obvious to him (Mr. O'Brien), and that was that the state of things in Ireland was the result of forty-six years of union with England. He had forgotten also to draw a contrast between the representations made at the time of the Union of the increasing wealth and property of Ireland since 1782, and issue of the promises of glorious and halcyon days to come after she had been united with England. He would, however, reserve his deductions to another time, and come to the subject before the House. He could not blame the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland for having underrated the extent of the calamity consequent on the failure of the potato crop, for he had fallen into a similar error; indeed every one had done so. He thought that the estimate of three-fourths was too small, and he knew it was much greater in the south of Ireland. It was not enough to say, while calculating the money value destroyed, that so many acres of potatoes were lost, but they must take into consideration 636 the value of the grain required to replace them. On this basis it appeared to him that the whole amount could not be less than 16,000,000l.; and if to this were added the loss sustained in the offal of the potato for feeding pigs and cattle, and the loss from rise of price and other causes, they could not calculate the actual value at a lower sum than between 20,000,000l. and 30,000,000l. In what way was this loss to be met? Was it possible that in a country situated like Ireland they could repair the evil in one year? It was clear that, whether the duty of relief devolved upon England or upon Ireland, the calamity should be viewed as they would view a war—as an event calling for an appeal to extraordinary resources and extraordinary exertions. With respect to the question, whether or not England, as a portion of the empire, should share in the burden which had devolved on the empire, he was inclined to leave the decision as to the correctness or incorrectness of that principle to the English Members. He would content himself with reminding the House, that had the negotiations between the French and English Governments respecting the Montpensier marriage ended in a war, Ireland, which had had no voice in the council, would have been dragged into that war, and would have been obliged to contribute to the taxes, while her sons would have been compelled to contribute their valour and their blood. And if the empire, in such a cause, was called upon to share in fighting the quarrels of one particular people, why, in the calamity now existing, should Ireland be required to depend only on her own efforts? He had heard it proclaimed in that House that the property should sustain the poverty of Ireland; but he had no hesitation in asserting that the Imperial Parliament were bound to make a national effort to alleviate the misery of the inhabitants of one section of the united kingdom. Before the Union, Ireland would and could have relieved herself; before the Union an Irish Ministry would have been, enforced to till the country, that, no matter what was the calamity, no human being, acknowledged as a subject, should perish of starvation. How different to-day! They had soon Ministers successively rise in their places, and, cowed and bewildered, plead that they had to resign themselves to the alternative of beholding masses of the population of Ireland dying for want of food. He did not think the noble Lord had exculpated his Government, or that he 637 had given any reason why the measures he now proposed had not been adopted in November last. It did not appear to him either that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had shown why the use of grain was not expressly prohibited in distilleries, nor was he satisfied with his admission that the introduction of sugar was intended, not so much as a benefit to Ireland, as a boon to the West Indies. For his own part he had been delighted to hear the proposition of the hon. Member for Newark, the more so because it came from an English Member. Ministers told the people of Ireland that they could not interfere in the supply of food without loss to the retail trade. He had been accustomed to admire political economy until he heard this miserable perversion of its doctrines. He should have thought it was the business of political economy to teach the Government that a people subject to their care should not die of starvation, so long as means of supply existed. With respect to the purchase of food in the home market, was it not obvious that the Government, by entering the home market, must give an artificial value to all the corn in the country, thereby stimulating and rewarding speculation? He could not understand how their doing so was consistent with political economy. He believed it would have been in the power of the Government so to regulate measures as to prevent one human being in Ireland from dying of starvation. He denied that proper Government interference would have had the effect of superseding private enterprise. During the Administration of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth they found that the mercantile enterprise of the country was not checked, though the Government carried, even further perhaps than was desirable, the principle of throwing large supplies into the market for the sake of the poor. Sales to relief committees, and by relief committees to the destitute inhabitants, taking place where the ordinary circumstances of trade failed altogether, could not operate unduly against the interests of the country. As matters now stood, the merchants of Ireland had been enjoying prices above the regular standard, and having the character of monopoly rates. There was either a universal deficiency or not; if there was not, it would be found that the present prices had been speculative, and that there had been great exaggeration as to the extent of the deficiency. He knew that it was so stated by some authorities 638 on this question. He would not himself express any opinion; but if there were no deficiency, Government had been blameable in allowing prices to run so high, when they might have been kept down. On the other hand, if there had been and were a really formidable deficiency, he said it was the duty of Government to interfere not only as regarded the supply of grain, but every other kind of food. It was their duty to go and hunt in every part of the world for any description of food that might be made available to the wants of the country. He would suggest for the consideration of the Government whether it might not be advisable that supplies of meat should be laid in, so as to be available at the end of the season. Almost any amount of meat was obtainable in South America at 1½d. per pound; large supplies might also be procured from the Falkland Islands and the Cape of Good Hope. It was worthy the consideration of Government whether the public stock of food might not be augmented with great advantage by supplies of this kind. He now came to the question of employment; and here he thought the noble Lord had failed of exculpating himself altogether. The noble Lord said there were 500,000 persons now employed on the roads at an enormous expense for every week; but he threw the responsibility not on the Government who introduced the law, but on the Irish people and the Irish Members. They had merely made the proposition; but the Government brought in a Bill within a few days of the end of the Session. The Irish Members were then absent; he admitted they ought to have been present; but if they had been present, and had made representations against the Act, the chances were that their representations would have been unavailing. If they had said a word at that period of the Session, there would have been a general outcry against them, "Why, you want to starve the people of Ireland." With respect to himself, he regretted that he had been prevented from coming over again, as he intended, at the end of last Session. He was not aware, until the month of September, of the extent of the calamity; but as soon as he was, he felt it his duty to address a letter through the newspapers to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. He thought the legitimate course would have been to call together Parliament at the earliest possible moment. Nothing had ever surprised him so much as the statement of the Chief 639 Secretary for Ireland, that he did not think there was any general desire among the people of that country for the convocation of Parliament. A requisition had been signed by a large number of the nobility and gentry throughout that country for the sole object of inducing Government to call Parliament together in November; and if this were refused, efforts were made to get an assembly of the country gentlemen to meet in Dublin. Ministers were exceedingly reluctant that such a convention of the Irish gentry should take place, and thought they would get out of the difficulty by one of the most unconstitutional measures ever taken—the suppression of the statute by a letter of the Secretary for Ireland. The Irish gentry wanted reproductive instead of unproductive works. They pointed out the way in which this should be brought about; but their suggestion was not adopted by the Irish Government. It was found almost impossible to act under Mr. Labouchere's letter. The gentry and people of Ireland had no other alternative than to proceed under the law called the Labour-rate Act; in endeavouring to carry that out, they sent applications from various parts of the country to the Treasury to be allowed to expend portions of the money on works that would yield returns. In Limerick, Clare, and other counties, applications were made by presentment sessions, through the Board of Works, to the Treasury, that they might be allowed to undertake works which would yield a return; but the Treasury put a veto on all these proceedings. The same occurred with respect to drainage. At the presentment sessions, they were very anxious to open the courses of rivers and tributaries; but this was vetoed also. In short, every proposal for reproductive works was vetoed by the Treasury; and no alternative remained but the continued employment of the people on unproductive and often useless works. The noble Lord proposed that one half the expense of these should be defrayed out of the Imperial Exchequer. He ventured to say he expressed the opinion of every man in Ireland, when he asserted that if this money had been expended on useful works, the whole would have been repaid. The noble Lord had submitted a measure providing for the relief of the poor, by which the system of making roads was to be abandoned, and the people were to be fed by means of rations. If the people were confined to making roads, it was quite clear that, whether they were 640 labourers or occupiers of small portions of ground, they could not till the lands; therefore this alternative, however bad in principle, was the only one that was left. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see that it was made effective. Government proposed a very large extension of the principle of the Irish Poor Law. He himself had always been favourable to a poor law; he did not think the noble Lord, when he referred to the working of the existing poor law, treated them quite fairly. He would not refer to the Castlebar union; but the noble Lord forgot that at this moment there was in almost every union in Ireland a very much larger number of persons receiving relief than the workhouse was originally built to accommodate. When he (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) proposed out-door relief, the noble Lord and the Government resisted it. He did not entertain the apprehensions felt by some Gentlemen with respect to a poor law; he thought there could be no question whatever that it was long since the duty of the Government to enact such a law. But he felt bound to endeavour to impress on the House that no law which could be enacted was equal to contend with such a calamity as now afflicted Ireland; even if it absorbed the whole rental of this year, some of the people must necessarily starve, for in many districts it was known that it would require two or three years' rental to enable the people to get over their difficulties. Therefore it was a mistake to suppose, if they had an extensive poor law, that the dangers of famine could be avoided. He admitted that a poor law taken alone would be confiscation. The noble Lord had promised them, when that Act passed, that the poor law for Ireland should not be unaccompanied by other measures. The poor law passed, but subsidiary measures had been forgotten. On the present occasion the noble Lord proposed to accompany his measures by others which would tend to absorb the surplus labour of the country. Let the House remember the position in which we should be placed after the Bill passed. After next harvest there would be very nearly as great a pressure on the surplus labour of the country as at the present moment: they must make some provision for absorbing that labour. Nothing could be more unjust than the charges made by the Morning Chronicle and various other papers against the Irish landlords in reference to the Million Act and other statutes. These journals forgot 641 that they had no power under the provisions of those laws; they were precluded altogether from acting, and therefore could not have imitated the example proposed to them amidst the cheers of the House—that of the Scottish proprietors. The noble Lord now proposed to give facilities to the Irish landlords to borrow extensively under that Act. He thought this a very proper thing to do; but when it was represented as a great boon, he would ask what it was but simply a loan upon terms that were not extraordinarily beneficial to them, and would be ordinarily remunerative to the State. It would make a fresh charge upon the property of every man who borrowed money under the Act: whatever amount of loan might be so advanced would override all other charges, and become, in fact, a land-tax. He would wish to suggest a matter of practical detail, on which too much stress could not be laid; it was, that the amount of charge necessary for the purpose of inspection, to ascertain first whether money should be advanced, and afterwards how labour should be applied, might be defined. Assuming that it was good policy to encourage as many as possible to apply for loans of money, that the whole produce of the soil might be augmented, that object would be defeated unless only a small per centage charge were imposed. He now came to a proposition which was not dealt with so fairly as it might have been by the hon. Member for Wycombe—he meant a part of the scheme which, in his opinion, entirely deserved the sanction of the House, the Million Fund for reclaiming waste lands. He believed that numberless acres might be beneficially reclaimed. He knew land not now producing a shilling per acre, on which thousands of the people might be employed, and which would yield, in all contingencies of the seasons, ample crops. He was perfectly satisfied that this part of the Ministerial scheme would confer a great benefit on the people of Ireland, not only by employing as many as the improvement of the land would require, but also by the creation hereafter of a class of small proprietors, of whom they had very few in Ireland. This was a class conferring great advantages on every country where they existed; and he believed it might be created in Ireland without imposing any difficulty whatever on the tenant. The noble Lord intended to introduce, at an early period, a measure which would have the effect of enabling proprietors to escape from the difficulties 642 under which they now laboured, by selling portions of their estates: that measure, if satisfactory, would no doubt have the entire approbation of the House. The noble Lord also proposed to introduce a measure for the commutation of tenures, and to make leases renewable for ever. For that measure he offered the noble Lord his thanks, as calculated to effect extensive good. With respect to the subject of the fisheries, the noble Lord should remember that it had been over and over again pressed upon the attention of the Legislature during the last twenty years. Some steps had been taken in the establishment of curing-houses, which were most useful to the fishermen, and had showed what might be done. It ought, moreover, to be considered how far Irish cured fish might be made available for the purposes of food in that country. It seemed as if it might be used in workhouses and gaols, and possibly also for the Irish Catholic soldiers; and if so, the operation of encouraging the fisheries would be a double one, by providing a market for the commodity, of which a supply had been created, and, on the other hand, do something towards diminishing the pressure upon the present stock of food. He had regretted to hear the noble Lord speak so discouragingly in regard to emigration, for although he concurred with the noble Lord that there had been much exaggeration in the expectations formed by some of relieving the country of millions by this means, and knew well that no more emigrants should be sent to the colonies than the colonies could conveniently receive, he yet thought that something more might be done than the noble Lord had held out hopes of, From a conversation he had held with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Hutt), he believed that not more than 200,000 at the most could be sent out to all the colonies in the present year; but, nevertheless, that would do something towards relieving the pressure. The noble Lord, in his enumeration of measures for the absorption of labour into the land, had omitted to mention that most important one which had been so long proposed by the hon. Member for Rochdale. He thought that a good law, to secure to the tenant compensation for the improvements made upon his farm, would do more than all the rest put together. The proposition had been for ten years before the Government, and it had been the subject of two Bills, besides that of the hon. Member for Rochdale; and he thought it too bad that 643 at this period no measure of the kind had been proposed. In regard to railways in Ireland, he (Mr. S. O'Brien) tendered his thanks to the noble Member for Lynn for the intention he had expressed of taking up that subject. He was persuaded that advances for that purpose might safely be made without the loss of a single guinea; and it was under the present circumstances of the country that the application of such a stimulus became particularly necessary. He believed that, in many cases of railways in Ireland—he did not say in all—most unquestionable collateral security could be given for such advances. He thought also it would be wise in the Government to enable counties to construct railways on their own account, on the security of the county rates. Before he sat down, he wished briefly to allude to one other subject—a most important one. It was his decided opinion that, until some good measure were passed to induce the great absentee proprietors of Ireland to perform their duty, there was no chance of attaining that state of social felicity which the noble Lord imagined he had at his command. He believed it to be perfectly impossible for any people to sustain such an enormous drain upon their resources as that which Ireland now endured from this cause, and the capital of which he estimated at 4,000,000l. These persons should be compelled to make that country some compensation for the evils she endured, of which they were the cause; and he asked whether those who so loudly denounced the resident landlords of Ireland, and who devoted, he supposed, the whole of their time in mitigating the sufferings of their own poor neighbours, but receiving the while large remittances from Ireland, were to be allowed to escape. This was an occasion which, beyond all others, required deep consideration as to the mode in which the national resources could be applied to useful objects, whether in public works or in objects of local or national character. There were various objects of this kind, hitherto neglected, to which the attention of the Government ought to be applied, but into the details of which there was no time to enter on the present occasion. He would, therefore, content himself with briefly adverting to some expressions at the conclusion of the speech of the noble Lord. The noble Lord eulogized the virtues of self-reliance and co-operation, and so far he agreed with him. But when the noble Lord recommended the Irish to aid 644 themselves, and then Heaven would aid them; and when he recommended them to manage and regulate their own affairs; he seemed to have forgotten that to that people, bound as they were hand and foot to England, his words could sound but as a bitter mockery.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, as an English representative he was desirous of making some observations on the measures brought forward by the noble Lord; and he was the more anxious to do so, because if none but Members for Ireland were permitted to complain, and to lay before the House statements of misery and want, one might fancy that the misery and the want extended not beyond the shores of Ireland, and that relief was needed only by the unhappy population of that country. Before he finished, he hoped he should make it clear that there were others besides the people of Ireland who were also suffering; but who suffered in a different spirit, and who, without complaining of the misconduct of the Government, laboured industriously to alleviate their sufferings by their own unaided energies. They did not come to that House, and cast themselves in abject, and as appeared to him almost helpless impotence upon them, but strove manfully and energetically to relieve themselves. It might be said, and it had been intimated, that any description which he might give of the position of the different classes in Ireland, would be dictated by a malignant spirit. In answer to that inuendo he had to inform them that he meant to institute a severe inquiry into some of the classes of that country, utterly careless of any imputations; because he had a duty to perform, and he knew he would be supported against all such imputations by the feeling and opinion of the people of this country. The noble Lord at the head of the Government, in legislating for Ireland, had not restricted himself to the present emergency, but had discovered that there were other measures which it would be desirable to pass, the object of which was not to relieve the immediate distress, but, as the noble Lord phrased it, for the regeneration of that country. The noble Lord wished to refashion—to reconstruct, as it were—the character and habits of the Irish people; and concluded his observations with some mysterious declaration of what he would do if those measures passed into a law. With the permission of the House, he would consider them in the order in which they 645 had been laid down. First, as to those intended for relief of present distress; and next, those intended for the amelioration of the character of the people; and he would also endeavour to touch what lay in the noble Lord's mind when he made that mysterious declaration. In attempting to alleviate the present distress, it behoved them to consider well the condition of the people in Ireland. The first thing which struck him in contemplating the condition of the Irish people was, the broad distinction which runs between two classes in that country. A large majority of the people in Ireland were living as a labouring population upon the land; and there was another class—proprietors, so called, of the land — who were the landlords of that country. The House was asked to save the population from starvation, and the landlords from ruin. Two sets of measures were proposed—one having for its object the relief of the large labouring population, and the other to rescue from ruin and absolute pecuniary destruction the so-called Irish landlords. Now the condition of the labouring population was habitually one bordering on starvation: they consumed the lowest species of food which was used by men in any civilized community, and reduced moreover to the lowest quantity of even that unwholesome and inefficient food: they lived upon small holdings of land, not, as in other countries, living upon the wages of labour, but in that most mischievous of all conditions of man, living upon their own labour, unaided by the intervention of capital or skill, but directly and immediately applied to the soil. The return to their labour was necessarily small, because it was so applied without the intervention of capital or skill; it was mere brute force applied by numbers to the land, and yielding the smallest return that a fertile soil could produce. In this condition the people had multiplied exceedingly, and their multiplication had been aided by the proximity of England. In spite of all discouragements, some capital, however small, did dribble into Ireland from England; and these small sums had but one effect—that of increasing the numbers of the people, without remedying their condition. Thus the people had ever been in a chronic state of disease; and the present symptoms only indicated an acute form of the same disease. Such was the condition of the labouring classes. For them he had every sympathy; but he believed the course that was taken would only perpetuate the dis- 646 tress and extend the misery which it was the object to relieve. He turned from the consideration of those classes to that other body who had approached that House, and, in terms loud, and almost commanding, had demanded redemption from ruin. He did not allude to all the landlords of Ireland; but he took upon himself to say, that the nominal proprietors of land in Ireland were not the true landlords of that country: they were but the nominal landlords; the real landlords were the mortgagees and the tax gatherers. Without the wealth to support the pride and desire of outside show which often accompanied landed proprietorship, the Irish landlords were always on the verge of ruin. Not the masters of their own estates, they were obliged to live from hand to mouth — craving for everything, grasping at everything, and totally unable to perform the duties which devolved upon them as the proprietors of the soil. Now, when a demand for relief was made on their behalf, he was entitled to inquire into the circumstances of their case. Unhappily, the landlords of Ireland—or that class who were nominally so—had been in reality, to a very great extent, the cause of the very distress with which the country was now afflicted. They had been a favoured class in that House. The whole of the legislation for Ireland had been moulded and fashioned invariably with a view to the interests of the landlords. That House had unfortunately passed over the multitudes of poor in Ireland, that they might give power and efficiency to the wishes and feelings of the landed proprietors, who had so mischievously employed the great powers entrusted to them by the law as to have worked themselves to the brink of ruin, and the whole body of the people to the brink of starvation. It was impossible to question the state of facts. Nothing was clearer or more distinct than the gradation of their progress. The general character of the landed gentry in Ireland some years ago was that of a joyous, reckless, hospitable, prodigality — no thrift, no prudence, no economy; they inevitably got into debt, and their embarrassments became so numerous and so perplexing, that it became to them a matter of the most painful solicitude how their present wants might be supplied. This was their great thought, their sole ambition; and the only expedient which promised a solution to the difficulty was, the subdivision and parcelling out of their land. And, accordingly, the laud was sub- 647 divided into an infinity of parcels, and one poor man was seen bidding against another with an eagerness that showed that he regarded the holding as his only chance of livelihood. To hold by that land, they would give or promise any thing. The consequence of this competition, as far as the landlord was affected, was, that rents were considerably higher in Ireland than in England. Notwithstanding the greater poverty of the Irish population, the returns to the landlord were in reality higher in Ireland than in England; and what was the worst feature in the case was, that of all this money, so given to the landlords, no portion came back to the soil, as it did in England, by a due regard being paid to the improvement of the estate, the enrichment of the soil, and the benefiting of the people's condition. The first object with landlords, after receiving their rents, was to pay some portion of their debts, the next to satisfy the tax-gatherer; and they had then to consider how they might manage to live in their accustomed splendour. Such was the pitiable condition of the Irish landlords, taking them as a whole. But there were exceptions. These exceptions were to be looked for amongst the absentee proprietors. The large English proprietor, who was an absentee, was in reality the most beneficent landlord in Ireland. Hon. Members from Ireland came down to that House, like the hon. Member for Limerick, and talked about the mischief that resulted from absenteeism. They complained of such landlords as the Marquess of Lansdowne — [Mr. O'BRIEN: No, no!]—and yet the fact was beyond all possibility of dispute, that the nominal proprietors, those who stayed at home and lived on the soil, were, in the majority of cases, the very worst landlords in all Ireland. The Irish population was absolutely bound to the soil. Send them from their holdings, to which they adhered with marvellous tenacity, and they were unable to exist. They were lost—they were utterly undone. This resulted from that most pernicious system — the parcelling out and minute subdivision of the land. And yet of all the remarks which fell the other night from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that which amazed him (Mr. Roebuck) most was his observation on this subject. That one who had paid so much attention as the noble Lord to the condition of Ireland should have been prepared to state in his scheme for the regeneration of that country, that the subdivision of the soil 648 was not an evil in Ireland, did certainly surprise him more than he could describe. The noble Lord had instanced the happy and comfortable condition of the population in the northern districts of Ireland, as attesting that subdivision was no evil; but the noble Lord went on a false premise. The comfortable population to whom he alluded were persons who, independently of their holdings, were engaged in trade or manufacture—men, in fact, who had their small parcels of land as much for recreation as for anything else; and not, as in the south and west of Ireland, wretched beings, who had no earthly hope nor means of subsistence other than what they derived from their miserable little holdings. The noble Lord might as well have instanced the case of London. Look round London, and see what minute subdivision of land there was there. There was scarcely so much as two or three acres held as a whole by any one proprietor; and yet would any one say that that was a proof that the parceling out of land was not mischievous? The fact was, that the people of London were engaged in various trades and manufactures, and had not to rely on their holdings for the means of subsistence. He hesitated not to designate as the "monster grievance" of Ireland that unfortunate system of dividing the land into petty holdings, from which the unhappy occupiers could not be removed; for in truth and in fact, they were more the possessors of the land than the landlords themselves. If such was the condition of the people of Ireland, and such the condition of the land, what was the Legislature to do? Was it possible for them by any means so to fashion their legislation as to make it the interest of some class of persons to watch over and prevent that constantly increasing division of the land? If the Legislature could not do this, they might as well throw down their hands at once, and give up the task. But if they could make it the interest of those who would be the possessors of the soil to watch over and protect it, by preventing the mischiefs of the subdivision system, then indeed they might still hope to be able to regenerate the country. This it was that the House should endeavour to effect. In his opinion it was completely within their power to do that; but he would protest against all attempts on the part of the Government to become a land-jobber, a corn-jobber, or a road-maker. All these things were beyond the province of a Government. The noble Lord had very profoundly said 649 that no people could be fed by a Government. He would take upon himself to say that no people could be directed in the application of their industry and capital by any Government. All that a Government could fairly be called upon to do was to protect life and property—to give the means of, and to make easy and certain, the transmission of property—to make secure the title to property—and, as subsidiary to the protection of life and property, to raise the condition of the people by education. But no Government in the world ever exceeded that without doing great and immediate mischief. In attestation of the truth of this proposition, he might refer to the operations of the Government for the last four months in Ireland. The correspondence with the Board of Works in Ireland had been that morning laid upon the Table of the House; and he had already managed to get through the perusal of a great portion of it. Such an exhibition of reckless mad expenditure as the book presented, he never before witnessed. But it had occurred in spite of the Government. The moment that Government set itself up to be the buyer of labour, labourers flocked to them from every direction, and the legitimate occupations of industry were immediately and completely superseded. Not alone from all districts of Ireland, but even from Liverpool and Manchester, men, forsaking their legitimate avocations, thronged in crowds to take the Queen's money; and the consequence was, that direful as the present distress was, there was a prospect of absolute starvation next year by reason of the difficulty of getting labour for the purposes of agriculture. Now all this had resulted from the Government having overstepped the legitimate limits of its duties. It had undertaken a task for which no Government was competent. It had taken on itself to be the provider of labour and food for a whole people, and it had most signally failed. Nay, more, it had done positive injury. It had demoralized the people, and taught them this most mischievous lesson, that if they could only make it appear to Government that distress was general, there was no necessity for them to exert themselves at all. The consequences to England, moreover, would be most fatally injurious. They had to look to the morality and comfort of their own labouring poor; and was it not to be apprehended that the moral pestilence that had been created in Ireland might perhaps find its way to the 650 shores of this country? Was it not very probable that the English labourer would complain that he should be compelled to pay taxes, and that he should be bowed to the earth with toil, in order that the Irish people might be fed out of his means? He could tell the House that the feeling was spreading far and wide in England, that in this respect a great injustice was done to his patient and forbearing countrymen. And were not the representatives of the English people in that House to give unfettered expression to their indignation at this on the part of the people of England? Were they calmly to witness the gathering of a pestilence, and yet to make no effort to avert it? He, for one, would not be deterred by any insinuations, or by any terrors, from boldly maintaining the interests of his poorer fellow-countrymen; and in their name he solemnly protested against the whole scheme of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. He protested against any attempt by that House to relieve the landlords from the consequences of their own misconduct and that of their progenitors—he protested against procuring constant employment for the Irish people, or any portion of them—he protested against devoting the hard-earned capital of the English people to the project of draining the wild lands of Ireland — and, last of all, he protested most energetically against what was called the new Irish poor law. That a poor law indeed! A few undigested clauses, giving powers to certain persons in Ireland, which the great body of the Irish people would not be able to comprehend. Had they, by their poor law, given to the people of Ireland a necessary right to relief? If they had not done this, they had done nothing. If they gave a distinct and legal right to relief, they must give it in some place. Then there must be a regular law of settlement, and a regular law of removal. Then there must be a complete and regular machinery for the administration of the Act; in fact, a poor law built up from the bottom, the right of relief being the grand fundamental condition, and then a superstructure equal in proportion to the English poor law, and producing the same effects as those produced by the English poor law. If the Ministers were wise, they would take advantage of the golden opportunity which, notwithstanding, or rather (to speak more correctly) by reason of the disasters of the times, was now presented to them, to tax the land of Ireland with 651 the great duty of supporting the poor of Ireland. But then, what measure ought to be introduced? In one word, and to avoid all circumlocution, let them introduce the English poor law. If it was good for England, it must be good for Ireland. Let them introduce that law with its machinery, and let it be at once the steadfast and certain law of the country. And let them not stop here. Let them introduce a series of searching reforms into the whole real property law of that country; let them at once make easy the transmission and sale of estates; and above all, let them make good the titles of estates. There should be no tenderness on the subject. Tenderness to the landlords would be cruelty to the people. But he was far from saying that they ought to shut their eyes to all the evils afflicting Ireland, except such as had reference to the relation between landlord and tenant. Ireland had been an ill-governed and an ill-treated country. The injustice of England was recoiling on herself. He acknowledged it; but when hon. Members displayed a willingness to attack Gentlemen on his side of the House, it would be well for them to remember that no proposal had ever been made in that House to grant power to the Irish people and to extend their privileges, that had not been steadfastly supported by Gentlemen on that side—yes, by the very men who were now standing up against the demands of the Irish landlords. For his own part, he could safely assert, that with the single exception of one measure—a measure which he was in his conscience convinced would injure Ireland herself more than England, namely, a repeal of the Union—no proposal had ever been made to extend any of the franchises of the Irish people, that had not invariably obtained his steady and unswerving support. But to return to the proposition under consideration. There was no instance in which the Irish people had so keenly felt the grinding oppression of England as in that of religion. It was wholly hopeless for that House to attempt the regeneration of the Irish character, if that memorial of grinding oppression still remained for every agitator to take hold of to stir up the passions of his fellow-countrymen at any moment, whether for good or for evil. As long as that mischief remained, Ireland would be the fruitful source of discord. This was a question which affected the happiness of the Irish people. They were about to attempt the reconstruction of their 652 character, and the improvement of their condition; but all the efforts of the Legislature would be unavailing, if they were to shrink from touching the great evil of the social position in Ireland. As long as that House should continue the Irish Church Establishment as it now was in Ireland, so long it would be hopeless to attempt any regeneration of that country. He did not say this in any spirit of religious bigotry. He had no apprehension from, nor any antipathy to, Catholics, as opposed to Protestants. The usual feelings connected with those words entered not into his mind. He looked on them both with the same eyes, with the same kindliness and forbearance; but he could not refrain from calling attention to this fact, that they had left the Irish priests in that condition which gave them a direct interest in maintaining the present unhappy condition of their country. He warned the noble Lord against any attempt on the part of his Government, or of any Government, against making a State provision for the Irish clergy; for certain he was, that any Government that would attempt such a thing, would not have twenty-fours' tenure of office. But there were plans of a wise and feasible kind which might be adopted, for putting the Irish clergy in a very different position from that which they now occupied. If they were to do away with the laws of mortmain, and to permit every Catholic priest with a parish to acquire land, by gift or otherwise, to the amount of 300l. a year, many years would not elapse before every parish priest in Ireland would be endowed with that sum; and when appointed to his parish, he would have entered into recognizance to the tune of 300l. per annum for the preservation of the peace. There was another question, to which allusion was occasionally made—the repeal of the Union. He, for one, was anxious to give the Irish people the power to govern themselves. He was willing to give them full municipal powers, still retaining imperial dominion by a sort of federal union. He would give the power to the municipalities of maintaining what priesthood they pleased. This he was willing to do; but any attempt to find, out of the Imperial Treasury, the funds for the support of the Irish priesthood, he would resist to the last. But unless they were prepared to legislate in some way to relieve them from their present condition, they could have no hope for the establishment of prosperity in that country. It seemed to him that 653 they had done all a Government should have done, all that a Government could do, with this exception, and another exception which he could not now detail—namely, to provide, so far as their means would permit, for the general education of the Irish people. He had remarked that the noble Lord, while he talked of elevating the character of the Irish people, never once alluded to the means of educating them. The means of doing so were in their hands: the revenues of the Irish Church, or such of them as were not necessary for affording spiritual comfort to the members of the Established Church, ought to be applied to the education of the Irish people. When this, the coping-stone, was put to the reform he had mentioned, they would not have those constant appeals from Ireland—which they had heard that night, and which he supposed they would hear for many nights to come—to Government to do something for Ireland. One Gentleman had a plan for draining land, another for public works, another to teach the Irish people to cure fish, another to give them seed-corn, and another to make ditches; in short, it was proposed that the Government was do everything. And the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Limerick (Mr. Smith O'Brien), had stated that evening that it was the business of the Government to go everywhere to obtain food for the Irish people. He had asked them to go the Falkland Islands for cattle, and, carrying his appeal to the utmost, he says, "it is the first great duty of the Government to get food for the Irish people." He (Mr. Roebuck) wanted to know what Government would not have to do by and by—they would have to feed the Irish people, and to clothe them, ay, and to shave them. He must say, that however it might be a matter of jest, he had never beheld so lamentable a state exhibited by any people. It was lamentable to think that there should be so circumstanced a great nation, upon a soil of unexampled fertility; blessed with a climate quite as good as their own; possessing a population which, in physical qualities, they were told was stronger—which they were told in intellectual qualities was their equal, if not their superior; and he never for one instant denied it. He knew the Irish people were in everything, so far as the intellectual and physical powers were concerned, quite equal to the people of England. But there was one grand difference between them, and that was in the moral courage 654 which enabled the English people to sustain themselves. They had not any desire, they had no wish, to ask another to feed them, or to help them; but in that honest manly pride which ought to distinguish a great nation, they possessed a power that would sustain them against all difficulties—that conquered all obstacles, and which asked for no assistance. Now, let the Irish people acquire that single quality of moral courage and self-reliance, and instead of seeing the abject spectacle they that night witnessed, they might hope to see them, with themselves, running the same great race in civilization. But if they now yielded to those demands—if they succumbed to the wishes of the noble Lord—England herself might be blotted out, and the great sun of civilization that was now shedding happiness, and light, and life upon her people, might set in the same wild wasting desolation that they now witnessed in Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT BERNARD
regretted that any hon. Member should be willing, for one moment, to postpone the question of Irish relief. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down know anything of the state of Ireland? Was he aware of the real condition of the Irish peasant? Could he believe that famine was there in its most shocking and appalling form, and yet hesitate to afford succour; or would he allow the people to perish with hunger whilst he was satisfying himself of the propriety of certain doctrines of political economy? He had been entrusted with petitions from the part of Ireland which he represented, and in which, he could assure the House, there was the greatest distress; and he hoped the House would indulge him whilst he read from authentic documents some facts showing the frightful condition of some of the Irish poor. The noble Lord read a letter from a clergyman in his part of the county (Cork), who stated that every day the condition of the people was becoming more frightful and more deplorable, and that he shrunk from narrating the details of what he witnessed from morning to night. Each day added to the number of the destitute, and he added that what he witnessed made his heart ache. Another gentleman wrote to say that at Bantry the people were now eating the corn which had been intended for seed. The Dean of Cork said—Our Cork committee have established fifty-four boilers. Famine is certainly progressing, the number of deaths increasing. The Government 655 established no boilers in this county; they were established by the Quakers, by the landlords, and (through the aid of the National Club and benevolent English friends) by our clergy.Dr. Traill, in a letter to the Dean of Cork, stated—In my opinion, no human efforts can keep us alive. Two days ago, three uncoffined bodies were brought in one cart, and thrown into a hole.This letter was dated Jan. 28, 1847. And a letter from Crookhaven of the same date had the following—Every day the relief committee meet, they have to fill up vacancies in the lists of those employed on the public roads; so insufficient is the rate of pay given to sustain life at the present exorbitant price of food.But he begged to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the fact, that though Indian corn had fallen 9s., yet the price was rising, and the corn was being bought up, in the speculation of enhancing the price of seed. The point, however, which he was anxious to come to, was to trace the source of the present calamity, which he would contend was not from over-population. In the autumn of last year, a severe calamity fell on Ireland, though in its effects partial, because the Government at that time established depôts in every quarter where food was likely to become scarce. The great error of the present Administration was the breaking up those depôts of food. Her Majesty's Ministers stated also that they would not interfere with private enterprise, except in certain portions of Ireland, where private trade could not extend; but even in those districts, the Government had not done anything to prevent distress. The noble Lord then read an extract from a letter of Sir R. Routh to Mr. Trevelyan, dated Jan. 14, 1847—In submitting to the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury a brief statement of the present duties, it is necessary to make some reference to those of the preceding season. On that occasion, it will be recollected, the chief depôt was at Cork.In the present season it was thought fit to leave the east, north, and south coast, comprising the space between Londonderry and Skibbereen, to the exercise of private enterprise, for which the commisariat arrangements had prepared it; but the Government undertook the supply of the west coast, which is hardly yet accessible to trade in any degree sufficient for the supply.With this object the following depôts have been established:—County Cork—Castletown, Berehaven, Long Island, Skibbereen.He would also read a letter from Sir R. Routh to himself, dated— 656Oct. 10,1846.—The Treasury Minute explains the grounds which have induced the Government to leave the south-eastern and southern ports, and those of the interior which are ordinarily supplied from them, to the foresight and enterprise of private merchants.The noble Lord also read parts of other letters and instructions, to show that it had been intended some time ago by the Government to establish depôts at Castletown, Berehaven and Skibbereen. In some places where the Government had promised to establish depôts of food, their promises had not been carried into effect.Instructions dated Nov. 16, 1846.No application for the assistance of Government, in procuring supplies of food, are to be received in respect of any district, except the country west of the Shannon—the counties of Donegal, Leitrim, Kerry, Limerick, and that small portion of the county of Cork which is situate on the western coast of Ireland.Mr. Trevelyan to Major Beamish.August 28, 1846.—It has been already determined to establish a reserve depôt of Indian meal in that part of the country (Kilchrohane, Barony of W. D. W. Carberry); and I will write to Sir R. Routh, by to-day's post, to express to him my opinion that the measure should be carried into effect without loss of time.Jan. 4.—This season we have under commissariat accounts the following depôts:—Castletown, Berehaven, Skibbereen.He wished to call the attention of Government to the fact that the places where they had intended to establish depôts had been very much neglected. Here the noble Lord read the following extracts:—From Mr. Bishop, Jan. 15.—The scarcity of food (in Skull) calls for early attention.From Mr. Parker.—I am quite positive that unless something be done speedily, by throwing in supplies at a moderate price, by affording means of gratuitous relief, or by affording means of emigration for the most destitute, the bulk of the population will be swept off.Treasury Minute, Jan. 15.—Their Lordships entirely approve of a floating depôt at Long Island, as recommended by Mr. Bishop.Mr. Bishop, Jan. 10, 1847.—The harbour of Long Island appears to offer the best and safest position for a floating depôt.Sir R. Routh, Jan. 19, 1847.—I wrote to-day to Sir H. Pigot, about the floating depôt at Long Island. Our stores have arrived at Castletown, Berehaven. If we had more depôts, we could not keep them supplied; and it has taken much time and labour to bring them to their present state of completion.Another important point to which he wished to call the attention of Government was the conduct of the corn merchants in the district of Cork with which he was connected. He had by him various documents to prove that directly the Government decided on having depôts in Ireland, that instant prices rose in that country. He 657 could assure the House that nothing could equal the misery which the combination of the corn merchants in the south of Ireland had brought about. With one exception, he believed that all the corn merchants of the city of Cork had combined to keep up prices. Being the only Irish representative connected with that part of the country, he must say that nothing could exceed the heartrending accounts he received from thence. He would read the following letter of Commissary General Hewetson to Mr. Trevelyan, dated Limerick, Dec. 30, showing the state of the market, and how the corn speculators were acting:—Vessels with supplies are dropping into Cork and Limerick with every change of wind to the westward. To the former port chiefly for orders; to the Shannon, direct consignments to the trade. Last quotations from Cork—Indian corn 17l. 5s. per towed ship; Limerick corn not in the market; Indian meal 18l. 10s. to 19l., demand excessive. Looking to the quotations in the United States' markets, these are really famine prices, the corn (direct consignment from the States) not standing the consignee more than 9l. or 10l. per ton. The commander of the ship Isabella, lately, with a direct consignment from New York to a house in this city, makes no scruple, in his trips in the public steamers up and down the river, to speak of the enormous profits the English and Irish houses are making by their dealings with the States. One house in Cork alone, it is affirmed, will clear 40,000l. by corn speculations; and the leading firm here will, I should say, go near to 80,000l., as they are now weekly turning out from 700 to 900 tons of different sorts of meal. I know this cannot be controlled at present; but I sincerely hope we shall, in the spring, have the means of interfering to check such, I would, say extortionate prices: but as they are according to the spirit of trade, and therefore legitimate, I will qualify the term to famine rates. I sometimes am inclined to think houses give large prices for cargoes exported for a market to keep them up; it is an uncharitable thought, but really there is so much cupidity abroad, and the wretched people are suffering so intensely from the high prices of food, augmented by every party through whose hands it passes before it reaches them, that it is quite disheartening to look on.He could only say from his experience, that he believed the statement contained in that letter to be a true statement. He could say, that in the town near which he resided they had constantly kept a store open with a view of underselling or keeping down the price. Every small huxter endeavoured to keep up the price, and the practice had gone to such an extent in places he knew, that corn having been sold under price for charity to certain parties, those parties endeavoured to resell it again. Yet those were the traders that Her Majesty's Government 658 wished to deal so leniently with, although so high were the prices, that in the town he represented several traders themselves were almost ruined from the enormous price in the markets. It was a case in which it was the duty of the Government to interfere. They had never asked them to feed the whole popnlation, or to supply eight millions of people with bread; but what they did ask them was this—let them do what the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had done last year—let them have a store which would enable them to keep a watch over the market, and then they would have secured, as he (Sir R. Peel) had secured, the affection and gratitude of the Irish people. In a letter to Mr. Trevelyan, Commissioner Hewetson said—You still speak of the high prices of food, as if they were caused by the misconduct of merchants and dealers, and you allude to the high profits supposed to be obtained by persons of that class. The fact of these high profits may be doubled as a general rule. No doubt persons who, when prices were low, laid up a store against a time of scarcity, obtain and deserve to obtain the reward of their beneficial foresight.With respect to the means that had been practised to procure a high price for corn, he had been looking for a precedent for it, and there was but one which was rather similar, though it had occurred at the distance of nearly two thousand years. He found the same course had been pursued of endeavouring to get ships (as had been done at Cork) to take corn from one place with the view of getting larger prices in another place. Looking to Boeck's Economy of Athens, he found it stated that no one did Athens and the other Grecian States so much injury as Cleomenes of Alexandria, Alexander's satrap in Egypt, who accumulated large stores of corn, fixed the prices arbitrarily, and, on account of the number of servants whom he had engaged in the corn trade, was enabled everywhere to ascertain the state of the markets with accuracy. He did not allow his corn vessels to load at any commercial town before his assistants in the place had given information with regard to the state of prices; if they were high the corn was landed and sold, and if not the vessel proceeded to some other place. The Government ought to have acted earlier. Before Parliament separated, the early potato crop had completely failed, and there was every reason to think that the other crop would fail likewise. While First Minister of the Crown, the right hon. Baronet had done 659 him the honour to quote to the House a statement which he had forwarded from the board of guardians to which he belonged, first thanking the right hon. Baronet for the course he had pursued, and then urging on the Government, that such was the calamitous state of the country, energetic steps were necessary. He would refer for a few moments to the unfortunate Act of last Session, which had demoralized the whole of Ireland. In consequence of its operation, the small farmer was leaving his land neglected, and in many cases the farm labourers were working on the roads, the farmers themselves superintending as paid officers of the Board of Works. A Minister of the Crown in another place had brought a charge against the landlords of Ireland, as if they had been the cause of what had taken place. He utterly denied it. It ought to be remembered that the presentment sessions were held in most cases under intimidation, in a noisy turbulent court; and it was not the magistrates, but any person who pleased, that proposed the presentments. The noble Lord had stated that it was not of much consequence whether the roads that had been lately made in Ireland were productive or not; but, if that was the impression of the Government, why send orders to the Board of Works to proceed with the best projects that could be undertaken? In many cases he knew, that from the officers of the Board of Works not having been able to perform their duty, when the magistrates met in the presentment sessions, the proper documents were not ready to be laid before them. He had a letter from a clergyman in the west of Ireland, stating that the relief lists were even altered by the overseers and engineers of districts; and he had known cases in which the engineers had taken off parties at work on the roads, and put them on in other districts. The House had been told that the existing calamity ought not to be considered a national one, but ought to be met and dealt with by the residents in that country. Now, he (Lord Bernard) was not one of those who would ask anything unreasonable, but he thought that if ever there was a national calamity—if ever there was a calamity that came in the shape of a national judgment, this was the one. Was it nothing that 16,000,000l. worth of food had been destroyed and lost to the people? Would not that be considered a national calamity if it had happened in England? When the whole food of the population was withdrawn, ought the 660 Irish Members to be taunted with coming forward to ask the sympathy of this country? One parallel case there was which had occurred not long ago. He would remind the House of what the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had stated with respect to India, in bringing forward his budget of 1842. The right hon. Baronet had, at that time, to deal with the case of a large deficiency in the Indian revenue, and the right hon. Baronet said that he was quite aware that there must appear to be direct connexion between the finances of India and those of this country; but that was an imperfect and narrow view of the subject, for, if the credit of India became disordered, so that some great exertion were necessary to support it, then the credit of England must be brought forward, and any deficiency in the revenue of India would thus be felt extensively in this country. Let him remind the House of the manner in which they had dealt last year with a similar case. When an alteration was to be made in the corn laws, which it was imagined by a large party in this country would be injurious to their interests, an arrangement was effected by which three years were to be allowed before the measure came into operation; and the same course was followed when the duties on sugar were to be relaxed; and would they deal in a different manner when the injury was caused by the hand of man, and when it was a Divine infliction? The hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken of the absentees of Ireland. Now, no one could more regret than he (Lord Bernard) that absenteeism; but when the hon. Gentleman spoke of the large properties of the absentees, and of some cases in which the properties of absentees were well managed, he forgot that that was not the question, for it was equally possible to have them well managed, whether the landlords resided or not; but the evil of absenteeism was the great sums of money which it caused to be spent out of the country. The hon. and learned Gentleman had attacked the landlords of Ireland. He (Lord Bernard) believed that in the present year of unparalleled difficulties, they had, as far as his observation had gone, endeavoured to perform their duties. Their position ought to be remembered. This was the second year of calamity with them. To meet the calamity of last year, great subscriptions had been raised in Ireland. Nearly 20,000l. had been subscribed in the county of Cork in the early part of last year. 661 With regard to the measures of the Government for the future alleviation of the miseries of Ireland, in the first place came the temporary measure of the suspension of the navigation laws, the removal of the duties on corn, and the allowance of the use of sugar in breweries; and his only regret was that these measures had not been adopted at an earlier period. If they had been adopted in November, they might have done some little good He questioned if now they would do any. It was possible that the suspension of the navigation laws might bring some foreign vessels to the south of Ireland, but beyond that he had not much hopes from these measures. Then the Government proposed a new poor law, and a measure for establishing relief committees. Now, he wished that the poor law should be assimilated in both countries. There never had been a greater calumny on the landlords, than that they had obstructed the passing of such a measure at an earlier period. It had been at the option of the Government to have done this some time ago. They ought to have done it at the time that the Commission of Inquiry represented that a large portion of the population were permanently living by mendicancy. He would urge on the present Government calmly to consider the question how far it was possible in the present position of Ireland to levy the rates under the existing Act. The fact was, that at present it was impossible to levy the rates for the support of the workhouses; 800,000l. was wanted for that purpose yearly, and he felt confident that if they persisted in exacting those rates, they would find in that course the greatest obstacle in the way of the new law. As a preliminary to whatever measures they might hereafter adopt, he hoped the Government would insist upon the people being sent back to their ordinary occupations, and to take part in their usual agricultural pursuits; and if so he hoped it would be the omen of a happier and brighter day for Ireland. If they were to exert themselves to develop the resources of that country—if they would, by means of railroads, open the distant ports of Ireland to the action of trade—he had no doubt they would be amply repaid. The sum spent on the improvement of Ireland last year was 375,000l., and the revenue of the country had increased more than 200,000l. a year. Sir Robert Kane had stated, with regard to the counties of Cork and Galway, that the money laid out in developing the re- 662 sources of these counties, would be repaid cent per cent. He would ask the House then to teach Ireland the great moral lesson of availing herself of the great resources which Providence had placed around her—acknowledging, at the same time, that whatever measures they might take, and however statesmen might attempt to alleviate her condition — however they might improve her agriculture and furnish seed for her neglected soil—still they must live in the daily and hourly dependence on an all-wise and all-bountiful Providence.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, his unfeigned respect for the noble Lord who had just addressed the House compelled him to express the regret with which he had heard him lend the sanction of his character to the renewal of doctrines which he had thought were everywhere exploded. The noble Lord spoke of the wicked combination by which certain corn dealers in the city of Cork had raised the price of corn. Now, Cork was a city containing above 100,000 inhabitants, and not far from it there was the city of Waterford, large and populous; and even if it were not, there was the city of Dublin on the same side, and the city of Bristol on the other side, of the Channel. Now, could any man believe that if all the corn dealers in these towns were to agree not to sell a bushel of wheat until corn had reached a famine price, there would not be one who, to use the vulgar expression, would split, and so defeat the whole object of the combination? He had risen immediately after the hon. and learned Member for Bath, because that hon. and learned Member, whom he did not now see in his place, told the House that he spoke as an English Member—thereby, at least, recognizing the justice of this question being considered as an imperial question, and not to fall exclusively upon those who were locally interested. Sharing with that hon. and learned Gentleman the privilege of being an English Member, he (Sir R. Inglis) availed himself of the first opportunity to express the regret which he felt in listening to a large portion of that hon. and learned Member's speech. He thought that the three Bills which were before the House would have supplied abundance of food for discussion to the most voracious appetite. The hon. and learned Member, however, with exhaustless ingenuity, had contrived to bring into this discussion every vexata questio which had ever tormented the minds of hon. Members. For the special ease and benefit of one hon. Mem- 663 ber, not then in his place (Mr. Ward), he proposed to revive the Appropriation Clause; and for the accommodation of other hon. Members he suggested various other additions to the policy of his noble Friend at the head of the Government. The gallant Member for Wycombe, to his surprise, had objected to this policy as a bit-by-bit policy; but if ever there were a Government which had brought forward larger and more comprehensive measures for the "regeneration," as it was called, though he did not like the word, of a great nation, than those brought forward by the noble Lord, then he had read history very imperfectly. Those measures might be right or they might be wrong, but at least they were as comprehensive as ever had been devised by any statesman for any emergency, however critical. His immediate object in rising after the hon. and learned Member for Bath, was to bring the House back to the real question before them, the miserable condition of the great bulk of their fellow-subjects in Ireland. At that moment the eyes of the empire were concentred upon the proceedings of the House, he would venture to hope and believe, with a deep sympathy for the sufferings in Ireland; and when the hon. and learned Member for Bath talked of expressing the indignation of the people of England, for that was the phrase the hon. Member used against the measures of Her Majesty's Government, he, for one, trusted that that expression would be repudiated by the great body of the people of England; and that their feeling was that of an intense desire to promote the present benefit of the people of Ireland. He limited himself to the present benefit; because, with respect either to the causes of the present distress, or to the remedies which might be devised against its recurrence, he held that their first duty was to consider in what way the evils at present existing might be relieved. He quite concurred in much that had been said with respect to the misconduct and consequent misfortunes of that great class, the Irish landlords; for he understood that in real life there might still, as formerly, be found cases analogous, similar, to those characters so inimitably described in the Castle Rackrent of our great living novelist. But that was not the question now before them. The question was whether the actual situation of the people of Ireland was not such as to justify or require those whom God had spared from that great calamity, readily and cheerfully to 664 extend to them their sympathy and support. How had that calamity been borne by the great body of the people? He was not going to retract one word of the praise which he had applied on a former evening to those who were suffering from the same calamity in Scotland; but at present they were dealing with Ireland exclusively, and therefore he would for a short time call the attention of the House to that subject; and the facts to which he was about to advert were to be found principally in certain reports which had been made by the almoners of the benevolence of a particular religious body—he meant the Society of Friends—who had deputed certain members of their body to visit Ireland, with the warmest and, at the same time, with the most intelligent desires to promote their interests. The statements which were given by these reports of the actual distress, were such as one could hardly trust himself to read aloud; but he would read one or two passages to show how well the suffering people had earned the sympathy of the House and the country. The deputies had first visited the counties of Westmeath, of Leitrim, and of Roscommon. One passage stated—To do the people justice, they are bearing their privations with a remarkable degree of patience and fortitude, and very little clamorous begging is to be met with upon the roads; at least, not more than has been the case in Ireland for many years. In fact, from all we heard and saw, we are satisfied that these poor creatures are thus, notwithstanding their deep poverty, keeping each other alive.This was the general statement, but he could give more specific instances. The visitors spoke of a hovel barely four feet high to the top of the walls, and hardly nine feet square:—In another hardly equal in size to this, was also a widow and large family. They literally had no means of support.…. In addition to the poor family who owned the house, I saw in the corner, crouched upon her knees over the little turf fire, a very old and superannuated woman, constantly rocking to and fro, and muttering to herself. Her matted gray hair hung raggedly over her dirty shrivelled face, adding to her wild and wretched appearance. She was hardly clothed at all, so miserable were the tatters with which she was partially covered. Immediately behind her on the damp mud floor, a small pallet of straw was spread; this was her resting place at night, and here she sat all day. It appeared that this sad object was no relative of the poor widow of the house; but, with noble kindness, she allowed her to remain here, and shared with her the last morsel. Surely it might be said of her, as of the widow of old—'she gave more than they all!'He need scarcely inform the House, that in a large portion of the north-west, the west, 665 and the south of Ireland, the people were living on one meal a day of cabbage, or, in some cases, of sea-weed; and yet the visitor declared, in reference to another district as well as to the first—I cannot leave this branch of the subject without stating, that the patience and good feeling of these unfortunate men is wholly beyond praise. Where their families are small, so that they have been passed over to give tickets to others with larger, or where a whole district has been left without tickets, because the road selected to be first made is designed to run through a country suffering under greater privations than theirs, they have listened cheerfully, and even thankfully, to the explanation given to them, merely begging that they might not be forgotten, for that they were indeed sorely put to it to live. Never have I witnessed so much good feeling, patience, and cheerfulness under privation. Out of the scores of families which we visited, and with whom we conversed, in Donegal, I hardly remember an instance of their murmuring or begging, although they were at the time suffering from hunger and disease.These were the statements made by comparative strangers, on a mission prompted by their own good feelings. He should exhaust the patience of the House if he gave any more anecdotes of the extreme sufferings of the people, or of the way in which they were borne; but he was tempted by the allusion which had been made, to enter slightly into the great question of the character of the Protestant clergy and their exertions during the present crisis, as showing the value of a resident body of country gentlemen—taking it upon the lowest ground—such as were the Protestant clergy. They say of Stranorlar—We afterwards called on the clergyman, who appeared much devoted to the suffering poor. He frankly told Mr. Forster, that although there was much distress in this district, he believed that we should find other districts so much worse, that he felt it hardly right to receive anything from him.Of Dunfanoghy—The rector of the parish takes a deep interest in the condition of the poor, and he and his family are devoting much time and attention to their wants, soup-kitchens, &c. Through the energy of this excellent man, a soup-kitchen on a small scale was established two days after our visit, and a sum of money raised for its future support.And of Fannad they say—Mr. G. found the district of Fannad in a dreadful state. The clergyman (almost the only resident above the small farmer) is, with his family, devoting the whole of his time and care to alleviate the distress.And they say, when speaking of Ballinha—We also drove over to Ballinha, a village about six miles distant, where we found the Protestant clergyman of the parish giving up the 666 whole of his time to the support and assistance of his suffering neighbours.He was bound, however, to own, that though the good character given of certain great absentee landlords was perfectly just, yet that this did not apply to great bodies of the absentees. In 1822, when a subscription was raised for one of the western counties of Ireland by the resident gentry, landowners, and clergy—he was quoting from his late lamented friend, Bishop Jebb — the absentee landowners were receiving 83,000l. annually. And what amount did they contribute? Their congregated subscriptions amounted to 83l., not one farthing in the pound of their incomes raised from the very county; and he knew from those who discharged the disagreeable duty of applying to unwilling rich men, that an absentee landlord who was taking 6,000l. a year from one district in the west, or rather in the centre of Ireland, had not given sixpence towards the relief of his suffering fellow-countrymen. ["Name."] He would not scruple to mention the name to any Gentleman out of the House; but although the House as a body was entitled to express its opinion of particular classes, the particular mention of the private conduct of individuals by name was an evil which he would not practise. For his own part, he felt, and he had long felt, more difficulty in introducing a poor law into Ireland as a great remedial measure, seeing how imperfectly the existing law had worked. In his opening speech, the noble Lord, speaking of Castlebar, said, that in the workhouse, holding 600, there were only 150 inmates, because the guardians were not willing or able to levy a rate, though hundreds would have pressed into it. An hon. Member behind says, that this is the solitary case. He (Sir R. H. Inglis) was sorry to say that, even in the papers from which he quoted, he could find others.In Athlone, a large building capable of containing 700. Here a miserable state of things presented itself, the union being very much in debt, and their credit exhausted, and the poor inmates have scarcely clothes to cover them, and little if any bedding at night. The guardians, however, are so much in debt — owing above 2,000l.—that they have given notice that, unless the rate be paid, they will be compelled to close the building, and turn these poor wretches out.Carrick-on-Shannon.—The deaths are at the rate of about twelve each week; while the guardians are so poor, and the union so much in debt, that they obtain their daily food on credit. The workhouse is unprovided with bedding, insomuch that, in the hospital, two or three poor creatures are lying in one bed, and many of them have no- 667 thing but straw; while in the poorhouse at large, there is nothing but straw for any of the inmates.Castlerea.—At the Castlerea poorhouse, a shocking state of things presented itself, the poor inmates lying upon straw, and their dormitories being in such a state of dirt that Mr. Forster was unable to venture into them. In this poorhouse, there are at present 1,080 paupers; but the last 434 were admitted in so hurried a manner, that there is neither bedding nor clothes for them. The measles being in the house, and a few cases of fever already, it is probable that, if something be not speedily effected to remedy the evil, there will be a fearful mortality among the inmates. Yet even to be admitted is better than to be excluded. Two cases of death, if not from starvation, at least from the absence of nourishment during an illness brought on by want of proper food, occurred in Castlerea the week before we visited the town; the individuals having applied for admission into the poorhouse; but the consideration of their cases being postponed, death stepped in.And here he would call attention to the fact, that if, in the present mitigated form of the poor law in Ireland, there was such trouble in raising the rates, what would be the difficulty in raising them for the larger purposes contemplated by the present measure? A far more stringent system must be introduced, in order to make property maintain poverty. He was, indeed, quite aware of the alteration that would be made in the social system of Ireland, as it was depicted by his noble Friend when he introduced these measures; they would tend to something like a social revolution — they would change the character of the whole of the poor and of the rich, and would produce a greater change in the occupation and tenure of land than any measure in that country for the last three hundred years. There was great reason to believe that 100l. Irish rental in 1800, had become at least 250l. in 1846; this increase, though connected in the first instance, and in appearance with that subdivision of property which gave political power, was the natural and necessary consequence of the competition for land among an increasing number of tenants; but whether it were from a desire of power, or from a desire of wealth, the landlord had had not only an increased tenantry but an increased rent roll on an artificial value. He had not paid upon it as in this country he must have paid; and he must now be prepared to make the sacrifice. He had always said that there was no more right to tax the lands of those who held property for not residing upon it in Kerry, than they had to tax a person who had property in Cornwall for not residing upon it. But virtually the effect of 668 the poor law would be to impose such a tax upon the absentees of Ireland, as would have the effect of bringing them back to that country, at the same time that it would tend essentially to the well-being of the poor. As he understood, it was the object of the House to discuss, without much technical reference to the words of any of the Bills, the social condition of Ireland; and as, on the part of England, there was a disposition to make almost any sacrifice for the relief of this temporary distress, he had not confined himself to the specific provisions of the Bill on the Table. He believed in fact, that few hon. Members knew exactly which Bill was actually in progress; but approving of the objects of all the Bills, he should give his cordial support to the second reading of this Bill.
§ COLONEL CONOLLY
begged to thank the noble Lord for the liberal and enlightened policy which he had adopted towards Ireland, and to tender his individual acknowledgments, which were in accordance with the general feeling in Ireland, for the generous sympathy manifested by the English people towards his suffering fellow-countrymen. Very few objections occurred to the measures proposed by the noble Lord; but there were one or two points in which the measures fell rather short of the requirements of the country in its present unhappy state. With regard to the system of relief proposed, every one would rejoice at measures calculated to supply immediate relief from starvation; but he should be obliged to object, in Committee, to certain facilities for employment afforded by the Bill, which would operate as an encouragement to habits of indolence and dependence. But another and an objection of a much greater magnitude, was to a project which he was very sorry to find advocated by a number of hon. Members in that House, and amongst others by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Poulett Scrope). These hon. Gentlemen had taken it into their minds that there was to be no rest or relief for Ireland except in the opening of the poor-law system to the utmost extent in that country. Considering the difficulty which already existed in collecting the rates, and the clamour which was raised in many districts against the system generally, he was sure that an extension of the law would be most unpopular. He must warn hon. Members, that if they overcharged the rates which were now collected, they would not only retard relief, but 669 they would destroy the means of giving that relief which was afforded. Except in Castlebar, the workhouses had been made to accommodate the greatest possible number, and the present system had produced great benefits; but the admission of the able-bodied poor into the workhouse would be fraught with great mischief, and add to the clamour which had already been raised. The danger of exciting the public mind on this subject was very great, and he feared the consequence even of announcing such an intention. It was only with very considerable difficulty that the present rates were collected. He was bound to say that the poor law had worked marvellously well, especially in the district near Dublin with which he was acquainted. It was true that the work upon the railways had greatly relieved the workhouses in the neighbourhood of Dublin; but even in remote parts, where the difficulties were aggravated, and it could not be expected to work so well, considerable benefit had been produced. He had taken great pains to ascertain the opinions of those with whom he was acquainted in Ireland; and he could say that they looked with unqualified apprehension and alarm at the proposal to extend the rates beyond what they were at present. He was convinced that it would be offering a premium to improvidence if they were indiscriminately to relieve the universal population of the country. He had no intention of offering any direct opposition to the measures now proposed; but he thought it his duty to point out his objections as to certain points, and to say that he should feel bound to resist the indiscriminate admission of able-bodied paupers into the workhouse. That was a system which would entirely destroy the relief which at present was given; but it had been said that that evil might be mitigated by giving out-door relief in food instead of money. The objection was, that many parishes would have to send their paupers ten miles to the workhouse for their food at a very great expense. The reason that, at Castlebar, the fresh rate was not put on was, that 2,100l. of the old rate was still outstanding. The next objection he would point out was to the mode proposed of taking up uncultivated estates and cultivating them. That measure could not be made to repay the landlords, and it would also be found not to repay the Government. It was not wise, therefore, in his opinion, to undertake such a speculation. Mr. Griffiths had stated that 670 6,000,000 of acres were susceptible of cultivation in 1835; but that was going very high into the uncultivated districts, and cultivation had advanced rapidly since that time. He, therefore, warned any one from undertaking such an experiment after all the best land had been cultivated, and only the worst remained. There was a third point, which was this: he begged the noble Lord, who had so liberally offered 50,000l., in order to provide seed, not to limit the offer to that amount; but, as the landlords only asked it as a loan, he hoped it would be increased, if that should be found necessary. Some of these plans of improvement by cultivation seemed to have for their object the extermination of the potato in Ireland; but he hoped that no such object would be persisted in. The potato was most valuable as food, and even in its worst state was a source of great profit to the peasant. The cultivation of it was superior to any newfangled notions of cultivation of the soil, and he hoped it would not be superseded. The other measures of the noble Lord were various, many of them legal and technical, with which he, as a country gentleman, could not pretend to deal. One was for facilitating the conveyance of estates, incumbered to their full value; and he might mention that he knew of two estates, in which the greatest advantage had resulted from a change of owners. It was hardly possible to imagine a more sudden improvement. It reflected the greatest credit upon Lord Clonmel, who had purchased Bishopscourt, and Mr. Barton, who had brought Strafian, the two estates to which he had alluded. This showed the advantage of getting rid of all impediments on the transfer of such property. Extraordinary advantages had also arisen from the subdivision and sale of the Blessington estates. He was not aware that he had any farther suggestions to make; and, in conclusion, he would again thank the Government for the spirit in which their measures had been conceived, and the tone and temper with which they had been announced.
§ MR. HUME
said, the hon. Gentleman had made an observation which induced him to rise for a few moments to claim the attention of the House. The hon. Gentleman said he hoped the able-bodied men were not to become a burden to the land of Ireland. He would wish to ask the hon. Member, did he desire that the able-bodied poor of Ireland should become a burden to the people of England? This was a point 671 on which there appeared to be the greatest indifference prevailing among some hon. Gentlemen who represented Irish constituencies, though he should admit there were other hon. Members from Ireland who expressed themselves very differently, and who admitted that Ireland ought to support her own poor, and be able, at the same time, to raise and sustain herself in the scale of nations. It appeared to him to be lamentable, in the highest degree, to hear the manner in which some hon. Gentlemen expressed their gratitude to Her Majesty's Ministers. And for what? Merely because they were ready to give money to the Irish proprietors. When such was the feeling which prevailed on the part of an hon. Member (Colonel Conolly) so distinguished and so well known as the hon. Gentleman, it was, he thought, time for Her Majesty's Government to consider whether they were not in a wrong course, and whether the course which they were taking would not have the effect, not of raising Ireland, but of sinking England and Scotland. These countries must be dragged down with the load of Ireland, if they were to be burdened not merely with the poor of Ireland, but if they were required also to furnish the Irish landlords with money for the improvement of their properties. He could see no plan, no comprehensive view, of a master mind, in the propositions brought forward by Her Majesty's Government. He saw no appearance of a general view of Ireland and of this country having been taken, and resulting in a set of comprehensive measures to be brought forward. No one could object to measures for the temporary relief of the country; but what he complained of was no sound attempt at radical improvement—at effecting a radical change in the state of Ireland, which would have the effect of putting an end to the repetition of such evils as those now existing, next year or the year after. Before they granted a single shilling of money for the purposes proposed by Her Majesty's Government, he thought they ought to have some estimate of the probable cost laid before them. They appeared to him to be going on as if there was nothing to be done but to advance money, money, money. He could tell the House, however, that the Treasury would be soon emptied, and yet they were going on without any knowledge of the amount that would be required from them. The noble Lord said it would probably be 8,000,000l. or 9,000,000l. Some said it would be twice that sum, and 672 for his part he believed it would be at least three times as much. If their duty were to take care of the finances of the country, they had a right to inquire where all this money was to come from. The best time to meet the evil was at its commencement. If this sum were allowed to be spent, and anything occurred, either from distress or a failure of trade, which was not unlikely, and there was a diminution of wages in conjunction with a high price of provisions, what a condition would this country be in! Would that be a time to provide 9,000,000l. or 10,000,000l. by loan? To attempt it would knock down the funds to a degree that would shake the credit of the country. The opportunity, therefore, which now presented itself of at once meeting and mastering the evils of Ireland, ought to be immediately taken. No man in that House ought to shut his eyes to the degraded and deplorable state of that country. Look at the condition of the population, the tenure of land, the situation of the proprietors. No other country in the world was in such a state, all owing to the legislation and the treatment of England; and the results which had followed were a punishment upon us for that treatment. What, then, were the measures which every thinking man would adopt? Equal laws and equal justice. Unequal laws, unjust oppression, and continued strife between the country gentlemen of Ireland, had been the bane of that country; and he recollected twenty-four years ago calling upon hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, on the 4th of July, not to indulge in dissension. Every holiday, one half the country was arrayed against the other, with banners unfurled, and arms in their hands, so that it required the greatest exertions on the part of the Government to prevent civil war. On those occasions he always stated in that House it was the duty of Government to remedy the grievances of Ireland. The grievances were, that seven-eighths of the people were kept in a state of degradation and oppression by one-eighth, and were burdened with tithes. When he urged the abolition of tithes, the country gentlemen of Ireland said, "We, the gentlemen of Ireland, hold seven-eighths of the land, and is it to be supposed we do not feel for her miseries?" He then stated Ireland would never be at peace, nor would she rise in the scale of nations until the injustice and inequality which had arisen from our penal laws were removed; that the dominant Church must be removed (with which he was sorry to 673 see Her Majesty's Ministers did not intend to interfere) before the people would be satisfied; and along with that must be extended to them the same civil rights which Englishmen enjoyed. That being done, he would tax Irishmen equally with Englishmen. He, therefore, submitted to Her Majesty's Ministers, that as radical evils existed in Ireland, they should bring forward a plan by which adequate relief would be given, whilst those evils would be corrected; whilst they were affording palliatives to immediate distress, let measures be adopted which would give Ireland a chance of regeneration. In his speech of Monday, the noble Lord read a passage from Fletcher of Saltoun, showing the state of Scotland in the seventeenth century, and he referred to what the landlords in that country had since done by uniting themselves, and relying upon their own energies. The landlords of Ireland within the last two months had banded together, but it was only to come to that House to obtain as much money as they could from England. ["No, no!"] Their resolutions said so. He had read their resolutions with attention, and if hon. Gentlemen shut their eyes to the ordinary and fair meaning of them, he conld not help it; but looking at their general tenor that was their object. That being the case, it behoved Her Majesty's Ministers to consider whether, even if they interposed this intended large expenditure for the regeneration of Ireland, they were satisfied that next year the state of things would be any better. If the country were then in a worse condition, and we were again to aid her with ten or twenty millions, where was it to come from? Such a course would be bringing the whole kingdom to beggary; it would be reducing England to the condition of Ireland, instead of raising Ireland to the condition of England. If the noble Lord at the head of the Government quoted such authors as Fletcher of Saltoun, as to what had been the case in Scotland, why should he hesitate to adopt measures for producing the same results in Ireland? It appeared to him, therefore, that that House ought not to vote a single shilling until they were informed what means were to be adopted to remove the radical evils which afflicted Ireland. With reference to England, judging from the reports from Nottingham, and different parts of the country, there appeared to be an extent of pauperism and distress greater than had existed for a long time; but why was it 674 that the people were not so altogether desperate as they were in Ireland? Because there was some degree of employment, and with employment there were wages. The want of employment had been one of the means of reducing Ireland to her present condition; want of employment had been produced by want of confidence; and want of confidence had arisen from bad laws, from perpetual contests between Protestant and Catholic, from constant social differences; so that no one who had money would venture to risk it in a country where there appeared no certainty of the laws being executed. Country gentlemen and proprietors in Ireland might depend upon it that the longer they postponed the application of radical remedies, the longer they applied mere palliatives, and forbore from going to the root of the evil, the heavier would be the calamity when it came. Neither would the people of this country patiently bear to continually advance their money whilst Ireland was retained in her present degraded condition. He did not, however, blame Ireland herself, so much as the Governments which had allowed these evils to exist; and he again pressed upon the Administration, as he had upon every Administration, to give Ireland a chance of regeneration, by making the Union effective, by removing that mock government, the Lord Lieutenancy, which had caused all the evils of a delegated authority, and by giving her equal laws with our own. Hon. Gentlemen, however, had seemed determined all along to shut their eyes to these evils, and not to look at them until something extraordinary happened to stop them in their progress. The present crisis was sufficient to stop them, and an opportunity had now arisen when they might with satisfaction say, "We have long abused Ireland; we have refused her civil rights; we have oppressed her; let us now act with justice, and extend to her help by every means in our power; let us assist her with our capital when it can be applied upon sound principles." Do not, however, let them advance their money in order to attempt to bring wild lands into cultivation—the wildest speculation ever heard of, for all such attempts had proved lamentable failures. If expense was to be incurred, let it be upon the principle that benefit should be derived from it, and not evil. The present plan, however, seemed to be a hodge-podge in which he did not see one single means of regenerating the country.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I have listened with great attention to the speech which has just fallen from the hon. Member; but I must say, that with the exception of some points which have been already included in the plan which my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) has laid before the House, I did not collect from that speech any suggestion that would tend to attain that which my hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) proposed as the great object to be sought by Parliament, namely, giving employment to the people of Ireland. He alluded to the party and religious quarrels which have for years distracted that unhappy country—he alluded to "a dominant Church"—he alluded to the removal of the Lord Lieutenant; but, excepting the proposal that capital should be advanced under proper securities to the people of Ireland, I did not collect from his speech any one suggestion which would tend towards the object in view. I have listened not only to his speech, but to those which have fallen from other hon. Members, especially from Irish Members, with the greatest attention; because, feeling as I do the immense importance of the present occasion, the awful calamity which has visited Ireland—I might say the appalling nature of the circumstances in which we are placed as regards that country—I have had the utmost anxiety to hear any suggestion, or any opinion, from those gentlemen who are practically acquainted with the state of Ireland, which might enable us to steer our course with greater confidence. I have been gratified by the absence of all party or personal feelings in the observations which have fallen from hon. Members: this is a question far beyond any party or any personal feeling. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government are not only actuated by the most sincere desire to do that which is best for Ireland under circumstances almost unparalleled in modern history; but, though I believe in my conscience, that we have taken the only course which was open to us, yet, God knows, the circumstances are such that it is impossible for any man to feel very confident on the subject. Although some Gentlemen have alluded to the transactions of last autumn, I will refer only very shortly to the measures which passed in the last Session, and the course which the Government has pursued in the execution of those measures, excepting so far as it may be desirable to refer to the past, and to the experience which we have thus acquired, as furnishing 676 the best lessons for our guidance in the future. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Osborne), who commenced this debate, criticised rather severely the Act passed at the close of last Session for the employment of the poor in Ireland. Now, the House must remember that at an earlier period of the Session, an Act very similar in its provisions was passed without opposition in this House, or with the opposition of only one hon. Member, I believe—an Act for the employment of the destitute poor during the spring and summer months; and that was carried out by the Irish proprietors to a very considerable extent. That Act proceeded upon what was called the half-grant system, a repayment of only half the amount expended being required from the proprietors; and no single word of objection to that Act, so far as I know, fell from any of the Irish Gentlemen during the Session. They endeavoured to avail themselves of its provisions to an extent far beyond what the necessity of the country required. On the 1st of September there had been actually expended under that Act only the sum of 290,000l. That sum expended in wages, it is notorious, deranged the labour market of Ireland last year; it affected the supply of labour to this country and Scotland, and, what is more, the harvest in Ireland in many parts stood uncut for want of labourers; and on the petition and request of the farmers in Ireland the works were stopped, in order to enable them to get labourers for reaping their corn. But now, to what extent were presentments made by Irish gentlemen up to that time under the Act? Why, to the extent of no less than 1,300,000l. To say, therefore, that this was a measure which was unpopular in Ireland, or to which the Irish gentlemen were opposed, is most contrary to the fact. But the hon. Gentleman talked of the extraordinary difference between that and the measure proposed by the present Government towards the close of the last Session, and stigmatized this last as an ill-considered measure, passed with indecent haste, and for the first time charging the real property of the country for the support of the poor. Why, the difference between the former measure and this was hardly worthy of notice. Our measure required the repayment of the whole advance, because, believing that the great inducement to over-presentment in the former Bill had been the half-grant plan, we were anxious to impose some check upon that extravagance; 677 but when the hon. Gentleman talks of our having for the first time charged the real property of Ireland with the maintenance of the poor, he forgets the one change which we did make in the mode in which the repayments were to be charged, namely, that they were to be charged according to the poor rates, and not according to the county cess. The county cess falls upon real property; but the poor rate falls also in some cases upon other than real property; and so far from the accusation against us being true, we extended the description of property upon which the charge was to fall, and thereby brought in a larger number of contributors to the fund. Those works were to be carried on, as were all those under the preceding Act, for the purpose of relieving the poor: it was not for the sake of the works, though collateral advantage might no doubt be derived from the execution of useful works; but the object, the avowed object, was to put into the hands of the people of Ireland the means of purchasing that food which heretofore they had raised for themselves, but which, through the failure of the potato crop, they had no longer the means of providing for themselves, and were, therefore, under the necessity of buying. But if relief to the poor had been given not in work, but in the ordinary mode, it must have come from the parties contributing to the poor rate; from these parties is to come (for it has not yet come) the repayment of the money which was advanced for paying the labourers on the works; and therefore from the self-same source as would under any circumstances have maintained the poor, and not from the real property only of Ireland, are the funds to be drawn which are expended under this Act. My noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) is accused, indeed, of having said that it was immaterial whether the works were useless or not; but what my noble Friend said was, that, so far as the relief of the poor went, it was immaterial whether the works were useless or not, because money was equally put into their hands for the purpose of purchasing food; the labour was given as some test of destitution, and as being supposed in the then circumstances to be a better means of affording relief than the gratuitous distribution of food or money. But he never said, nor could be supposed, to say, that it was immaterial to the country whether the works were such as were useful or not. They were, no doubt, of the same description as the works 678 prescribed in the former Act of Parliament; but the object being relief of the poor, money was put into their hands, whether the work would be productive or not. The hon. Gentleman went on to say, that if the works had been of a useful description, the gentry of Ireland would gladly have contributed the whole of the funds, and no part whatever would have fallen upon the public. I am not sanguine enough to think that that would have been the case; and for this reason, that an Act was passed last Session, authorizing a grant of 50,000l. in aid of useful works in Ireland, the condition of the grant being that an equal sum, half the expense of the works, should be contributed, either by private subscription or by presentment in Ireland; and not one single application was made for the grant of one penny of that 50,000l.; or at least, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) suggests, any applications that were made were not persisted in when it was found that such contributions were required. Therefore, with all respect for the hon. Member, he must give me leave to doubt whether, if the works had been useful, it is quite so certain that no call would have been made upon the State. He has said, and so has the noble Lord opposite (Lord Bernard), that it is not in any respect the fault of the proprietors or the residents in Ireland, that these public works have been carried to such an amount, as I am sorry to say they have; but give me leave to say, I cannot altogether acquit the resident proprietors of Ireland in this matter. That many of them have done their duty in the most exemplary manner—that many of them, most of them, have been willing to aid with exemplary generosity and self-sacrifice in supporting persons upon their own estates, and giving employment upon their own estates and from their means, I am ready to bear my glad testimony; and among those who have done most, I am inclined to believe that those who have been stigmatized by one or two Gentlemen to-night, the absentee landlords, are foremost. It is only this day that I have received an account of a gentleman, whom I may mention by name, as he is no longer a Member of this House—I mean Colonel Wyndham—who I believe furnishes a daily ration to 10,000 people. But that wherein I think there has been a considerable neglect of duty—and I am not speaking merely of the landlords of Ireland, because I believe the higher description of occupiers are still more in fault, 679 and are those who have neglected their duty most grossly, and whom it is most difficult to compel to do their duty—that in which I think they have neglected it, is in not endeavouring to prevent and check the abuses whichin truth they themselves have perpetrated in these public works. I do not wish to say anything which can give offence to any individual; I will therefore only take the liberty of reading a very short paragraph from one of the reports of the Commissioners of Public Works. It must be remembered that the system upon which the public works are carried on is this—that presentment sessions are held, who are to form some estimate of the amount of destitution in their baronies, to vote the sums which may be required for relief from time to time, and to determine the works upon which labour can most advantageously be employed; and that relief committees are formed in different districts, whose business it is to ascertain who are the parties most destitute and unable to find other employment, and to draw up lists of such persons, in order to entitle them to be employed on the public works. Now, what says the Report of the Board of Works? They draw the distinction between what was held in theory, and what was done in practice:—In theory the sessions should present for works for the relief of probable distress; the relief committees should ascertain and investigate the distress from week to week; and the Government should execute the works provided by the sessions, and pay the labourers supplied by the committees. In practice, the sessions frequently present without any previous local investigation; the relief committees exercise little or no discrimination; so that the duties of both devolve upon us (the Board of Works), in addition to our own; or rather we have to execute our own, incumbered by the neglect of those of our concurrent functionaries. We have to ascertain for ourselves the probable amount of destitution, thus incurring the odium of rejecting works which the sessions have approved of (with apparent liberality, but frequently under external pressure, and real neglect of their duty), and of selecting from lists every name on which is returned to us as destitute, each body is ready to excuse itself with the people by throwing its duty on our shoulders, and then they appear clamorous to the Government, and complain of the results of the non-performance of their own duties.Now it may have been difficult—no doubt it was—for the resident gentlemen to perform this duty; but upon whom was it thrown by their neglect? Upon an officer of engineers. Now, if local knowledge is required to ascertain who are destitute—if local knowledge is necessary to strike off those who attempt imposition, and they 680 are many—I ask any Irish Gentleman, whether he thinks such duties could best be performed by an officer of engineers, a stranger to the country, whose province it was to superintend the execution of public works, or by the resident gentry and proprietors of the country? And I ask any Irish Gentleman, even my noble Friend behind me, whether I can acquit them of neglect of duty, when, instead of performing these duties, they threw them upon the officers of public works? I fully admit the difficulties which had to be dealt with; I admit the absence of that local machinery in Ireland which we possess in every parish and township of this country; but when it is said that the fault does not rest with the resident gentry, but entirely with the Board of Works and their officers, I do say that an attempt was made to throw upon that board and its officers a task which they were utterly incapable of performing. But, nevertheless, I think the effect produced by the Act to which I refer has been understated. It is true that a large number of people have been employed for the purpose of performing duties which are discharged in this country by the gentry, and farmers, and occupiers in every parish and township; but when we consider that 500,000, or more, of people were to be paid their wages, that their work was to be superintended, and that the number of persons placed upon the works was to be checked; and when we find that in one single week, in the county of Clare, by the exertions of one officer, 3,000 persons who had been improperly put upon the works by the relief committee, were struck off, and that the same number were struck off under similar circumstances in the following week; I ask, when these duties were performed in addition to the proper functions of such officer, whether it is quite fair to attempt to cast reproach upon these officers for not discharging their duties? But the effect of these measures has, no doubt, been, to a very considerable degree, to alleviate and prevent distress. In the report of the Board of Works, dated early in January, summing up the result of their labours, they say—In such periods of paralysing distress we would assiduously avoid imputing blame; but as faithful chroniclers of the progress of our labours, we must say that were there more self-reliance exercised, more employment given by private individuals capable of doing so, at an early period, our very heavy and responsible task would have been more easily accomplished, and fatalities, 681 unjustly charged against us, would have been avoided. Yet with all the admitted defects of the Labour-rate Act, and in whatever light the Act may now or hereafter be viewed, it has, in the sudden outbreak of a wide-spread calamity, wholly unparalleled in Europe, in this or any other age, furnished temporary relief to a very large number, and to that extent has gained time during the few months it has been in operation. The attention of the most able men in Europe, as well as here, has been fixed upon the subject, and some suitable measures may now be devised to meet the extent and nature of the evil, both of which are now more clearly ascertained. The famine is increasing; deaths become more frequent, and the prospect may well appal the stoutest heart. It must be regretted that it has not been possible to employ a yet larger number, and still more that there are localities to which it appears impracticable to extend relief—by labour or ordinary public works; still the fact remains that there are nearly half a million of persons, representing five times that number of human beings, supported by labour; more than 150,000l. is distributed weekly amongst the people; and however comparatively useless the work, the people, with few exceptions, are orderly; they are governed. The money so earned is tree from the reproach which justly attaches to the only alternative, gratuitous alms, which it must never be forgotten was in September last the alternative, and the only alternative, between the results now obtained and the almost total starvation of an entire class of the community. The people generally are characterized by the most exemplary, the most astonishing resignation and fortitude; and even the partial stoppage of a work, when inevitable, either from violence to the officers, or from want of foresight or power on our part, or on that of the counties, to provide others, is a most serious evil. We have repeatedly adverted to the obloquy that has been heaped upon us for the administration of duties strictly limited and defined either by Acts of Parliament, the well-considered instructions of Government, or the very acts of the public itself, with whom the responsibility of initiating by their presentment sessions the so-called useless works, or refusing to present useful works, rests. We have been held accountable for results which have arisen entirely from want of cordial earnest co-operation on the part of local parties with our offices; and in some instances, from actual opposition to rules and arrangements made for the protection of these very parties, and the systematic conduct of so enormous a machinery.I fully admit that there have been faults and misfortunes—that there have been many errors (and in so large and extensive a system how was it possible errors could be avoided?)—yet in spite of these things, it is impossible to deny that very great amount of relief has been afforded, and that thousands have been prevented from dying by starvation; and though we may regret that the money has not for all purposes been so well spent as it might have been, that abuses have prevailed, and that improper persons have been put upon the works, even when the destitute were dying 682 by their side; nevertheless, an enormous amount of human suffering has been avoided. I hope, by the experience of the autumn, the people of Ireland have become alive to the necessity of exerting themselves, and I trust they will do so; for without their co-operation no effort of the Government can avail to carry on with greater care and precision the system we propose to substitute for that of public works. The reports of many of our most intelligent officers have suggested the expediency of providing food instead of labour for the people. In the first place, they have stated that there are many classes of persons, and those the most destitute, by whom labour cannot be performed, and to whom therefore relief is not given. They have stated also that in many parts of the country crowds flock to the works who are unable from weakness to perform their task, who faint and die upon the works, and to whom it is infinitely more humane to administer food than to afford the means of earning it. Many persons who, a few months ago, could earn even large wages by task-work are now unable to earn enough to procure themselves subsistence. The temptation to abuse will be infinitely less if relief is afforded in food, than when it is given by wages for labour. Considerable expense will also be saved in the staff maintained for the purpose of checking abuses; and I believe the same or even a less sum, will go much further in preventing famine and starvation. An extension of works beyond their present limit is almost impossible; and I confess, whatever objection there may be to gratuities or contributions of food, I do not see at present—as the hon. Member for Limerick himself has fairly admitted—any other alternative. The details which have been given of the misery of the Irish people may well make us shudder; and I conceive this system of relief is the only and the best resource we have for mitigating the evil. I wish to say a word or two with reference to an-observation of the noble Lord the Member for Bandon, who stated that the Government had abstained until a late period from affording supplies to one part of Ireland. Food depôts have now been opened by the Government in that district; but in the very letter which was quoted by the noble Lord, an instance is mentioned which shows what individual exertion may do even in the poorest districts. In the report of the Kilmoe relief committee it is stated, that the parish contains a population of 7,280 683 souls, of whom 7,000 are represented to be in actual want; yet the relief committee obtained large supplies of food from Cork, and by their exertions afforded sustenance to nearly 7,000 persons up to a very recent period. It may be thought the Government were somewhat hard-hearted in refusing to open the food depôts at an earlier period; but I believe the course which they took produced a most beneficial effect, by stimulating private enterprise, and leading to considerable importations of grain. There is one other point to which I shall refer, because it was brought under the notice of the House by a Gentleman who is perfectly incapable of stating what he does not believe to be founded in fact—I mean the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Conolly). That hon. Gentleman stated that no issues had been recently made from the depôt at Sligo to relief committees; and that there was the greatest want of food at that place. Two or three days ago, I received a report from the commissary stationed at the depôt in Sligo, in which he states, that during three weeks of January, the period to which the hon. and gallant Officer refers, there were issued to the relief committees, or to the poor, 146 tons of Indian meal, Indian corn, Egyptian wheat, enough, at the ordinary calculation, to keep 40,400 people for a week. I have only one other statement to make in regard to Sligo. It is very difficult to meet a general statement; but where particulars are given as to some one certain place, it is easy enough to obtain explanation. Now, the amount of the supply in Sligo was, as I understand, upon the 27th of January, from 1,200 to 1,400 tons of American grain, from 600 to 1,000 tons of wheat, several hundred tons of meal, two cargoes of buckwheat, 833 barrels of Indian meal, and three cargoes of Indian corn, amounting to 943 tons. I think I have established the point, that large issues have been made, and that large supplies were on hand. [Lord CLEMENTS: Where have the supplies been given?] They have been given in a great variety of places. I hope my noble Friend will excuse me, if I do not pronounce the Irish names correctly. [The right hon. Gentleman read a long list of relief committees at different places in the county of Donegal to which supplies had been issued.] Upon the best consideration (he continued) we have been able to give the subject, we have resolved to extend the system already existing, giving rations either by distribu- 684 tion or sale of food in the electoral districts of Ireland. The hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Hamilton) endeavoured to establish this system in the electoral divisions with which he is connected; so did the hon. Member for Kildare; and they were cheeked only by the practice not being legal under the provisions of the existing poor law. We now propose to legalize that system throughout Ireland, and to carry on by law what we have been carrying on, not illegally indeed hitherto, but without explicit sanction; and we propose to carry it on by the assistance of relief committees, enabling them to distribute food, cooked or uncooked. There are many hundreds of these relief committees in operation; and it was a matter of great satisfaction to Her Majesty's Government, as I believe it will be to the House, to hear that from all the reports we have received, the most beneficial effects have attended those proceedings. Large subscriptions have been drawn out by the establishment of this system. It is said to have given more assistance than any other which has been tried; and the people are able to go to work, having had a meal of nourishing soup beforehand, and receiving another on their return. There is one advantage which must not be overlooked as derived from this system. It enables the people to cultivate their land. At present, I believe, cultivation is greatly neglected. As great a breadth of wheat has been sown as usual, yet no doubt a great number of the smaller occupiers have been utterly unable to cultivate their ground, because for subsistence they have had to resort to the public works. I hope, by this means, they will now be able to cultivate their own ground. A large portion of the crops of Ireland are spring crops. The time for tilling the ground is approaching; and I hope that labour will be set free for this purpose, by the discontinuance of the works, and that those who obtain the means of subsistence from the gratuitous distribution of food will be able to cultivate their own plots, or hire themselves to neighbouring farmers, and that even the small wages obtained from the farmers may enable them to obtain a further supply of food for the maintenance of their families; and, should such be the result, the object of the Government will be effectually answered. I do not think it advisable to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. B. Osborne); and I am not prepared to say that men should be 685 paid wages from the money of the State for cultivating their own land. I must call the serious attention of the House to the two great difficulties pressing upon Ireland at this time. The first is, the existence of a famine almost unexampled in the history of civilized nations; and the other is, what I believe is impending over the country—a total change in the social system of Ireland, which was designated at a large public meeting held in the county of Mayo, as "the social system based on the potato." However absurd the phrase may appear, I believe it only states what is really the fact. A large portion of the people of Ireland lived entirely upon potatoes, which they grew for themselves in their small plots of ground. Others were supported, not by wages in money, but by an allowance of potatoes from the produce of the farms on which they worked. But a large proportion of the population depended upon food raised by themselves or given to them; and in no case did they purchase it with wages. Although the potato may possibly resume its place in the social economy of Ireland—I cannot imagine a greater misfortune—yet I think, after the experience of the last two years, and with no great prospect before us of future years, it is not probable that so large a portion of the population will depend for their sustenance on potatoes cultivated by themselves. It is necessary that they should purchase food; and I am sorry to hear the remarks which have been made in reference to small dealers, through whom alone that food can be made accessible. The existence of that class seems to me indispensably necessary for the future, to enable the peasantry to subsist. If they are to buy their food, there must be people to sell it; and I can imagine no greater benefit than the establishment in small villages of dealers from whom the people can purchase food with the wages they earn by labour. The hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Williams), and also the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck), seemed to think that all the miseries of Ireland would be overcome by establishing a poor law. The hon. Member for Coventry spoke of the necessity of a poor law in the time of Elizabeth, and argued precisely as if there were none in Ireland. But though, under ordinary circumstances, an extension of the poor law might be sufficient to meet the case, no one can suppose that it is adequate either to meet the present 686 calamity, or to enable the country to pass through a state of transition. Of the Bill introduced upon that subject, I may be permitted to say this much, that it is not expressed so as to extend indiscriminate assistance in all circumstances to the able-bodied. To the aged, the infirm, the impotent, relief will be given out of the workhouse. But provisions are introduced which carefully guard against relief out of the workhouse to others, except when the workhouse is full. Other provisions are made to meet a case which has been pressed upon us by more than one person, namely, where fever or infectious disease exists in a workhouse. In such a case it would be murder to require persons to enter within its walls. Yet, under such circumstances, no one would say that the poor ought to be deprived of their subsistence. My noble Friend stated his intention of introducing a clause specifying cases of exception from the general rule; but I do think it is indispensably necessary that the workhouse should be retained as a test so long as relief can be given in a workhouse. The hon. Member for Bath, using an expression which I certainly never heard from my noble Friend, says that my noble Friend had promised a scheme which would regenerate Ireland; and my hon. Friend who spoke before me says that he sees no proper plan of relief at all in the measures proposed. Now, without professing at all to enter upon the measures relative to the grand-jury laws and other questions to which the hon. Member for Wycombe referred, I must say that I certainly do think that the measures proposed by Government do contain a not uncomprehensive plan for affording facilities for the employment of the people. It is evident that if the change to which I have alluded is to take place, and the people are no longer to subsist upon food grown by themselves, but purchased by their labour, there must of necessity be a change in the manner in which they are employed. The hon. Member has blamed my noble Friend for having spoken in terms of commendation of the system of small holdings which exists in the north of Ireland, and which has not produced the misery in the north which they are supposed to have done in other parts of the country. They, however, are very different from the small cottier holdings in the south and western parts of Ireland, which have produced unalloyed evil; and I do think that one good consequence which will flow from the failure in the potato crop 687 will be, that this description of people, who depended entirely on the crops grown by themselves, and who have hitherto been living on the borders of destitution, year after year, will cease to depend on their own plot of potatoes for their subsistence; and I hope that the result will be that they will be changed into honest, independent, daily labourers, who will be paid by wages, and who will, with those wages, purchase the food they need. The scheme which was first developed in the Treasury Minute of the 1st December, is, I think, well calculated to effect this object. The hon. Gentleman says that that Treasury Minute ought to have come much sooner, and that if it had, many proprietors would have availed themselves of its provisions at an earlier period. If proprietors had been so anxious as the hon. Member says, they might have availed themselves of the 6th clause of the Act which was passed last Session, authorizing proprietors to borrow money for the improvement of their estates, and to take twenty years for repayment. That Act was introduced by the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Lincoln), and the terms of the Treasury Minute were not so very different but that the proprietors might have availed themselves of the one nearly as readily as the other. Without adverting to the details of the plans we have proposed, I may just mention that the system of loans secured upon estates appears to me an unobjectionable mode of relief. The agency of Government is not introduced beyond what is necessary to secure repayment; and it will be the means, I think, of employing the people to a large extent. I believe, indeed, that many people well acquainted with Ireland look to that system as the means of absorbing a large portion of the unemployed population. Loans of this description are, I think, not objectionable within reasonable limits. I admit, that were the State to become a great lender under all times and circumstances, it would be exceedingly injudicious; but, in the transition state which I believe Ireland is now going through, I consider it not only an unobjectionable measure, but one calculated to confer great benefits on Ireland, with only a risk of very slight loss to this country. Then there is the proposal with respect to general drainage, or, to use the new term, arterial drainage, under the superintendence of the Board of Works, which, in many cases, proprietors could not execute for them- 688 selves. In the case of the improvement of his own estate, or the reclamation of his own lands, or the building of his own farmhouses or mills, it is quite right that the proprietor should undertake the conduct of such works as these himself; but when a system of drainage is required to pass through the lands of more proprietors than one, it is impossible for any one proprietor to get it executed, and it is therefore necessary to call in the agency of the Board of Works. For the last few years an Act of a similar character has been in operation with the greatest benefit to all the parties concerned; and I expect that the proposed Bill will improve the machinery for this purpose. The security is perfect, the benefit to all parties is obvious, and I know no evil likely to accrue from it. A great deal has been said about the Bill for the reclamation of waste lands; and certainly a more extraordinary description than that which the hon. Member for Wycombe has given of that Bill I have never heard. For myself, I do not attach so much importance to this measure as some hon. Gentlemen seem to do; but the object in view in introducing it is very different from that which the hon. Member has represented. Many Gentlemen who have spoken to-night have stated, what is very true, that there are in many parts of Ireland large tracts of country in possession of persons who are merely nominal owners, who cannot avail themselves of loans and other facilities for the improvement of their estates, which these persons, if otherwise situated, would gladly do. It is possible, therefore, before any measure can be brought into practice to enable those persons to sell their incumbered estates, and before the property can pass into the hands of those who have the disposition and the means of improving it, through the provisions of this Bill, that there may be the means of furnishing employment to considerable numbers of people. It was with this view that the Bill was introduced—that the Government might have the power of purchasing tracts of 500 acres, or thereabouts, and reclaiming them; and in this way afford employment to a limited number of labourers, for whom in no other circumstances could employment be found. A further measure has also been alluded to—I mean the Bill for the encouragement of fisheries. Curing establishments have been set up in three different places in Ireland. It is no doubt exceedingly desirable to turn 689 the attention of the people on the west coast to the ample means of employment which may be found in the fisheries; but, I confess, I am not very sanguine, after the experience of the old bounties for fisheries in Ireland, that the people will avail themselves of the facilities we propose to hold out to them. The hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten, when he talked of the number of nominal owners of land, and the mischiefs they have occasioned, that my noble Friend had declared his intention of introducing a Bill for facilitating the sale of incumbered estates. I believe that a greater benefit we could not give to Ireland. In no country in the world are there so many estates whose owners are merely nominal; and much benefit, I think, will arise from their being transferred to the hands of more enterprising persons, who are able and willing to expend capital and employ labourers in their improvement. These measures, then, the loans for the improvement of private estates, an extension of the system of drainage by the Board of Works, partial reclamation of waste lands, encouragement of fisheries, and an improved poor law, are the measures to which the Government look for the improvement of Ireland; and which will lay the foundation, I hope, of a sounder system of things in that country. But, before I sit down, I must return, for a moment, to that which is the most pressing effect of this calamity—I mean the deficiency of food. The hon. Member has not overstated the loss of food. Even if I were merely to estimate it at its money value, and to say, that from one of the poorest countries of Europe had been taken by the visitation of Providence food to the value of 15,000,000l. sterling, that would be enough to call down the sympathy of this House on behalf of that unfortunate country. But I must add, that this quantity has been taken from that description of food on which the poorer classes depended for their subsistence. There may have been abuses and misbehaviour on the part of the landlords; yet we cannot conceal from ourselves that hundreds are dying every week from want. I can assure the House, that it is with pain I can ill attempt to describe, that I peruse the accounts which day after day reach us of the deaths by starvation in the west of Ireland. No exertions of a Government, or, I will add, of private charity, can supply a complete remedy for the existing cala- 690 mity. It is a national visitation, sent by Providence; and we must, if not to the extent which some hon. Gentlemen have contemplated, still, to a large extent, we must come forward and assist our suffering brethren in Ireland. Sir, I do not believe this country will refuse to render assistance, or will be disposed to withhold its aid under such an extremity. I hope this will be but a temporary calamity under which Ireland is labouring. I hope that before next harvest we shall have large supplies of corn; and that, if it please God, the next harvest will be a good one; but some months of severe suffering, I fear, must intervene. It is so much the more necessary that immediate measures be taken for the relief of the existing distress; and I hope, that, both in England and in Scotland, no endeavour to afford assistance will be wanting. I must, at the same time, however, impress upon Irish Gentlemen that they also have duties to perform; and that, if we give assistance to the Irish people, we have a right to call upon them for their personal aid on the same behalf. No pecuniary aid which we can give, can be as available as it ought to be towards the relief of the present extremity, unless it be distributed through the agency of persons resident on the spot. They alone can know who are the really destitute—they alone can visit day by day the cabins of the poor who are perishing from want — they alone can ascertain the full wretchedness of their unhappy occupants; and when I see it described in a letter, as I have seen it to-day, that in six cabins, visited successively by the writer, he found a corpse lying on the floor in each, I feel that such scenes can only be prevented by the exertions and assistance of persons residing on the spot. I cannot convey to the House the feelings with which I advert to these scenes. I only wish I could impress upon all, as strongly as I feel it myself, the necessity which there is for the unremitting exertions of the residents in Ireland, and of large and extensive charity, not only from the private resources of this country—for no private funds can be adequate—but also from our public and national resources.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock.