§ MR. G. A. HAMILTON
said, he was anxious to commence the remarks which he should feel it his duty to offer to the House, by stating that he had heard with much satisfaction the greater part of the speech made last night by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and especially the latter part of that speech, in which he had expressed, in so feeling a manner, his deep sympathy with the sufferings of the poor in Ireland, who were now visited with so heavy a calamity—not that he (Mr. Hamilton) had ever supposed either that the right hon. Gentleman or any of his Colleagues were wanting in those feelings of humanity and compassion which the occasion had so generally excited among all classes of the charitable and generous people of England; but really it was almost impossible for any one 700 who had not been in Ireland during the last few months to realize to himself the extent of the calamity, and the effect it was producing upon the lower classes in that country. Even in the part of Ireland where he resided, twenty miles only from the metropolis, within reach of markets, and where, he would say, everything had been done that could be done to assist and relieve the poor, it was most melancholy to observe the effect which this revolution had produced. It was most melancholy to observe the gradual sinking of the small farmer from comfort to poverty. It was most melancholy to observe the gradual disappearance of their few luxuries, their slender comforts—the pig, the poultry, the household furniture—under the slow but certain advance of this heavy calamity. It was still more melancholy to observe the effects which the high price of provisions had produced upon the labourers employed on the public works, and upon the families of the labouring classes. The squalid looks, the emaciated appearance, the downcast, desponding countenance, so unusual with Irishmen—all told the tale of famine in language too plain to be misunderstood. And he knew enough of Ireland to know that if this could be the case near the metropolis, the sufferings of the poor in the remoter districts must, indeed, be beyond description. But these things, he thought, required to be seen to be realized in their full extent. There were, however, some points in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on which it was his duty to remark in a different tone. The right hon. Gentleman had accused the gentlemen of Ireland of supineness, because they had not taken advantage of the 9th Vic., c. 2, for the improvement of land in Ireland, or of the Drainage of Estates' Act, 9th and 10th Vic., c. 101; and that they presented readily under the first Labour-rate Act, passed at the beginning of the last Session, while they condemned so strongly that passed at the end of the Session—namely, the 9th and 10th Vict., c. 107. Now, with regard to the first Act, he would first observe that that Act, like the Drainage Act, had been tried, and it had been found impossible to work it where the proprietor of land was either limited in his estate or incumbered. He would remind the hon. Baronet near him, the late Secretary for the Home Department, who had charge of the Bill in the House of Commons, of a conversation which he (Mr. Hamilton) and his hon. Friend the Member for the city 701 of Derry had had with him early in the last Session, in which they had stated very strongly, that if, as a preliminary proceeding, it was necessary in such cases to go to the Court of Chancery, the Bill would prove inoperative. The Bill had left that House without such a clause; but one had been introduced in the other House by the law Lords. Immediately on its passing, a friend of his, a gentleman of extensive landed property in the north of Ireland—Mr. Macartney, of Lissanour—endeavoured to act upon it. He had petitioned the Lord Chancellor, by his solicitor, without employing counsel, as seemed to be provided in the Act of the 8th and 9th Vic., c. 56. The Chancellor, however, required to have counsel, and counsel was employed. The Lord Chancellor then ordered a reference to a master; this entailed additional expense; the master stated that it was impossible he could report for several months, and Mr. Macartney was at length advised by his law agent and counsel to abandon the attempt, in consequence of the delay and expense it would occasion. So much for the supineness of the landed gentry as respected that Act. Neither could it be attributed to the landed gentry that the "Million Act" for the drainage of estates, had proved inoperative. It was well known that by what he supposed must have been a mistake in the interpretation clause, fixing upon the term "owner" the signification which was attached to it in the Tithe Composition Act, 1 and 2 Vic. c. 109, all persons having limited estates, which was the case with nine out of ten of the landed gentry of Ireland, were excluded from its operation. The right hon. Gentleman had also, he thought, borne rather hardly upon the relief committees in Ireland—he had accused them of having improperly put persons on their relief lists, who were not fit objects for relief, and of having afterwards thrown upon the officers of Government the responsibility of removing them. Now he (Mr. Hamilton) was not prepared to deny that cases might have occurred in which persons of that description had been put upon the lists for relief; but then it should be recollected that they were placed in very difficult circumstances. They were composed not merely of the landed gentry, as might be supposed from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but they consisted of two magistrates only, delegated from the petty sessions, the clergy of different denominations in the barony, the chairman of the union, and the officers of 702 constabulary and coast guard; and when lists of persons said to be in a state of starvation, and forwarded perhaps by the Roman Catholic clergyman of a parish, who knew better than any one else the condition of the poor, were brought before the relief committee, considering the excitement which prevailed when people were said to be starving, it was, he thought, too bad, that either the relief committees or the gentry should be charged with neglect, because it had happened in some cases that the names of persons not fully entitled to relief should have been found on those lists. And now with respect to the other charge made by the right hon. Gentleman against the gentry of Ireland, namely, that while they condemned the last Labour-rate Act, the 10th Vic., c. 107, they should have adopted readily the provisions of the first Labour-rate Act, the 9th Vic., c. 2. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, that there was no material difference between the two Acts. He (Mr. Hamilton) could not admit that that was the case. The difference was very essential. By the first Act the presentment sessions originated with the magistrates and ratepayers; by the first Act the usual notices of all works intended to be applied for were required; there was, therefore, time for preliminary inquiry as to the nature and usefulness of the works; by the first Act all applications approved of at baronial sessions were referred for final consideration to the county sessions: there was, therefore, ample time for the fullest deliberation at every stage; and then the works, when presented for, were executed under the ordinary county authorities. Under the last Act all these guards were done away with; the sessions were ordered by the Lord Lieutenant; no previous application for the works was required. The sessions were generally ordered at a moment of great excitement. There was no time or power of deliberating; there was no adjournment or reconsideration at a second sessions, provided the magistrates and ratepayers were called upon to present in the midst of assemblages of people almost starving, and clamorous for employment; and lastly, all control over the execution of the works afterwards was completely taken away. These constituted, in his opinion, essential differences between the two Acts. Having made these remarks upon the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was anxious to assure Her Majesty's Ministers, that, whatever might be his opinions, he 703 had no desire to look back with the view of speaking or judging harshly of their conduct; on the contrary, he was well aware of the great difficulties with which they had been surrounded, and he did not hesitate to say, that he thought the noble Lord, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Secretary for Ireland, were entitled to great praise for having taken upon themselves the responsibility of sanctioning the principle of productive employment. He felt bound to add, that considering the immense labour, the heavy charge, and the extensive and complicated administration committed to them, the Commissioners of Public Works had exhibited the most praiseworthy anxiety to discharge their difficult and important duties with advantage to the public. He would go further, and admit that he had entertained an impression that the commissariat department had not exhibited sufficient energy and activity; but having looked over the correspondence which had been laid on the Table, between Mr. Trevelyan and that department, it would be unjust if he was not to say that he felt he had been under a mistake; and he really thought no one could read that correspondence without admitting that it exhibited, on the part of all, great activity, great energy, and great sympathy for the poor of Ireland. But whatever might have been, or ought to have been, done, to avert or mitigate the calamity, he was sorry to be obliged to say, that, in his opinion, the difficulties of Ireland were still before them; and that it was the duty of every one who valued the lives or well-being of his fellow-creatures, and the maintenance of social order, to apply his mind to that consideration, without allowing himself to be influenced by any retrospect, and without reference to any political or party consideration. He was anxious, with a view to the fair and just consideration of the state of Ireland, and of the effect which that great calamity must necessarily have upon all the relations of society in that country, and of the means that might be taken to alleviate it, and prevent, as far as human means could prevent it, such disastrous results in future, that the House should give him their attention for a short time while he adduced a few facts which would illustrate some of the peculiarities of the state of things in Ireland, under its ordinary circumstances, and which, he thought, ought to be kept in mind in any general discussion or legislation on the subject. He did 704 not mean to enter into details, but would confine himself to broad and distinct features; and first, he would take the case of the occupiers of land. Hon. Members had heard a good deal on that subject lately; and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bath had drawn a fearful picture of their ordinary condition. He (Mr. Hamilton) wished he had it in his power to say that the picture was overcoloured. But when the hon. and learned Member proceeded to describe his remedies, he (Mr. Hamilton) felt assured that he (Mr. Roebuck) had not estimated the extent and amount of the evils he had described, or realized sufficiently the actual state of things as regarded the occupation of land in Ireland. The census of 1841, and the commission with which he (Mr. Hamilton) had been connected, gave some extraordinary results in this respect. He should like to know what any hon. Member, conversant with land in this country, would think of the position of a farmer holding five acres of land, or even ten or fifteen? Why, of course, it would be said, there was no room for a man's industry on such a patch of land—he had much better he an independent labourer. But the total number of farms in Ireland above one acre being 690,000 in round numbers; 560,000, or five out of six, were under fifteen acres; and of these 306,000 under five acres; and the occupier being, almost in every case, dependent entirely upon the land for support, without manufactures, and without other occupation than that which this miserable patch of land afforded for himself and family. The real, and, perhaps, the best means of judging of the actual condition of Ireland in respect of occupation, would be found in the census return of 1841. The Commissioners had made a return and classification of the houses in each barony; the classification was fourfold. The fourth, or lowest class, was a mere hut—walls and floor mud; no windows, and consisting of one single room. The third was also a mere cabin; walls and floor of mud, but consisting of more rooms than one, and having windows. The second class were the farmhouses, and the first might be considered as the residences of the gentry and clergy. Now, if any hon. Member would turn to page 435 of the census, he would find there, that, excluding towns, there were 18,032 of the first-class houses, while there were no fewer than 1,075,000 of the third and fourth classes in the whole of Ireland, taking the best as well as the poorest counties—that 705 is to say, more than eighty per cent of the houses in the counties of Ireland were mud with mud floors; and one-half of these consisting of a single room, without windows. To take one of the poorest counties, Mayo, for example, the disproportion would be found immensely larger. In Mayo there were 217 gentlemen's houses, while there were 63,408 of third and fourth class houses—the fourth class being 40,803, and the third class being 22,605. Or he would ask hon. Members to go with him to Skibbereen, where the distresses of poor people had excited so much commiseration; and what was the state of things there? Skibbereen was in the barony of Carbery West; the population of the two divisions of Carbery West was 87,946, the number of houses 14,763; of these no fewer than 10,020 were mere huts, consisting of a single room; 3,429 in the class only just above a hut, while the number of gentlemen's houses was only 146. So here they had, in a district consisting of nearly 200,000 acres, a population of 88,000, thirteen out of fourteen of whom were living in miserable cabins; and if they turned to the evidence taken before the Land Commission, of which he was a member, at Skibbereen, they would find a poor man named Michael Sullivan was examined as to the ordinary condition of the people: He was asked—What is your general food for the family? Nothing at all but dry potatoes. Have you milk with your potatoes? Not a drop; I have no means of getting it. What bedsteads have you, or bedding? I have a chaff bed and bed-clothes, that would do my own business; but I am in want of a second (the poor man had five children); I cannot afford to have it. I cannot complain myself, but I could complain for others; there are others of the poor working class, as I am myself, who have no beds, no more than a gentleman or even a wealthy farmer would think too good for his pig, and they may lie in the clothes they wear by day.When such was the ordinary condition of the great mass of the people, it was fearful to contemplate the consequences of such a visitation as the present. But there were other peculiarities in respect of the occupation of land in Ireland which had not yet been adverted to in the course of the debate, but which it was essential should be borne in mind when they were legislating on the subject. Nearly one-fourth of the arable land of Ireland—1,900,000 acres—was held by the occupiers in joint tenancy. Every one who knew anything of that system—a system under which two or three or more persons had each a common interest in the land—must know 706 that it was a system destructive of the land, and equally destructive of the industry and comfort of the landholder. Then they had a large portion of the northwest and other parts of Ireland held in what was called rundale—that is, a man with a farm, of perhaps fifteen acres, held it in perhaps as many patches, a field here and a field there, sometimes half a mile apart; then they had another tenth, or rather more than a tenth, usually held in conacre—that is, the farmer manured, and the labourer planted his potatoes—or the labourer manured and planted, and worked out in labour the rent which he undertook to pay in the course of the year; thus they had in Ireland a population of small agriculturists—not independent labourers, as in this country—paid in wages by farmers with capital, and having every man within reach of him a magistrate, or a gentleman, to whom he looked up for advice and support—but a population of poor people, only half employed in letting their own patches of land—dependent entirely upon its produce for subsistence—badly housed, badly clothed, badly fed, with the additionally unfavourable circumstances of joint occupation—occupation in rundale and in conacre, and with, perhaps, one gentleman to every hundred families. He (Mr. Hamilton) would now take the case of the landlords; and the first question which would naturally occur was this—why did the landlords allow this conacre, and rundale, and joint tenancy system to continue? As far as they could, the resident landlords were gradually improving the nature of the occupation, and gradually correcting those abuses. But hon. Members acquainted only with England, could form no notion of the difficulties which landlords in Ireland had to contend with in such matters. He (Mr. Hamilton) would like to see the hon. and learned Member for Bath, who was so ready to lecture and to assail the landlords of Ireland for what he called the mismanagement of their properties—he would like to see that hon. Member try his hand in making partitions between joint tenants, and squaring and uniting the detached portions of a rundale farm. He suspected the hon. Member would find that the theory and the practice were different in those things. But to return to the state of things as regarded the proprietors of land. The families of the resident gentry, as he had already observed, constituted in most counties about one per cent of the families of the whole population: this included 707 the clergy, and was, of course, much above the average in the poorer parts of Ireland. This consideration suggested, of course, the subject of absenteeism. He did not intend to enter upon that subject at present. It had been stated by some hon. Member in the course of the debate—he believed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that some of the large absentee proprietors were amongst the best landlords of Ireland. He fully admitted that this was the case; but he was bound to add, that they formed the exception, rather than the rule. But the class of absentees, from whom Ireland suffered the most, was not, perhaps, so much the large, as what he might call the small, absentees; he meant those who derived comparatively small incomes from Ireland, lived in England, or abroad, and who did not, perhaps could not, afford to employ agents to reside on and look after their properties in the manner which the larger landed proprietors, who felt their responsibility more strongly, were enabled to do. But, whatever might be thought by the political economist, those who knew Ireland, knew the important effect which absenteeism had upon all the relations of society in that country. He suspected its practical effect would be seen and known, on reference to the present visitation, and in the effects that were making to save the people from starvation. Then there was the evil of absentee agents—he meant agents whose only business it was to collect the rents—an evil seriously felt, and bearing immediately upon the condition of the people in the more remote parts of Ireland. There were several matters also connected with property in land in Ireland which required consideration: there was the delicate subject of incumbrances, alluded to by the hon. Member for Bath. The landed proprietors were, no doubt, heavily incumbered by family charges, and otherwise. The gross rental of Ireland being about 12,000,000l., the available means of the landlords was estimated by the Poor Inquiry Commissioners at about 6,000,000l. There was a return made to the Land Commissioners on this subject, which afforded a fearful proof of the extent of Irish incumbrances, and their effects. It would be found in the appendix, Nos. 98 and 99. It appeared from these returns, that on an average of three years, property to the extent of 702,000l. a year was under receivers in Chancery and Exchequer; that the arrears had increased from 83,400l. to no less a 708 sum than 400,000l.; and that there had been spent in costs annually more than 30,000l. While this, of course, indicated strongly the position of property in Ireland as regarded incumbrances, it indicated also, he thought, no inconsiderable mismanagement in the conduct of estates under those courts. There were other peculiarities affecting the owners of land, to which he would very briefly allude. The House had heard a good deal on the subject of extensive tracts being the property of individuals, and of the expediency of allowing portions to be sold. In that he fully concurred; but there was a peculiarity affecting property in Ireland under this head, which had not yet been noticed. In England, every one knew that if the owner of an estate had occasion to borrow money, he gave a mortgage of a particular farm or township: the mortgage affected that part of his property alone, leaving the remainder free. In Ireland, the practice was different. There, if the owner of an estate borrowed money, he almost invariably gave his bond as a security, with a judgment which overrode the whole of the property, however extensive, rendering it impossible for him to disencumber himself by selling off a portion of such property. He would not weary the House by adverting to the admitted evils of middlemen and subdivision of land, and to the circumstance which had been alluded to, "that in Ireland every man seemed out of his proper position." If he adverted to these topics at all, it was because he believed—and it could not be denied—that these things had all a direct bearing upon the condition of the people, and ought to be carefully kept in view in any legislation respecting Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bath had stated, and strongly, that all the social evils of Ireland were attributable to the landlords, who, he said, he thought ought to be swept off the face of the earth. He (Mr. Hamilton) would not deny that in times past the landed gentry of Ireland might have been careless and improvident; but he must take upon himself to say, that during the last twenty or thirty years there had been a marked and general improvement in the habits, opinions, and conduct of that class. He believed that there was now among them a great spirit and desire to improve their properties, with much foresight and careful anxiety to economise; and if the remarks of the hon. Member were intended to apply to the existing race of landlords, 709 he would be glad to know from the hon. and learned Member precisely what part of their conduct he thought so blameable. The hon. and learned Member had deprecated very strongly the small holdings into which the country was divided. He (Mr. Hamilton) wished to know whether it was for "not clearing" their estates and consolidating the farms that the hon. Member so severely blamed the landlords? They had also heard much of the hardship and cruelty of what was called the clearance system; it had been frequently adverted to in the House. Now, he wished to know whether it was "for clearing" or "for not clearing" their estates that the Irish landlords had fallen under the animadversions of the hon. and learned Member? For his own part, no man could condemn more strongly than he (Mr. Hamilton) did, the injudicious application of that system to the population of Ireland, circumstanced as they were; and if the landlords were to be charged with a dereliction of duty, he would much rather they should deserve the censure of allowing the population to become excessive, than of applying the clearance system harshly and injudiciously. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also charged the gentry of Ireland that they were all out of their proper positions—occupying stations without the means of discharging the irduties. Possibly this might be the case to a certain extent; but did the blame of this rest entirely upon the gentry of Ireland? Was there nothing connected with legislation in this? He was himself an advocate for the maintenance of the Union; but he could not conceal from himself that it was the Union which withdrew from Ireland so many of those whose means and station would have enabled them to have discharged the duties of a landed aristocracy, and that in their absence their places were filled by others of inferior and inadequate means. No; Englishmen were proverbially just; and he was sorry to hear so much of unjust vituperation from some hon. Members connected with England. If Irishmen or Irish landlords were to blame, they might in their turn retort upon English legislation; they might tell them, "You have made Ireland subservient to your own political purposes—you have used her when it suited your own objects to do so—you have neglected her when you had no political object to gain by attending to her. How many political battles have you fought? How often have you made Ireland the arena for your own political struggles—to displace 710 one Ministry, to substitute another? How many warnings have you received, that, while you were doing this, you were neglecting her real interests? Committee after committee, commission after commission, have supplied you most abundantly with information and advice. Where are the fruits of them? You are now reaping the fruits of neglecting them. In 1836, you received a report, framed almost entirely by Irishmen, on the subject of the poor—framed after long inquiry—containing also very valuable suggestions for their amelioration. The labours of that Committee are overthrown; you send over an Englishman—six weeks are thought sufficient to enable him to form a system, which you now think inadequate and insufficient." But whether it were the landlords, or whether it were the Legislature that was to blame, for the social disorganization and poverty of Ireland, these, as appeared to him, were but the remote causes. The immediate and proximate cause was, the great disproportion which existed between the quantity of labour as compared with the quantity of capital in that country—the quantity of labour being excessive, the amount of capital deficient; and he thought there was scarcely one of the evils he had enumerated which might not be attributed, either immediately or remotely, to that consideration. What, for example, led to the avidity for land, which in its turn led to the subdivision, and to the agrarian outrages? Why, the circumstances of the people, they being unable to procure employment as independent labourers paid in money. What led to the conacre system, which in its turn had greatly aggravated the destitution of the people at the present moment? Why, the same cause—the want of capital among the farmers to pay the labourer in money. He need scarcely remark how greatly that destitution had been increased by the diminution of the capital of the country by the loss of the potato crop. The remedy, in fact the only permanent remedy, for this evil, would appear to be, to absorb the surplus labour by the introduction of additional capital; such capital to be employed productively in increasing the permanent wealth of the country, as contradistinguished from the kind of employment which it had been found necessary to give during the last few months. With regard to the permanent measures announced by the noble Lord, he felt bound to state, that as they appeared to be founded upon that very principle 711 of introducing capital into Ireland, to increase its permanent wealth, they had his cordial approval. To a part of one of those measures he had, however, a strong objection. He alluded to the clauses in the Poor Law Amendment Bill, by which it was proposed to give out-door relief to the able-bodied in certain cases. The House would do him injustice if they were to suppose that because he himself belonged to the class of landlords, in entertaining and expressing his objections, he was actuated by the feelings, or what might be considered the interests, of the landlord class alone. He sincerely believed it was for the interest of all classes in Ireland that out-door relief should not be given to the able-bodied as a part of the poor-law system. For his own part he would not object to any sacrifice that could be made, even although it might involve what would be considered the confiscation of a large part of the property of Ireland, provided he felt persuaded that such sacrifice could really conduce to the social improvement of the people. His objection to that part of the plan of the noble Lord was grounded upon the effect which even the expectation of out-door relief was calculated to produce on the minds of the people themselves. He must, however, confess, that the explanation given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night—namely, that in no case was the "poor-house test" to be dispensed with, where it was possible to apply it, had, to a certain extent, diminished his objections. At the same time, he did think that if it should be necessary to make a provision by law for the support of the able-bodied poor, in extreme cases, it would be better if such provision were not made a part of the poor-law system; but that it should only be administered under the authority of an Order in Council, by the Lord Lieutenant, after proper inquiry, and by some machinery not immediately connected with the poor-law system, or under the control of the Poor Law Commissioners, for he greatly feared that the effect of any provision for outdoor relief to the able-bodied, as a part of the poor-law system, would lead to expectations among that class which would tend very materially to prevent the increase of those habits of industry which it was so essential to encourage by every means among the labourers of Ireland. He was sorry the plan of the noble Lord did not in any way include emigration. He would be the last to force emigration in any way, 712 but he thought where families in Ireland had friends in Canada, or the States, and were themselves anxious to emigrate, but were deprived, through this visitation, of the means of doing so, some aid might have been given to enable them to carry their wishes into effect. He could not sufficiently impress upon the House his strong conviction that the improvement of Ireland was to be effected not so much by what might be called "great measures," as by a series of what might be considered small measures. There were a great many minor matters; things which might, perhaps, be thought unimportant in that House, but which bore hardly upon the poor in Ireland, and by remedying which the habits of the people might be improved and their energies stimulated; and by attention to which, on the part of the Legislature and the Government, great advantages might be gained for the country. He was glad to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be competent for the relief committees to assist with food the small farmers and labourers while employed in cultivating the land during the present famine. He was of opinion that this mode of relief would tend much to induce the labourers on the public works to resume their usual employment. There was one other point which he had omitted, respecting which he would say a few words. The hon. Member for Wycombe, who had opened the debate, had spoken of the necessity of revising the law of property in Ireland. He (Mr. Hamilton) concurred in that opinion; and although he ought to be the last man to suggest another commission, yet he could not help saying, that a commission of able lawyers for the purpose of considering how far the laws of real property, and indeed the laws generally, might be assimilated between the two countries, would be extremely useful. There was only one other topic to which he would advert. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose had stated last night, with regard to the meeting of noblemen and gentlemen held recently in Dublin, that it was a meeting of landlords, who had met, not for the good of the people, but to secure for themselves as much as they could. Now, he must ask that hon. Member to read the resolutions of that meeting, and the measures suggested, and he would appeal to him in candour to say whether he could accuse that meeting justly with having no desire to benefit the people, but being anxious 713 only for their own interests. His hon. Friend opposite, the Member for the Univeasity of Oxford, at an earlier period of the Session, had designated that meeting as the "United Irishmen." He was quite sure his hon. Friend had meant nothing offensive by the appellation, and he (Mr. Hamilton) did not complain of it. Nothing, he thought, could possibly prove more strongly the extreme peril of the country than the fact, that men who differed materially from each other on important points had been led to unite, laying aside their political differences by a sense of common danger, and by feelings of common humanity they were united; but they were united, not to create but to prevent a social revolution—not to involve the country in anarchy and confusion, but to raise the social and moral condition of the people, and to save all classes from the ruin with which they were threatened. They were united not to exercise, or to attempt to exercise, any undue influence, by confederation, but to secure, as far as they could, a due attention to the interests of Ireland; and he could assure his hon. Friend that the union among so many Irish gentlemen of different opinions was but a faint indication, on reflection, of the unity of feeling and purpose which the calamity had brought about among all classes of the community in Ireland. This heavy affliction, this great visitation from the Almighty, had softened men's feelings, and called forth the holier and better impulses of humanity. It was delightful to see on every relief committee men whose early associations, whose deep prejudices, whose stern convictions, had heretofore estranged them from each other, laying aside their prejudices, and, for the present, their conscientious differences, and co-operating together with generous emulation in relieving the distresses of their suffering fellow-creatures. It was delightful to see their prejudices subsiding—their animosities dissipating—and the foundation laid for harmony and concord, which, he trusted, would long survive the occasion which had called those feelings forth. He agreed fully with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Secretary for Ireland, that Irish co-operation—the active and energetic exertions of the Irish themselves—were indispensable to the success of any measures that might be enacted. He could undertake, on behalf of the "United Irishmen," that whatever measures might be proposed, no matter by whom, should receive 714 their most anxious attention; and, as far as they might be calculated to benefit Ireland, their active support. He could promise him that they would be received and dealt with without the slightest feeling of party; and he would be himself the first to congratulate the Ministry, if their measures should appear calculated to alleviate the present distress, and to conduce to the permanent benefit of Ireland.
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
said, that it was not his intention to occupy much of the time of the House during the present debate, and simply for this reason, that whilst they were debating and delaying the progress of the Government measures, the people of Ireland were perishing by thousands. With the utmost haste which the House could make in passing the measures before them, they could not hope to catch in life the numbers who were perishing in Ireland. He did not make that statement with any desire at all to prevent hon. Members from discussing the difficult subjects involved in the Bills before the House. It was necessary that they should be discussed, and all he implored was, that the House should, as much as possible, endeavour to hasten the debate, and enable the Government to carry into effect the measures which they had brought forward on their responsibility, and which, after the fullest deliberation, they thought would be efficient to prevent the people of Ireland from being swept off the land during the approaching months. During the debate on the question, three characteristics had come strongly out, with respect to which he would venture to offer a few remarks. In the first place, he was bound to bear testimony to the general sympathy displayed for the distresses of Ireland. It gave him pleasure to bear testimony to the readiness shown on both sides of the House to adopt any—even the strongest—measures, which appeared to afford a chance of giving relief to the people. The next characteristic of the discussion was, that hon. Members generally displayed a degree of ignorance of the social state of Ireland, for which, even after fourteen or fifteen years' experience in that House, he was not quite prepared, and which impressed him still more strongly with the conviction—he would not do more than make this passing allusion to the topic—that no Parliament except a Parliament resident in the country was at all competent to protect the interests of, or to 715 make laws useful and beneficial to, that country. The third characteristic of the debate, did not, he was glad to state, prevail so generally as the two already noticed—it was the aspersions and the attacks made upon various classes in Ireland. One hon. Member had made himself unenviably prominent in the use of those aspersions. It fortunately happened that anything which proceeded from that hon. Member had exceedingly little weight in the House, and still less in Ireland. He spoke of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, who—when almost every other Gentleman in the House was anxious to banish every topic of an irritating nature, to dismiss all prejudices, to discard every bad passion, and to be influenced only by considerations of humanity—rendered himself prominent in making every malignant attack calculated to arouse angry feelings, and prevent the House from coming to a calm consideration of the measures before them. The hon. and learned Member commenced and ended his speech last night with an attack on the Irish people; whilst there ran through it an attack upon the Irish priesthood, which was the more ungenerous at this moment, when the Catholic priesthood were sacrificing their lives by visiting the cots of the people, where febrile infection was raging, and doing everything in their power to afford them relief and consolation in their affliction. The hon. and learned Member presumed to say that the Catholic priesthood had an interest in the continuance of distress. ["No!"] He understood the hon. Member to make that declaration; but if he had mistaken him he would be ready at once to retract any comments upon the subject. The hon. and learned Member, if he did not misunderstand him, expressed his belief that the Catholic priesthood had an interest in wishing that the people of Ireland should continue in their present wretched state. The Catholic clergy needed not his vindication; their own conduct, admirable at all times, but more particularly during the present lamentable crisis, was far beyond any vindication which he could offer, and should cover with shame the man who had dared to assail them. As was natural, the hon. and learned Gentleman had also attacked the people of Ireland, and he said they approached that House in the "abject position of beggars." Now, he utterly denied that they presented themselves in any such humiliating position before Parliament. The people of Ireland did not deserve that such expressions 716 should be used with regard to them. Here he could not help referring to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University (Sir R. H. Inglis)—a speech which did credit to the hon. Baronet's head and heart—in which were detailed instances of heroic resignation under unexampled sufferings, which ought to have saved those who exhibited such qualities from foul aspersion. He admitted at once that the Irish Members had not adopted the tone which they might have adopted. At another time he should be disposed to show that it was by the legislation carried on in this Imperial Parliament that Ireland had been impoverished; that it was by such legislation they had been robbed of an amount of income which was far greater than any sums which might be granted for the alleviation of the present distress, large as those sums might be; and this could be easily shown when a fair account was struck between the countries. These were topics which at another time he should be tempted to urge in answer to such aspersions as those of the hon. and learned Gentleman; and those topics he might yet bring forward if the hon. and learned Gentleman persevered with the Motion of which he had given notice. That Motion would have been, no doubt, designated as absurd if it had originated with an Irish Member, for it was a proposal to transfer the income tax to Ireland, at a time when their incomes were wasted away by a taxation necessary to prevent the people from starving. The hon. and learned Gentleman had attacked, also, the landlords of Ireland. He was not there to deny that they had committed many and grave faults; but he was there to say that if they did, that House was not free from the blame which attached to their conduct. That House had encouraged the landlords in their misdeeds. It had put temptations in their way which it was beyond the average power of human nature to resist. Their legislation of forty-six years had so tended to impoverish Ireland, and to deprive her of all manufactures, that the people were driven for support to the land alone. That led to undue competition for land, which in its turn held out too strong a temptation to the landlords, to whom, in addition, more power was given over the disposal of their land than in England. The House in these things had furnished occasion for the sins of the landlord, and it was hardly fair now to turn round on those who were the 717 instruments for carrying into operation the system of legislation adopted by this country. In the present distress he was bound to bear his testimony to the fact that the landlords had acted their part nobly. Throughout the country there were, of course, instances of individual neglect; but he would be bold to say (without looking for any parallel, for in no country and in no time could such a state of things as that now exhibited in Ireland be found), that considering that this calamity came suddenly upon them, and that they had so little time for looking out for proper measures of relief, the landlords had acted fully as well as the poor people had borne their part. He was bound also to bear his testimony, in corroboration of the excellent, instructive, and useful speech which had just been delivered by the hon. Member for the University of Dublin, to the delightful, but unfortunately most novel, feature in Irish proceedings, namely, the desire to forget the miserable differences which divided men heretofore, and to unite for the alleviation of the present calamity. As chairman of a board near Dublin, he was delighted beyond measure to find that there was no trace to be found in their proceedings of those political combats which had been, unfortunately, so common, and that the only contention was, as to who could best show their anxiety to relieve the people, and their readiness to make personal sacrifices for them. And he felt further bound to observe, that between the clergymen of all denominations, there was the most cordial unity of brotherhood in the cause of charity, and the strongest efforts were made to outdo each other in carrying out measures of relief. This was one shining light amid the darkness of their present condition. He only hoped it would be permanent, and that henceforward instead of being distracted by miserable divisions which paralysed their energies, the people would work together as a nation ought, to relieve themselves from the present distress, and to secure themselves against the recurrence of such a calamity. He should now say a few words on the measures of the Government. He was bound to say, however unpopular the opinion might be in that House, that in his opinion the Government had committed a great mistake in not having endeavoured to establish a greater number of depôts throughout the country. He did not say, of course, that the Government should supply the whole 718 people of Ireland, but he thought that soup-kitchens, which they were now about to establish, ought at an earlier period to have been more generally established through Ireland. He was quite aware of the dangers of interference with trade, and of the rise of price which would be consequent on the Government going into the market as a purchaser; but he still thought, at every hazard, the Government ought to have obtained a larger supply of food than was furnished to the people. The Government ought to have encouraged the merchants to import on the condition that the food which they brought in should be immediately purchased by the Government. There was an old proverb which the Government should have borne in mind, "that the first loss was always the best." The loss consequent on the Government interference might have been many millions; but he doubted whether it would be found less in the end than the charges which they had incurred. No one in that House could calculate the expense likely to be cast on the country by the present distress. Had food been given to the people in the first instance—had their minds been set at ease as to the power of purchasing food at a reasonable rate—the people would have accepted employment from the landlords, and not gone on the public works. But he was bound at the same time to say, in justification of the Government, that had they proposed to take last autumn the step which he now recommended, they would not have been supported by that House, or by the great parties in this country. If the principles of political economy prevented the Government from importing food, they should have repealed, long since, the 4s. duty, and abolished the navigation laws; for these were as much opposed to the principles of political economy as the purchase of food by the Government. As to the future measures, the best thing which could be said as to that relating to soup was, that it had the general assent of the House. He only hoped it would be at once carried into operation. If it were not, the desolation that must occur in Ireland would be fearful. The accounts which the Irish Members received every day of the accumulating wretchedness was most distracting. He wished to impress it on the House, or on the Government, that not a single instant was to be lost in adopting every possible means for giving food to the people. If they acted otherwise, the deaths would soon be counted not by thousands, 719 but by hundreds of thousands. If the reclamation of waste lands was extensively adopted, no doubt it would be of service in alleviating the distress of the country; but with respect to emigration, he feared it was not to be depended on as a measure of relief. He could not pass frem the review of the plans of Government without one word as to the extension of the poor law to Ireland. He had spoken on the subject in that House and elsewhere in opposition to the measure, and he would, therefore, make but one remark—that, opposed as he was to the extension, or even the existence of any poor law in Ireland—convinced as he was by careful and attentive reading of the history of the poor law in England, of its evil effects, and of its entire failure for purposes of good—deeply convinced as he was of its efficiency for evil—persuaded of its demoralizing effects on the people, and of its bad tendencies in absorbing capital—and, above all, entirely satisfied that the evils it had gradually created in England would come on Ireland at once, and that all the intended limitations and restrictions by which Government sought to fence this measure about would be found inefficient in practice, and that the capital of this country would be entirely absorbed—still he was bound to say he would no more think of opposing the passing of this poor law under the present circumstances of Ireland, than he would think, were he in a sinking ship, of opposing the construction of a raft out of her spars and timbers. It was a desperate case, but it would not have occurred if Ireland had been governed by her own Parliament. No change of policy could meet the instant misery of the country. They must adopt any expedient to save the people even for a few months, or to preserve a few lives; and he grasped at this measure, not as a remedy for the distress, but as a means of saving a small portion of the population for a short time, though its adoption would be attended with pernicious consequences hereafter. On these grounds he withdrew all opposition which he would have offered, however ineffectually, under other circumstances and at another time. Before he sat down he had to observe that a very general remark had been made as to the want of comprehensiveness in the measures of Government. The reason that want was observed in all such measures was, because the House would not consider what the large majority of the people of Ireland looked on as a 720 panacea for all her evils—he meant the repeal of the Union. The very mention of it was now laughed at by the House; but he believed it would be forced on their consideration by the evils of the country, and that it did contain in itself a panacea for them all. That measure would, as he believed, restore her to prosperity, increase her revenues, make her the ally and assistant, instead of a drag and thorn to England, and prevent the recurrence of such a calamity as that which they were now endeavouring to meet in vain. In conclusion, he would implore the House, that whatever they meant to do should be done immediately; and that they would not allow any more of those unjust, unkind, and inhuman aspersions and attacks on the unfortunate people of Ireland, which could only exasperate the people, and impede the cool and calm discussion that could give them a hope or chance of getting through their present calamity.
§ VISCOUNT CASTLEREAGH
wished to express the admiration he felt at the speeches which had been just delivered by Gentlemen differing so absolutely and completely as the hon. Member for the University of Dublin and the hon. Member for Kilkenny, and yet agreeing in the absence of party feeling or violence. He was sure the House would not fail to remark that the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken had set an example of moderation, by confessing his strong opinions on the poor law, and at the same time throwing them aside for the benefit of the country. It was not his intention to take up the time of the House, but, connected as he was with Ireland, he felt called on to take that opportunity of tendering his respectful and hearty praise to the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government for the measures he had proposed for that country. He must say the noble Lord had intrepidly come forward to meet censure from quarters whence he might have expected a milder verdict, and where criticism should have been silent. He had been extremely gratified to observe that the Motion of the hon. Member for Coventry did not meet with a seconder. He hoped the measures of the noble Lord would go to Ireland in their integrity; that no "cold shade" would be cast over them; and that whatever opposition they might meet with would pass away without a division. Fully sensible as he was of the great difficulties Government had to encounter in Ireland, he could not but say that no person could have felt 721 more anxious, or no man have been more active in the discharge of his duties, than the Lord Lieutenant. He took that opportunity of stating how glad he was that the Government had appointed a resident proprietor so popular in his own country and in England to that office. He was glad that Irish blood had been infused into the Cabinet, and was sure the Government would inspire greater confidence among the people of Ireland in consequence. Many insinuations had been thrown out against the landlords of Ireland—it was unfortunate that Gentlemen on both sides of the House got up and made general statements as to these landlords; but he had never yet heard any very strong, well-supported accusations against them. He should be glad if hon. Members making those statements would let the House know who those people were; or who were the men who allowed their tenants to starve. Who, for instance, was the unknown proprietor at Skibbereen? You might go over broad England and find out the proprietor of any part of it in a moment; but the case was not so in Ireland. There were thousands of acres where it would be difficult to find out the owners, and whose inhabitants had never seen the proprietor, or any one connected with him, but some agent who came down from year to year to receive the rents, and remit them perhaps to London or Paris. He was sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not laid greater stress on the part for reclaiming waste lands, as he was disposed to think it would be a profitable investment for the million they proposed to give, while it afforded employment to the people, and would act as a security to property at large. He would beg of the noble Lord to take care the holdings were not made too small, as this would be a great evil. With respect to absenteeism, all he could say was, that if the noble Lord or any other Minister proposed to tax absentees, he would be the first person to support it. Hs hoped, however, the proceeds of the tax would be spent or laid out in Ireland. As to the poor law, he entirely agreed with the hon. Member who spoke last, and the plan of giving food to the able-bodied poor appeared to him to be attended with great difficulty. He thought it possible to relieve the destitute labourer by giving him task-work; but he objected to a compulsory system of relief, without exacting from the able-bodied some labour in return. The effect of the public works had been to take the labourers from the 722 ordinary agricultural operations of the country; and he knew of an instance where three labourers were employed in draining by piece-work at the usual wages, and who at their own urgent request left their work after two days only, and never returned. He hoped these evils would now cease, and a better state of things exist in future.
§ MR. C. LAWLESS
said, that having had a seat in that House so very recently, he would not have risen, but that he felt himself called on to express his sentiments as representative of one of the most important constituencies in Ireland. It appeared from the preamble, that the Act 9 and 10 Vic., c. 107, was passed only in apprehension of a failure in the potato crop, and that, therefore, it was not a measure for the present exigency. Now, he believed that, from the passing of that Act till the end of January, when famine had set in, and thousands had perished and were perishing, no steps had been taken to meet the actual failure of the crop. More in sorrow than in anger he declared it to be his opinion, that all the measures which the House were now passing were six months too late. For many of them he was thankful. It was better to have them at the eleventh, or even at the twelfth hour, than not at all; but he could not help saying that, if the use of corn in distillation and brewing had been prohibited twelve months ago, and foreign grain admitted free, a great saving would have been effected. Why had not the ports been opened long ago? The effect of the present measures with regard to distillation at that moment, would be to ruin the last manufacture of Ireland. It was quite impossible Ireland could continue in her present condition; but, for good or evil, her fate was linked with that of England, and whether she was swept out of the scale of nations altogether, or elevated to her proper position, in her rise or fall this country must participate. The hon. Member for Bath declared she was the curse of England; but giving that hon. Gentleman credit for the wisest abstract philosophy, he did not think his conduct was calculated to turn that bane into a blessing. It was most un-English conduct, at all events; but he trusted there were not many men capable of similar acts, and ready to revile a people whom they were at the same time assisting. He would recommend Gentlemen who entertained such views to make a short stay in Ireland, and they would 723 return—if not better informed as to the state of the country—at least with softened feelings towards the people and the country.
§ MR. GREGORY
, before he came to the discussion of the measures of Her Majesty's Government, would refer to the pledge given on a former occasion by the noble Lord, that he would not interfere with private enterprise. He was not one of those who felt an extraordinary hostility to the science of political economy; but he thought an error equally grave had been committed by those who thought the principles of that science were fixed and immutable. If ever an occasion had arisen when those principles might have been relaxed, it was during the last winter. He could not describe that occasion in any terms more forcible than those used by a right hon. Gentleman in that House in August last: "All argument drawn from the ordinary state of things is thrown away when applied to such a question; all the maxims of political prudence must give way before such a pressing necessity." The right hon. Gentleman who used that language was the present Secretary for Ireland. He recognised the necessity of encouraging a retail trade in Ireland. 1846 and 1847 would not be the last years in which they would have to depend on foreign countries for subsistence; and, above all, he saw how utterly impossible it was for any Government to become the feeder of 4,000,000 of people. He, therefore, concurred with the noble Lord in the views he took on the subject; but what he did blame in the noble Lord was the nature of the pledge he had made to the speculators and dealers; he said, under no circumstances whatever would he interfere with the importation of corn from abroad. Now, the noble Lord must know that, in the most remote parts of Ireland, those most stricken by this terrible calamity were utterly deprived of the benefit of private enterprise. The want of capital, of knowledge, and security, banished it to more congenial spots. There had then been a clear necessity for Government interference. Was there no middle course for the noble Lord to pursue? Would it not have been possible for the noble Lord to have said to those merchants and speculators, "I will not now interfere with your operations; but if I find that those operations fail, or that your profits, in some localities, become so exorbitant that the people cannot buy food, then, under those circumstances, all considerations shall give 724 way, and so far will we become your competitors, that we will take care, so far as we can prevent it, that no human being shall perish through starvation." He was convinced that, had the Government adopted this course, they would have checked undue speculation, and have taken the best means to feed the people. He had heard with pleasure the speech, on a previous evening, of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, and with equal pleasure had read the speech of another noble Lord, a distinguished member of the same party, in another place; and though he did not agree with the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) as to the necessity of abandoning all economic reservations, or as to the proper treatment of speculators and regrators, he nevertheless did thank his noble Friend for the declaration of his opinion that, so far as Government means went, the people of Ireland should be saved from starvation. He trusted that the noble Lord would endeavour to give effect to that declaration; and if the noble Lord should consider it requisite to resist the Government measures, as not conducive to this end, he would be able to look back to his first act of opposition this Session without any regret. It was evident that the enormous price of provisions in Ireland had not been so much the consequence, either of the greatness of demand, or of the deficiency of supply, as to the greatness of the derivative profits—each of them enormous. It was also clear, in many districts where death had ensued, that that result must be ascribed to the difficulty which had been experienced in the purchase of food. The insecurity of conveyance, the dilatory proceedings, and the absence of stock and capital in those districts, had prevented the proper steps being taken to obtain provisions from the neighbouring markets. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, the other evening, made a statement, which had since been contradicted by the hon. Member for Donegal, that the food stores had been open all the winter. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that his own experience in the country enabled him to say, that on many late occasions, in many places, the greatest difficulty had been found in procuring food; and in one locality in Galway, so much had this been the case, that until Thursday last he had not had the slightest idea that a pound had been issued from the Commissariat Department. He had received 725 a few days since a letter from a place on the coast in Galway, informing him that "starvation had really commenced;" that "they were dropping down in dozens;" that "on the sea coast they were compelled to feed on mussels, thus causing dysentery and death;" that "the poor were being thrown off unfinished works;" that "there was not one pound of Indian meal in Galway last Friday;" that "they would not open the Government depôts, although 1,000 tons were therein;" and, in the face of such a document as this, the right hon. Gentleman must renounce the statement that the stores had been opened throughout the year, and that there had been no neglect of the requisite precautions. But the inquiry and the examination should have been made beforehand; the time had now almost passed by. If the necessity was strong now for these stores to be opened—now, when the new American maize crop was expected, and when prices had fallen—how much greater was the necessity three months ago, when Indian meal had been selling at 18l. or 20l. per ton! It was not until within a few days before the meeting of Parliament, and when hundreds were already dead, that soup-kitchens had been established. It was found that the Labour-rate Act had demoralized the whole country, and a letter from the Lord Lieutenant had been issued, which it had been impossible to make use of. Then came the Treasury Minute, which ought to have come long before; and, last of all, Bills were brought before Parliament for the suspension of the navigation laws, and of the 4s. duty, when the benefit that could be derived from the first measure was as nothing, and when the repeal of the duty would only tend to impoverish the Exchequer, and increase the gains of the speculator and holder of corn in bond. He made every allowance for the difficulties with which Her Majesty's Government had had to contend; and he could himself bear testimony to the unceasing exertions of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere), and to the indefatigable efforts of the Lord Lieutenant; but, at the same time, while giving them the credit of good intentions, he would say, that if they called upon him to grant them the praise due to far-seeing and sagacious statesmen, struggling with adverse circumstances, he must be permitted to answer, that in their past actions, he had not beheld that sight which was declared to be a 726 sight worthy of the gods. The Labour-rate Act had been a great failure; it had resulted in great evils; it had produced a total divergence of labour from its natural channels; the soil had been neglected; and their position now was, that their prospects for 1848 were more deplorable than their anticipations had been of 1846 and 1847. Above all, the operation of that Act was to give every discouragement to that class of the community in Ireland who had not merely exercised the rights, but had most worthily fulfilled all the duties of property. The efficiency of the Labour-rate Act depended as much on the cheapness of food, as effect did on cause; and they relied on the representation made last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who stated that he had the authority of eminent merchants in saying that the prices of provisions would not be affected. He knew how difficult it was to rely upon any calculations of this nature; but still the Government had had the means in their power of securing accurate information, and such a measure should not have been adopted without a positive security that its effects would not be injurious. And it should not be forgotten that all these results were foretold and foreseen; and the language of remonstrance used at the time by Lord Monteagle seemed indeed to have been inspired by the spirit of prophecy. His Lordship said, when taking part in the debate on the Act in the other House, that if they desired to relieve the poor without encountering the evils of out-door relief, they must take as their groundwork the profitable employment of the people; that, if the measure passed, they would waste the capital of the country, uselessly expend the funds for the employment of labour, and adopt a principle so fatal to any country, and especially so fatal to Ireland, that their Lordships would look back to the pressure of that moment as far less objectionable than the evil which, by this measure, they would inflict on the population. His Lordship then further said, that he anticipated the Government were about to involve themselves in inconceivable difficulties; and another noble Peer, the Duke of Grafton, on the same occasion, remarked, that if it was intended to apply the funds to be created by that Act to the making of bridges and roads, it would be inevitable that the land must be altogether neglected. Now, these prophecies had proved true to the very letter. They had rejected 727 the establishment of depôts on the principles of political economy — principles which he admitted must always demand consideration; but they had violated every rule and precept of that science by carrying a measure which had interfered with labour, and which had turned it from all its ordinary and necessary channels. It could be no satisfaction to the people of Ireland to know that the Government now admitted its error. When, early in the year, they saw what was impending—when they found how great was the pressure on the public works, the number of people improperly employed, which no vigilance on the part of relief committees could prevent—when they saw enormous sums of silver come into the country, and never reappear, they should immediately have substituted something in the place of their most faulty legislation. If they had not thought it advisable to call Parliament together, they should at once have substituted other means of employment; have come before the House as they now had done, for indemnity, which would have been most readily and gratefully conceded. He could not refuse giving credit to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) for those measures he had just introduced. He trusted, sincerely, that with some amendments and alterations those measures would be productive, not only of immediete relief, but of permanent benefit to Ireland. He regretted that the noble Lord had not brought forward some plan which should give assistance to railway companies in the employment of the people. Such works would be, in every sense of the word, productive; he believed, in fact, that railways would be a material element in the future prosperity of Ireland, and that, if the Government now decided in co-operating in this way with private enterprise, they would take the most effectual means to remedy the mischief caused by the Labour-rate Act. The noble Lord the Member for Lynn had, however, signified his intention to investigate this subject; and he earnestly hoped that some measure would be introduced in reference to this important item in their relief resources, so framed as to meet with the approbation of the House. He also regretted that the noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury had not adverted to the subject of agricultural schools, for if ever there was a necessity for such institutions it was at this moment, when a better cultivation of the land was called for. The present race of farmers in Ireland 728 were slow to improve, and unwilling to adopt the suggestions of their landlords; either from believing themselves to be not furnished with equal capabilities, or from suspicion of ulterior views on the part of those who recommended these improvements. The hon. Member for Kildare (Mr. R. Archbold), a gentleman practically conversant with the state of agriculture, had borne valuable testimony to the boon which such schools would prove to the cultivators of the soil in that country; and the application of 1,000,000l. to such a purpose would have been far more serviceable and more profitable to all parties, than if lavished, as proposed to be, in a futile speculation to reclaim irreclaimably waste lands. He hoped that the noble Lord, in offering encouragement to landowners to cultivate and improve their estates, would compel those who had, either from unwillingness or inability, neglected their duty, to avail themselves of the opportunity. The great principle on which an enlightened Legislature should proceed, should be to give encouragement to those who had made the best use of the advantages attached to their position, and, while imposing taxation on the lazy and improvident, to hold out every practical exemption to the man who was desirous of ameliorating the condition of the country. To give that effect to their legislation, a Government should endeavour to contract the circle of responsibility into its narrowest limits. The narrower the field of action in which every man was placed, and in which his responsibility rested, the more clearly would that man see his duty—the more would he benefit by a stimulus. When they spread the responsibility over a larger space, the weaker became the sense and the more indefinite the notions of duty: the easier for a man to devolve the duty on others, the less inducement did he possess to discharge it himself. They ought not to ride to death the willing horse. He thought a wise statesman would not, in such arduous times, throw the performance of duties on the willing and good alone. When they imposed taxation with one hand, they ought, with the other, to offer the means of avoiding that burden; and when they gave encouragement to the active and labouring, they should apply the spur, and that not lightly, to the lazy, the apathetic, and the improvident. They should, in short, teach every man that it was his interest to do his duty—and if he preferred 729 to remain dilatory and supine, then he should be compelled to pay dearly for the indulgence of these tranquil pleasures. He did not think that the measures of the noble Lord were sufficiently stringent to secure the adoption of that principle; there was permission given to all to do their duty, but there was constraint upon no one. But he would not now enter into the details and particulars of the scheme of the Government. He would not now express any opinion upon the alterations in the poor law; he considered that subject should be dealt with separately. He did regret that the noble Lord had treated the subject of emigration so lightly; he did not wish for State interference to any very great extent, but it was in their power to afford facilities to emigrants, of which they were now in extreme need. Neither would he address himself to the attack made by the hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck) upon the Irish landed proprietors. But statements had gone forth from more important quarters, and it had been attempted to fix on the landlords of Ireland the responsibility of all the social evils which afflicted that country. They had been called the most improvident and the most reckless aristocracy that the world had ever seen—a class for whose crimes confiscation would be the mildest remedy that could be inflicted—and that it ought to be inflicted if it were not inexpedient to do so. They had been accused of coming as supplicants and beggars to the Imperial Parliament for aid; but they had not come to the Imperial Parliament as beggars. The justice of the claims which they had made, was indeed acknowledged; and he must say, though he knew that what he said would be unpalatable to the House, that were it not for the absolute necessity of imposing immediate and peremptory taxation, to show the people of Ireland the necessity of hereafter avoiding, by exertion, the imposition of such burdens on themselves and others, in justice and in equity the whole of the money expended in unprofitable labour should be thrown on the resources of the United Kingdom. All the prosperity, he believed, which had fallen to the lot of England, might have been enjoyed by Ireland also, had the manufactures of that country not been destroyed by the acts of the English Government. In 1695, the tract of Molyneux, on the case of Ireland, in which he protested against the destruction of the Irish woollen manufacture, 730 was ordered to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman. The wisest and ablest of English statesmen had constantly borne testimony to the effects of this narrow-minded policy. Just one hundred years after, in 1798, Mr. Pitt corroborated every word in the writings of Molyneux; Chief Justice Bushe also bore testimony to their truth; and in 1824 Mr. Huskisson also gave them the weight of his corroboration. Thus Pitt, Chief Justice Bushe, and Huskisson, all corroborated the works of Molyneux, which were condemned to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman; and they were therefore entitled to assume that, had justice been done to Irish manufactures, the prosperity now enjoyed by England might have been theirs also. He called upon the House to recollect that much of the evil experienced in Ireland at the present day was due to English legislation, not to the Irish landlords; and he also asked them to bear in mind that wherever, as in the north of Ireland, capital derived from manufactures was advancing in an equal ratio with the population, there they had industry and peace and contentment; while, if they looked to such districts as Dorsetshire, in the south of England, where no manufacturing capital existed, they saw evils springing up similar to those which existed in Ireland. It was easy to throw the charge of past misgovernment on a class. Formerly it was the custom to throw the blame of everything connected with Ireland upon the poor—every evil was ascribed to their indolence, their improvidence, and the Celtic nature of their character. Then it was thrown upon the griping exactions of the middlemen; and now it was thought right to impute all to an indolent class of unwilling landlords. It should be borne in mind, however, that the Irish landlords found themselves in a peculiar position, and that they were placed in circumstances in which no English proprietors were ever placed; in which he trusted they never would be placed. He would deeply regret the day when parity of circumstances would teach them to make allowances. At the same time, he would say that, in justice to themselves, as well as to England, and in return for the liberality of this country, they were bound to make every possible exertion, to strain every nerve, to prevent this country again from being burdened with taxation similar to that which was now imposed upon it. He hoped every man would do his duty, not 731 only to prevent a return of the present misfortunes, but, if possible, to make them the prelude of better things. When the devils left the man, they rent him; but his wounds and weakness were the prelude of returning health. He trusted, then, that the present evils of Ireland would tend to the future good of that country. His advice was, give to every man in Ireland the field for exertion—give him the means of exertion—and hold out to him the rewards of exertion, and if any man failed to do his duty, then—Tunc agmine factoIgnavum fucos pecus à præsepibus arce.
§ SIR H. W. BARRON
rejoiced to see the excellent feeling that had been displayed by almost every speaker that evening in reference to Ireland; but, above all, he begged to tender his congratulations to his hon. Friend the Member for Dublin, who had just sat down, for the manly, and, he would call it—he hoped without offence to any man—the Irish speech that he had delivered, and the Irish good sentiments that he had that evening displayed. He was not afraid to associate with such men as his hon. Friend for the good of his country; and long might they be "United Irishmen" in that, the proper sense of the term! He, for one, was most anxious to suppress every feeling which would keep asunder men of such high station, property, and intelligence as the hon. Member who had just sat down, when they gave expression to sentiments so worthy of themselves and the country to which they belonged. Hitherto they had been divided on many subjects, which common misfortune had now laid aside, and he hoped for ever. He hoped that the foundations were laid for a better state of things in Ireland. They had been hitherto disunited, and hitherto (he said it without offence) the British Legislature, or he should rather say the English Legislature, had dealt with Ireland on the old vicious principle of divide et impera. That principle, he trusted, had been cast away for ever, and that the good sense, the kindly feeling which had been manifested towards Ireland would be permanent. He was glad to find that the Motion of the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Williams) on the previous evening, did not meet with a seconder. That hon. Gentleman had asserted that Ireland paid 12,000,000l. less in proportion than England did to the national exchequer. Now, a more fallacious statement had never, he believed, been uttered in that House. If 732 the hon. Gentleman would refer to the returns of last year, he would find that the difference in the amount paid by Ireland to the national treasury, was only half the sum he had named. The hon. Member supposed that Ireland paid no proportion of the income tax. Why, he saw hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House who were Irish proprietors, and who paid the income tax in respect of their estates in Ireland. Was it not notorious that the majority of the Irish proprietors possessed residences in and near London, and throughout England, where they were of course compelled to pay the income tax? Was it not notorious that the great proportion of the mortgagees of Irish estates were London companies and London moneyed men, and that every one of those paid the income tax in respect of their Irish estates? Was it not notorious to every one who lived at Bath, Cheltenham, Brighton, and the different fashionable watering-places in England, that every one of the Irish gentlemen who resided there paid the income tax? He would now look to another branch of the revenue of this country, for which Ireland got no credit, he meant the customs' duties. Almost all the importations of tea into the United Kingdom entered the ports of London, Liverpool, or the other large ports of England. Every pound of tea consumed in Ireland paid a duty to the national treasury in England; and so with regard to other imported commodities, such as sugar, rum, brandy, &c. And now, when hon. Gentlemen talked in the strain indulged in by the hon. Member for Coventry, he (Sir H. W. Barron) wanted to know whether there really was a union between the two countries? Was there one exchequer for England, and another for Ireland? Was not the English exchequer the Irish exchequer? Was not the English Minister the Irish Minister? If the Irish Members had no right to come to that House and claim relief, when those whom they represented were afflicted with a famine, he would then say, "Give us our own exchequer, and let us have our own Parliament." There could be no alternative. If the English Members told them that they were beggars, forsooth, for English charity, they (the Irish Members) repudiated the term, and they would also repudiate the taxes which they were called upon to pay to the national treasury. The Irish Members contended that that treasury was as much the property of Ireland 733 as it was of England. They had as just a right to make a claim upon that treasury as any Englishman, however high or proud he might fancy himself to be. Now, the Irish had a claim upon the national exchequer, or they had not. And if they had, all the vapouring, all the absurd nonsense about the English exchequer, fell to the ground; it was mere verbiage, and meant nothing except insult or ignorance, and perhaps the best way to meet it, would be by treating it with silent contempt. It must, however, be remembered that such language went out of the doors of the House, and was made use of ad captandum vulgus by popular agitators. Now, there was another most absurd assertion which had been made in several quarters, and that was to the effect that the Irish loans had never been repaid, and that they had become a by-word for making a present of money. Why, a more unfounded assertion than that had never been made, either in or out of that House; and in support of his statement, he would refer them to the returns which lay upon the Table of the House. He referred to the public documents of the country, and called upon the Gentlemen who had made those assertions to prove them. He denied that any loan which had been made to Ireland, for Irish purposes, had not been paid. The principal of those loans had been punctually paid—ay, and with usurious interest too. He said this upon deliberation. There certainly had been a million of money lent to the Irish clergy, which had not been repaid; but was that loan made for Irish purposes, or did the people ask for it? That was the only sum, he would say emphatically, because he had taken great pains to inquire into the matter, that he could discover had been lent to Ireland, for which England had not been repaid with usurious interest. It was well known that many loans which were made out of the national exchequer to English proprietors, only paid 4l. per cent interest; indeed the highest rate of interest paid for such loans was 4l. 10s.; but the lowest for the Irish loans was 5l. per cent; and not only had that 5l. per cent been paid, together with the whole of the sum advanced, but, as was proved by the officers of the British Government, another 5l. per cent had been realized to the national treasury in consequence of the increase in the consumption of exciseable goods in the districts which had been improved by those loans. He regretted, therefore, that such bad feeling 734 had been displayed by Gentlemen that took upon themselves the liberty of dictating, forsooth, to the Irish Gentlemen in that House as to how they should manage their affairs. He had heard Gentlemen in that House who had never crossed the Channel, and that had not one acre of land in that country, that knew nothing either about the Irish calamity, or its soil, or anything else connected with Ireland, give long lectures to the Irish landlords. Now, notwithstanding the blame which had been cast upon the Irish landlords, and without the slightest fear of being contradicted by facts, he would take upon himself to say emphatically that the whole of the poverty and distress of Ireland was to be attributed to the gross ignorance with which England had legislated for that country. They had legislated for Ireland as if she were an enemy. They had legislated with the view of destroying her manufactures and every species of employment of which she was formerly possessed. They had done everything that was calculated to impoverish her, and now, in the language of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck), "the tyranny of England was recoiling upon herself." He (Sir H. W. Barron) took that as his motto; and he thought that he had reason for doing so. That language was justly grounded upon the historical facts of the last—he would not say two hundred years, as was stated by the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Gregory), but of the last—seven centuries. They had legislated for Ireland with the view of crushing her, and bringing her under English domination. When they saw her growing prosperous by her woollen trade, which bid fair to emulate their own woollen manufactures in the north of England, they enacted laws for the purpose of crushing it. No Act could be brought into the Irish Parliament, whether Lords or Commons, until first approved of by the British Minister in the city of London, whose dictum was a sort of law; and, indeed, the Acts of the English Minister had to be transmitted to Dublin to be registered there as deeds. The course which England had pursued to Ireland with regard to her Legislature, was but the adding of insult to injury. Never had there been a parallel to such mockery and cruelty. He granted that during the last thirty or forty years a wiser course had been adopted towards Ireland; that their eyes had been opened, not only with regard to the commerce of their own country, but they had also seen the wickedness and 735 the folly of their conduct towards Ireland. Let them not taunt the Irish with being poor or ignorant. The English Government had made them what they were. They had legislated for a period of seven centuries with the view of making Ireland abject, poor, miserable, wretched, and impoverished. But "the tyranny of England was recoiling upon herself." They had degraded the Irish people, and they must now feel the consequences of their misgovernment. They had made the Irish people ignorant; they had made it a felony for a Catholic to keep a school in Ireland, and then they called them ignorant. They had enacted that to administer the sacred rites of religion was a felony; and they were now astonished that the people should be sunk in crime and in ignorance. He told them again, then, that England was chargeable with the ignorance and poverty of Ireland. They might regret it now. He believed that they did — he believed that they now saw the wickedness and the folly of their acts; but did they think that some ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years would suffice to undo the misgovernment of seven centuries? He would tell them in plain words that their misrule, their persecutions, and their bad government, had instilled into the minds of the people of Ireland the belief that England hated Ireland, and they in return detested British legislation. And was that wonderful? After centuries of misrule, was it surprising that they should see springing up above them the wicked effects of their harsh treatment? Much had been said in England as to the unfortunate state of his (Sir H. Barron's) country; and it was asserted that the people did not deserve even the charity of Englishmen. Every species of misrepresentation had been resorted to by the press of this country to depreciate the Irish. One means taken to prejudice the great and good and charitable people of England, as he acknowledged they were when not blinded by bigotry, was by representing that the charity and money sent from England were made an exceedingly bad use of, by being employed in buying firearms. A grosser misrepresentation, to his own knowledge, had never been made. What was the fact? Some persons in his own neighbourhood, and his own tenantry, came to him and his neighbours, and asked them, as magistrates, whether they had any objection to their getting guns or pistols to protect their haggards and barns? 736 He of course answered, "It is your duty to do so; and I know, as respectable men, you will not make a bad use of them." He knew that arms in such hands were the safety of property; and he believed that not a single man amongst his own neighbours, of the class of labourers on public works, bought a single fire-arm during the winter. At a meeting of the relief committee at Skibbereen, on the 29th of December last, resolutions were come to that the statements with regard to the purchase of fire-arms were exaggerated, if not unfounded; that only fifteen guns and three pistols had been disposed of, which were purchased by men of the better classes, to provide themselves with means of defence against the labouring classes, should they be driven to desperation by want of food. This, however, was not the case. He had been chairman of two relief committees, and had witnessed the most appalling destitution; but, with that destitution, he felt it his duty to state to the House and to the charitable people of England, he never saw greater submission to the will of Providence. The only demand was for "work, work, or bread;" but there was no intimidation, no complaint. Greater submission could not be exhibited by any people in such circumstances; and he had reason to know that in three neighbouring counties the people were of a similar character. It was a gross libel upon the Irish people to speak of them as they had been spoken of in that House by some hon. Members; and as they had been written and spoken of out of it by many who ought to know and feel better. It was acknowledged that the failure of the potato crop was the cause of the distress which prevailed. He asked the House were the Irish landlords, or any other portion of the Irish people, the cause of that failure? With regard to the money which had been expended upon useless public works in Ireland—he might say, with an hon. Member behind him, those mischievous public works—he would ask the landlords of Ireland, and the farmers of Ireland, and the people of Ireland, "Have you been the authors, in any one sense of the word, of this great national calamity?" Was it not an awful visitation of Providence, which the landlords of Ireland could not prevent? and, if so, was it not to be met in the same manner as any other national calamity? When Quebec was partly burnt down, 20,000l. was paid out of the public treasury for the relief of that public calamity; and did 737 any Member say, "Why should we pay this? let the people of Quebec pay it?" In the same Session, did we not pay to another colony 30,000l. on account of a similar calamity at St. John's, Newfoundland? — an insignificant distant colony. And did any Member of that House say, "Let Newfoundland tax itself and pay the money?" Where were the political economists at this time? Suppose London were to be burnt down, as it once was, by a visitation of Providence, would any Member get up and say, "It was not the duty of the Imperial Legislature to make a large and munificent grant for rebuilding it?" Would not five millions of money be well bestowed for such a purpose; and were they not equally bound to relieve and protect Dublin and Cork as London and Liverpool? and would they refuse to five millions of people in Ireland, in a state of destitution from the destruction of their crops, equal to 15,000,000l. if not 20,000,000l., a grant of 5,000,000l. or 6,000,000l. or 7,000,000l. as an act of justice? He agreed with the hon. Member for Bath, that the law of real property ought to be improved in Ireland. Holders of entailed estates ought to be allowed to disencumber them of debt by the sale of portions: this would be one of the courses which would go to the root of the evil, and he was prepared to support Her Majesty's Ministers in any measure to effect that object. Another measure which Her Majesty's Ministers should bring forward was a Tenants' Compensation Act. Unless the tenants of Ireland were given strong inducements to lay out money in improving the land, by building and other permanent improvements, the Legislature would have only half done its duty. The tenants should have a security, that, if turned out of their land, they might require compensation from their landlord for the improvements they had made. He thought this might be managed without inconvenience; he saw no objection to the measure; and he thought no honest landlord would or ought to object to it. With respect to waste lands, he did not agree with the hon. Member for Kilkenny in condemning the Government, which ought not, however, to look to extremely large profits from the undertaking; it would be sufficient if they got the interest of the money laid out. His hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe seemed to think it all an ideal thing; but, if he had had more experience of the soil of Ireland, and of the facilities for 738 improving waste lands in different counties, he was satisfied that his hon. Friend would be convinced that there could not be a more useful and beneficial measure than a judicious improvement of the waste lands of Ireland. With respect to the Poor Law Amendment Bill, he (Sir H. Barron) had stood nearly alone in that House, as an Irish Member, ten years ago, in supporting, or wishing the Government to bring forward, a poor law for Ireland. He had given great consideration to the matter, and had not the slightest doubt, after many years of experience, that nothing could be more beneficial to Ireland than a good poor law. But nothing could be done by a poor law without it brought home to every landlord the necessity for improving the land; and he would warn the Legislature, that, unless their proposition were carried out in a judicious manner, and brought into a narrow compass, and in a way which would make each landlord accountable for the poor on his own property, it would, in all probability, do an enormous mischief. Some proprietors might say, that making each landlord accountable for the poor on his land would amount to a forfeiture of their estates; but of those men he would ask this simple question—Was it not better that their estates should be forfeited than a most gross injustice be committed on those landlords who had been managing their estates judiciously? There was no estate, however small, that might not be improved by employing the people located on it; and he felt, that unless the proposed poor law for Ireland should have the effect of producing such employment, the Legislature would have enacted a poor law in vain, or have enacted a most mischievous Act. He would only allude to one subject more, and that was the subject of railways in Ireland. This, he hoped, Her Majesty's Government would take into their most serious consideration, recollecting, at the same time, that the present calamity in Ireland was but an exception. That the people should and ought to be employed could not be denied, and the best means of employing them was by means of railways; and, he would add, that unless some means were adopted for employing the people of Ireland, all the legislation of that House would be insufficient. He could not sit down without offering his tribute of thanks to the people of England, who had so nobly come forward to render aid to their fellow-countrymen in Ireland; and he could assure 739 them, that their generosity would do more to conciliate the people of Ireland than any Acts of that House, or any other branch of the Legislature.
§ MR. LEFROY
would not follow, or attempt to follow, the hon. Baronet the Member for Waterford (Sir H. W. Barron) through the various subjects to which he had referred; but he must make one observation with reference to a matter to which the hon. Member had adverted. Surely the hon. Member could not consider that he (Mr. Lefroy), or those who sat with him, could agree with the hon. Member in the view he had taken of the Irish Church, nor could he expect that Englishmen would concur with him in thinking they had spent a large sum of money for merely nothing. Important as those matters were, when the proper time arrived for considering them, he begged to be permitted to say he thought the present exigencies of the country did require of them, that they should on this occasion confine themselves and their observations as shortly as possible to the subject before them. Surely no man could deny that the present time was the most important one that ever had occurred in the affairs of their country. Surely no man in this country, who had heard the simple eloquence of the explanation that had been given by the noble Lord who had introduced the Bills to the House, and his declaration with respect to the misery, the famine, and the pestilence that must ensue, if those measures were not adopted—no man who had been himself a witness of those miseries, who must not concur in thinking that much gratitude was due to Her Majesty's Government for such measures as were for present relief; and it was their duty to forward them by all means within their power. Amidst the pressure of circumstances which must afflict every Irishman, he felt one great satisfaction. He could congratulate his countrymen that however they had been pained by the observations that fell from three hon. Members on the other side of the House, he could say that within those three speeches were contained every proposition that had been urged to endeavour to defeat the kind intentions of Her Majesty's Government towards the people of Ireland. It had been proposed that the Irish poor law should have precedence of the other measure. So that after starvation had taken its course, and had destroyed thousands of their people, then that the Irish poor law should come to afford support to those who 740 were remaining alive. What did the hon. Member for Montrose propose as the greatest panacea for the benefit of Ireland? He proposed that they should do away with the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland, and effect a saving to the country of 20,000l. a year. He cared not for their retaining the office of Lord Lieutenant; but he (Mr. Lefroy) said, if ever there was a Lord Lieutenant who received that sum to the gratification of the Irish people, it was the Lord Lieutenant who now held that high office. With respect to the observations of the hon. Member for Bath; what had he said? He had protested in detail against every individual measure that Her Majesty's Government had propounded for the benefit of the country. He not only had entered that protest, but he had proceeded to state to them what he would propose for the benefit of Ireland. It included, as it appeared to him, but three things; one of which was the appropriation of church property to different purposes; and another was the sweeping away of entails. But all he could say with reference to them was, that they appeared to him to be very little worthy of a British senator or a British lawyer. With regard to the condition of Ireland, he was of opinion, that the creation of the 40s. freeholders had led to that over-population which caused much of the misery that now afflicted that country. With respect to the measures proposed by Her Majesty's Government, he certainly hoped that they were calculated to confer great and important benefits, though in Committee some amendments might be suggested, which he had no doubt Her Majesty's Government would take into their consideration. As to the Indemnity Bill, no man could doubt that Her Majesty's Government had come forward at a moment of difficulty to propose measures that at the time were necessary. He knew that various opinions were entertained as to the public works. He was not there to support Her Majesty's Government with respect to those works. He sincerely regretted that they were not enabled at the proper time to undertake more profitable works; but he would say this—that if the Government were in fault, there were others that were also in fault. If Her Majesty's Government would give the stimulant to exertion which they had now undertaken to do, he anticipated that the day would arrive when they would have their full reward for what they had done in the moral and social improvement of the 741 people. It was said the landlords were coming as beggars to the Government; but that charge he denied. How could it be said that they were beggars, when the sum of money which was to be given to them at 3½ per cent, was to be fairly repaid? He would no longer occupy the time of the House than by entreating and imploring Her Majesty's Government to take into their immediate consideration the great pressure that was upon that country. They daily received accounts of the famine that pressed upon the people, and though he regretted Her Majesty's Government had not thought it consistent with their policy to provide supplies of corn to keep down the prices, yet he felt it was useless to refer to that point now, when they had adopted a useful course. He should sincerely rejoice if in the future exertions for Ireland he should see emigration and colonization promoted, for by that means their over-population (which the circumstances of the country prevented from being employed at home) would be provided for in a distant land.
§ VISCOUNT CLEMENTS
was sorry to have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer find fault with the gentry of Ireland, as he stated, for their remissness in attending to their duties on the relief committees. He apprehended that the right hon. Gentleman little knew the difficulties they had to encounter, and the different duties which devolved upon the gentry in many parts of Ireland. If he (Lord Clements) wanted an answer to that statement of the right hon. Gentleman, he thought he almost supplied it himself in the very following sentence he had addressed to the House, when he said—"I admit the absence of all local machinery in Ireland, which we possess in every parish in this country." That was the very sentence in which he had passed an opinion on the Irish gentry; and he (Lord Clements) would recommend Gentlemen, when they were inclined to find fault with others, to examine their own faults. He apprehended that if proper attention had been paid to the Public Works Bill of last Session—if it had been more studiously considered—if notice had even been given of it to the Members for Ireland, they would have at once pointed out the difficulties with which that Bill was surrounded. He could take no blame to himself for not being in Parliament at the passing of that Bill. The country was in such a state that he was obliged to be absent. 742 In the same way during this Session it would be utterly impossible for him to attend in that House, for he thought it to be his duty to go where his services were more required. Before referring to the observations that had been made with respect to the gentry of Ireland, on relief committees, he must in the first place examine the manner in which those committees were formed. He held in his hand the instructions given for forming those committees, and he found that the fifth rule contained directions with reference to the functionaries who should compose them. They were to consist of the lord lieutenant of the county, the deputy lieutenant, the Members for the county, the magistrates, the clergymen, the principal officers of the constabulary, the principal officers of the coast guard, and the officers of the Board of Works. Now, such an impossible committee to act together for any good he had never read of. But if the commissioners had been capable of acting for good, the Act they were called upon to administer, was impossible to be carried into effect. There was no test of destitution. That alone made it impossible to bring the Act into operation. Every individual was left to his own opinion as to what was destitution. In short, he thought that, if the Act had ever been intended to work properly, it would not only have given a test of destitution, but would have made it penal to receive assistance without being in a position of necessity. If due care had been taken on this point, the complaint never would have been heard that farmers well to do in the world, and having large farms, were employed on the roads. He did not mean to deny it: he knew full well that such was the fact. Hon. Gentlemen who made the outcry against the landlords, little knew what were the difficulties that the country gentlemen of Ireland had to meet; and it might be well, before they cast blame, if, they looked at home, and saw whether, when they were pressed, they did not give way on what he would call the good-tempered side. When the Act was first brought into operation by the English Government, they attempted to define what should be the wages of the labourer, and attempted a test of destitution by only giving persons on the relief works wages twopence a day below the ordinary rate of the country. They found that was not satisfactory, and they forthwith yielded to the pressure without, to the popular cry, and raised the wages on the works, not 743 only to the ordinary rate of the neighbourhood, but very much beyond it. Nevertheless, they now came down to the House and blamed the country gentlemen of Ireland, who were much more open to the pressure from without, for notwithstanding the effect of the scenes and of the importunities that surrounded them, it was utterly impossible in many parts of Ireland for the country gentleman to know the circumstances of one-half of the population around him. He (Lord Clements) had the misfortune to live in a parish containing 21,285 inhabitants. There was only one magistrate besides himself in the parish. How was it possible for them to know the circumstances of all those people? An officer of the army, Captain Layard, was sent down by the Board of Works to act in that county. He gave that officer the highest credit for his conduct; but he never consulted him (Lord Clements) on his measures. So he gave all the officers of the Government the greatest credit: they had immense difficulties to contend with; but if they had asked the advice of the country gentlemen, those difficulties might have been much abated. The great evil of the Act was the utter distrust which it implied of the country gentlemen of Ireland. In his opinion, it was the duty of a paternal Government to have sought out those gentlemen of Ireland in whom they could confidently trust, and have asked their co-operation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to have spoken last night under considerable misapprehension, when he complained that in the county of Clare 3,000 persons had been put off the public works; and he did not act quite fairly in casting the reproaches he had. The officer in question was sent down to do this very thing. He had nothing to do with the engineering; another officer had charge of that. If the officers had dismissed the check-clerks whenever they found a single farmer working on the public works, they would have put a stop to the practice at once. Another point of importance to which he wished to invite attention was, that on scarcely any one relief committee had it been required that a list should be made out of the paupers relieved. The committee of which he was a member had drawn the line between those who ought to be relieved and those who ought not, by taking the 4l. pivot, because by law all who had houses of 4l. rent and under were considered as paupers, and exempted from payment of rates. The Government afterwards 744 directed that 6l. should be the pivot. There were within his own knowledge farmers holding four or five acres only who were not only not in want, but able to assist their neighbours. He knew an instance of some such farmers who had six head of cattle on those four or five acres, and it was, in his opinion, a monstrous hardship that these men should be called upon to assist by taxation those who, having as many as twelve acres, through idleness had come to want relief. It was on such grounds as these that he said no Government could be doing its duty who gave relief indiscriminately. The fact was, there were vast numbers of farmers holding from ten to twenty acres who never cultivated or put a spade into the ground, and who now demanded relief, because, being idle men, and sometimes most dissolute characters, they annually let their land in conacre, and that conacre having failed they were become paupers, and now condescended to receive the public money, and to work, or pretend to work, on the roads. He said the Government must make a stand, and not let this system go on. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked of the breadth of wheat that had been sown, he (Lord Clements) regretted to say that he believed the wheat that had been sown would prove a melancholy failure, for want of manure, and because much of it had been sown on land that was incapable of yielding a crop. For these reasons the people in his neighbourhood could not possibly exist unless food were carried to them. The noble Lord went into some details to show the fearful state of the neighbourhood in which he lived, and stated, that, being exclusively an agricultural population, they had not an average of an acre and three-fifths to each individual, and that in an exhausted country. The want of mill power also was very inconvenient. A great authority on such subjects (Adam Smith) had stated that the greatest and most important branch of commerce in every nation was that which took place between the inhabitants of town and country, the one taking the raw produce of the other, and paying for it with manufactured goods. But nothing of this kind took place in Ireland: there they had no artisans, no manufactures. Legislation had discouraged both, while it encouraged absentees, and hence the present condition of the country. Unfortunately both for England and Ireland there had been the childish game played of "beggar my 745 neighbour," which had succeeded to the utmost; and he feared if that game were continued, that it would end in the utter discomfort of both countries. But then came hon. Members complaining that they were throwing the relief of Ireland upon English capital; but if the means of that country were destroyed, and if the system of discouraging manufactures and encouraging absenteeism were persevered in, no one had a right to complain of any demand that might be made on English capital. Ireland was at present a perfect slave. The people produced whatever the soil would yield. That produce was exported and sold in England, and the money returned for it was but sent to be returned to England again for the benefit of the absentee proprietors. Such a system must come to an end. It was the bounden duty of every Government to consider how far it could legislate so as to oblige Irish proprietors to reside at home. It was all very well for a legislator to say that there ought not to be such an interference, but the necessities of the case demanded it. The evil was too extensive to be left untouched. He had had the honour to lay upon the Table of the House a petition from jurors of the county Leitrim, complaining of the hardship that every 10l. freeholder in the county was obliged to attend in his place whenever he was called on to act as a juror. And was it not monstrous that while 10l. freeholders were thus obliged to attend, landed proprietors, deriving probably 10,000l. a year from the country, were not only freed from such attendance, but they did not even go near the country for years. One of the great hardships inflicted upon the tenantry by such a system was the manner in which they were left in the power of agents and bailiffs. If there were anything that had given him in his capacity of a magistrate more pain and trouble than another, it was the preserving of poor tenant-farmers from the rapacity of bailiffs acting without proper authority. Charges for burning the land used to be brought by the bailiffs against those poor people without any authority; and the bailiffs were in the habit of putting the money obtained by such means into their own pockets. But to elevate the condition of Ireland, they should not leave the country solely dependent upon agriculture. It was utterly and entirely impossible for a country to be a purely agricultural one without meeting at times with the most appalling reverses. He was himself living in one of 746 the poorest, if not the very poorest, of districts in Ireland. Indeed, the description of it given by the Landlord and Tenant Commission was, that it was the poorest district they had then seen. He was spending day and night there, endeavouring, and he was sorry to say with little success, to improve the condition of the people. But such was their distress, that no later than last Wednesday week 175 poor persons went to his farm-yard to purchase turnips; and they said that when those turnips should have been exhausted, they knew not what they should do. He begged to tell the Government that the establishment of food depôts along the western coast of Ireland was not sufficient. They should establish some inland, for the means of conveyance were very faulty and inefficient, and the transport of provisions inland was consequently very difficult, whilst the provisions of all descriptions heretofore used by the people had nearly disappeared. In the part of the country from whence he came, great numbers of pigs used to be reared. He was informed by a man who was in the habit of purchasing large numbers there, for the purpose of selling elsewhere, that he usually laid out 300l. or 400l. in one town alone; but on the 14th January, on going to make his purchases as usual, he could obtain only one pig; on making also inquiries of the toll collectors, he ascertained that only nine pigs altogether had been brought for sale. At a fair in another town in the same district, where about 3,000 pigs were usually sold, only 150 were brought last month to market. And one man, who generally laid out 400l. or 500l. there, was able to obtain only ten pigs. At the place which he had first mentioned, however, there were no less than 142 cows sold. That was a most dangerous sign, for it showed that the people were giving up all hope of hereafter raising cattle. Next year they would be unable to obtain manure, and they would consequently be unable to raise their crops, whilst the land would become to the lowest degree deteriorated. The deterioration had in fact proceeded already to a vast extent. Persons had told him that land for which they had heretofore given 3l. an acre, was not now worth 10s., and they would be sorry to give even that for it. The greater portion of the soil would be thrown out of cultivation; and if the Government did not adopt some method which would enforce the keeping up of tillage, the consequences 747 would be fearful. As to the public works about which so much had been said, he could for his own part bear testimony to the good effects produced by them in his neighbourhood, where not a single one of those undertaken had been unproductive of benefit. The fact was, that roads were very much wanted throughout that part of the country, there being many villages to which the old paths were scarcely passable, and therefore the road works were most useful. Recurring to the proposed measures for the improvement of the condition of the people, his Lordship urged, that the mode of rating should be carefully considered. In the Castlebar union there were 3,450 occupiers of land who paid their rates; there were 6,761 who paid no rates, but whose rates were paid by the immediate lessor; and there were 72,382 acres, the occupiers of which paid no rates at all. There were other unions in which similar facts appeared. But with regard to the cultivation of the land, the question was so pressing, and the danger so imminent, that the Government ought at once to consider and adopt some mode by which the holders should be compelled either to cultivate it themselves, or to let others do so. On the subject of the poor law, he should beg to address a few words to those hon. Gentlemen who so praised the Act of Elizabeth, and said, that the whole of its provisions ought to be extended to Ireland. If those Gentlemen would look a little more closely into the matter, they would find that Queen Elizabeth had not effected the improvement of her people solely by the enactment of the poor law. She had shown considerable discretion in the mode of administering those laws; but what were her modes of remodelling the whole face of her kingdom? The poor law was one of the very last of her plans. Previously to its enactment she had passed a whole series of improving measures, amongst which was an Act for the extension and improvement of tillage, passed in the year 1562; another, in the same year, for the encouragement and maintenance of servants in husbandry and apprentices. In 1570 an Act was passed for the prevention of usury, a subject which he strongly recommended to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. In the same year another Act was passed for the encouragement of tillage, and others for the prevention of idleness. Those were followed by an Act for the erecting and improving of cottages, which made it punishable to 748 erect a cottage upon a holding of less than four acres of land, except it were upon a demesne or in a village or town. These were some of the laws made preparatory to the enactment of the poor law. He knew of no duty—for he considered it to be a duty—more painful than living among the unfortunate population of the district where he resided. For the last eight years of his life he had lived in that district; and during that period he had done all that man could do in endeavouring to assist the poor; and yet he should confess, that he felt discouraged, and almost heartbroken, to see the results of so many years of exertion. It was lamentable to see the poor man famishing without having the means of relieving him; and if the Legislature neglected to declare what should be the pivot on which those who were directed to administer relief were to turn, it was useless to expect that further false steps could be guarded against. Unless the House took the lead in the matter, he was certain that the present would only be the commencement of greater disasters. The land should be cultivated, and if one set of occupiers refused to till it, they should be told that they must make way for others who would.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Sir, my noble Friend who has just resumed his seat, has blamed very severely the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, and the working of the Labour-rate Act, of which they were the authors; but there was one observation which fell from my noble Friend which gratified me so much, that I confess it entirely removed from my mind any bitter feeling which the other parts of his speech were calculated to create. My noble Friend declared, that in his barony there was no public work executed under this condemned Bill, which, in his judgment, was not of permanent public benefit. I must say that it hardly lay in the mouth of my noble Friend, who, from his sense of justice, felt bound to make this admission — that it hardly lay in the mouth of my noble Friend, after such a declaration, to pronounce so sweeping a censure as he has done on that measure. I confess that I heard that declaration of my noble Friend with some surprise. I believed, certainly, that the evil effects which have been attributed to that Bill, and the wholesale condemnation of the works executed under it, have been much exaggerated by some hon. Gentlemen who have addressed the House in the course of this debate; but still, I confess that I was 749 hardly aware—knowing how just in some respects were the animadversions thrown out, from the nature of the works executed, and from the circumstances under which they were made, as well as from other causes—being, I say, too well aware of the truth on which some of these objections were based, while I at the same time knew that much exaggeration was indulged in, and that the full truth was not set forth to the House—I must confess I felt some surprise at hearing it said by any hon. Member in this House, that in any barony the whole of the works executed under the Bill, were of permanent public benefit. However, while I heard that remark of my noble Friend with the greatest pleasure, I confess it appeared to my mind that it to a great extent outweighed the censure which he thought proper, in other parts of his speech, to throw upon the measure. My noble Friend went on to tax my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer with having passed a sweeping censure on the conduct of the landlords of Ireland. I certainly did not understand my right hon. Friend to have at all used any expressions of that description. I am sure, at all events, that had he done so, I, for one, should have been by no means prepared to have concurred with him in it. I have had during my official residence in Ireland, too many opportunities of observing the conduct of many Irish landlords—several of whom I see in this House at the present moment on all sides of me—and among them, I will venture to add, I should particularly rank my noble Friend who has just sat dawn; and who, to my knowledge, during the last four distressing months in Ireland, has been constantly resident in one of the most distressed districts of that country, exerting himself day by day to alleviate the wants of the poor. I am, I say, too well acquainted with the many instances in which landlords exerted themselves in public, and still more with the innumerable instances of private charity of the gentry in Ireland, to join in any condemnation of them as a class, or of any other class, in that country, in the late circumstances in which they were placed. But this admission is far different from what the truth obliges me to say, that, upon the other hand, it is but too certain that the Government of the country, in resisting the pressure to which they were exposed, and in meeting the tremendous difficulties which they had to grapple with, did not, generally speaking, meet with that 750 support from the gentry of Ireland which they had a right to expect. When I say that the relief committees especially, on whose conduct so much depended, did not give the Government that support which was to be expected from them—when I say that such was the case, I know that there is no honest, conscientious Irishman in this House who will stand up and contradict me. I heard it admitted with sorrow, over and over again, by Irish gentlemen at the time; but still I do not on this account mean to throw blame upon them as a class. I know the difficulties in which they were placed in many instances; I know the unfortunate condition of society in Ireland—that there is a great gulf placed between the Irish landlord and the people; I do not, in the present state of society in Ireland, arising from the past oppression of that country, and the unfortunate circumstances in which she has been placed, attempt to throw the whole blame upon the present generation of landlords. But I state this as a fact—I state this to show that we did not find, generally or universally, men making those extraordinary efforts which, perhaps, ought not to be expected from ordinary men in the circumstances in which they were placed. There were, however, many distinguished, many noble exceptions—many towards whom, as a Member of Her Majesty's Government, I shall entertain for the rest of my life a lasting gratitude for the support which we received from them in our struggle with the difficulties which we had to contend with during the last four months. I say this without any distinction of party. From this place I beg to return my thanks—which I do most sincerely—to the many distinguished and noble persons who hold the front rank in the party that has been always opposed to Her Majesty's present Administration, but who, casting aside on this occasion all party feeling, exerted themselves, influenced only by a desire to remedy the general evil. I would venture to name, as instances of those to whom I allude, such men as Lord Farnham, Lord Roden, and Lord Lorton—men who came forward to assist Her Majesty's Government in every manner in which they were capable of giving assistance, with a total forgetfulness of party feeling on this occasion. While I say this, I feel it to be perfectly consistent to say that I do feel convinced, unless we receive more cordial and general co-operation from the resident proprietors of Ireland than they have hitherto given us, that, adopt 751 what measures we can — devise what schemes we may in this House—all must be useless; and I, for one, must despair of extricating Ireland from the difficulties that surround her—difficulties that, it should be borne in mind, are of no light or trivial character; and the longer those difficulties are permitted to exist, the more tremendous will their influence be found. I hope it will not be inferred from what I have said, that I wish to make any observations in a spirit of discouragement; on the contrary, I have always contended that if the evils by which we are threatened be met with manly spirit, and by the united strength of the nation—if we are supported by all ranks and by different parties, I have no doubt that the country will be safely carried through every danger now impending. But it would be pusillanimous and weak to pretend that there is not an awful struggle yet before us. Sir, a great deal of the discussion which has taken place during the last two nights, has been occupied with disputes about the spirit in which we ought to treat Ireland on the present occasion. I must say, Sir, that I heard a great deal of what has been said on that subject with regret. I think that the great majority of this House is disposed to treat Ireland with a becoming and proper spirit on this occasion, and that none contend that Ireland is to be considered as a mendicant applying for alms to the Imperial Legislature. That is not the footing on which assistance should be asked or should be granted by England under existing circumstances. I think that relief should be granted as a matter of justice, and that the relation between the two countries should be considered as that between the members of a family, where some one member of that family has been afflicted by some great, and sudden, and tremendous distress; and that just as the other members of the family would be bound in a spirit of humanity and justice to come to the relief of the other suffering member, so it is incumbent on the Imperial Legislature to come forward and relieve the weak and suffering member of the United Kingdom at the present moment. Now, Sir, I really do not at all feel tempted to trespass at any great length on the attention of the House on the present occasion. I think there is a very general feeling on the part of the House—if I have not misinterpreted altogether the sentiments expressed—for giving a favourable consideration to the proposals of Her Majesty's Government, so far as to allow the Bills to 752 be read a second time, and to be afterwards discussed in Committee. If that be the case, I will venture to express a hope that the House will not allow any long interval to take place before the consideration of those measures comes on in Committee. I allude particularly to the measure for the temporary relief of the distress in Ireland, which measure, if the House sanctions it at all, it is exceedingly important should be passed without any more loss of time than is absolutely necessary for discussion upon it. The House, I take it, are generally of opinion, that whatever may be said of the system of relief afforded on the public works which are now carried on in Ireland, it is high time that these works should be brought to a close as speedily as is consistent with the safety of Ireland, and that some other system should be adopted in place of it. Now, if that be so, it is very important that no time should be lost in this matter. I do not myself think that much injury has yet been done by the existing system of relief by means of public works, drawing the people from the cultivation of the soil. I do not say that some injurious effect may not have been produced in this manner; but I believe that the effect is considerably exaggerated. The Irish Government thought it to be its duty, a short time since, considering the importance of the subject, to issue forms, to be filled up by the inspectors of constabulary throughout Ireland, asking for information as to the cultivation of the soil in their respective districts. The result of their returns was, in the first place, that there is a much larger breadth of wheat sown this year than was the case in former years; and that in many cases where potatoes would otherwise have been sown, the land is now under rye and bere, which crops have been substituted for the potato. It certainly appears that very little has been done in preparing the ground for the other crops; but it is notorious that in Ireland the preparation of the soil for spring crops is put off much longer than in this country; and from the best information that I have been able to obtain, it appears that hitherto no material injury has occurred in this respect, and that provided the labour of the country were now set free, there is yet ample time to cultivate the soil of Ireland properly in the ensuing year, and to secure that most important object, namely, that a supply of food next season for the support of the people hereafter shall not be neglected. But it also 753 must be obvious, that if the system of public works which is in progress, even while we are speaking, be continued, a delay in agricultural pursuits must take place, and that thus a most enormous evil will result if this system be persevered in much longer, as it must be unless we allow the people to starve by thousands, or unless we substitute some other system for it. Unless this be done, we shall incur the greatest danger, arising from the non-cultivation of the soil for the next year. In throwing out this statement to the House, I do not certainly desire to forego any fair and necessary discussion to which the measures of the Government ought to be submitted; but if the House be of opinion that these Bills should be read a second time, and afterwards considered in Committee, I wish to impress on hon. Gentlemen the importance of not permitting any unreasonable delay to take place before the second reading. Sir, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer entered so fully and so ably both into a vindication of the past measures of the Government, and into an explanation of the future measures which we have laid before Parliament, as to relieve me from the necessity of following in the task which he has performed so much more ably than I should have done; but some observations have been made by the hon. Gentleman in the course of this debate which I cannot avoid alluding to. Almost every Irish landlord who has addressed the House, has concurred in blaming the Government for not having, to a much greater degree, interfered with the provision trade of Ireland under the present circumstances of that country. I have no right to complain of the tone of those observations. I feel that every hon. Gentleman who has spoken has done us the justice to believe that we have acted with the best intentions; and that, though errors have been imputed to us, they have not believed them to be other than errors of judgment. If, however, it had been otherwise, and there had been a greater degree of asperity in the remarks of those who do not altogether agree with us, I should not have complained. But, at the same time, I am bound to say that I do differ altogether from them. I can assure them that this determination on the part of the Government was not formed without most mature consideration; and I am bound also to declare, that so far from experience having altered our opinions upon this subject, we are, on the contrary, more than ever convinced, 754 that if we had followed the course which they recommend—if we had done as the House has been told to-night we ought to have done—ourselves imported provisions into Ireland upon a great scale, and then have opened depôts, not only upon the west coast, but along the southern and northern coasts too, at particular points, and throughout the whole interior—if, I say, we had, in short, become not only the great importers, but the great distributors of food in Ireland, my own conviction is, we should have aggravated in a tenfold degree the horrors of famine. It is not sufficient for hon. Gentlemen to rise up and say that the abstract doctrines of political economy should give way before the pressure of practical distress. That is begging the whole question. If practical distress would have been relieved, and prices reduced—if human lives would have been saved, it was not a blind attachment to the abstract principles of political economy, still less any particular regard for merchants who happen to deal in this particular commodity, that would have prevented the Government from interposing; but it was because we believed distress would have been aggravated, that prices would have been higher, and that more lives would have been lost, that we did not interfere in this manner. These were the reasons which led us to form our present determination; and these are the reasons which have induced us to persist in maintaining that determination. Nothing could have exhibited a more criminal weakness in the Government upon a question of this kind—a question upon which the lives of the people depended—than to have yielded to popular clamour, and secured a small popularity by the sacrifice of principles which we believe to be just and true. We have been blamed, among other things, by hon. Members, who have said to us, "When you had this corn in the country, why did you not sell it under the cost price—why did you not allow the relief committees to dispose of it at less than it cost? it would have been so much better." The reason is, because we thought it of infinite consequence to foster in every manner the retail traders of Ireland. I believe that Ireland is not safe for a single moment if retail traders are not much more extensively established than they are present. It is absolutely impossible that the country can be saved from starvation where the people do not live upon wages, but upon the produce of their own tillage. It was upon 755 this view that we refused to lend assistance to relief committees who would not go upon the principle—which we thought an important principle—of not selling under cost price, so as not to discourage the efforts of traders to supply the wants of the country. I hold in my hand a letter I lately received on this subject, which I will read to the House, because I think a single instance, showing how a principle of this kind works in a particular neighbourhood, is worth more than any mere declaration of it. It is from the chairman of the relief committee at Castle Pollard, in the county Westmeath—Mr. W. Pollard; and this gentleman, writing upon this subject to the Secretary of the Commissariat Department at Dublin, on the 19th of last month, says—The advantage of selling meal at a price which allows a fair profit has been confirmed, inasmuch as it is sold in some districts at the same price as that offered by the relief committee, where it used not to be so until we obeyed the directions of the Government in this respect.This is only a specimen of what is going on in every part of Ireland: and I will ask the House whether Government is not doing better for the supply of food by taking care not to check the growth of these retail traders—by taking care not to prevent traders from providing those supplies of food which are absolutely necessary—by acting upon a system which does not discourage the growth of a retail trade of this description—rather than by saying, "We will sell at a false price, and prevent the traders in this commodity from meeting the demand, and thus teach the people to depend upon the resources of the Government." I say, Sir, it is real wisdom, as well as true humanity, no less than sound common sense, which, after all, are the doctrines of political economy in this case, to act upon these principles—principles which have been tried by experience—rather than to be driven from them by clamour, however plausible may be the argument adduced to induce us to do so. Another hon. Gentleman, the Member for Clonmel (Mr. Lawless), whom I have had the pleasure to hear for the first time to-night, has said we did very wrong in not stopping the distilleries in Ireland. That, Sir, is a very large question: but without going at length into it just now, it would not be very difficult to prove to the House that if we had stopped the distilleries of Ireland, it would have been necessary to stop those in England and Scotland also. 756 It would have been impossible to have had one law for Ireland, and another for England and Scotland on this subject; whilst, in reality, so far from the people of Ireland deriving any good from it, we should have done them a very great mischief. I believe the only effect would have been to have revived the smuggling trade, which it has taken us so much trouble to put down. We should certainly have made a great sacrifice of revenue, we should have deranged trade, and we should have ruined many traders, whilst the hope of practical relief from any measure of the kind remained most visionary. Whilst upon this subject, I may state that the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. H. Grattan), on a former occasion mentioned the name of a most respectable distiller in Dublin, Mr. George Rose, as consuming an immense quantity of oats. I have a letter from that gentleman upon the subject of the hon. Member's statement, which he is anxious I should read to the House, in which he says that not only was the quantity of oats stated beyond the quantity he used, but that in point of fact he did not consume a single barrel of oats or barley which he had not imported from abroad. So that to stop the distilleries as a remedy for the evils of Ireland, would have prevented a great many persons from earning their livelihood; and it would not have saved any amount of provisions for the consumption of the people. I am unwilling now to make any observations upon what has been said with regard to the measures proposed by Her Majesty's Government for the relief of Ireland, because I feel that those measures are each of them so important as to deserve grave and separate consideration, and because they cannot be discussed with much advantage in the general manner in which they must be treated upon this occasion. I will only say, I think it most unjust to say of them that they are characterized by a design to enrich the Irish landlords without consideration of their effect upon the main body of the people. That certainly is not the scope or intention of those measures, and I do not believe it will be their effect. But let us consider what are the wants of Ireland at this moment; One of the great wants of Ireland is that of employment for her people. I really do not know in what way you can furnish employment to the people of Ireland—unless you are prepared to do so directly through the agency of the State, which is by no means a favourite plan in 757 this House—if it is not to be given through the means of the owners of the soil. The measures of Her Majesty's Government are favourable to the landholders of Ireland, and they are calculated to afford them facilities to employ the great body of the people; and this I hold to be a sound principle. The credit of England is lent to the landholders of Ireland for that purpose, and I think this a perfectly legitimate use of that credit. I do not agree with those who have said that former loans of this description have not been repaid; on the contrary, I think that funds so advanced for such a purpose have all been repaid. I certainly conceive we have a full right to expect that every shilling of money voluntarily taken by any Irish landowner to enable him to employ the people, shall be faithfully repaid. It is not only just to this country and to the Imperial Treasury that this should be so, but I believe it is for the real interests of Ireland that the payment of all such debts should be strictly enforced. In the present condition of Ireland, it is of the utmost consequence that the produce of her soil, the productiveness of her agriculture, her power of producing human food, should be augmented as rapidly as possible. When we consider how sweeping has been the destruction of the particular food upon which the people have hitherto subsisted—what millions are left upon the surface of the soil without the prospect of sufficient food and sustenance, the House will at once see of what infinite importance it is to give a stimulus, by every legitimate means in our power, to an increased fruitfulness of the soil. I believe no means will be so efficient for this object as drainage works upon a great scale, which will enable that country, with her natural fertility of soil, to produce grain crops in a greater degree than she now does. I conceive that all these means of furnishing employment, and all the powers of increasing the produce of the soil, are just and legitimate ways in which the assistance of England can be given to Ireland. Whether these principles have been carried into effect in the most judicious manner, will be seen when our measures are considered in detail. I think, however, that I have a right to suppose that in principle they have received the general concurrence of this House. I really do not think I need trespass any longer upon the attention of the House. I can only say that I have observed with the greatest gratification the 758 temper and spirit with which the House has received those most important questions which are now submitted to its deliberation. I gather from that spirit the greatest benefit to Ireland. I confess I think that the spirit which has been evinced by the House upon this occasion, is almost of equal importance to Ireland as the measures themselves; and I cannot help hoping that it will be appreciated in that country in a manner in which I think it ought to be. I must also say that I think I see in Ireland some symptoms of a spirit of union, energy, self-reliance, and moderation, rising up, from which I expect the best consequences. I see Irishmen of every party acting together for the benefit of their country, and fairly claiming for their country that consideration which is due to it. I hope, in thus uniting together, they will take care to show to the empire at large they are not acting in any selfish or grasping spirit, that they are only desirous of laying before the Imperial Parliament the state of the Irish people; and, appealing for justice, they may depend upon it that so long as they do so, they will never have to complain that either the Parliament or the people of England are not ready to do for Ireland all that she can reasonably and fairly expect.
§ SIR R. PEEL
I fully concur with the right hon. Gentleman, that it would be much more advantageous to discuss those measures that are intended to effect permanent improvements in the condition and state of the people of Ireland when we shall be in possession of them, than to obstruct the progress of the present Bill, for the purpose of entering upon a general debate. At the same time, I am not surprised that hon. Gentlemen connected with Ireland, after witnessing the scenes which they have witnessed — after having had to struggle with the difficulties with which they have had to contend—feeling, as they must, the deepest interest in the welfare of their native country, and the deepest sympathy with those who are suffering from the terrible calamity with which it is afflicted—I am not surprised, I say, that they should avail themselves of the earliest opportunity to submit their views to the House with regard to the operation of the measures proposed by Her Majesty's Government. But I, for one, not having the same motives for entering into discussion which they have, feel it of so much importance that we should at once enact those measures 759 which are intended to meet the difficulties of the present time, that I am unwilling to oppose any impediment in the way of passing them. I am prepared to grant, as I think they are entitled to ask, full and complete indemnity to Her Majesty's Government for the responsibilities which they have assumed in the crisis through which they have passed. I think, however, it might be advantageous, with reference to the future, that in the Bill which guarantees this indemnity—an indemnity which Parliament is so willing to concede — there should be a full explanation of the circumstances under which the responsibility had been assumed by the Government. Observe, I entirely approve of the assumption of that responsibility; yet still, where the Executive Government, however justifiable the act may be, do undertake to supersede the ordinary operation of the law, I doubt whether it is not for the public advantage that all the circumstances connected with that assumption of power by the Executive should be fully set forth. I, therefore, would advise Her Majesty's Government to consider whether or no in the Bill, the letter, for instance, which bears the signature of the right hon. Gentleman, which explains the circumstances under which the Labour Act was superseded — whether, for the advantage of those who may hereafter have to refer to this assumption of power, and to the indemnity granted by Parliament, the letter should not be set forth by which this authority on the part of the Executive was assumed. I, therefore, am at once prepared to vote for the Bill which gives an indemnity to Her Majesty's Government. And with regard to the Bill which constitutes relief committees, and which is intended to make a total alteration in the system under which relief is now granted; I am also willing to give my assent at once to that measure. I think the evils of the present system are very great; and that the sooner you apply a remedy the better. I cannot help thinking there is great danger, considering how nearly we are approaching that period when it will be impossible to employ labour upon reproductive works, so far as concerns the harvest of the next year — I think, I say, the sooner we enable the Government to make a material alteration in the present system, and promote labour, by applying it to the present cultivation of the soil, the greater is the prospect of a diminution of the present difficulty. I apprehend there are 760 scarcely two months left, when, with reference to the spring corn—although I know that the labour is applied in Ireland partly from the condition of the soil, and partly from the greater moisture of the climate—although it is usual from these causes to apply labour to the cultivation of the soil for the purpose of producing spring crops at a later period of the year than in England, yet we are fast approaching that period when labour so applied will be applied in vain. I think, therefore, the sooner we make an alteration in the present system, the better will it be for the future condition of Ireland. But, I must say, I am rather surprised at the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) underrating the dangers that arise from the application of labour to what are called "public works." I beg to remind the right hon. Gentleman, that he himself, in August last, speaking of the operations of the late Government, when there were not more than 60,000 or 70,000 men employed on public works, then stated, that very great inconvenience arose in Ireland from diverting labour from its ordinary course. If that were the case in August last, when not more than 60,000 or 70,000 men were employed, how much greater must the inconvenience be to the cultivation of the soil when there are not less than half a million of persons employed on what are called public works? I am quite ready to give wide discretionary power to the Government for the purpose of altering that system; but having read these two volumes (returns presented yesterday morning), so far as it was possible for me to do, considering the short time they have been issued, I must say the officers who have been engaged in carrying this system into operation are entitled to the greatest credit. I do not wish to compliment them at the expense of the proprietors of Ireland. I dare say there may be much truth in what the right hon. Gentleman says; yet, at the same time, I think we ought to make great allowances for the difficulties with which the Government of Ireland have had to contend. When I hear the account—and, I believe, the accurate account — which the noble Lord (Lord Clements) gave to-night, not assuming an ostentatious tone, but of his having devoted ten years to a struggle with great difficulties in attempting to improve the condition of those with whom he is connected, and who are dependent upon him, and of persons like himself, and lamenting that they had been attended with so little success; 761 so far from blaming that noble Lord for want of success, I give him all due praise and honour for having persevered, notwithstanding the temptations which were offered him of absence from his native land. I give him, and all those like him, the highest praise for having set aside all those temptations; and, although they have failed in realizing all they hoped to attain, I think the responsibility of failure does not rest with them. We, in England, know well what are the difficulties interposed in the way of such efforts, arising out of the state of society in Ireland, and the condition of the tenure of land; and, therefore, notwithstanding the noble Lord's admission of failure, I am prepared to give to him, and to those others who have done their best, the highest credit for their exertions, without making any abatement from it on account of the admitted failure and disappointment of their expectations. And I must say, also, with respect to that sex which always stands most prominently forward in works of charity—speaking of the Irish ladies and females—I will say, that no country has ever given such instances of devotion, not only of pecuniary sacrifice, but sacrifices of health, of time, and of all worldly interests, as Ireland exhibited in this respect, in their attempt to mitigate these great evils. And I must also say, that I give credit—and I was sorry to hear any reflection thrown upon them—to the subordinate officers of the Board of Works. I believe that the spirit which has animated them, and all who were employed with them, has been inspired by the untiring activity, the integrity, and the devotedness of Mr. Trevelyan, under whose immediate superintendence their operations have been conducted. I do not believe that that gentleman has been influenced by any spirit of hostility towards Ireland—far from it; for who could suppose that any man, with all the other duties which devolve upon him, could have devoted so much of time and attention in attempting to mitigate the evils with which Ireland is afflicted, unless influenced, not only by a high sense of public duty, but also by a most earnest desire to advance the best interests of the country? But having read these volumes—having seen the firmness, the resolution, the intelligence, evinced by so many men, all on a sudden performing functions to which they were strange, and duties the most arduous, even when attempts were made to intimidate them, and where but little encouragement was offered them—I 762 say, seeing all this, I think it quite right that they should be invested with a full discretionary power in carrying out the system by which the evils are to be remedied. With respect to Sir Randolph Routh, to the commissariat, to all the officers, superior and inferior, it is impossible to read these volumes without seeing that they deserve the highest credit for the industry, intelligence, integrity, and devotion of every faculty of body and mind, without thought of themselves, which they have brought to the performance of their arduous duties. I therefore can conceive no persons better qualified for these duties. I believe that you must leave a wide discretion—that the attempt to limit it by means of legislative enactments would be unwise—and that the best hope of relief from the evils of the present system is in giving a wide discretionary authority; and seeing proofs of great intelligence and zeal in the officers I have referred to, I am willing to confide in them. With respect to the other measures to which the noble Lord at the head of the Government has adverted, and which have regard to the permanent condition of Ireland, it would be unjust towards the noble Lord to enter upon their consideration at present. They are not the measures which we have to dispose of to-night; they bear as permanent measures on the condition of Ireland. The House not being in possession of the Bills relating to those measures, it is impossible to form a correct judgment of their principle without seeing the details; but by far the most important of them, I should venture to say, is the Bill to enable those who are in the nominal possession of incumbered properties to sell those properties. That Bill is ten times more important, as bearing on the permanent condition of Ireland, than these we are now discussing; but, not being yet in possession of the Bill, we should only prejudice the future consideration of that most important measure by now expressing our respective views on the subject. With respect to the proposition for the cultivation of waste lands in Ireland, I shall only so far allude to that proposition as to express a hope that the noble Lord will pause before he expends so much of the public money on those lands. I am of opinion that the hon. Member for Wycombe exaggerated the views of the noble Lord on that subject. He said that the noble Lord undertook to cultivate 4,600,000 acres of waste land, and that very little benefit would be derived from it. I did not understand 763 that the noble Lord had made a proposition so extensive as that the Government should undertake to reclaim so much waste land; but I beg the noble Lord to bear in mind the observations with which he concluded his speech the other evening. Addressing the people of Ireland, he advised them "to help themselves," and then they might depend on external aid. I advise the noble Lord to carry that principle into effect as far as he can. I would advise him, if possible, to teach the Irish proprietors to act independently of the aid of Government. I would say to the Irish proprietors, that "it is the constant invocation of 'the Castle' which damps your energies. You are not so inactive, so devoid of intelligence, that you need to be constantly calling in the aid of the Government." Let us be liberal—let us be just to Ireland; but depend on it that we shall be incumbering that country, and paralysing her exertions, if we teach her to rely too much on Government assistance. This is true in respect to the cultivation of land, as in respect to the feeling of the people. Depend on it, the cultivation of the soil must depend on the energies of the people, and not on the assistance of the Government. If we look to the history of works undertaken by external aid, such as model farms, &c., with their expensive agency, it will be found that the result is to deter the people from entering into similar enterprises; and, generally the work done by Government agency is more imperfectly done than when effected by individual enterprise, or by individual speculators, with an eye to gain, and who watch the expenditure of every penny, and dispense with the aid of an extensive staff of agents. The latter is the way in which the permanent improvement of the land is to be expected. Facilitate the drainage of private estates, and, as the private proprietors cannot undertake the great outlets of water, this may be a very fit work for the Government to undertake, taking care to insure the due payment of the expense from those who benefit by it. But with respect to the cultivation of bogs and waste lands in Ireland, I cannot help thinking that, with the encouragement there has been to employ private capital in the cultivation of land which would repay the outlay, if the noble Lord's Bill for permitting the sale of incumbered estates should be effective, these enterprises for reclaiming waste lands will be undertaken by private individuals if they 764 are likely to be profitable; and if not, then public money would only be thrown away on them. I trust that my readiness to give the indemnity now asked for, to give discretionary powers, and the tone in which I have spoken, will convince the noble Lord that I am not actuated by any party spirit, or hostility to the Government. With respect to these measures of permanent operation in Ireland, we cannot perform our duty without expressing our views fairly and honestly, uninfluenced by party spirit; and I hope the noble Lord will consider before he embarks in so extensive an operation as that of the cultivation of the waste lands. He has plenty of other duties to perform besides undertaking to improve the Irish bogs. With respect to the poor law, I will not at present say a single word. That is a subject of the deepest importance, and it is better to reserve the discussion of it until we see the measure. It is, however, of the utmost importance that we should now give the Government assurance of the indemnity asked for; and after the present debate concludes, I hope that we shall without delay set about the preparation of the new system by which the present defective system in Ireland is to be superseded.
MR. A. STAFFORD O'BRIEN
had no intention to oppose the Bills under the consideration of the House, for he gave, with respect to those measures, his heartiest support to the Government; and he admitted that whenever he had occasion to communicate with the Government on these subjects, his suggestions had been readily considered. The right hon. Baronet had offered some well-considered suggestions on the subject of the waste lands; but he believed that the recommendation of that measure had originated on this side of the water, and not from Irish Gentlemen. As to the temporary arrangement proposed by this Bill, he did not believe the time had at all passed by for agricultural operations. In the part of Ireland with which he was connected, the process of sowing the spring corn would not, in ordinary years, have commenced yet. The chances of the next harvest were good; but that which must be impressed upon the landowners and occupiers was, that they must second the exertions of Government by their individual efforts. Without those efforts, all that any Government could do for Ireland must be in vain.
§ Bill read a second time.