§ On the Question that it be read a Second Time,
§ MR. HUME
rose to avow that a portion of the censure thrown on the Government upon the previous night ought to have been directed against him, inasmuch as it was he that called upon the Government to give what had been designated "a fatal pledge," but which he, on the contrary, thought most salutary. If it had not been maintained, there would have been great additional inconvenience and annoyance sustained in Ireland. If the Government had become purchasers of corn and provisions, and retailers of them in different parts of the country, the House, which had heard that 10,000 individuals were employed in regulating labour, might rest assured that twice that number would not have sufficed. He therefore felt called upon to express approbation at what the Government had done. He had protested against the payment of money for public works in Ireland, and had endeavoured to persuade the Government not to interfere with them. He was quite prepared to vote grants of money to the landed gentry in Ireland, by which they might be enabled to give employment to the people upon their estates; for his opinion had ever been that such relief or employment ought to be afforded through the medium of relief committees, composed of the landed gentry, who should be responsible for the money expended on the land. It was quite true that circumstances might have arisen, such as the calamity which had taken place, when the question might be raised as to what extent the national funds ought to be charged for relief; but, as a principle, he had ever held that the poor ought to be maintained by the land itself. No man sympathized more than he did with the calamity which had fallen upon Ireland. That calamity had not been brought on of late years, but was the growth of time, and the Government had much to answer for, because they had inflicted 179 upon that country an injury the consequences of which they were now feeling, and for which they might have to make retribution hereafter. But while the attention of Government appeared to be wholly engrossed by the present aspect of affairs in Ireland, he hoped it would consider the situation of the labouring classes in England. Every labouring man in England was now suffering more or less privation, in consequence of the calamity which had fallen upon Ireland. The prices of provisions were so high that labouring men, whose wages varied from 7s. to 11s. per week, could not by any possibility procure better fare than oatmeal. The idea of procuring other sustenance was quite out of the question. He hoped, therefore, that the condition of Scotland and parts of England would receive attention, and that the Government would not confine their measures entirely to the relief of Ireland. With respect to that country he would not add another word; but he confessed that there were some other subjects which he felt disappointed had not been noticed in the Speech from the Throne. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had upon more than one occasion remarked that one of the great questions for the consideration of the Government would be the introduction of a system of education into this country which would have for its object the improvement, not only of the social and religious, but also of the physical condition of the people. No mention had been made in the Speech of any intention to introduce such measures; but if the Government had overlooked or neglected them, he hoped they were but postponed until some future day, when measures of the kind he had alluded to would be brought forward for the consideration of Parliament. Unless some measures were introduced directed towards the amelioration of the condition of the working classes, they would be so steeped in degradation and overwhelmed with ignorance as to be unable to bear any sudden vicissitude such as that which had unhappily fallen upon the sister country. There was also another subject upon which he would venture to express a hope, and it was that his noble Friend the First Lord of the Treasury would not forego any of his intentions or stop short with respect to free-trade measures. The experience of the past had shown them that every restriction removed from commerce, had tended to lessen the price of food, to give employment 180 to the people, and to increase the wealth, and power of the country. He was therefore anxious to see the whole system carried out in all its integrity. It could not be expected that when great reductions were made in corn and other agricultural produce, that those connected with the cultivation of the land would permit protection to be removed from their commodities while it was preserved in favour of others. Therefore, to be consistent, he hoped the noble Lord would not leave undone any of the work which his predecessors had commenced. In his opinion, there were no limits to the restrictions which ought to be abolished; and holding such sentiments he admitted he felt some disappointment at not finding any allusion to the subject in the Royal Speech from the Throne, nor any reference made to it by either of the honourable Gentlemen who moved or seconded the Address. He was unaware of the measures which Her Majesty's Government intended to adopt with reference to the general question of Ireland; but of this he was assured, that unless they made some important reformations in the law of tenure, that country never could be maintained in a healthy state. He hoped there was not any truth in the rumour that the Government intended to take into their own hands the cultivation of the waste lands in Ireland; for, if they did, he was convinced the same disastrous consequences would follow which had attended the administration of relief through public works. The Government might, however, concert measures to facilitate the conveyance of property in Ireland, in order that men who possessed property which they could neither sell nor use, might dispose of it if they thought fit. A noble Marquess had stated that he was the possessor of large properties, but he was so poor that he could not expend the money he could have desired upon improvements. Such an avowal was manly and candid. The question of entail, then, was one which ought to come under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, as well as the best mode of simplifying the transfer of property, in order that those who had the means should have the power of giving employment to the people. Should they, because their ancestors were such fools as to pass these laws, not be wiser than to retain them? An Irish land agent had told him that if the transfer of property were made as easy in Ireland as it ought to be, every estate would, in ten years, be in the 181 course of improvement, and would give employment to a large proportion of those unemployed persons who were now feeding on the taxes of England. He should only further refer to the paragraph in the Royal Speech in reference to the free State of Cracow. He had prepared an amendment, which he should have moved the previous night as a substitute for the milk-and-water answer inserted in the Address, had it not been for the manly speech of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), whose opinion of the conduct of the Northern Powers was expressed in a style which rather unnerved him. The noble Lord spoke out, but he would not say the same for the Secretary of State for the Foreign Department. Last year, when he expressed doubts of the honesty of Austria, Russia, and Prussia, he was told that the occupation was only to be temporary; that their allies were too virtuous to seize the territory. A noble Duke in another place rang the changes to the same tune. He would like to know what that noble Duke thought of the matter now. The Government would not do justice to the feeling of the people of England, in reference to this matter, if they did not deprecate that act of atrocity in the strongest possible language. He had heard of no man who contemplated that act with patience, with the exception of two Members of that House, of whom he was ashamed, who held last night that there had been no violation of the Treaty of Vienna. One hon. Gentleman got all round Europe—he got to Westphalia—indeed he didn't know where the devil he didn't get to in maintaining this monstrous and absurd proposition, with the exception of Cracow, the length of which he did not manage to get. He did not show how the treaty in question was not applicable, as he assumed it to be, to the case of Cracow. In his opinion, a greater violation of public honour and faith had never been perpetrated by any Power or Powers, than that to which he now referred. When he saw what sacrifices England had made at the peace, when, amongst other things, she gave up Java and other important acquisitions, and kept nothing but trash to herself, in order to give satisfaction to and please these very Powers, who were now setting all faith with her at defiance; he could scarcely find words sufficiently effective to express his indignation at the late proceedings. An instance of the mistaken generosity with which England had acted towards some of these Powers was furnished 182 in the payments which she had made for so many years, and was still making, of part of the loan of four millions, received by the Emperor Paul from the Dutch, to make war upon herself; she agreeing to become guarantee for the payment of two millions of that loan, so long as the Emperor adhered to the alliance. It afforded him satisfaction to hear the act relating to Cracow designated in the Speech from the Throne as a manifest violation of existing treaties, and that a protest had been directed to be tendered to the delinquent Powers respecting it. But this was not enough. The occasion required, in his opinion, even stronger language than this, if it not justify more active measures. What did Nicholas care for their protests? What did these Powers care for protests? The three Powers in question were trampling upon public faith, and destroying the value and sanctity of treaties—considerations sufficiently grave to induce the people of England and that House to abrogate every treaty which bound them to the Continent. They had never been of any use but for mischief; and whenever the other contracting parties chose to break them, they had not the courage to carry them out. If we are to have treaties let us at least adopt the determination to carry them out, if others take the liberty of violating them. But this was not their course. It might not, in itself, be a matter of much importance that a small body of persons, such as were contained in the State of Cracow, should be absorbed into the population of Austria; but it was the principle of the thing against which he protested. What security was there now for the peace of Europe but violence? It appeared, at least, that treaties could effect but little for it. All our treaties were one-sided treaties. England was made to pay by them and for them, when possible; and when she was kicked and abused she did not resent it. We could not have been more contemptuously treated in this affair of Cracow, by the three violating Powers, than we might have been had we been the poorest and the weakest State in Europe; and their conduct was all the more aggravating, when it was considered that some of them owed much of their greatness and independence to England. The House of Commons should very strongly and pointedly express its sense of these indignities, if Her Majesty's Ministers did not. But from the way in which the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) spoke out last night, he had now the fullest confidence 183 that the Government would act with the proper spirit on the occasion. They were now paying, as hush money, to the Emperor of Russia, about 100,000l. annually. He hoped to be able, with the concurrence of the House, to suspend these payments, now that the treaties with us were not observed. He hoped the noble Lord would not let the matter rest with a simple declaration of the House in this way; but have it solemnly recorded in this House that England was not thus to be trifled with nor trampled upon.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, that he had no wish to oppose the bringing up of the Report before the House. He merely rose to guard himself from being supposed to assent to, or approve of, the various passages in the Speech from the Throne. He received it as a Speech emanating from the Ministers, not from the Crown itself. The hon. Member who had just sat down expressed his delight at the gradual removal of every tax and impost upon commerce. But it would have been satisfactory to the country if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had informed it of the benefit which it was deriving from these alterations, by laying before the House some information with regard to the finances of the country. As he had not done so—as they were in possession of no information on this subject—as not the slightest intimation had been afforded them of the prosperity of the country, they had a right to infer that the finances of the State were not in that flourishing condition in which they could wish to find them. As to the state of Ireland, he (Colonel Sibthorp) had blamed the late Government, and that which preceded it, for the state of Ireland. They were told, when the Emancipation Bill was carried, that Ireland was to be thenceforth prosperous; and what had come of these predictions? The Government now would be deserving of impeachment if they did not take every possible means for the restoration of Ireland. This was the time to interpose, if anything effectual was to be done. It was not the time to send the physician when the patient was dead. They were told that the difficulties which now pressed upon that country could not have been prevented. But calamities of this kind were too frequently attributable to the want of precautionary measures to provide against them. Both the late and present Governments were responsible for much that had occurred in Ireland. With proper foresight they might have prevented 184 much of the existing distress; but they told them that the difficulty could not have been provided against. It was they that were unable to provide against the difficulty. If Pitt could now rise from his tomb, what would he think of such Ministers as they had at the present day? He would be ashamed to sit on the same benches with them, or to unite with them in any way. They were informed that there was to be a temporary suspension of the 4s. duty, a duty which he was free to confess was of no use for the agriculturists. As to the Montpensier marriage, the Government had not the courage to remonstrate against it as they should have done. They glossed over their timidity in reference to that matter by parading what they had done in reference to the extinction of Cracow. Such a course would certainly not tend to elevate England in the estimation of foreign Powers. As to measures for the general relief, judging from the conduct of the Government in former times, he had not the slightest hope that anything would be effected for the benefit of the people at large.
§ MR. POULETT SCROPE
wished to take that opportunity of setting himself right with respect to a point which was raised in a few words which he had addressed to the House last night, and in which he had been contradicted by the Secretary for Ireland. The question affected the powers of the relief committees to give food to destitute people out of the funds which were supplemented by Government. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was incorrect in what he had stated. He had not last night the necessary papers by him to refer to; but he had since referred to them, and he would now quote a passage from the first instructions issued to the relief committees from Dublin, which confirmed his previous impression that these committees had no power to afford relief in any other shape than that of payment of labour and the purchase of provisions, for sale again at cost price. The 23rd section was to the effect that the relief fund formed of the balance remaining, with subscriptions, contributions, and donations, should be applied to the following purposes—for providing supplies of Indian corn and meal for sale; secondly, to afford relief by employment of labour; and thirdly, for defraying the contingent expenses of the committee, including remunerating the secretaries and clerks. The date of these instructions was the 1st of October. It might be said that some 185 subsequent instructions had been issued, giving them the power of making gratuitous allowances of food. He must say that he doubted that very much, for he had watched very carefully all the instructions which had been issued, and he had not seen any change in this respect. He had also read the correspondence which had taken place between the relief committees who had remonstrated against those instructions and the Commissariat Board, at the head of which was Sir R. Routh; and, so far as he could gather from that correspondence, Sir R. Routh decidedly objected to extend the powers of the committees. He had a further proof of the accuracy of this assertion in a document of a more recent date—he meant the resolution passed by the Reproductive Employment Committee, of date December 23, which urgently pressed upon Government the necessity of altering their instructions in this respect. That resolution was—That relief committees be empowered to sell at reduced prices, or in extreme cases to give, gratuitously, soup or other food to such aged, sick, or helpless persons, as have no one to work for them, and who cannot be relieved in the workhouses; and that this modification of the present system should not disentitle relief committees to the grant they now obtain from Government resources.It was quite clear that the Reproductive Committee could not have formally placed before the Government such a remonstrance as that, if it had not been the fact that the relief committees were prohibited from giving relief, in any shape, to the infirm poor, so as to save them from starvation, even when the workhouses were so full as not to be able to receive any more inhabitants. He was reluctant to bring forward any facts which would seem to impeach the conduct of Government. He had no wish to trouble them or to throw any blame upon them; but he did think that they were taking a heavy responsibility on themselves in failing to provide for the infirm poor, and it appeared to him that their measure had entirely failed to provide for that class upon whom the pressure was at present particularly great: so far as he saw, they had been left solely to seek relief in the workhouses, which were too crowded to receive any further inmates, and which had become the abodes of pestilence, disease, and death. He wished to call the attention of the Government to the recommendation which was contained in the resolution of the Reproductive Committee, which 186 followed the one he had previously read to the House. It was this:—That the Treasury should be authorized to make advances by way of loan to boards of guardians, on the security of the future rates, for the purpose of affording increased temporary workhouse accommodation for the destitute poor.By the Poor Law Act of 1837, boards of guardians were authorized, when there was a pressure upon their ordinary resources, to take other houses in the neighbourhood, and to call them workhouses, and to give the necessary relief in them. Now, he wondered why this had not been done in the present distress—why this had not been enforced on the boards of guardians. It was a question for grave consideration, and which the House would be called upon ere long to take up, when this subject should be further discussed, whether the boards of guardians were not liable to punishment for having neglected that part of their duty. Mr. Atkinson, a coroner in the county of Mayo, writing lately to the Lord Lieutenant, stated that he had held ten or twelve inquests, and that in every case a verdict of "death by starvation" had been recorded. When remonstrances such as those of Mr. Atkinson, and of other parties well acquainted with the prevailing state of destitution, were sent to the Government, how was it that the very simple means had not been adopted of extending workhouse accommodation, and opening a refuge for those who could not otherwise be provided for? He also wished to call the attention of the House to the pestilential state of many of the workhouses at present, owing to the manner in which they were crowded; and he would quote an extract from a report by Sir Philip Crampton and. Dr. Corrigan, dated the 4th of January, showing that this was the case. He could not understand upon what principle the relief of the poor was confined to the workhouses, which were so full of pestilence that almost every poor man who entered was sure to fall a victim to fever. He appealed to any one who heard him to say whether, if he were placed in the position of seeing his wife and family starving along with himself; and if his only resource were to go with them into such a workhouse as that which he had described, or die out of it, he would not prefer the latter alternative? He was unwilling to detain the House; but he must say, that he thought the subject a serious one, and he confessed he did not understand the present impatience. It was a subject which 187 had been uppermost in his mind for many months, and particularly during the last twenty-four hours; and when he heard the bells pealing yesterday for joy at the idea of the meeting of Parliament, he could not forget that there were thousands dying of hunger on the other side of the Channel; and that it was their first duty to attend to the wants of the people of that country, and endeavour to relieve them as far as possible. He could not understand why Government should not make a vigorous interference, even before Monday next, to put a stop to the horrors of starvation. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: They are doing so.] He should be happy to find it so. With respect to the means of obtaining food for the people, he begged to say that he did not agree with those Gentlemen who thought that Government were in fault in not having ransacked Europe and America for food. He thought they were right in leaving the demand to be supplied by the natural course of trade; but he thought that they had erred in not at once having placed the responsibility of providing for the destitution upon the proper parties in Ireland, and thus secured an ample supply when prices were low. He believed that there was sufficient food within Ireland itself to meet the calamity; that, at least, there was not such a scarcity of food as, if brought into use, would leave any portion of the population to starve. He held a letter in his hand from a person in Ireland, stating that there was enough of cereal food in the country to meet the wants of the people; but that the farmers were waiting for high prices before they thrashed it out, and the writer asked why the screw should not be placed upon such fellows? [An hon. MEMBER: What district does that refer to?] The county of Galway. Well, the screw which he (Mr. Scrope) would apply, would be to make the owners of corn maintain their poor; and if this were done, they would soon thrash out their corn and feed the people.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
assured the hon. Member that his speech needed no apology, the importance of the subject to which it referred being a sufficient justification. He did not wish to anticipate the measures which the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown had promised to lay before the House on an early day; but with respect to the point to which the hon. Member had particularly referred, as to the power of the relief committees 188 to provide food for the aged and infirm, he begged to say that by a recent instruction those committees had been authorized to distribute gratuitous food to the people of various kinds. The Government did at first rely on the voluntary efforts of the Irish proprietors to provide for the aged and infirm; but, as soon as they found that no dependence could be placed upon that resource, they empowered the workhouse authorities to distribute food gratuitously. In the first instance, it was arranged that the rations should not proceed beyond a certain amount; but subsequently, permission was granted to give rations to any amount, provided there was a local fund in the district. He had last night a paper in his pocket which would have shown that the commissioners had pressed upon the attention of the workhouse authorities of Skibbereen the propriety of making a gratuitous distribution of food.
§ VISCOUNT BERNARD
hoped the House would excuse him for intruding upon its attention for a short period, when it considered the position he, as an Irish Member, would be placed in, were he to remain silent whilst the subject of Irish distress was brought forward by an English Member. The hon. Member for Stroud had no reason to be satisfied with the explanation offered by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer; for he believed it would appear that the supplementary instructions to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded were issued no longer ago than last week. The relief committee with which he had acted during the last six months, and which he had attended more than once every week, had never accepted one shilling of Government aid, because they were precluded from doing so by the instructions issued by the Government. The best mode of meeting the difficulty would have been to suspend the poor law for a time. By doing that, and granting out-door relief, the difficulty would have been better met than by any measure; and, therefore, he need not say far better than by the Labour Act, which had completely failed. It had been correctly stated by the hon. Member for Stroud, that no relief had been provided for the destitute, aged, and infirm. It was rather hard that Gentlemen connected with Ireland, should be taunted as they were upon the subject of a poor law for that country. He had not a seat in Parliament when the existing Irish poor law was passed, but the very Ministers were now in office who introduced that measure; 189 and when the right hon. Secretary for Ireland talked of the destitution of Ireland, as set forth in the Poor Law Commissioners' Report, it was necessary to remind him that it was the present Government and the party with which he was connected, who stinted relief to the poor in Ireland to the limits now complained of. It should be borne in mind that at the time the existing poor law was enacted, other measures were promised, which, if they had been adopted, would have taken up a large part of the surplus population of the country. The measures to which he referred were increased facilities for emigration, and for employing labourers on public works. If the Members of the present Government introduced the Irish Poor Law in its present shape because they thought the country was unable to support the burden of maintaining its poor, the responsibility rested upon them. He would not object to the extension of the law; on the contrary, he desired to see the laws of the two countries assimilated. Still, it would have been useless to advance such a proposition during the last few years, when the workhouses had not been half filled. If he or any other person had proposed to establish a system of out-door relief under such circumstances, they would have been accused of a desire to upset the law altogether. At present, however, the workhouses were in an awful state. At Skibbereen workhouse the deaths had exceeded those of last year at the same date by more than 200. It was said, that gentlemen residing in Ireland failed in performing their duty at this momentous crisis; but sufficient allowance was not made for the difficulties which they had to contend with. He had received a letter from the chairman of the Skibbereen board, which stated that two members of the board were at the present time suffering from typhus fever, which they had caught whilst in the performance of their duty as members of the board. Of the workhouse of which he (Viscount Bernard) was chairman, the master and his daughter, the clerk of the board of guardians, the schoolmaster and the schoolmistress, were all suffering from the same disease; contracted in the discharge of their duties. In the western part of the county with which he was connected, the State of the poor was really alarming. He gave the Government credit for the best intentions; but he believed that they committed a fatal error when they decided on doing away with the depôts which, they 190 found existing in Ireland. As soon as that step was taken, prices rose. They were told that it was impossible for the Government to undertake supplying the people with food. They were not asked to do that: all he desired was that they should establish depôts in the country to prevent forestalling, which was going on to an incredible extent. The hon. Member for Stroud had stated, on the authority of a letter which he had received, that there was a large quantity of corn in Ireland. He wished that he could confirm the hon. Member's statement. It was true, the farmers had corn for their own consumption; but the corn brought into the market of Cork, which was the second commercial city in Ireland, did not exceed the general average supply for July. Again, he begged to assure the House and the Government that the country was in a frightful condition. Whilst they were talking, hundreds were passing to eternity. Succour must be given to the people. Establish poor laws—charge their support on property—charge it upon anything: but he implored them to give food to the starving people. It was gratifying to know that an alteration was about to be made in the Labour Act, which had caused the expenditure of so much money uselessly, and he hoped that the Government would endeavour to induce the people to return to their ordinary occupations, and to cultivate the soil and improve agriculture; and he believed that if they did so, they would be repaid by the blessing of a fruitful harvest next year.
§ SIR G. GREY
said, that the description given by the noble Lord of the evils afflicting Ireland was, unfortunately, but too true. It was famine under which the people of Ireland were suffering, and the united exertions of the Legislature and the Government could do no more than mitigate the effects of the calamity. It was beyond human power to create abundance in the place of scarcity, or entirely arrest the progress of disease and death, the consequences of destitution. It was, he admitted, the duty of the Government, as it was the duty and inclination of every Member of that House, to use all the means within their reach for staying the progress of disease and death, and for improving the condition of the Irish people. He believed that when the papers connected with this subject were in the hands of Members, as they would be in a few days, they would be of opinion that all the means which Government could make use of had 191 been applied to that end. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already informed the House that instructions had been issued for the establishment of soup-kitchens and gratuitous relief in districts where distress was severely felt. The object of this regulation was to bring relief home to that class of destitute persons who, by reason of ago or infirmity, were unable to obtain any support from labour. He was desirous, without entering into details, of saying a few words with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Stroud, respecting the refusal of the Government to advance money upon the arrears of rates due in poor-law unions. The papers which would soon be laid upon the Table would show the reasons which induced the Government not to acquiesce in the demand made upon them to advance money to poor-law unions on the security of rates. The fact was, that there was a general disposition, not unnaturally, on the part of boards of guardians in Ireland, to shrink from the onerous duty imposed on them by the present circumstances of the country, of collecting outstanding rates; and the Government felt, that if they were to advance money on the security of future rates, the collection of rates throughout Ireland would absolutely cease, and the entire support of the poor would be transferred from those who were bound to maintain them to the public treasury. Against that result they had endeavoured to guard, and they were fortified in the decision to which they had come by knowing that many parties who had the means of paying the rates sought to shelter themselves under the plea of inability, and to evade the discharge of the obligation imposed upon them. The Government had the gratification of perceiving that beneficial results had followed from some firmness in that respect. But it had been said, why not increase the amount of workhouse accommodation? That point had been pressed upon the attention of the Poor Law Commissioners, and the deficiency of workhouse accommodation had in several cases been supplied. The hon. Member for Stroud complained that additional workhouse accommodation had not been provided, out of the public funds, for the Castlebar union; and said, that persons who were desirous of becoming inmates of the workhouse there had been turned from the door; and that, in consequence, numerous inquests had been held on persons who had died 192 of want. He had, to-day, seen a statement which showed that there was accommodation for 600 persons in Castlebar workhouse; but the board of guardians had grossly neglected their duty, and shut the door against all applicants, although the building contained only 130 inmates. The board of guardians persisted in this course of conduct, and, in spite of the remonstrances of the assistant poor-law commissioner, and afterwards of the Poor Law Commissioners themselves, refused to make any further provision for their suffering fellow-creatures. The Poor Law Commissioners had in consequence announced their intention of exercising the power with which they were invested under the Act of Parliament, by dissolving the board of guardians, with a view to the establishment in their place of a paid board. He did not wish to anticipate discussion, and would, therefore, take leave of this part of the subject by expressing Ids belief that when the hon. Member for Stroud perused the papers, he would modify the opinion he had expressed as to the dereliction of duty on the part of the Government. Having had occasion to address the House upon this subject, he should be doing violence to his feelings were he to resume his seat without saying a few words respecting Scotland. Recent events had brought him into immediate communication with the proprietors of the Western Highlands. It was right that the House should be aware that the distress which prevailed in the Western Highlands was most severe; but the exertions made by the landlords to meet the exigency—the sacrifices they made—the obligations they incurred for that purpose—were such as entitled them to the greatest praise. They had in many instances charged their estates to a large amount, in order to provide employment for the people. In consequence of these exertions, and the precautions which had been taken, he knew of only two deaths having occurred. Those deaths were stated to have occurred on the estate of a proprietor whose conduct was, in the first instance, an exception to the general conduct of the proprietors, although, on the subject being pressed upon his attention, he subsequently took the same steps as had been generally taken by others. He hoped by the continued exertions of the landlords, and by the aid afforded by that most valuable Act, the Drainage Act—passed not with reference to the existing distress, but 193 which was now brought most beneficially into operation, increasing almost indefinitely the productiveness of that district of Scotland, spreading extensive employment for the people—he hoped that by such means Scotland would struggle successfully through the present crisis. He thought it right to say these few words as to Scotland, as from the much more severe distress in Ireland the latter had naturally occupied most of their attention.
§ MR. CALLAGHAN
He had heard with sincere gratification that the Government was about to aid the relief committees in affording something like support to the aged and infirm poor, who could not be received in the workhouses. He heard it with pleasure; for this was one of the great defects which everybody urged against the Government measures, and he hoped the announcement of their determination to give more extended relief would now go forth through the provincial press of Ireland. He had left Ireland only yesterday, and he could say that up to that time nothing had been known of this intention of the Government, so that there must have been some unaccountable delay in giving those orders. The other point he wished to advert to was, the subject of depâts. He thought, that, in the first instance, the supply of food should have been left to the traders, and that it would have been very improper for Government to come into competition with traders in the purchase of food abroad, or with its sale when imported. But it was clear that traders could not give the supply which was lately wanted, and that no ordinary rules should stand in the way when the destitution of the people was extreme. He recollected saying some time back to the Commissary General, who told him he was about to establish depâts in the more central parts of Ireland, "Do you imagine that when the people are starving, they will not break open the doors of your depâts?" He replied, "I don't expect they will be quiet." Now, what was the fact? That depâts were established along the line of coast from Donegal to Cork, and though the people were starving, food was not given out at any price whatever. In Skibbereen and in Dunmanway, though the people had been suffering as they heard, yet the Government stores were full of food, which could not be obtained at any price. He saw himself persons from Killarney purchasing food in Cork, which, if supplied nearer to their home, would save them from the greatest inconvenience. 194 He quite concurred with his noble Friend (Viscount Bernard) as to the extreme distress which existed in that part of the country to which he had referred. He could confirm, too, his noble Friend's statement that the farmers were living very much on the supplies which they had themselves raised. Though himself a landlord, he could not blame them for that. But he must say, that so far from the landlords being fair objects for abuse, they were very much to be pitied; and he was sure that was the general feeling that prevailed in Ireland with respect to them. He must impress on the Government the necessity of taking immediate steps for the mitigation of the distress, which was increasing daily, and to an extent which would scarcely be credited. In the Cork union, where accommodation was provided for but 2,000 paupers, there were 5,600, the highest number that had ever applied for relief. The guardians did all they could in providing additional places for the reception of this increase to the number of paupers; but it was impossible to guard altogether against the evils arising from such a state of things. Any measures in contemplation by Government should, therefore, be promptly applied.
§ MR. G. A. HAMILTON
said, it was not his intention to take that opportunity of addressing the House. Another occasion would soon arrive when measures relating to Ireland would be before the House, and he thought it was not desirable that a debate on the Queen's Speech should be prolonged beyond what was necessary; but he should not be doing justice to Her Majesty's Ministers, or to his own feelings, if he was to allow the debate to close without thanking them for the declarations just made by the Secretary for the Home Department, that soup kitchens were to be formed, and soup distributed to the poor in those districts where the people were in a state of starvation. He believed no mode for relieving them could be devised which was more efficacious. It had been found so in many cases with which he was himself acquainted. He only regretted that Her Majesty's Ministers had not made that announcement in Her Majesty's Speech; it would have been received with gratification and gratitude from one end of Ireland to the other; and would have prevented many of the strong expressions which hon. Members, who felt strongly on the subject, had used during the debate. It had been stated by one hon. Member this evening, 195 that there was a disinclination among the poor-law guardians to make the poor-law system available in the present great emergency, by giving temporary out-door relief. He (Mr. Hamilton) did not believe that this was the case; on the contrary, he believed that the general feeling in boards of guardians was, that starvation must be prevented at whatever cost. He was himself opposed generally to out-door relief, and yet from a deep consciousness of the responsibility which devolved upon every one to prevent, as far as possible, such horrible occurrences as those they had heard of at Skibbereen, he had summoned the board of the union, in the county of Dublin, of which he was chairman, specially, and had himself proposed, and the proposition was unanimously adopted, to open district rooms or houses in the parts of the union where the greatest distress prevailed, and to give one meal per day to properly selected destitute persons, resident within the union, so that they might, at least, be kept from starvation. He was sorry to say, the proposition had not been favourably received by the commissioners. He must add, that considering the situation in which those commissioners were placed—considering that on them, in a great degree, was imposed the responsibility of looking to the poor of Ireland—the feeling in Ireland was—he would not say that the commissioners did not feel that responsibility—but certainly that they did not act with the energy which so extraordinary an emergency required. He would now suggest to Her Majesty's Government the expediency of some such temporary measure as that which he had mentioned. He would not trouble the House further, having risen merely to thank Government for their determination to relieve the starving people, by the establishment of soup kitchens in the distressed districts.
§ MR. SHARMAN CRAWFORD
said, the question of the Irish poor law had been raised in the present discussion; he thought, if ever there was an oppressive, unjust, and unchristian enactment, it was the Irish poor law. Its principle was, that no matter what might be the necessity, not a farthing in relief should be given out of doors. That principle had been acted on, and he would quote a few of the results it had produced. The memorial from the board of guardians of Skibbereen to the Lord Lieutenant stated that the House was calculated to hold 800; that the number of inmates was then 1,169; of 196 these 332 were ill of fever and other diseases; the attendants were quitting, the apothecary had resigned, the guardians had discontinued to meet in the boardroom, the funds were exhausted, the arrears could not be collected; and, under these circumstances, the board was compelled to close the door against further applications. That was one instance of the working of the Irish poor law; pestilence was actually created within the walls of the house, and yet no relief was allowed to be given out of it. The Surgeon General, in his report of the state of the South Dublin union, stated that the number of inmates was 1,946; of these 805 were ill with fever and dysentery, caused by overcrowded wards and insufficient ventilation. Was it not absolutely cruel to force the poor to come into that infected house under the compulsion of starvation? Was not such a law cruel and unchristian? These cases were from the southern parts of Ireland; but he would take an instance from the best part of Ireland, the neighbourhood of Belfast. The union-house of Newtownards had 800 inmates; the female children were lying seven in two beds; the adult women were sleeping three in two narrow beds placed together; sickness prevailed to a great extent, from the crowded state of the house; the board had asked leave to give the poor one meal a day out of the house, but no assent was given to it. In the workhouse of Downpatrick the smallpox had broken out, yet the poor must be relieved in it. Was it not inhuman to send them to such an infectious place? He called on the Government to give a discretionary power to guardians to give outdoor relief. On the part of the board of Newtownards, he could say they wanted no assistance from the Government; if they had the power of giving out-door relief, they could supply the poor themselves; the property of the locality could support the poor if they were not restricted in the power of doing so. The Labour Act had been spoken of; the Government had been blamed for passing it, but he did not think it fair in the Irish Members to blame the Government for that Act. Why did they not attend Parliament when it was passed? He recollected at the close of last Session there was no attendance of Irish Members; if the Government did pass an injudicious Act, it was not for them to blame the Government, who framed it with the best intentions. There was, however, one peculiar fault: the Government would not give 197 more than the rate of wages in the locality; and where the usual rate was very low, the work, as relief, was worthless. There had been instances in Cork of men receiving 8d. or 9d. a day Government wages, dying of starvation. Another evil attending the measure was, that it withdrew labour from agriculture. These evils naturally resulted from such a state of things; at the same time it was useless to give the people employment unless at wages sufficient to support themselves. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) placed great reliance on public subscriptions; but if he did so he would be entirely disappointed. The relief of the people, in a state of starvation, must not depend on the contingency of voluntary subscription; it would be greatest where the distress was least, and relief must be given whether there was a subscription or not. Instead of trust in voluntary contributions, let the property of the country be made by law responsible for the support of the poor; let all the property of the country be equally and justly taxed for that purpose. It would be the best protection that could be given to landed property, and the best relief to the people. As an Irish landlord, he must say, there was a responsibility weighing upon them from which they could not easily free themselves. The present generation might say, the condition of the people was no fault of theirs; but it was the fault of their predecessors, and those who inherited their property must be answerable for their acts. He did not desire to shake off that responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman had appealed to the Irish landlords; he (Mr. S. Crawford) was ready to join him in passing a law that would make the property of Ireland responsible for feeding and employing the people. But he would not join him in expecting to obtain the relief of the people from voluntary contributions; they only acted oppressively and unjustly; the liberal man was oppressed, and he who was not disposed to be generous, escaped. Whether, therefore, in the shape of a Poor Law or a Labour Act, he called for this, that the property of Ireland should be fairly assessed for the relief of the poor. Until the Irish landlords came forward and made that proposal, they were not in a position to call on England for relief. In the present circumstances, there was a fair claim for assistance from the national funds; but why were they compelled to seek it? Why was the food of 198 Ireland exported to such an extent? Because the people could not get a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. But make it the interest of the land to employ the people, and they would receive a rate of wages sufficient to supply them with food. It was said there was a difficulty in collecting a poor rate; but much of it arose from the law itself. One part of the rate was paid by the landlord; but by the assessment the tenant must pay the whole in the first instance, and then recover the landlord's portion from him afterwards. Let this be altered, and each be made to pay their own share. He must call the attention of Government to the necessity of providing seed for the crops of next season, for he did not think the people could procure it themselves; and if the land was uncultivated it would produce an aggravation of all the distress next year. But, whatever other measures they might adopt, he pressed on the Government the necessity of making a poor law for Ireland, that should make the property of the country responsible for the support of the population.
§ MR. FRENCH
would defer those observations which he desired to offer upon the remedies, tried or about to be tried, for distress in Ireland, until the question came before them on a future evening; and he now only rose to say a few words in reply to the statement of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, touching the circumstances of the Castlebar union. He was of opinion, considering the little and very inaccurate information which they yet possessed of the actual position of affairs in that union, and considering the course the right hon. Baronet had given notice he intended to pursue, that it was most injudicious to bring the matter, in such a form, before the House. He believed that the course about to be pursued would be altogether unjust and uncalled for. The guardians of the Castlebar union were not to blame for what had happened. They had found it utterly impossible to collect the rates within that union, and, seeing that to be the case, with very laudable humanity, several members of the board of guardians had taken upon themselves the responsibilty of supplying the urgent necessities of those looking to them for support and assistance. He further considered that the measure notified by the right hon. Baronet would be illegal, as certainly it would be unjust. The commissioners had power to appoint paid poor-law guardians only in those cases in which 199 the guardians declined to act; and in the instance of the Castlebar board no such justification had been afforded by their conduct. The guardians, not succeeding in collecting the rates, because of the extreme poverty of the country, had themselves come forward, and Lord Lucan had paid out of his own pools et a portion of the necessary funds. [Mr. P. SCROPE: Were Lord Lucan's rents paid?] He could not answer as to that individual landlord; but he could assure the hon. Member that, in several districts in Ireland, and especially, as he knew in Connaught, the candle was burning at both ends. The landlords could not get in their rents, and had yet to support the starving population on their different estates.
§ MR. LEFROY
expressed his great satisfaction at the candid manner in which Her Majesty's Government admitted the great distress that now prevailed in Ireland, and at learning their readiness to mitigate existing evils. He also bore testimony to the great anxiety manifested by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as well as by the Secretary for Ireland, to promote the interests of that country, as well as the cordial manner they entered on the consideration of every scheme which was submitted to their attention that was deemed calculated to alleviate the sufferings of the people. It had been said, why not increase your buildings in order to afford accommodation to a larger number of your poor? But those who said so must not be aware of the great difficulty there was in the collection of poor rates—not but in some instances temporary erections had taken place. He knew a nobleman who had been attacked in that House, whose last May's rent had fallen short 5,000l., and yet that nobleman was at the present time supplying soup and coffee to upwards of three thousand persons. He knew landlords who were making every sacrifice, even to a reduction in their establishments, to afford relief to the poor. The system which was at present carried on with regard to the employment of the people, was bringing ruin upon the landlords and the country at large. The money which was at present expended in unprofitable works, ought to be employed in the drainage of the soil, in seed sowing, and all such works as would be reproductive. He regretted the language used on the previous evening by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Rocbuck), with respect to the Irish landlords. He would advise Members, before they came down 200 to that House to give curreney to the calumnious reports which were being continually published against the Irish landlords, first to inquire into their truth. He did not mean to say that those hon. Members who had spoken harshly of the Irish landlords, did so with an unfair intention, but they certainly spoke with an entire ignorance of that body. Charges had often been brought in that House against the Irish landlords, but they had been repeatedly shown to be without foundation. Hon. Members spoke as if the preservation of Ireland was only to be effected by a confiscation of the property of the Irish landlords. It was unfair to create in that House at the present time a feeling of disaffection between the people of England and Ireland. It had been said that the Irish landlords had not performed their duty to their tenants and the poor of their neighbourhoods; but they were proving, by their spirited endeavours throughout the whole of Ireland, that the charge was a most unjust one. He had had the pleasure of attending a meeting of Irish landlords in Dublin last week, and the feeling that universally prevailed amongst those there assembled from all parts of Ireland, was an earnest desire to relieve the people during their present awful condition, and also to provide as far as possible for their future welfare. The utmost unanimity prevailed at that meeting. There was no attempt to overawe Her Majesty's Government: their desire was, amongst other things, to acknowledge with gratitude the benevolence of the English public towards the Irish people; and he could only say that if, instead of pursuing the course suggested by the hon. Member for Bath, Her Majesty's Government would co-operate with the Irish landlords in their endeavours to ameliorate the condition of Ireland, the result would be a real improvement, and the grateful acknowledgment of the people of that country.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
would not attempt to deny the existence of wide-spread misery in Ireland; but he must also beg the Government and the House to bear in mind the great distress with which his own country (Scotland) was afflicted at the present time. After so long a discussion, however, of Irish distress, he would not attempt to inflict a speech on Scotch distress upon the House. But he would attempt to make a few observations on those other topics in the Speech from the Throne. He might be permitted to congratulate the House, 201 that after the fragmentary state to which its various sections and parties were reduced by the conduct of the right hon. Baronet last Session, they found such an absence of all bad feeling, and he was especially gratified to see "the happy family" that assembled last night on the opposite bench in support of the measures which Her Majesty's Government had vaguely defined in the Speech under consideration. Like the preceding speaker, he had to tender to Her Majesty's Government his most firm promise of a careful consideration on his part of every measure which they might submit to the House, and that after such consideration he would record his vote. In taking that course he only followed the example of all that had spoken upon the topics contained in the Speech from the Throne. He would not attempt to enter into an elaborate discussion such as was entered into last night upon treaties in general, and the Treaty of Cracow in particular, because he was not sufficiently learned in those matters. He would, however, say, that it seemed to him that the case of Cracow was simply an inversion of the old and manifest axiom, that the greater included the less, and the assertion that the less included the greater. In his opinion, the treaty in question had been manifestly violated. But there was another point, which was, he feared, of far greater importance to this country than the affairs of Cracow. He thought that those who professed to be the friends of the King of the French, and who told us that it was to him, and to him alone, through Divine Providence, that we were indebted for the protection of European peace, and the guardianship of the European nations, had proved themselves to be the worst friends to that monarch and to France that it was possible to imagine. He admitted the great importance of the entente cordiale between France and this country; but he did contend that, notwithstanding that document, the security of all the interests of the rest of Europe had been deranged by the recent step of the French with regard to the marriage of the Infanta of Spain. It was right that the French should imagine, as their organs would lead us to imagine, that all parties in this country most entirely concurred in sympathizing with the protest which the Government of this country had made against the marriage of the Infanta Luisa of Spain with the Duke of Montpensier. It was said by the intense lovers of peace 202 who had spoken in this matter, that it was not necessary to present a protest against the marriage; but, in his opinion, it was most essential that it should be well known in France, by the King of the French, and by his people, that all parties in this country protested against the Montpensier marriage, and that they deeply sympathized with the protest which the English Government had presented against it. The entente cordiale was useful only in proportion as it existed between the people of the two countries; it was between the great and noble people of France and the people of England that the good understanding was desirable. It was not desirable that there should be an entente cordiale between two Courts for the support of a dynasty on the one side, or a party on the other. He would ask whether M. Guizot, in his despatch of February 27, 1846, had stated that the Conde de Montemolin and his brother had excluded themselves, by their own conduct, from making successful offers for the hand of Isabella? M. Guizot had said that France had done all in her power to effect a marriage between Isabella and one of the sons of Don Carlos; but the fact was, that at that moment no attempt whatever had been made on the part of the French Government to ascertain what were the feelings or what were the purposes of any of the junior branches of the Don Carlos party or of the Conde de Montemolin. He (Mr. Borthwick) wished to know whether the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was prepared to obtain from France the details of the communications which took place between the Conde de Montemolin and M. Guizot on this subject; and he wished to know whether he was prepared to give any answer which the Conde de Montemolin returned? He (Mr. Borthwick) was curious to know this, and it was most desirable that the House should be put in possession of that information, if the noble Lord had it at his command. He did not know whether the French Government had communicated with the noble Lord on this subject, but it was most desirable that the House, if possible, should obtain copies of all communications that might have passed between the two Governments; and if the noble Lord was not then in a position to lay the documents before the House, he, in his place in that House, would ask the noble Lord to obtain from the French Government the facts as to what were the propositions which had been made on the 4th of 203 June to the Conde de Montemolin, and also what was the answer which the Conde de Montemolin made to those propositions: and also what were the additional verbal propositions that were made to the Conde. For his own part he did not wish to say anything upon that subject, because the time would come when the noble Lord would lay the papers on the Table of the House, and the question be fully considered. He thought that it was most essential that these debates should not conclude without a distinct avowal that the feelings of the people of this country were in unison with those of the British Government in reference to the Spanish marriages.
§ Mr. PLUMPTRE
regarded the accounts every day received from Ireland as so afflicting, that he was very much disposed to agree with the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. P. Scrope) in the expression which had fallen from him, to the effect that the ringing of bells in a time of such woe was quite repugnant to his feelings, and that all sounds which might be taken as indications of mirth or joy should cease. The calamity which had come upon Ireland was a visitation of a most solemn and startling nature, which must deeply affect us as Christians, and men professing to be guided by the Word of God as revealed. It was not for him to search into the decree which had sent forth this tremendous visitation; but he had a strong and deep conviction that our rulers had deeply offended by some Acts which had been placed upon the Statute-book. With awe and sincerity he would submit to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who, he was sure, was alive to the very serious evils which afflicted that country, whether even now it might not be proper that some general humiliation should take place. He was aware that a day of humiliation had been appointed in the sister country, and a form of prayer also used in our own land, containing some expressions of a very strong nature. Without presuming for a moment to put forward any opinion of his own, he would submit to Ministers whether this calamity was not of so general and pressing a nature as to call for a special act of national humiliation. He believed it had not yet reached its height, though it was sweeping away hundreds and thousands of persons to death, as the noble Lord the Member for Bandon had told them that night. It was worthy consideration whether this state of things might not be alleviated by some further 204 act of general humiliation before God, to implore the withdrawal of his displeasure from us. He hoped he had not, by what he had said, offended against the feelings of the House; but he could not help giving utterance to convictions which he deeply and sincerely entertained.
§ MR. EWART
said, there were but two points to which he wished, before the debate closed, to advert. The subject of education was not mentioned in the Speech from the Throne; but he was not without hopes that some measure might, at all events, be projected, and that this Session would not be allowed to pass away without the Government proposing a system which would at least develop that tendency towards the promotion of education which was latent in the minds of men, and only required to be elicited in order to produce the most beneficial consequences from its advancement. He hoped that before the Session closed, they would have some measures of a safe and salutary kind in favour of the general extension of education laid before the House. Another object he had in rising was to express his satisfaction at that part of Her Majesty's Speech which referred to our relations with France. As one who had supported every Minister of this country in succession who had advocated the maintenance of general peace, he was most anxious that all causes of exacerbation should be avoided; and he was most happy to find that allusion was made to the subject which had raised an unhappy discord between us and the neighbouring country, in a manner not calculated to add to any irritation that might unhappily exist. As an Englishman, he must express his most cordial sympathies with the sufferings of Ireland; and he assured Irish Members that as an English representative he should feel it his duty to entertain all questions relating to Ireland on a footing of exact equality with those relating to England and Scotland.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said, that some observations had been made with respect to a noble Friend of his, Lord Lucan, who was, he believed, the largest proprietor in the parish of Castlebar. He had that noble Lord's authority for stating that, during the six years he had held his Irish estates, he had not only expended the entire of his Irish rents, but a great part of his English rents too, in the parish of Castlebar, where he resided. It had also been said, that the ratepayers of that parish had refused to pay the rates; but it was only justice 205 to them to say, that if they had refused, it was because, at the baronial session, presentments were made which it was not in the power of the barony to pay. In the county of Mayo, the baronial presentments, he believed, amounted to no less a sum than 400,000l. Now these assessments, as he understood, were made at sessions where not the rate and cess payers only (who alone had the right to vote) attended, but in the presence of a hungry mob, with shillelaghs in their hands; and not passed by reason and argument, but actually shouted down; so that, in point of fact, the unfortunate landlords had no choice, but, in fear of their lives, were obliged to acquiesce. But if it were true that the ratepayers of Castlebar had declined to levy the rates, he believed it was no less true that Lord Lucan had, out of his own pocket, maintained all the poor who at that time were in the workhouse at Castlebar.
§ MR. P. SCROPE
wished to ask the noble Lord how it came to pass that so many persons were sent over from Ireland, particularly from the county Mayo, to England, which caused a great influx of Irish paupers, especially into Liverpool?
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said, he had only heard about Mayo in the course of conversation; but with respect to Liverpool, he had been in communication with some merchants there, and he had been informed that it was not the Irish landlords who had imported their paupers into Liverpool, but that the influx had its origin in a very extraordinary kind of speculation. It appeared that at this season of the year the steamers were short of their usual cargoes, and it suited the purpose of their owners to bring over the Irish paupers free to Liverpool, on the speculation that the parishes there would be obliged to send them back again.
§ Report agreed to, and, on the Motion of Lord JOHN RUSSELL, ordered to be presented by Members of the House who were of the Privy Council.
§ House adjourned at Nine o'clock.