HC Deb 02 July 1847 vol 93 cc1164-9

On the Question that the Order of the Day be read,


requested to know whether the noble Lord would grant the return of which he had given notice, to ask, namely— That there be laid before this House so much of the correspondence or reports of the inspectors under the Act 10 Vic. c. 7 (with the name, rank, and residence of the parties referred to) as sustains the statements made by the Commissioners of Relief in their Third Report condemnatory of the conduct of Committees, or of individuals, in carrying out the provisions of the said Act. He hoped the noble Lord would allow it to be granted as an unopposed return.


, considering the evil which had resulted from the publication of former reports of inspectors and other officers to the Commissioners of the Treasury, was not inclined to indulge the hon. Gentleman by saying that they (the Government) should give the reports of the inspectors with regard to the names, ranks, and residences of the different parties, being landowners in Ireland, whose conduct had been impugned. What he had done was this, he had brought the report of the Commissioners under the special attention of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; and the Lord Lieutenant was about to cause an inquiry to be forthwith made into the particular cases, after which he would institute, if he thought fit, such farther and more extensive inquiries as he should deem necessary.


felt exceedingly dissatisfied with the answer which the noble Lord had given to his question. He thought, in fact, it rather made matters worse than they had been before. His answer appeared to be, that he would not agree to institute an inquiry into the conduct of all the gentry and landowners of Ireland, whose conduct had been openly impugned. Now he (Sir D. J. Norreys) distinctly repudiated the charges that had been made against the gentry. If there had been individuals in Ireland who had misconducted themselves in the carrying out of the laws for giving relief to the destitute, he called upon the noble Lord to hold them up to scorn; but he also called upon the noble Lord to show whether they (the Irish gentry) were all guilty. He should separate the innocent from the guilty, and not allow all to suffer alike under the imputations which had been cast upon some. If the House really wished to put an end to the gross conduct that had been complained of, the only right mode of doing so was to let the whole circumstances of the case be known, and to let the individuals be held up to execration. Let the finger of scorn be pointed at them. But at present no Irish gentleman could hold up his head and think himself free from all the imputations that were cast upon the conduct of the Irish landlords generally.


I must say that the hon. Gentleman is rather hard to satisfy with respect to this matter. I informed him the other day, reading for him from the report of the Commissioners, that out of nearly 1,700 committees that had sat, only a few had been misconducted, and that they formed only exceptions to the general rule of conduct. Yet the hon. Gentleman will have it that this is a general charge. I think it is anything but a general charge to say, that out of near 1,700 cases, some instances of abuse had occurred, and that these were exceptions to the general rule. But when the hon. Gentleman asks whether I will produce all these excepted cases, and institute inquiry into them, I think it would lead to a general inquiry. The hon. Baronet certainly has a different notion of justice with respect to this matter from what I should entertain. The hon. Baronet says that these instances of abuse should be held up to public scorn and odium. Now there are a great number of officers employed by the Commissioners. Some of them may have perfectly well-founded grounds for their statements, while there may be others who may have become wicked by reason of the opposition which they received in particular instances. But, in following the hon. Baronet's proposition, we should lay on the Table of the House, at the end of the Session, returns holding up all the persons alluded to by those officers to public odium. Now, on former occasions, the parties complained of asked, very properly, for inquiry into their conduct; but here we should have individuals held up to public scorn and odium, and yet possessing no means of having their characters vindicated. And yet that is what the hon. Baronet calls justice. I believe it to be perfectly clear from the report that the general conduct has been praiseworthy, though some instances of abuse may have occurred. The more prudent course then, I consider, is to leave the conduct of the parties generally as it is, and when particular charges are made against magistrates, to have an inquiry instituted into their conduct.


said the charges contained in the report were of a very grave, and he would say of a very atrocious, description. He did not think they were confined to the gentry or to the magistrates of Ireland alone, because the relief committees did not consist altogether of these classes. He believed a great number of the charges were intended to apply to the priests and to the lower classes; and he quite agreed with the noble Lord, that an inquiry of such an extensive nature as the hon. Baronet required, was not at this period of the Session practicable. He had not the slightest doubt but that great intimidation had been practised; but he felt that an inquiry into all the charges that could he brought forward would take an entire year to get through; and he had no doubt, if instituted, that it would result in a blue book being laid on the Table that would, rival any blue book that had ever been produced. He agreed, however, with the noble Lord, that as far as the magistrates were concerned, an opportunity for investigating the charges brought against them ought to be afforded; and if they were not then able to vindicate themselves to the satisfaction of the House and of Her Majesty's Ministers from the charge of swindling; for such he considered the accusation against them—of paying their own rents out of the relief given to their tenants—amounted to; they ought to be at once struck off the roll. The magistracy of Ireland was certainly in a very critical state at present. From his own experience he could say, that he believed there were many men sitting on the bench in that country who were not qualified to act as magistrates in any one particular. He thought the noble Lord ought in justice to this country as well as to Ireland, to institute a strict inquiry into the conduct of the magistrates; but with reference to the report generally, he felt, as the noble Lord had stated, that the abuses alluded to were only put forward as exceptional cases.


said, as chairman of a relief committee, he felt bound to state that, having read the report carefully, he believed it to be upon the whole a very fair report. His only astonishment was, that the abuses were not infinitely greater than were set forth; and if hon. Gentlemen would only take the trouble to read the extracts from the inspectors' reports, they would, he was convinced, concur with him in that opinion. It might be recollected that in February last he cautioned the Government that there were certain districts in Ireland in which they would find it difficult to get even clerks to perform the duties imposed on the relief committees. He would now ask whether his words were or were not prophetic? [The noble Lord read some extracts from the reports of the inspectors showing the difficulty of finding efficient persons in some districts to act on relief committees, and then continued.] This fact was distinctly put forward in the report of the Commissioners themselves. They stated— In enlarging on these unpleasant facts, we would beg that it may be understood that they are clearly exceptions, although sufficient in number to be deserving of notice, and to show in parts of the country a great want of the principles necessary for minute self-government. Ever since he had the honour of a seat in that House, he had constantly endeavoured to impress on every Government the necessity of framing machinery for minute government in Ireland; and when no steps had been taken to supply the deficiency which existed in that respect, he thought it was not fair to pronounce the sweeping condemnation which he had heard with indignation fall from the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government a few minutes ago against the gentry of Ireland. The noble Lord had stated, that if an inquiry were instituted, they would have to inquire into the conduct of all the landlords and gentry and people of Ireland. He did not believe such to be the case. He believed the whole fault rested with the noble Lord himself. The noble Lord found fault with him the other night for having used the word "scramble" in reference to what had taken place in Ireland; but if the noble Lord would look through the report, and then look into Johnson's Dictionary, and could there find another word more applicable, he (Lord Clements) would be happy to use it. Again, he should say that the noble Lord was to blame for what had occurred in passing such a measure for the relief of destitution, without including any definition in the Bill as to who were to be considered destitute, and who were not to be so considered. When the noble Lord gave no power to those who were to carry the law into operation to punish persons improperly applying for relief, it was not fair for him to stand up now and pass a sweeping censure on the gentry and people of Ireland generally.


had again to repeat his belief that no sweeping censure was intended to be conveyed in the report, and was certainly not made by him. On the contrary, he stated distinctly that the cases of abuses were clearly exceptions to the general conduct. If the noble Lord would look into Johnson's Dictionary, he would find that exceptions did not mean general or universal conduct.


said, it was very true that the abuses alluded to were exceptions to the general conduct; but what Irish Gentlemen complained of was, that because they were not distinctly stated, the charges fell generally. Much praise had been given to the Commissioners; but for his part he thought they had failed in their duty, and that they were bound to have reported the names of the parties by whom the abuses had been committed. They had a right in know in this country whether the relief given had been honestly expended or not; and yet they were now told, that in some cases relief was given out of the public funds by proprietors to their own tenants who were not entitled to relief. The stain now rested on the entire landlords and magistracy of Ireland; and he thought the hon. Baronet was therefore quite right in asking that the names and residences of the offending parties should be made known. He could not agree with the noble Lord near him (Lord Clements) that Government ought to have adopted a definition for the term "destitution." Any attempt of the kind would have the effect of producing great oppression and suffering in particular cases; and he thought it was therefore much better to leave the local managers a discretion to decide whether each case coming before them was one of destitution or not.


explained. What he meant was, that persons having five or six acres of land, and a cow or cows, or a horse or horses, could not be entitled to relief according to his understanding of the term "destitution;" and yet the Commissioners had expressed a different opinion, and had declared that persons with six acres and with cows and horses might be considered destitute.

Subject dropped.

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