HC Deb 09 July 1847 vol 94 cc112-7

On the Question that the Speaker do leave the Chair, to go into a Committee of Supply,


rose to make the Motion of which he had given notice. The report of the Commissioners imputed to the great mass of the Irish people a profligate venality; and the House was bound to grant to Irish Members an opportunity of disproving the sweeping charge, of fixing the charge where it justly attached, and of separating the innocent from the guilty. The Commissioners were bound also to justify themselves for making such statements; and to this purpose it was necessary that the correspondence with the inspectors from whom they derived the information on which they based the accusation, should be laid on the Table. He did not look upon this question as one merely involving the holding up of two or three persons before the country; but he regarded it as a matter in no small degree bearing upon the interests of Ireland. That country was in a state of transition. A large portion of the higher gentry were absentees; and their example was consequently lost to the country, while the class into whose hands the management of its affairs had fallen, were new to the transaction of public business. They had not yet in Ireland got into the habit of that strict attention to public business which was desirable, and errors no doubt were committed; and he also believed that, where errors were committed by individuals, they might in the great majority of cases be traced to a kindly feeling, and to an ardent desire to give relief, rather than to any fraudulent intention. But, even should the contrary be the case, such disclosures as would be made by the publication of the present correspondence, if true, would be the greatest possible benefit, for it would teach the people in future to show more caution in their conduct. He knew no real check for abuses of this description but bringing public opinion to bear upon those who had offended. As a general rule, he believed that men did not do what was just and right, so much for its own sake as from a wish that it should be believed by others that they did so; and in accordance with that view he believed that if they brought offenders before the public, they would do more to raise the public character of Ireland than by any other means that could be proposed. In the observations he had made, he had sedulously avoided saying anything against the Commissioners. He believed they had conscientiously reported on the faith of the statements made to them; but at the same time he could not place this confidence in all the officials who had been employed by the Government. From many places reports of the most exaggerated character had been made, as had been clearly proved upon investigation. He believed it would be found that in many cases the reports would admit of explanations, and that in others they were gross exaggerations. It bad been stated by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), that there would be an investigation into the character and conduct of magistrates; but did the noble Lord suppose that it was really worth his while to do so? Did he think that the mere dismissal of one or two magistrates—or merely censuring them, for he did not think it would go beyond that—would be satisfactory to the country? Indeed he would make very light of the circumstance whether magistrates had acted in this instance rightly or not, because, from the state of the country, people had been too often appointed magistrates who ought not to have been placed in that position. What the people of Ireland would look for was, that publicity should be given to the offenders whoever they were; and he knew that there was in Ireland a sufficient amount of honourable feeling to put a stop to such practices for the future. The hon. Baronet moved as an Amendment— That there be laid before this House so much of the Correspondence on Reports of the Inspectors, under the Act 10 Victoria, chap. 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.


wished to say a few words before any reply was given by the Government to the Motion of the hon. Member for Mallow; and he would begin by observing that Sir John Burgoyne was at perfect liberty to publish whatever he choose with regard to his (Mr. S. O'Brien's) tenants, and that whatever he might report on such a subject, he certainly should not think of bringing it under the notice of the House. The hon. Baronet had asked for the name, rank, and residence of all parties who were condemned in the Third Report of the Relief Commissioners; and on the eve of a dissolution, when it would be impossible for these statements to be contradicted, the same body of men whom the hon. Baronet charged with having made the unfounded statements, were to be the very body of men who were to be entrusted with the publication of all these names. If the hon. Gentleman had been a Member of the Committee on the subject of Captain Wynne's letters, he was quite sure that he would never have made a proposition like this. The proposition he had made involved a task as largo in its meaning, as it would be hopeless in its prosecution and unsatisfactory in its results. It was a proposition to enable those who accused, to publish so much of their accusations as they chose, without giving any opportunity to the persons charged to be heard in their defence. If in the next Session of Parliament the hon. Baronet, or any other Member, should think fit to move for a Committee of Inquiry into the conduct of the magistrates and gentry of Ireland, and if the Government for the time being and the House should assent to the proposition, he should not complain of its injustice, which was the ground upon which he thought it his duty to resist the present Motion.


hoped that the hon. Baronet who had brought forward this Motion, would not expect that he should go at any length into a question which had been three times discussed. He had endeavoured already to remove the impression that any slur had been intended to be cast by the Relief Commissioners in their last report upon the gentry of Ireland. He admitted that the Commissioners, in the execution of their duty, and in order to bring the facts before the Government, had stated that some of the relief committees in Ireland, and some members of relief committees, had not discharged their duties in the manner in which it was generally expected they would have done; but he denied that anything in their report cast an indiscriminate censure upon the gentry of Ireland; on the contrary, the Commissioners distinctly said, that, generally speaking, the committees had discharged properly the important functions intrusted to them; that, although amongst the numerous relief committees (about 16,000) there had been many instances of misconduct, these were exceptions to the general rule; that the general rule was propriety and integrity of conduct, and the exceptions were malversation and impropriety: but there was not any ground for supposing that it was the intention of the Commissioners to cast any imputation upon the gentry of Ireland; he believed they had done only what they considered to be their duty—stated the sincere impression upon their minds. At the same time, he admitted that it was impossible to read that report without seeing that the Commissioners did believe, from the accounts which they had received, that there were instances, and those not a few, in which members of the relief committees had misconducted themselves. Where so many persons were called upon to discharge this new kind of duty, and where there were so many temptations to use their powers improperly, it could not be matter of much surprise that some individual instances of misconduct should have occurred; but he did not think there was anything contained in the report which cast a stigma or general censure upon the whole body of the magistrates and gentry of Ireland for their conduct on the relief committees. It was against the whole spirit and intent of that report to do any such thing. His hon. Friend the Member for Mallow proposed that there be laid before the House the entire correspondence and reports of these inspectors, stating the name, rank, and residence of the parties referred to, with regard to the conduct of 1,680 relief committees. He (Mr. Labouchere) believed this course, if adopted, must necessarily lead to a most extended and minute inquiry into all the circumstances of each case. The Commissioners had carefully avoided mentioning any one name; and in doing so they exercised a sound discretion. If they had pointed out individuals by name, every one of those individuals would have had a right to say, "My character has been maligned, and I have a right to insist that an inquiry should be instituted into the whole of the circumstances." He would ask hon. Gentlemen, as men of sense and experience, to consider whether it was practicable or morally possible to institute a searching and scrutinising inquiry into the proceedings of any considerable number of these committees? He believed it was absolutely impracticable; and that if it were practicable, it would be extremely inexpedient. After all, most of these obligations were rather of the class of moral than of legal obligations; and if they were to inquire into the carelessness or neglect of those on whom such obligations fell, he thought it would be but a very partial, and therefore an unnecessary proceeding. At the same time, he admitted that the Government ought not altogether to pass over allegations of this kind, when officially made; and he begged to repeat what his noble Friend the First Lord of the Treasury stated on a former evening, that the Government had not altogether passed them over. He considered there was a great distinction between those gentlemen who were acting as private individuals on the relief committees, and those who were appointed on account of their public character as magistrates. Being magistrates, they were bound by that circumstance to set an example to their neighbours; and he considered the Government had a right to call upon them to account for any misconduct of which it might be alleged that they had been guilty. The course, therefore, which the Government had taken was this: to all those magistrates against whom allegations of a serious character had been made, copies of the allegations had been sent, and explanations demanded. On the receipt of those explanations, the Government would take such steps as under the circumstances might be deemed desirable and necessary. He considered this a much better course than for the House to embark into a general inquiry—an undertaking which he did not believe would he, as was stated by his hon. Friend, either a short or simple one, especially when he recollected that the inquiry into the case of Captain Wynne alone occupied a Committee thirty-two days, and cost the country 3,000l. He hoped, therefore, the House would not agree with the Motion of his hon. Friend, but would be satisfied with the statement which the First Lord of the Treasury made on a former occasion.


was of opinion, that on reading this report the general impression in Ireland would be, that the gentry and magistrates of Ireland had not carried out the measures of relief as they should have done. His desire was to have the delinquents exposed to public censure; but, without inquiry, he was afraid that even the speech which the right hon. Gentleman had just delivered would give rise to a general belief that the gentry and magistrates of Ireland had not done their duty.

On the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question, the House divided:—Ayes 80; Noes 19; Majority 61.

List of the AYES.
Ainsworth, P. Jervis, Sir J.
Anson, hon. Col. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Baine, W. Langston, J. H.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Lawson, A.
Baring, rt. hon. W. B. Lemon, Sir C.
Barnard, E. G. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Berkeley, hon. C. Masterman, J.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Bodkin, W. H. Mildmay, H.
Bowring, Dr. Miles, P. W. S.
Brotherton, J. Milnes, R. M.
Buck, L. W. Mitchell, T. A.
Buller, C. Molesworth, Sir W.
Byng, rt. hon. G. S. Morris, D.
Clive, hon. R. H. Morison, Gen.
Courtenay, Lord Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Craig, W. G. Pattison, J.
Denison, J. E. Philips, G. R.
Divett, E. Plumridge, Capt.
Dodd, G. Price, Sir R.
Douglas, J. D. S. Repton, G. W. J.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Rich, H.
Duncan, G. Richards, R.
Duncombe, hon. A. Rolleston, Col.
Dundas, Adm. Russell, Lord J.
Dundas, Sir D. Rutherford, A.
Ebrington, Visct. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Egerton, W. T. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Ellis, rt. hon. E. Somerset, Lord G.
Gore, hon. R. Spooner, R.
Gower, hon. F. L. Staunton, Sir G. T.
Greene, T. Strutt, rt. hon. E.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Tancred, H. W.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Thornely, T.
Hastie, A. Towneley, J.
Hatton, Capt. V. Vane, Lord H.
Hawes, B. Waddington, H. S.
Howard, hon. C. W. G. Wakley, T.
Ward, H. G. TELLERS.
Wilshere, W. Tufnell, H.
Wood, rt. hon. Sir C. Parker, J.
Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Hume, J.
Blake, M. J. Jones, Capt.
Borthwick, P. Lowther, hon. Col.
Burke, T. J. Pechell, Capt.
Clements, Visct. Vesey, hon. T.
Cole, hon. H. A. Wakley, T.
Collett, J. Williams, W.
Ferrand, W. B. Yorke, H. R.
Gregory, W. H. TELLERS.
Hamilton, G. A. Norreys, Sir J. D.
Hayes, Sir E. Ross, J.

Main question again put.