HC Deb 10 July 1847 vol 94 cc153-67

House in Committee on the Recovery of Public Monies (Ireland) Bill.

On Clause 4,


said, as that was possibly the last occasion that he should have an opportunity of addressing the House, he felt bound to protest against the conduct of the Government and the Legislature with regard to Ireland. The Bill before the House was a most objectionable specimen of paltry and miserable legislation. He must denounce on the part of Ireland the cruel injustice of the attempt on the part of the Government to recover the repayment of a single shilling of the loan which had been advanced. Could anything be more cruel and wretched than the condition of the people of Ireland, which was getting worse from day to day? and yet the Government and that House were almost apathetic on the subject. He would tell them to try as much as they pleased—to use all their power even to the point of the bayonet, to enforce this Bill, and they would not succeed in enforcing the repayment of this money. He must protest in the name of his country against the cruelty and hardheartedness manifested towards her by that House and the Government. This was only another specimen of the gross injustice with which Ireland was treated.


expressed his deep regret at the language which had fallen from the noble Lord, and begged to assure the House that the opinions they had just heard expressed were not extensively entertained in Ireland. He believed that there was no general indisposition to the repayment of the loan, although in some parts of the country where the extremest distress prevailed, some difficulty might be found to exist.


was utterly astonished at the language of the noble Lord. He expected the noble Lord to express thankfulness and gratitude for the enormous sacrifices which this country had been called upon to make to relieve the distress of Ireland. There was no inducement to make any grant for the relief of distress, when the noble Lord came forward in the way in which he did, and denounced this country as having been guilty of cruelty and indifference to Ireland. He feared that the present and future Governments would be compelled to suspend all future assistance to Ireland, however great might be the distress and destitution there, if such notions as those entertained by the noble Lord were found to exist there. If the people of England saw that only ingratitude followed the great sacrifices which this country had made, the noble Lord might depend upon it they would not consent to have heavy burdens imposed upon them for such a purpose. It was well the people of Ireland should know that a strong feeling had grown up in this country, which was dailing increasing, that Ireland did not pay a due proportion of the taxation of the country.


protested against taxes to an enormous amount being imposed on the labouring classes of this country, to raise funds to give relief to the Irish landlords. The greatest evils had already arisen from the mismanagement of the relief funds; and the most extensive system of jobbing had been carried on on the part of the landlords in the expenditure of that money from their believing that they would not be called upon to repay this loan. In all such loans the landlords should have been specifically informed by the Government what they had to pay, and that to the amount stated the repayment would be enforced.


expressed his concurrence in what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose with respect to the speech of the noble Lord. After what had occurred during the Session, and after the great sacrifices that had been made by the people of England for the relief of distress in Ireland, it was necessary that they should come to some clear and distinct understanding as to what should be done upon the subject of these loans. It should be known to the landlords of Ireland that the strictest punctuality would be observed in enforcing the repayment of the several instalments of that portion of the money advanced to them which was to be repaid in conformity with this and other legislative measures. He had heard with great pleasure, on a former occasion, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was well that the people of England, as well as the people of Ireland, should know what had been done, and what was proposed to be done, towards alleviating that unhappy calamity with which it had pleased Almighty God to afflict Ireland. He understood from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that upwards of 9,000,000l. of the public money had been advanced within the last twelve or fourteen months to relieve the distress existing in Ireland. It was now proposed, by an arrangement which he regarded as most just, that of the 9,000,000l. so advanced 4,500,000l. should be considered as a free grant, and all claim for repayment cast aside; but the remainder was to be repaid by instalments, extending over a long period, from a charge on the land. He had heard the speech of the noble Lord with the greatest pain; but he had heard with satisfaction the few observations of the hon. Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Hamilton). In the repayments he trusted the utmost good faith would be observed by Ireland, and that there would be no attempt to escape from the payment of the several instalments. It could not, however, be denied, that in some parts of the country, in consequence of the prevalence of extreme distress, there would be found great difficulty in enforcing the immediate and regular repayments of the instalments becoming due; therefore he thought that it would be expedient to give some discretionary power to the Government as to the mode and amount of the repayments to be made from such districts. It was, however, the duty of Her Majesty's Government to call for the repayment of the several instalments, and, if necessary, to enforce it: payment should be made; and if there were any exceptions for a time, they should be made by the responsible servants of the Crown. Disastrous circumstances might arise in some instances, so as to render the repayment most difficult, if not almost impossible; and he was sure that Parliament in such cases would not go to the extreme in enforcing repayment. There should be immediate steps taken to make arrangements as to the levying the rates on the land for such repayments.


thought, after what had passed, that it was his duty to say a few words in addition and explanation. He begged it to be understood that, so far as the subscribers in England were concerned, he yielded to no gentleman in or out of the House in the amount of heartfelt gratitude. He did not at all deny that Ireland owed a great debt to the English public; but he had not been speaking of the English public, or thinking of its subscriptions, when he addressed the Committee. He had been speaking only of the Legislature, and the Legislature he condemned—Her Majesty's Government he condemned. He said it with sorrow; but he was bound to warn them that the course being pursued by Her Majesty's Government was perilous in the last degree. They might as well, meeting a beggar in the street, bestow alms and say, "I expect you will repay me," as to advance money to Ireland, and then ask her to refund it, as if it were a loan. The Government knew very well that Ireland could not pay them; they well knew it was out of the power of many districts in the country to repay what had been advanced. Why, one-half of the land was not cropped, and, in the name of God, where would they look for payment? They could not get it out of the ground; for the ground was exhausted, and the people had devoured the very soil. The people of Ireland were starving. Let it not be supposed that he wished to blink the question; they starved now, and they would starve next winter. Of this he had warned the House long ago; and with what decency could they pass such a Bill? If they attempted to do in England that which they scrupled not to do in Ireland, the Government would be hurled from their seats.


had heard with the deepest regret the first as well as the last speech of the noble Lord. A more inopportune or less appropriate moment for charging the Government with hardheartedness and injustice to Ireland could not have been chosen. The very Bill that was now opposed, and in which the noble Lord had looked for ground for his attack, was introduced for the purpose of freeing Ireland from the incumbrance of one-half of the loan granted by the Legislature for the relief of the distresses of the people. If this Bill were rejected, Ireland would, in fact, be charged with the repayment of the whole. That was the law as it now stood; and certainly, therefore, he could not see why the noble Lord had chosen this particular occasion for asserting a want of consideration in the Government for the circumstances of the sister kingdom. When the intentions of the Government were first announced, there had been given no indication of an unwillingness to meet the obligation. When the pressure of the calamity was most severely felt, the gentry and landlords of Ireland said, "Tax us as much you will, but for God's sake save the people from starvation." And the Government had obeyed that call, and had saved the people. The Government had been successful, as irresistible evidence demonstrated, in checking the progress of famine and mortality; and he firmly believed that the measures adopted by the Legislature, on the recommendation of the Government, had, under the blessing of Heaven, preserved thousands of the peasants of Ireland from famine and death. This, indeed, was the best repayment the Government had to look for as the result of their exertions. They had done freely that which they had believed it their duty to do; and they sought for a reward, not so much from the unhesitating gratitude of those whom they had benefited, as the approval of their own consciences. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Graham), that one-half was not too much to expect to be repaid; the repayment of that sum would be enforced according to circumstances, and where it seemed just. [Sir J. GRAHAM: And then it is only by instalments.] That was so. There payment, instead of being demanded at once, would be spread over a period of ten years. There would not oven be any presentments made until the next spring assizes, and the first instalment would not be paid over to the Paymaster of the Civil Service of Ireland this time next year. The time and mode of repayment, therefore, had been determined in such a manner as to press with as little weight as possible on Ireland; and, unless the people meant to repudiate repayment altogether, he knew not what more favourable terms they could have asked for. The burdens this year would be exceedingly light; the instalments would amount only to a small sum; that repayment would be demanded, and he sincerely believed that the demand would, on the whole, be successfully met. He admitted that in various districts there would be many obstacles; and he even feared that, great as the difficulties of the Government had hitherto been, they would be as nothing compared with the difficulties likely to be encountered in the course of the next autumn. The noble Lord seemed to give them no credit for knowledge of the condition of Ireland, and had spoken as if they exercised no foresight. The Government, however, knew sufficiently well that it was easy to spend money, easy to lend money, easier to give money, in Ireland; the only difficulty as they were aware, was in enforcing repayment. All this the Government had learned; but he trusted that the good feeling of the great majority of the population would render the repayment much easier than the noble Lord supposed possible. On the western coast of Ireland it would, at this moment, be altogether impossible, with due consideration to the circumstances and the distress, to procure any sum of money at all; but then the House would remember that nothing would be expected until the autumn of next year, and that in the meantime the only and single charge on the people would be the rates which would be levied for the maintenance of the poor. This was the only burden proposed to be imposed until the next autumn; and if the Irish proprietors were not willing to maintain their own poor on the principles recognised in England and Scotland, it was not to be supposed that property in Ireland could for ever be exempted, or that the people of England would continue to endure taxation for the pauperism of another country. If that was what the noble Lord expected, he would find himself sorely disappointed. The people of this country had undergone sacrifices enough; and though, were still greater sufferings than those yet witnessed to arise, he did not mean to say that England and Scotland would not again come forward, it would, nevertheless, be necessary that their exertions should be met in a new and a better spirit. He could not express too strongly the regret with which he had heard the expressions made use of by the noble Lord; but, at the same time, he was bound to acknowledge the gratification with which he had listened to the declarations, on other occasions, of other Irish Members, that they would exert themselves to do all in their power to satisfy the expectations of the people of England.


said, that the language of the noble Lord was most monstrous, after what had been done for Ireland by the Government and the House. The noble Lord said, that the people of Ireland could not repay the loan: he wished, therefore, to look at what really was the state of things in Ireland. It appeared that the assessed rental was nearly 14,000,000l., and he had just been told that the net rental amounted to 17,000,000l.; but this might be an exaggeration; but take the rental at only 11,000,000l., then the value of the fee-simple of the land of Ireland must be between 100,000,000l. and 200,000,000l. After what he had heard from the noble Lord, he should oppose this Bill to the utmost. He did not see why they should be called to give so much to the Irish landlords. Let them, if they pleased, have Ireland for the Irish. It was the duty of the House to enforce the repayment of the loan; and if no other means were available, let them sell the land and the landlords together. There were at the present time a great number of towns in the west of England in a state of the greatest distress: it was only in common fairness that there should be a grant to those districts from Ireland. The people in the districts he alluded to had borne their sufferings very well; and if it was a case for spending the public money, the claim was as strong for the west of England as for many parts of Ireland. After all that had been done — although he did not agree in all that had been done by the Government, and more especially those propositions for railways, but he admitted their situation was very difficult—the ingratitude of the noble Lord was most monstrous.


could not advise the Government to form their anticipations of the future in accordance with the speech of the noble Lord, because he did not believe that the noble Lord on this occasion had fairly represented the feelings of any one class of the people of Ireland. Did he consider that this was the case, he would at once offer his strenuous opposi- tion to the Bill. Portions of this country were now absolutely overwhelmed with inundations of Irish paupers; and the hardworking artisans of Lancashire were compelled to maintain them since they had been deserted by the proprietors of the land at home. The county which he had the honour to represent was burdened to a degree of which the noble Lord had no conception; 50,000 or 70,000 Irish poor were sustained entirely by the poor-rates of the one town of Liverpool; and was it to be supposed that they would stand by and see a grant of 4,500,000l. made to Ireland without even the terms of common acknowledgment being offered in return by Irish representatives? The speech of the noble Lord would have the worst effect, for it would throw impediments in the way of any repayment; and it was only right to say, that no class more than that to which the noble Lord belonged had thrown greater obstacles in the way of bringing about a better state of things on the other side of the Channel. The people of this country had come to the conclusion that Parliament had been over-liberal; and they expected, at least, that the benefit conferred would be acknowledged in that practical manner which the Bill before the House would enforce. The noble Lord could not have done greater detriment to himself and to his countrymen than by this speech.


begged then to add a little more; and he would say that if there was one part of the globe which especially deserved to be taxed for the relief of the Irish people, it was Liverpool. Had not Liverpool profited by the distresses of Ireland? He should like to see a calculation of profit and loss—how much Liverpool had paid to Irish poor, and how much she had gained from the Irish trade, and by Irish distress. There was not a single country town in all Ireland, the shopkeepers of which did not go to Liverpool to buy their stocks. Look, then, at the provision trade which flowed into Liverpool. Look at the enormous number of emigrants that crossed to Liverpool to ship for America; and let it be remembered that they spent large sums of money in that town. Were all these exchanges made without profits? Liverpool, in fact, that gained everything, might be looked upon as the capital of Ireland, and the great mart of such trade as Ireland had left to her. Liverpool, then, was justly burdened for the maintenance of some portion of the poor of Ireland; and she was as much bound to contribute to their support as any corner of Ireland.


looked upon it as a fortunate circumstance that the policy of England was not guided by mere feeling. Anything more unjust or more irritating to the English people than the speeches of the noble Lord, in reference to this Bill, it would be impossible to conceive. He was one of those who considered that the conduct of the Government with respect to Ireland had not been judicious; but he saw no cause for complaint in the course now proposed. Ireland having depended in the recent calamity upon England, the assertion that "Ireland was for the Irish" would cut in two ways. They could not expect that England would make all the advances, and that Ireland should be permitted to repudiate the whole of the debt; and if the noble Lord echoed, as he now did, such a sentiment, he could only expect that advantage would be taken of an injudicious speech to create bad feelings, and arouse slumbering animosities among the people of the two countries. It was asked if Liverpool had not profited? In what way? Had not Liverpool become diseased by the influx of the unfortunate Irish poor? Had not her own inhabitants perished from the contagion? Had not her rates been trebled? And did the noble Lord pretend to set against these misfortunes the casual profits that might have accrued to individuals in the operations of trade? All that the Government had done deserved, at least, that for the future Ireland should be secure, for he knew not in what other way than that attempted the English people could evince their sympathy with Ireland. The noble Lord, however, appeared to suppose that no benefit had been conferred, and that no return was required; and, forgetful of the desirability of insuring a profitable result from the calamity, he created, or rather endeavoured to create, in the bosoms of his countrymen feelings of hatred towards Great Britain. [Viscount CLEMENTS: No!] The noble Lord very likely had no such intention, but he could not make such speeches and avoid that consequence. He trusted, however, that the fact would not be forgotten, that if Ireland was unable to meet her engagements, the misfortune was mainly attributable to the wretched condition to which our past misrule had reduced her; and when hon. Gentlemen in that House called on the Government to sell the property of Ireland, and to sacrifice the landlords with it, they might very fairly be asked if they were not in some degree responsible for that unhappy necessity? He greatly regretted the tone the debate had taken. He hoped the Bill would be passed, inasmuch as the object of an Imperial Government should always he to make the resources of Ireland available to the maintenance of her own population.


was glad to find the noble Lord (Lord Clements) enjoyed the undivided honour in that House of finding fault with the benevolence of the people of England and the exertions of the Government. The noble Lord was very ungrateful for the asylum afforded in Liverpool to those of the Irish poor who would have starved by the roadside in their own country. Had not Liverpool received the discarded paupers with open arms? And as to the benefits which Liverpool had derived from the distress, it would be well to remember that from 7,000 to 10,000 of the inhabitants were at this moment reported to be suffering from typhus fever. They were well enough disposed to relieve the afflicted and the hungry, but they could not neglect the cost; and it was rather too bad to be told that they derived all the advantage, and that they ought to pay the whole of the loan granted to Ireland herself. He hoped that the noble Lord would reconsider what he had said, and that, after mature reflection, he would acknowledge he had done a gross injustice to the Government and to the people of England. The Government could not be censured apart from the people; the Government had had the sanction of the great mass of the people in everything they had done. There was not a single man who would regret the national liberality; but, on the other hand, there was not one who would not insist on Ireland paying her debts honestly.


perfectly agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for North Lancashire as to the alarming state of that county. When the noble Lord talked of the debt of gratitude due from Liverpool to Ireland, he really could not tell what be meant. The Irish were more indebted to that part of the kingdom than the noble Lord was aware. He had often found in private life that they must not expect a return of gratitude for deeds of kindness, as their motives were misunderstood; and so, according to the noble Lord, was to be the case in public matters. This country had done great credit to herself by what she had done for the assistance of Ireland; and he sincerely hoped that the money advanced would be gracefully and punctually repaid. If the present distress continued, and such taunts and language as those they had heard that night from the noble Lord were repeated, there would be great difficulty in getting further relief from the people of England.


observed, that some misunderstanding seemed to have prevailed as to an observation which had fallen from him. He had said that he would sell the Irish land and the Irish landlords; and he was informed this had given offence. He had merely intended this as a jocose effusion, and as it had given pain, he would withdraw it. He thought the property of Ireland should be made to pay for these charges.


could assure the House that the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord did not coincide with the feelings entertained by the Irish people. He could refer to several instances where advances had been made to the landlords in various parts of Ireland, and these had been paid with great pleasure and punctuality. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would only make exceptions in most extraordinary cases of distress in the poorest district, he would get repaid in all other parts of the country. As far as he knew and believed, there was every desire on the part of the Irish people to repay this loan.


could make every allowance for the feelings of the noble Lord in respect to this Bill. He was cognizant of the good which the noble Lord had done in the neighbourhood of his own property; but he ought to estimate more correctly the sacrifices submitted to by England, and not question the good intentions of the Government, even though he concluded their measures had been erroneous. The noble Lord was not the only person who held the Government up to reproof for their conduct towards Ireland; the Irish newspapers had attacked them; and he was sorry to say that some of the Roman Catholic clergy had given utterance to expressions which would be viewed as unchristian like and uncharitable. He did not forget the feeling which would be excited by scenes of constant distress, and the knowledge of the inadequate means which this country itself possessed of affording remedy or alleviation; but it was impossible not to feel that the language used by the noble Lord was not that which England deserved to have applied to her generosity.


had never uttered a word against the liberality of the people of this country; his charge was only against the Legislature and the Government.


said, that they had only heard that night the repetition of the cuckoo cry which had been raised for the last twenty-five years of justice to Ireland. The language and conduct of the noble Lord was most monstrous after what the Parliament had done for Ireland in the present Session.


also protested against the language of the noble Lord towards Liverpool and the manufacturing districts. In Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton, and other places, great distress existed among the inhabitants; but in addition to providing for their own poor, they were now further taxed to a large amount to maintain great numbers of Irish paupers. The people of England very generally said that Ireland should be compelled to provide for its own poor. He concurred in opinion with the Government, that after what had been done from time to time for the people of Ireland, they should learn that while England was liberal, she should be just.

Clause agreed to.

On the last clause being put,


I wish to make a remark on the exceptional cases referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which the repayment of those sums charged on the land may not be possible from the poverty of the district. It is evident that this danger will arise from such a declaration, that a very great number of districts will hope and expect to be considered exceptional, and therefore absolved from payment. But, more than this, I wish to remark, that the districts alluded to, where the greatest apparent poverty and inability to support their population exists, are precisely those in which there exists the greatest real resources for that purpose, if properly developed; and that it is only from the apathy, and improvidence, and neglect of the natural resources of their properties on the part of the owners of the soil, which has caused the apparent poverty, and the seeming inadequacy of the land, when measured only by the fallacious test of its net rental, to maintain its population. Take, for example, any of the poorest districts in the south and west or north of Ireland; take the county Mayo, for instance. It has been said to be a bankrupt county, wholly unable to maintain its people. Why, Sir, if this were the proper opportunity, I should be prepared to show that the county Mayo might be made to maintain twice or four times even its present population, by a judicious application of what is now falsely called its surplus labour to its land. It possesses 500,000 acres only of land under cultivation—but a cultivation of the most barbarous kind; so bad that, by the evidence of witnesses before the Devon Commission, the plough was not long since attached to the horse's tail. By improved cultivation this land might be made to grow double its present produce, and that only by the employment of its now idle and starving poor. But more than this, the county possesses 800,000 acres of waste land, half a million of them declared to be improvable with profit by Mr. Griffiths. So that by a judicious employment of the labourers now supposed to be redundant, the cultivatable land of the county Mayo might at once be doubled. Therefore, I say, Sir, that the present net rental of such districts is no measure of their value, or their resources, or their means of repayment of charges on them, if judiciously employed. And I hope that before the Government assent to any claim of the landowners of any such district to be excused from payment of the charge now under discussion, of advances on account of poor rate, or any other charge, the land itself, or a portion of it, especially the land now in a state of waste, and profitable to no one, will be taken in part payment of the debt, and appropriated by Government, as it may so easily be, to the most valuable and useful purposes, with a view to the maintenance and employment of the population, and their location on this land, in a manner to call forth their utmost energies in its improvement. I have been foiled myself in repeated endeavours, during the present Session, to find an opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the vast capability of the four millions of acres of improvable waste land in Ireland for this great national object, which I believe to be a far more available and important and promising means than colonisation, or railroads, or any other measure that has occupied the atten- tion of Parliament this Session, having the same object in view. I will not abuse the indulgence of the House, by seizing this occasion for going into the subject, further than suggesting to the Government, as I have done, that the very worst and poorest districts of Ireland than that seen, primâ facie, to be least able to maintain their population, are precisely those where, by a fortunate coincidence (not of course an accidental one) the resources of the soil for this purpose have been most neglected, and are most capable of being increased; and that on this account the plea of poverty and inability to pay should by no means be admitted from the owners of such districts. Let them be made to pay by making over to the State those vast tracts of land now waste, of which they make no use, while they prevent others from using them, by their grasping exaction of impossible rents and conditions. These tracts, if properly appropriated and disposed of by the State, may be made to create a class of industrious, happy, and prosperous agriculturists out of a population now considered (most falsely) to be redundant. What I have said applies to Cork, to Kerry, to Waterford, to Galway, to Donegal, and many other counties of Ireland, as well as Mayo. I believe there is none that cannot employ its population profitably, and maintain them in comfort, if its natural resources, given by Providence for that express purpose, are properly developed. If the Landlords will not do this, as hitherto they have neglected to do it, let the State step in and put the land into the hands of those who will make a fitting use of it.


did not think the hon. Member had put a fair construction on what had fallen from him, for he had never said that the Irish people in the most destitute parts should be relieved from the payment of their instalments. What he said was in answer to the right hon. Baronet, who observed, that in some districts, where great distress prevailed, exceptions to immediate payment should be made. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should think in extreme cases the term of payment might be extended, instead of being made immediate. He would not go into the question of waste lands on the present occasion, as other and better opportunities would occur for that purpose.


said, the landlords of Mayo were not all deserving of the sweeping charge alleged against them by the hon. Member for Stroud; and he read a letter from a landlord in that county, describing the measures he had taken to improve and reclaim land, whereby he had given employment to nearly 1,000 men for many months, in cultivating flax, draining, and rendering waste land available. This showed what might be done by a single individual, and it was to be hoped that his example would be followed by others.

Clause agreed to. The House resumed. Bill to be reported.

House adjourned at half-past Two o'clock.