HC Deb 01 March 1847 vol 90 cc624-35

stated that as the Amendments which he proposed to introduce into this Bill were of a comparatively trivial nature, he did not think that it was necessary then to commit it, but he should at once propose that the Committee on it be deferred till Monday next.


hoped, that the noble Lord would without delay make some progress with the other Bills. Ireland was in a most disastrous condition, and they were going on spending large sums of money; but nothing was done for the permanent improvement of the country. He went as far as almost any one for the adoption of out-door relief, and therefore he was glad that it had been adopted in the Bill just before the House. It was now the sixth week of the Session, and little or nothing had been done; they were still going on expending large sums of money on useless works, instead of looking to the construction of permanently beneficial works, such as those involved in the proposal of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn. What was the nature of this Bill? It gave the power to spend 1,500,000l. in drainage, and it would afford employment to the people now subsidised by the Government for two months; and this was all that was proposed to be done, to effect the great object of taking the people off from the construction of useless roads to permanent beneficial employment. On a former night the hon. Member for Montrose made a suggestion as to the employment of the people, which was well worthy of the attention of the Government. He wished to know when the Waste Lands Bills would be brought forward. He regretted that nothing had been done as to a measure for tenant compensation.


hardly knew whether it was necessary to give any further answer to the observations of the hon. Member than those which he had already given. With respect to the present Bill, he thought that it would be better to go through it clause by clause, which proceeded in conformity with the views of the most enlightened friends of Ireland, as regarded the adoption of internal improvements. It appeared to him that they took the most practical course in proceeding with these two measures, which were of the greatest possible importance, as nearly as possible together, so that they might be sent up to the other House together. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the adoption of the proposed poor law was not calculated to make the country rich; now he (Lord J. Russell) believed that a good poor law in Ireland would tend to do so. He received the other day a letter from a landed proprietor in Ireland, who resided on his estate, in which he was assured that the farmers employed labour more readily and more extensively when they found that the labourers were likely to become chargeable on the rates. The hon. Gentleman expressed his regret that large sums of money had been expended in works of a particular character; now he (Lord John Russell) thought that the hon. Gentleman did not attach sufficient value to the recent expenditure of large sums of money in the present crisis in Ireland, so as to enable the people to earn sufficient to enable them to obtain the means of subsistence. He conceived that it was not of so much importance as to whether the works on which the people were employed were productive or not; but that there should be such an outlay that persons at remote parts of the country, either by employment on railways or any other works, might be enabled to get sufficient to support them. He hoped that many of the roads which had already been constructed, or were now in the course of construction, would, prove to be useful works; but, under any circumstances, it was of the greatest importance that there should be advances of money for the employment of labour at a time when the population was in such a state of destitution. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that the measure relating to waste lands should be introduced very shortly. He had spoken a few days ago to the Lord Chancellor on the subject of the waste lands, and he had found that it was necessary to consult the Lord Chancellor of Ireland on the subject, as it was desirable to see whether the law was the same on the subject in England and Ireland. Under these circumstances he would ask, whether it would not be better to submit to a little delay, so as to introduce the measure in as perfect a form as possible? The hon. Gentleman must be aware that Bills had passed that House involving public improvements, which, in consequence of such informalities or technical mistakes, had not become operative; it was therefore most desirable, in a measure like that which he had alluded to, to avoid anything of the kind. He could only repeat that there was every desire on the part of the Government to bring forward this measure with as little delay as possible; and he trusted that the hon. Gentleman and the House would show some forbearancce, considering the difficulties of the subject with which they had to deal.


felt bound to express his dissent from the speech of the noble Lord. The noble Lord seemed to think that the only thing was to give money to the people so as to enable them to provide themselves with food; but he contended that the money so given should be expended in such a way as to provide for the permanent welfare of the people. As it was, every shilling that had hitherto been expended, tended to withdraw she people from that employment which was of the most consequence to them, namely, the cultivation of the soil. He conceived that the Government might bring in a measure so to relieve the landed proprietors, by affording facilities for the sale of land, as to enable them to afford employment to the people. He could tell the noble Lord that very recently some land had been sold in the neighbourhood of Carrick, which was in the midst of the most distressed districts, for twenty-seven years' purchase; and this had been bought by persons of capital in that vicinity. No permanent improvement could take place if the greatest care was not taken as to the character of the works on which the people were employed. He held in his hand an extract which he had taken from a Sligo paper, which showed that the system of public works adopted had tended to take all those engaged in labour from useful and productive employment; and this had been attended with the most scandalous expenditure. As for the delay in the introduction of the measure relating to waste lands, he thought means might readily be adopted to facilitate the sale of lands now in Chancery. It was stated in the appendix to Lord Devon's report, that notwithstanding the severest pressure on the landowner, he could not sell any portion of his land in consequence of its being involved in some Chancery suit, and that this had been productive of the greatest mischief. Why not adopt the same principle with regard to these lands as was acted upon where land was taken for railroads? When land in Chancery was wanted for a railroad, the value of it was duly estimated, and the money was paid into the Court of Chancery, and the dispute or suit went on with respect to the money instead of the land. Why was not this principle acted upon with regard to land in Ireland? He entreated the noble Lord at once to bring in the Waste Lands Bill.


could not take so sanguine a view as his noble Friend had done of the improvements which had been made in the roads in Ireland under the Public Works Act. He had received on Saturday a report of a meeting, from which it appeared that the view taken by his noble Friend was not that held by persons the best able to form an opinion on the subject. The paper he alluded to contained a report of a speech made by Mr. Bianconi, than whom no one was a better judge of the alleged improvements in the roads in Ireland. That gentleman said— If the English Parliament had known anything of the country, it would not have given millions to spend in such a way as to render impassable the communications throughout the country, instead of expending the money in productive employment. He began to apprehend that England was afraid of the prosperity of Ireland, which might be followed by her independence. In consequence of the state of the roads, he had been obliged to abandon several cars between different places, and which required 100 horses, as well as afforded employment to several men. Instead of the Parliament giving money for the construction of railroads or other productive labour, it had given money to spoil roads which were hitherto good. Under these circumstances, he did not think that the making of these roads could be considered as tending so much to the improvement of the country.


did not say that he was sanguine as to the advantages of these public works, but he stated that the chief object in view was the employment of the people.


apprehended, from a passage in the speech of the noble Lord, that he entertained the opinion that it was comparatively immaterial as to whether the capital given for public works in Ireland was expended on productive or unproductive works; he (Sir James Graham) believed that it was of the greatest importance for national objects that every farthing now expended, should be spent in such a manner as to promote the future welfare of the country. He rose, however, chiefly for the purpose of offering one suggestion. It would be in the highest degree unjust, considering the great pressure on the Government in the difficulties which had arisen in Ireland, to complain, in the slightest degree, of delay in bringing forward measures to meet those difficulties. With reference to the permanent measures for the improvement of Ireland, he thought that it would be most important, for the future relief of that country, that the measures contemplated for facilitating the reclamation of waste lands should contain provisions to relieve the owners from those impediments which burdened the sale of their lands. The importance of these measures could not be overstated. The rights of creditors and the rights of heirs should be carefully considered; and it should be provided that in giving the promised relief, no great principle of law should be violated. He, therefore, rejoiced that the Lord Chancellor of England and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland should have had their earnest attention directed to the Bill; but, judging from his experience of the last Session, he thought the House had reason to apprehend that if the matter were left exclusively in the hands of lawyers, no such relief as the urgency of the case required would be obtained. In the last Session, that House had sent up to the other House of Parliament, by an almost unanimous vote, a clause in the Bill for the drainage of lands in Ireland with regard to advances to be made to estates—a clause enabling tenants for life to borrow money for the purposes of drainage, due precaution being taken that the inheritance should not be damaged by such a loan, and provision being made that a competent tribunal should certify that the outlay would be productive, and the improvement without injury to the fee-simple value. Precaution was also taken that the debts should be a first charge on the land. That clause was introduced by the Government, and passed without meeting any great opposition from landed proprietors. But what happened to it in the other House? Why, the law Lords—Lord Cottenham, Lord Campbell, Lord Langdale, and Lord Lyndhurst, the then Lord Chancellor—without distinction of party, all made common cause, and applied the strict technicalities of the law of England to the measure. Those law Lords conjoined, and forced upon the other House the rejection of that clause of the Bill, and it came down again to the House of Commons mutilated. He must say that they were forced to yield, although the Bill was returned to them so altered, so mutilated, and, in his opinion, greatly impaired. Yet although he thus plainly expressed his opinion with regard to that measure, he should repeat, that he rejoiced to hear that the Lord Chancellors of England and Ireland were giving their attention to the Bill about to be brought before Parliament. He should be sorry that any of the strict rules of equity should be discarded in the matter. The rights of creditors should be preserved intact, and the rights of heirs should not be overlooked, and all contingent rights in posse, looking further forward, ought to be, as far as possible, maintained. But he was quite satisfied that no remedy would be speedily given at all adequate to the pressure of the prevailing circumstances; and he therefore hoped the Government would mature their measures as soon as possible, and bring forward speedily such as, on the one hand, the law authorities might be willing to assent to, and such as, on the other, should be of sufficient efficacy to meet the real difficulties and emergencies of Ireland. The suggestion he had to make to the noble Lord was, that whilst they were in that House discussing the measures of poor laws and the Bills for aiding the improvement of estates, and enabling tenants for life to incur debt for that purpose, the other House of Parliament might, in his opinion, be occupied in forwarding those measures to which it was of the greatest importance the great law authorities should give their attention, and on which their opinions would be most required. He hoped that in ten or twelve days the noble Lord would be enabled, as he had expressed his hope, to bring forward the measure of which he had spoken, and the other House of Parliament might then be occupied in considering details to which he (Sir J. Graham) attributed the utmost importance, and which ought not to be longer delayed. He begged to offer the suggestion merely to the noble Lord. He would not wish to embarrass, or unduly to hurry the Government, because he thought they had shown the greatest desire to bring forward measures to meet the present difficulties, and it would be most unfair to press upon them so as in any manner to embarrass them.


participated in the regret expressed by the right hon. Baronet at the delay which had taken place in the bringing forward measures of great importance. But it would be impossible for the Government to allow the important measures to which he had referred to be brought before either House of Parliament until the details had been duly prepared. He trusted, however, that no long time would now elapse before the other House of Parliament would be occupied in considering measures for the purpose of facilitating the sale of estates in Ireland. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland had sent over his views upon the subject. It had since undergone consideration by the Lord Chancellor of England, and it was then in such a state of forwardness as that it would soon occupy the attention of the other House. But there was one observation of the right hon. Baronet's to which he would advert. The right hon. Baronet seemed to have imagined that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had stated that it was a matter of indifference to him whether the money given to employ the Irish labourers was spent upon productive or unproductive works. [Sir J. GRAHAM: Of comparative indifference.] He accepted the distinction, but the noble Lord had never said any such thing. It was obvious that were a choice to be given between non-productive and reproductive works, the latter should be preferred when a certain sum of money was to be spent. What his noble Friend had said was, that it should be always borne in mind, in considering that question, that the primary point was, in the present condition of Ireland, to save human life and to diminish human suffering as much as possible. So far as that object could be combined with reproductive employment, it would be desirable; but they should not lose sight of the pressing necessity. It was very easily said that they should employ their money only in reproductive works; but he felt sure the right hon. Baronet would not give his assent to the proposition relative to productive employment, which had been so repeatedly put forward, namely, that the Government should undertake the ordinary cultivation of the soil. They should recollect that the primary object was to furnish employment throughout the country; and it would not do to employ the money in certain places only, where they would necessarily collect together the whole of the population of the surrounding district. The right hon. Baronet had himself spoken the other night against the employment of the Irish population in the making of railroads, for the very reason that the people would be thereby congregated together at particular spots. They should try to bring employment home to every Irishman; but he thought that it would be ruinous to employ money in the cultivation of the soil. Were they to do so, the whole private employment in the country would cease. All the cultivation of the soil would cease except that done by the Government; and great and Herculean as was the task already undertaken by the Government, it would be as nothing compared to that which would then be laid on them. The most sweeping censures had been cast upon them, because they had not followed a different course from that which they had adopted in furnishing means of subsistence to the poor of Ireland, and because they had preferred giving that employment upon what were called public works, rather than having recourse to a system of what might have been called reproductive works. And he could not help regretting that what seemed to be a sort of censure upon them, should have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorchester, because he thought that anything like censure coming from a Gentleman whose opinion was of so much weight and importance in the House, should be well considered, as it could not fail to have much influence.


thought, that if the noble Lord wished really to effect any good in Ireland by his measures, he should carry them with a determined hand. He should not be stayed by many of the heretofore received restrictions of the law. For instance, no man should be allowed to deny to the country the uses and advantages to the country at large of the mineral wealth which his estate might (uselessly to himself) possess. The noble Lord should not, in the present state and condition of Ireland, allow the old ideas of the sacredness of property to prevent the undertaking of any measures that promised to be generally beneficial to the country. And he thought there ought to be some tribunal erected in Ireland which should carry such measures into effect, without rendering an appeal to that House necessary.


was very happy to hear that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to bring into the other House of Parliament the Bill for facilitating the sale of incumbered estates in Ireland; and he hoped that some such law would also be introduced for Scotland, where there were many estates at present deeply incumbered, which the proprietors could not dispose of.


would ask, with regard to the defects of the Drainage Act passed last year, what could be expected from a measure introduced at the very close of the Session? As to the censure passed upon the road work, he asserted that by the employment given in the improvement of the roads, a great amount of human life had been saved; whilst it appeared from returns formerly made, that improvements of roads in Ireland, by opening up the country and facilitating the means of internal communication, had so increased the returns of the Excise, as to make abundant repayment of the original expenditure. But in the present distressed condition of the Irish people, there was no possibility of giving them employment in any sort of reproductive work in many districts. He could speak from his own experience of a district near Dublin. He meant that of Kingstown and Monsktown, where there were no reproductive works upon which they could be employed; and the committee of which he was a member had no choice but to employ them on the roads. At the same time he joined in saying, that a fair measure for the reclamation of waste lands ought to be hurried forward. As to the complaint of some hon. Members, that the time of the House was entirely taken up by Irish affairs, he thought it was important that the House should for a time give up its entire attention to Irish matters. It would be for the benefit, not of Ireland merely, but of the empire at large, for the question before them was a most difficult problem to solve.


said, that as regarded the Labour-rate Act, there was no doubt that in many parts of Ireland it had worked very ill, but still in some parts very useful works had been done under it; and, at all events, the first object of that Act was, in a moment of unexampled emergency, to give wages, so that the people might not perish from want. The next, that some work, at least, should be done for these wages; but there was one consideration that the House seemed to overlook, that, since the passing of the Temporary Relief Act, the Labour-rate Act was superadded, and that thenceforward the question would not be between productive and reproductive works, but between productive works and no work at all, for the Temporary Relief Act was merely to give the people food, and not work. While he, therefore, was ready to make every allowance for the Government, considering the great pressure that was upon them, still he would urge upon them the absolute necessity of their not losing a moment in the progress of that Bill then before the House, and the introduction of all others that they contemplated of a permanent nature for stimulating the industry and developing the resources of the country, recollecting always the immense unproductive outlay that would be going on until these measures came into operation.


said, he had received a letter from an engineer, employed at present in Ireland, who stated that it almost broke his heart to be obliged to go on with works which would not and could not repay the outlay in a part of the country where he was surrounded with tracts of beautiful land, capable of supporting the population, if only drained, but which was altogether swamped with water. He added, that if the Government had the power of cutting main drains, as they now had of forming main roads through the country, it would be of the greatest importance. The subject was one which he (Mr. Scrope) trusted Her Majesty's Government had directed their attention to.


said, before the noble Lord replied to the hon. Member who had just sat down, he begged to make a single observation. It would be in the recollection of the House, that he stated on Friday last, he was willing to accept the English poor law for Ireland, letter by letter, and clause by clause. As there was, however, a Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Rochdale, read a second time on the night before without a division, containing two principles of a novel character, he wished to know the course which Her Majesty's Government intended taking with regard to the application of those principles to Ireland. One was, that the portion of the rates for which the landlord was liable, should be paid in the first instance by him; and the other was, that there should be a discretionary power in boards of guardians to decide what portion of the rate to be collected should be collected, or should go into arrear. He perceived with much surprise that the sanction of the Government had been given to a Bill with these principles; and he would wish to ask the noble Lord whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to open now the question of poor-law rating in Ireland; and if so, whether they were prepared to sanction the two principles to which he alluded?


really could not presume to undertake to answer, on that Motion for putting off until Monday next the Committee on the Landed Property (Ireland) Bill, for all the various measures which it might be in the contemplation both of Her Majesty's Government, and of various Members of the House, to introduce. With respect to the question of the hon. Member behind him, with regard to drainage in Ireland, he apprehended that the operation alluded to, could be performed under the existing Bill, though no doubt it might at the same time be a desirable matter to have all the provisions of the several measures embodied in one Act. With respect to the question of his hon. Friend opposite, he really could not, seeing that there was another discussion to take place on the Bill of the hon. Member for Rochdale, undertake to state what course the Government would be prepared to adopt with respect to all the details of that measure. He certainly did not agree in all the principles introduced into the Bill; but, at the same time, he thought there were one or two good clauses in it, which ought to receive the sanction of the House.


begged to remind the House that the power alluded to by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. P. Scrope) existed under the Bill which had been brought in by his noble Friend the present Earl of St. Germans, when Chief Secretary for Ireland, and that there were four other extensive systems of drainage brought forward under the sanction of the Government of which he (Lord Lincoln) was a Member, involving an expenditure in the gross of 120,000l. or 130,000l., a portion of which would be borne by the country.

Committee postponed.