MR. SMITH O'BRIEN
said, it was of some importance to learn from the Government what was the principle on which the dismissal of labourers from the public works in Ireland, as at present pursued, was founded. From the letter of the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland, he had been led to conclude that the dismissal could not take place until the other measures of the Government had come into operation. It now, appeared, however, that in many parts of Ireland the labourers had been dismissed in very great numbers before the measures for temporary relief came into operation at all. He had a letter from a Protestant clergyman in the county of Limerick, who was himself an active member of a relief committee, and who stated that in his district the Government officers had dismissed not only 20 per cent, but all the labourers from off the works; and the consequence would be, that they would be starved to death; that he had inferred from Mr. Labouchere's reply that such was not the intention of the Government, but that some had been dis- 557 missed who had no means of subsistence but their daily labour, and that as there were no resident gentry, there was, consequently, no relief to be had from private employment. No one could justly object to the original principle laid down by the Government for conducting the dismissals upon; but then it ought to be carefully carried out. If the people dismissed had nothing to give wherewith to obtain food but their labour, and there was no private employment to be had, the consequence might be their death by starvation.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, what he stated on a former occasion, and what he was now prepared to repeat, was this: Her Majesty's Government were satisfied, after the best inquiry they were able to make upon the subject, that it was expedient and proper that on a certain day the number of persons employed on the public works throughout Ireland should be reduced by twenty per cent. They thought that was a stop which, upon their responsibility, they were bound to adopt, and in that respect they left no discretion whatever with any one connected with the Irish Government; but the rule laid down was this—they required that twenty per cent should be reduced on the aggregate number of the persons employed throughout the whole of Ireland, leaving to the Board of Works in Ireland a discretion as to whether in each particular instance that precise number should be the proportion to be reduced or not. The Board of Works in Ireland thought they should best meet the views of the Government by striking off twenty per cent from the number of persons employed in each district; but it was not the case that that rule had been applied strictly and invariably on every public work in Ireland; and as a proof that such was the case, he would read an extract from a report which had been received from Captain O'Brien, the inspecting officer for Clare, and which was dated the 20th March instant. The right hon. Gentleman read the following extract:—As in some districts the numbers hitherto employed are much less than in others, it would be unjust to strike off the same per centage from all. I have, therefore, directed that the numbers in each district shall be reduced to a certain proportion of the population, so that at least twenty per cent will be reduced on the whole.That was the manner in which this officer considered himself justified in acting under the order given. He reduced the number—if he (Mr. Labouchere) understood the 558 extract rightly—by twenty per cent on the whole population employed in the district of which he was in charge; but he did not think it necessary to reduce the number on each particular public work in that precise proportion. He had the satisfaction to be able to state, that on the whole, considering the immense difficulty of a change of this description, the reduction had been carried into effect in Ireland in the most satisfactory manner. He believed that in one or two places alone had there been the slightest appearance of disturbance; and he had received the strongest assurances from various parts of the country that not only had the alteration been effected without disturbance, but without detriment to the interests of the people, and in a manner tending materially to the promotion of the cultivation of the soil. It was an undoubted fact that in many places people had got employment on the public works who never ought to have been placed there; and he believed the result of the recent change was, that these persons had been struck off the works, and that the intention of Her Majesty's Government in giving that order had been realized by its results. The hon. Gentleman also said that the Government had engaged that those persons should not be struck off the public works until the new Act had been brought fully into operation by the local committees. He believed, if the Government had made any such statement, they would have acted most improperly. They could not disguise from themselves the fact that in most parts of Ireland a great preference was shown for the public works over the new relief system; and if Her Majesty's Government had made such an announcement as that attributed to them by the hon. Gentleman, the greatest delay would assuredly have taken place in bringing the now Act into operation. But in reference to this part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, he would read a letter that had been received that day, addressed from Colonel Jones, the chairman of the Board of Works, to Mr. Trevelyan:—Upon reading the Dublin journals, it would be supposed that the men discharged from the works had been deprived in an instant of their daily food; the fact is that they were not entitled to be paid until the Tuesday or Wednesday following, and the payments so made were to be their means of securing subsistence for another week, so that with the time between the publishing of the order, and the moment when the money would be expended, ample time was afforded for procuring other employment, or for the electoral division committees to have made the necessary 559 preparations for supplying the destitute with food.He trusted the House would be satisfied that as much consideration had been shown for the people as it was in their power to bestow; and he had the satisfaction to think that on the whole this great reduction had been carried into effect with as little temporary suffering and embarrassment as possible. There was only one point more in the statement of the hon. Gentleman to which he would advert. The hon. Gentleman said there was no means of finishing and completing the works that had been commenced. Such was not the case. At this very moment presentments passed at the sessions had been sent over to this country, and were receiving the concurrence of the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman was in error in supposing that no means existed whereby the works now in progress could be completed. On the contrary, the only alteration made was that the presentments made by the sessions were not any longer to be sanctioned by the Lord Lieutenant on his own authority, but were sent over for the sanction and approval of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ SIR A. B. BROOKE
wished to learn if he understood the right hon. Gentleman rightly in believing him to have stated on a former occasion that the public works would be suspended altogether when the relief committees were in operation. He would like to know, in such an event, how the people were to get employment in June and July, a period of the year when there was little or no agricultural labour to be had. He should also wish to know if it were the intention of Her Majesty's Government to establish the system of soup-kitchens in each electoral division throughout Ireland. He would take the liberty of submitting to them a much more advantageous and much better system. He knew from his own experience that the difficulties were almost insurmountable, and in some mountainous and remote districts he might say that they were of a nature impossible to be overcome, in getting houses large enough to be converted into these kitchens, and in procuring boilers and other utensils, and in getting farmers on whom they could place sufficient confidence to conduct the arrangements. Besides, if bread was to be given with the soup, they should build ovens, as there were no ovens in the country at present 560 available for the purpose. By the plan which he would venture to recommend, one pound of rice well boiled in three quarts of water, with the addition of a small quantity of meat, would make thirteen or fourteen pounds of good food.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, in answer to the first question of the hon. Baronet, he had to state that it was the intention of the Government, as soon as the new Act was in operation, to reduce still farther the number of persons employed on the public works. With regard to the other question, he would say that it was the desire of Her Majesty's Government that the relief should not be confined to soup; but the whole question of the manner in which relief could be best afforded to the people had been put into the hands of the Relief Commissioners, and he had no doubt but the best arrangements would be adopted by them. If the hon. Baronet was going over to Dublin, he was sure the Commissioners would be very happy to confer with him on the subject which he had mentioned.
§ Subject at an end.