HC Deb 31 March 1847 vol 91 cc676-86

On the Motion for bringing up the Report on the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill,


said, that seeing the hon. Baronet the if ember for Marylebone in his place, he was anxious to lay before the House a statement he had received from a gentleman, formerly a Member of the House, Mr. Longfield, in reference to an observation made by the hon. Baronet in one of his speeches, respecting Irish landlords some time ago. Mr. Longfield stated that he had seen in the newspapers a speech of the hon. Baronet, in which he had introduced his name as having given a very small subscription to a relief committee out of a very large income; the words which the hon. Baronet had used were these—"In the case of Kanturk, a Mr. Longfield, worth 6,000l. a-year, had given 15l." Now, Mr. Longfield stated— My property, in the parish of Clonfert, in which the town of Kanturk is situated, consists of tithe rent-charge amounting to 436l. a-year, from which are to be deducted poor rates, agency, sums not paid, &c. I have given to relief committees in this parish 30l. during the last year, double the sum that is stated, my property in the parish being about one-thirteenth of what it is stated to be. He added, he could not but feel it to be a grievous injury, the statement that from an income of 6,000l. a-year, he should have given but 15l. to relieve the present extraordinary distress. So far from that being the case, he had given to the utmost extent of his power, by subscriptions to local committees in various places, by purchasing food, by residing constantly at home, and by giving extensive employment where he resided; he had also made a road at his own expense, at a distance from his residence, where there was a great want of employment during the winter. The hon. Baronet's informants might have referred to the amount of subscriptions in Mallow; it was a want of confidence in the committee which had prevented Mr. Longfield and others from placing money at their disposal. Those, he said, who probably had never been in Ireland, could not be aware of the endless demands for relief on those who resided there; if they had been, they would not make statements such as that of which he complained, without inquiry, to ascertain how far facts supported a statement which would be circulated wherever newspapers were read. Had the hon. Baronet been in Ireland, he might have ascertained that all contributions to relieve distress were not given through relief committees. He was aware that Mr. Longfield had given more than 250l. to relief committees, out of an income of not more than 3,000l. a year—30l. of it, instead of 15l., being in a union, where, instead of 6,000l. a year, as the hon. Baronet had alleged, Mr. Longfield had only 436l. a year. He had no wish to provoke a discussion; but felt it due to Mr. Longfiold, as a matter of common justice, that this statement should be laid before the House.


held in his hand two letters from reverend gentlemen connected with that part of the country, telling him that every word he had said in the House on this subject was perfectly correct. He thought it would be expedient that the return which he had moved for, and which had been ordered by the House on the 4th of February, showing the amount of the subscriptions that had been made for the relief of the poor in each union of Ireland, under different heads, should be laid on the Table forthwith. The return was important, because it would show at once whether the landlords of Ireland had done their duty or not, and he hoped no further delay would take place.


had received so many complaints of the attacks which had been made in that House on the landlords of Ireland, that he hoped he might take that opportunity of saying a few words. The hon. Baronet was, he knew, as incapable as any man in the House of making an incorrect statement intentionally; but he hoped this would be a lesson to the hon. Baronet and every one in the House against making statements affecting character with out due inquiry. The evil was very great of making such a statement in the House of Commons. It got abroad, and much pain was caused; and though the hon. Baronet, on the statement being contradicted, might get up in the handsomest manner and give up his authority, yet that did not wholly repair the mischief. The House had been told the case of this gentleman; then there came the case of another, who was said to keep hounds while the people were starving around him, which also turned out to be incorrect; but no one had mentioned the name of Lord Clonbrock, who had actually kept hounds, and had given them up and sold his horses since the famine came on. He held in his hand various letters from different proprietors in Ireland. One said, that he did not wish in any way to be placed before the public, but that he was relieving the distress all he could; that he had always endeavoured to do the same, and that he had no wish or care to be vindicated as an Irish landlord, except to reply when unjust charges were made upon the Irish landlords; that some parts of the country were in a miserable state from neglect of absentee land lords, and that it was not easy for those who had not received their rents to give; but that human life must be preserved at any cost. The hon. Member for Rochdale had made sweeping charges against the Irish landlords, but not in the manner that the hon. Baronet had done; for he gave no opportunity of meeting them, and he said that the Irish landlords most grossly neglected their duty. Now, this very individual had been already alluded to in that House; and he could state that this individual was supplying 9,000 persons per week with soup, besides a great expenditure in clothes and other modes of relief, and that he was doing everything he could for them. Then, as had already been stated, Sir R. Booth did a great deal; the fact was, he could afford to do, and really did, a great deal. He could mention another landlord, in Sligo, who had become alarmingly ill from his anxiety and attention to the poor in his neighbourhood, of whom, since last winter, he had in daily employment 350. This gentleman was now furnishing seed to his tenants, for whom he had also purchased a cargo of Indian corn. He was seeing that everything was properly done to insure the cultivation of the soil, and doing his utmost to relieve the distress of his neighbourhood. He had a soup-shop, besides giving a great deal at his own house; fifty-four women were employed by him weekly. He would mention one more case of a landlord who had been cruelly and grievously misrepresented as neglectful and careless about the poor in his neighbourhood; and, according to the statement which had been sent to him from Roscommon, this nobleman, who at any early period of the famine gave 500l., had subscribed during the progress of the distress several sums of money to various relief and soup committees; and since the calamity set in supplied his labourers with cocoa in the morning and soup at mid-day, in addition to their usual daily wages, to the number of between 200 and 300; and supplied soup to their families three times a week; and had within the last month supplied upwards of 300 families with different articles of clothing and bed clothes; and had supplied wheat and rye gratuitously to the extent of several hundred pounds worth to his tenants holding ten acres and under. These statements showed, he thought, that the sweeping charges that had been brought against the landlords were unfounded in general, though he had always admitted that there were among them many distressed men who were unable to perform their duty. Another correspondent stated that his father had given seed oats, mangold, turnips, and carrots, and appointed a man to see that the sowing was done properly. A relation of his own in Tipperary had given his tenants seed, entirely at his own cost. He hoped that the hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall) would inquire before he again brought such statements under the notice of the House, whether on the authority of rev. gentlemen or not, and that he would do that justice to the Irish landlords which he would wish to be done to himself. On the whole, he was satisfied it would be found that the landlords, in the circumstances of the country, were totally unable to do what they would do if they had the adequate means; and they could only hope that the measures of the Government would enable them to bear their share in relieving distress without exertions that would be overpowering.


begged to call attention to the form of the return alluded to by the hon. Baronet, as it stook on the Order-book of the House. It was to stateᐠ1st, The balance (if any remaining) of the subscriptions of 1845 and 1856. 2nd. Private subscriptions advanced by owners, lessors, and occupiers of property in each union. 3rd. Subscriptions received from other sources. 4th. The amount from public grants. He had received many letters from Ireland complaining of the terms of the order, and he must say, a more grossly unfair return it was impossible to conceive. Every ostentatious rich person, who, perhaps, was doing very little, would appear on this return as it stood, while those proprietors who were residing on their own estates, and doing what they could for the poor personally, would not appear on it. Before the return was presented, he would take that opportunity of protesting against it. He must say, he thought it ought to be expunged from the Order-book of the House. He knew persons in Ireland who were not rich, but were spending one-half their income in the relief of the poor; he knew a clergyman who was devoting more than the whole of his tithes to the support of a soup shop in his parish. He knew a gentleman in Armagh who was supporting, and must for months support, more than 900 people, who were employed in labour that was unproductive to him; but none of these persons' names would appear upon the return as it stood.


fully concurred with the hon. Gentleman, and thought that it would be infinitely better that the House, even at that late period, should modify the form in which the return (which would probably be presented immediately after the recess) should be made. Great injustice might be avoided by taking that course, which would be the better course, both as being more just to individuals, and with a view to encouraging different modes of relief in Ireland. He felt that, if names were to be paraded in this way for the sake of ostentation, and it was to be stated before the public that such and such persons had given such and such subscriptions, the landlords would be discouraged from engaging in other modes of relief which might be much more available. If the hon. Gentleman would give notice that he would move, immediately after the recess, that this return should not be made, he would second the hon. Member.


said, as to the view taken of this return, calculated to deter the Irish landlords from the discharge of their duties, he was quite aware that the discharge of their duties was not shown by the amount of subscriptions given, but by the employment of the poor on their estates, and by residing on those estates. His attention had not been turned to this subject, and he regretted that his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland was not present; this, however, was to be remembered, that the grants from the Treasury were made in proportion to the amount of subscriptions raised in each locality; and it was perfectly according to precedent for the House to call for a return of the subscriptions in respect of which grants of money were made. But if it was meant that the return should give the name of each subscriber against each sum subscribed, that would certainly be objectionable. He would inquire and endeavour to ascertain whether the return could not be made without that objectionable portion of it. The substance of the return was already given in the commissariat series of the correspondence with the Board of Works which was already before the House.


had no objection, when the Government of the country had advanced sums of money proportioned to private subscriptions, to give the information to which the right hon. Baronet alluded; but he protested against the document being taken by the House or the country as representing the amount of private charity, and to its bearing the interpretation which the hon. Baronet and the Marylebone vestry were inclined to put upon it.


stated, that the general amount of the subscriptions had already been published in the commissariat papers.


certainly thought it was desirable to see whether the possessors of property in different districts had contributed in proportion to the amount of their property; and if the subject were to be renewed after the holidays, he should certainly like to review the correspondence he had received, showing that a vast quantity of the Irish landlords had neglected their duties, and that great distress had been the consequence. The fact was so notorious that it could not be denied, and he did not think it necessary to read any papers; and the neglect was not confined to the present occasion only, for on the authority of a report from the Commissioner appointed in 1834 to consider the state of the poor in the very district of Skibbereen, after the cholera, he found that the neglect of the poor on the part of the landlords was as great and flagrant at that time as it had been since. A subscription had been opened during the cholera, and the contributions came almost solely from the towns, the landlords having given little or nothing. One landlord who was possessed of 4,000l. a year had not given a farthing, though his tenants participated in the fund; the total subscription was 47l. 5s., almost the whole of which came from individuals who were resident in the towns. In 1832, during the time of the cholera, the landlords were applied to; four only sent answers, and they contributed 11l. 5s., the entire rental being 6,000l. a-year. So that this was by no means a new charge against the landlords, and it would be impossible to deny it, or to give to it a wholesale answer; but if the attempt were made by reference to particular instances, he should be ready to meet the hon. Member; but in his opinion, the time of the House might be better occupied. Large sums had been contributed by this country, and he believed the opinion to be general, that there was a necessity for making the maintenance of the poor compulsory on the landlords, and under that impression he had refused to bring individual charges forward; and he thought it high time that the voluntary support of the poor should be put an end to altogether.


, in reply to the hon. Member for Stroud, reminded him that the hon. Member for Longford had not said that the landlords had done their duty; he only on the eve of recess defended those landlords whose characters were attacked. The hon. Member for Stroud threatened the House with a mass of correspondence; and, not content with that, went as far back as the time when the cholera raged in Skibbereen, to make charges against Irish landowners of delinquencies committed fifteen years since, by parties, some of whom he knew were dead. The hon. Member wound up by expressing a hope that crimination and recrimination would exist no longer; but if the hon. Gentleman were to keep an ambuscade of correspondence to fire off upon every occasion, he (Mr. Stafford O'Brien) could see no hope of those unpleasant recriminations coming to a conclusion. When hon. Gentlemen made statements who had no connexion with Ireland, who had no local knowledge of that country, in which, he believed, the hon. Gentleman had never been, it became the duty of those who had connexions in that country, and who had some practical knowledge of it, not to submit to such attacks as those of the hon. Member for Stroud in silence. The House had affirmed the principle of extending relief to the poor, and were about to try a great experiment. No man who had considered the subject and the extent of the change could deny it was a great and formidable experiment. One way to make it fail was to exasperate the poor against the rich, and make those who were well disposed to do their best, give up in despair, by ungrounded and false statements; and the result would be to create a mass of misery which must speedily react on England. He thanked most heartily the noble Lord the Member for Durham for the manly, fair, and just views he had taken of these returns: they would have, he had no doubt, a beneficial effect. He hoped his hon. Friend would not interferes with the presentation of the return, as the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had stated that there would be no objection to produce a list of the grants of public money side by side with the local donations. The imperfect nature of the return ought to read a lesson to the Government not to grant returns so easily, when they could not accurately give the information required. They only gave rise to mistakes. The misrepresentations made in that return was only a part of the obloquy the landowners of Ireland had to bear as a punishment for their past errors. They must submit to it; and he hoped they would survive it. Now that they were about to separate, he thought it right to take that opportunity of thanking the Government for the kindness and patience with which they had listened to the suggestions which had been made, and for the way in which they had passed the measures through the House. Their desire for the amelioration of Ireland deserved the gratitude even of those who had opposed the measure; and, although he himself had proposed some amendments, he should, in his situation as a magistrate, try to carry out the Bill in the same spirit in which it had been brought forward.


thought the hon. Member for Northampton had been too hard on the hon. Member for Stroud, who had only spoken because he considered his remarks called for by what had passed before. He thought all were agreed that the return would be an unfair one; and if the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Young) wished that it should not go forth to the public, he would move, when the return was brought up for presentation, that it should not be printed. He thought the Poor Relief Bill ought to pass without obloquy being cast upon those who would be intrusted with the carrying out of the measure.


said, that as the opinion of the House went with the hon. Member for Cavan, it would be unnecessary to discuss the fallacy of the information which this return would give, if it were produced to the House; but he rose for the purpose of suggesting to the Government that as his hon. Friend could not, in the absence of the hon. Member for Marylebone, alter the resolution of the House, they should receive an assurance on the part of the Government that so much as related to the amount which individuals resident in each district had subscribed, should not be produced till his hon. Friend had an opportunity of moving for an alteration in its terms. The object of the return was answered, as the amount of public money granted was before the House; and the return would lead to an unjust inference, and to prejudicial consequences, as it would tend to make landlords abandon the most important duties on their estates, and to subscribe to institutions which were only brought into action to supply the neglect of those duties by the landlords. He believed, however, that the present Bill was not brought forward for the punishment of particular landlords, but because the belief was general that private charity was not sufficient, and ought not to be wholly relied on.


regretted having been unavoidably absent during the earlier stages of this discussion. He had no difficulty in saying that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department would not lay the return upon the Table until the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Young) had had an opportunity of making his proposal for altering the terms of it. He knew that many landlords in Ireland thought that whatever means they could afford towards relieving distress would be better expended in providing work upon their estates, or in soup, than in any other mode. Nothing would be more unfair than to point out to public odium, or to those who might not be aware of all the circumstances, the names of particular individuals who had not given any or large subscriptions. At the same time he hoped nothing would go forth from that House as expressive of an opinion, that private subscriptions were not in any case very important, or that they had not been useful and beneficial in mitigating the existing distress.


thought this was one of those occasions which might be improved—to use a phrase sometimes employed under very different circumstances. The inequality of the sums given in charity by Irish landlords was precisely the ground he used for a poor law; yet he knew there were strong opinions against it in influential quarters out of that House, and those opinions had been supported by arguments which ought to be met as soon as advanced, lest they should sink into the public mind, and produce a reaction unfavourable to the ultimate success of the scheme. Now, what were these arguments? Some eminent political economists were averse to a poor law at all, as being, in its nature, a confiscation of property. He stoutly denied that it was so. He was prepared so show that it was not a confiscation, but a compromise. A real poor law, to be efficient, should be coupled with a mendicancy law, making it criminal to beg. For so long as able-bodied paupers were allowed to wander about the country imposing on the credulous good nature of simple folks, greater evils befell property than the small per centage which a poor law practically inflicted. For, in the first place, whilst nearly as much was given in charity, without a poor law, as a poor law would extort, it happened in practice that the deserving were mixed up with the indolent and criminal; and, at the same time, the law was levied, not upon the whole of society, but on those whose benevolence out stepped their common sense or judicious regard for the public interest. A poor law, then, became a compromise between the right to property and the right to beg. Without State provision for proved destitution, arising out of no fault, but misfortune, no Government, having a regard to its permanence, could safely prohibit the right to solicit relief. A noble Lord in another place spoke of the clamour and excitement raised in England on the subject at that moment, and said they rendered it an unfitting time to pass such a law as that. No wonder there was clamour and excitement. Why, he could not understand how any one, having an interest in public affairs, could rest until a check was imposed on the profligate waste of the hard earnings of the English peasant and artisan under the Labour-rate Act. That an Irish landlord should have expected quietness and calmness of demeanour in the Saxon countenance at that precise moment of all others, did, he must say, surprise him exceedingly. The plea of England was short and simple: ought a country to feed itself, or ought it not? And if it ought, the next question was, how should it be made to do so? There was no way but by the increase of its produce. But was that possible? It was proved to be so by a thousand witnesses, and by known and authenticated examples. A noble Lord in another place had made a speech of inordinate length to prove the frightful evils which would arise from a state of things which was rarely likely to exist—he meant out-of-door relief to the able-bodied. He all along assumed that the unions would be always full. Had he, then, such experience of the Irish disposition to self-taxation? Did the annals of the Castlebar union beget such a conclusion? Was it not rather to be feared that Celtic ingenuity would evade the tax altogether? In times of famine, and then only, the houses would be full—and then they ought to be so. One great authority, whom every thinking man in this country would respect, had recommended emigration in lieu of a poor law. But he contended they were in principle the same thing. A tax on property, levied in any shape, either to support or export redundant population, was in its essence a poor law. Nor could it yet be shown that Ireland was so full that, with good management, its population might not be advantageously doubled. He hoped, therefore, this measure would be, carried as speedily as possible, injustice to both Ireland and England.

The Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill was then reported, and ordered to be read a third time.