§ House in Committee on Destitute Persons (Ireland) Bill.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
stated that it would be in the recollection of hon. Gentlemen that at an early period of the Session his noble Friend the First Lord of the Treasury intimated that measures would be brought forward as soon as possible to put an end to the system of relief in Ireland by public works, and that another system would be proposed to be carried out by a Relief Commission and relief committees, and by the distribution of food to destitute persons. An Act was passed for that purpose, and power was given to raise funds by way of loan, on the security of the rates to be levied, to an amount not exceeding 300,000l. He had himself subsequently proposed in Committee of Supply, that a sum not exceeding 500,000l. should be granted in aid of rates for the purpose of relieving the destitute poor until the harvest should enable them to be maintained from the produce of the soil. What he was now about to propose was, that a further advance should be made from the Consolidated Fund by way of loan on the security of rates to be levied: and in some future Committee of Supply he should have to propose that a further sum be granted in aid of those rates, in order to carry on the relief of the destitute poor from the present time to the harvest. On Friday last a return was moved for, stating the whole amount of loan and advances 1346 since the beginning of last Session of Parliament, which he had hoped would before this time have been in the hands of hon. Members. But he trusted it would be so to-morrow or next day. As to the advances made under preceding Acts, he believed that on former occasions he had stated the amount; and he was now prepared to state that the sum advanced under the Public Works Act, since August last, was 4,700,000l. He was happy to say that the public works system had, as nearly as possible, been brought to a close; and throughout the greater part of Ireland, with the exception of about seventy electoral divisions, the new system had been brought into operation. He was also most happy to say, from the reports received by Her Majesty's Government, that wherever the residents were active in the execution of the Act, it seemed to answer the expectations which had been formed as to its efficacy. It was found that the new system was a greatly improved substitute for the system of relief by public works. He was not sure that it was popular in Ireland; but neither was he sure that the want of popularity was a very bad sign; for the former system was to a very considerable extent abused by all parties concerned in its administration. As soon as it was announced that that system was about to cease, a rush was to a certain extent made on the public works. Upon those public works no fewer than 730,000 persons were employed in one way or another. The relief committees who ought to have sifted the claims of applicants, only added numbers upon numbers. No exertions were made by the superintending officers to apply a check. His noble Friend (Lord G. Bentinck) complained the other day of the number of persons employed in superintending; but he believed the noble Lord would find that there was no very considerable number so employed, taking into account the numbers admitted to relief. The number of overseers was little more than 11,000; the number of persons employed on the public works exceeded 700,000. The check-clerks were included; and, taking those round numbers, it would be found that there was only one overseer to a gang of sixty-six persons. It was not till the very strong measure was taken of ordering a forcible reduction on the 23rd of March, that any considerable reduction was effected. That measure was attended with complete success; it came at a proper time, when it was desirable that the people 1347 should be employed in the cultivation of the soil. The sowing of the spring crops was the result of discharging those persons. The measure was afterwards repeated, and a further reduction effected. A passive resistance to a considerable extent had been made to carrying out the new system; the committees were exceedingly slow in organizing themselves, and but for the vigorous measures which wore taken, it might be doubted whether the new system could have been carried into operation by the time fixed for its commencement. The result of that measure was that the expenditure of the Board of Works was reduced very considerably. For the week ending the 13th of March, the expenditure was 259,000l.; for the week ending the 1st of May, the expenditure was 151,000l.; for the week ending the 29th of May, the total expenditure for all purposes was 53,000l., including the drainage work, the relief work—everything, in short, carried on under the Board of Works. The sum expended on mere relief works for that week was about 40,000l. The expenditure, therefore, of the Board of Works had been reduced one-fifth of what it was on the 13th of March. The new system of relief was in operation in 1,981 electoral divisions, there being 2,050 in all; so that there were no more than seventy exceptions. Making a similar calculation as to the amount of rations issued, these averaged 2,223,000 per day. The expenditure had been kept within just limits; and results which he had not ventured to anticipate early in autumn had been realized. The accounts from all parts of Ireland tended to show such favourable results; and, at an earlier period of the evening, he would have entered further into details. But he must refer to a letter from Sir J. Burgoyne, stating his experience. The letter was dated May 29, and Sir J. Burgoyne said—There is a greater tendency to keep down the expenditure and the evil consequences of encouraging a loose system than I expected. The number of destitute to be provided for, will be, I think, much less than I first calculated, and our inspecting officers are generally working with zeal, activity, and, in many cases, with success.He had also received letters from the north of Ireland showing that the same effects had been produced; and he would read a portion of another letter from a most intelligent magistrate, Mr. Stokes, of Tralee, who said—The ration system has certainly one very important effect. Its support, by the levy of poor- 1348 rates, brings home taxation more immediately to the landowners and landholders than the road system did; and their minds will, consequently, be sooner impressed with the conviction that the period has arrived when they must employ the people on their estates or farms, or support them in idleness from the produce of them.It was to the extension of that feeling, more than to anything else, that they must look for improvement; and he might state, on the authority of another letter, that the new system of administration afforded an exceedingly good test of destitution; it was found that those who were not destitute, rather than live on the food distributed in a cooked shape as it was now given, were desirous to procure employment in ordinary labour. Generally speaking, such was the case; but he was sorry to say there were instances in which parties had been doing their utmost to extort money even beyond what could possibly be required for an electoral division. In one place it appeared that the relief committee had sent in an estimate for 2,000 persons more than were in the whole electoral division. He wished further to state, that, in the administration of the funds for the relief of the poor in Ireland, pains were taken to encourage, as much as possible, the voluntary exertions of parties themselves, and in many cases he was happy to be able to state that the wealthier ratepayers subscribed voluntarily for the purpose of relieving the less wealthy persons who were subject to to the payment of rates; and especially in the north had that principle been acted on in the most advantageous manner, and with the most satisfactory results; when the rates came up to a certain amount—when they rose to a certain amount in the pound—the additional grants were made for the aid of ratepayer, but not until then. The last report brought the statements up to the 10th of May, and from that it appeared that the loan with which the Committees had been debited, was 77,000l. As respected the whole of the sums to be advanced, the greatest security against lavish expenditure was, that the loans were secured upon the guarantee of the rates to be forthwith levied. This operated as a great inducement to the ratepayers to come forward for the purpose of excluding improper persons from the lists. Upon this part of the subject the Government had been furnished with the following report:—Bailieborough Union, May 15.The lists of those receiving relief were strictly revised, and the ratepayers evinced the most laudable zeal in unmasking any imposition that existed. They came forward in a body, and in con- 1349 sequence of their statements, which were fully substantiated by proof, the committee were enabled to strike off 100 persons improperly on their lists, being possessed of stock or money. The ratepayers retired, announcing their intentions to protect their own interests and assist the Government, by keeping a strict surveillance over applicants for relief, and immediately reporting any imposition. They received every encouragement.The foregoing statements showed a striking change and a very manifest improvement upon the old system. There was another point to which it was here necessary that he should advert, namely, the abuses to which the distribution of raw food in many districts gave rise. The people representing themselves as distressed took all possible means to possess themselves of raw food, and the moment they obtained supplies of that description they lost no time in selling them, or exchanging them for spirits or tobacco. The distribution of cooked food was then resorted to with the most successful results. In fact, the distribution of cooked food was the most effectual method of guarding against the abuses which otherwise must have prevailed, and had also produced the best effect on the health of the poor to whom it was distributed. Mr. Fox, a largo landed proprietor, who, by the application of much time and attention, had acquired considerable experience in the distribution of relief to the people of Ireland, stated, in his report, that cooked food was not only the most suitable for the purpose of doing justice to all parties concerned, but it was the best calculated to promote the health of the recipients themselves. Cooked food had, therefore, been extensively supplied, and raw food had from that time forward been refused. Guarded by that check, he did hope that the system now in use would continue to be conducive to the health and welfare of the people for whose benefit it was intended; and he trusted that the operation of that system would leave the people in a better condition than that in which it found them. He now held in his hand a statement from Count Stryclycke who was one of the persons employed by the British Association. The statement referred to the Westport union, and was in the following words:—Westport, May 4.It shows that out of 78,000 souls, 26,350 are actually receiving daily rations; and that the double, but most probably 55,000, will compose the number of the next fortnight's daily issues. However surprising these numbers may be, the admirable adoption and work of the administrative 1350 machinery created for the distribution of the rations required, is not less so. The cost of this system of relief will be half of that which preceded it. For 55,000 rations of Indian meal, at 15l. per ton, amounted to 2,275l. weekly, which, with other contingencies, may reach 2.500l., while the relief through the public works was 4,700l., or thereabouts (weekly average of March), which with the grants made in money and food by the Government, the British and other associations, to five relief committees, and with the not less considerable private charities poured from England, will make a total much above 5,000l. of weekly expenditure. But the great recommendation of the present system, abstract of its comparative cheapness, is that besides being more systematic and capable of contracting and extending its issues from fortnight to fortnight, and thus of adjusting and adapting itself to circumstances, it is more effective; for since it came into operation, the afflicting and heartrending crowds of destitutes disappeared.He ventured to say, that no report could be more satisfactory than that which he had now read to the House; as previous to the period therein referred to, no district could have been more destitute; and besides, it was not to be forgotten that the introduction of that system was attended with only half the. cost of a different plan. he believed that the course adopted by the Government had been attended with most beneficial results, and that by means of that system the misery which previously prevailed in Westport and other unions had been materially alleviated. He had now very little more to say. At the time when he made his statement on the subject, and took the first vote, he had warned the House that if the necessity of the case required further votes, he should from time to time apply to the House and take such further votes as circumstances might render necessary. The House, of course, at the time to which he referred, understood, and he might now repeat it, that the money was not all to be issued at once—that it was to be advanced by instalments, according to the need of the several districts. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving—That provision be made, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, for the payment of any sum not exceeding 600,000l., to be advanced by way of Loan, on the security of Rates to be levied in Ireland, to the Relief Commissioners appointed in pursuance of an Act of the present Session for the temporary Relief of Destitute Persons in Ireland.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
said, the right hon. Baronet had explained his views pretty clearly; but there were two or three points which might require some further elucida- 1351 tion. There was to be, as he understood, a sum of 4,700,000l. for public works; one moiety of that had already been advanced, and only one moiety of it was to be repaid in twenty years. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: In ten years.] Well, in ten years; he wished to know was that to be so? He understood the right hon. Baronet to say, that there were 1,900 electoral districts in which the Relief Act had come into operation. He wished to ask whether the right hon. Baronet could tell what was the estimated cost of 2,200,000 rations daily? next, whether in every one of the 1,900 electoral divisions in which those rations were distributed, a rate had been struck? and whether in every one of those 1,900 a rate had been levied?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
replied, that he could not answer at the moment what the daily cost of 2,200,000 rations was; but he might state that the estimate of the accountant of the Relief Commission was that each ration cost 2½d., and that the estimate of the probable amount required to be advanced by way of loan and grant in aid of the rates for this purpose from the 24th of May to the 20th of September, was 2,651,000l. With respect to the next question, he had stated that 4,700,000l. was the amount issued under the Relief Works Act of last Session, and that this sum was to be re- paid by twenty half-yearly instalments. He believed that the rates were struck, or notices given for striking the rates, in all the unions to which any sums had been advanced; but he had not seen any account stating that the rates had been actually levied. He had lately received a Kerry newspaper, containing an advertisement for a person to act as collector in the Tralee union; and he had a letter in his hand stating that the rate had been struck, and notices issued for its collection, in the same union. He believed that matters were in the same state elsewhere.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
wished to understand if there was to be no second instalment made under the Relief Act without coming to Parliament, unless the rate was not only struck, but in progress of being levied? It would be highly satisfactory to understand this.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had not stated that any such provision was in the Act of Parliament, What he had stated was, that the Government had intimated to the Relief Commission and to the relief committees, 1352 that no second instalment would be issued—with certain exceptions in the west of Ireland—until the rates were in the course of collection.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, that though this was a subject in which he took much interest, he did not wish to interfere with the functions of Government; but he did wish to see a little more pains taken to ascertain the facts of the case. The amount of money raised for Ireland, whether by gift or loan, was frightful; and the manner in which the money was paid away was more frightful still. He did not believe that even Her Majesty's Government were aware of what was going on in that country; he did not believe that by reading the official documents transmitted to them they ever would became aware of it; and as for the other Members of that House, they knew less than nothing. There were large blue books issued which few people attempted to read, and the few who did attempt to read could not possibly understand them. As a member of a Committee at present sitting up stairs, some facts had incidentally come to his knowledge which showed that there was a scene of indescribable confusion at present going on in Ireland between the Government officers, the relief committees, and those who were getting relief—the Government officers issuing one set of instructions, and the relief committees issuing instructions diametrically opposite, hundreds of labourers without any work, applications not attended to, and people starving. If Government would institute an inquiry to receive viva voce evidence, that would give them a more complete insight into the working of the system than they could possibly have from written and printed reports. Without saying who was right and who was wrong, or how the matter was to be remedied, he would only repeat, that the confusion was frightful, the expense appalling, and the relief inadequately represented by the mass of money which was granted.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
assured his hon. Friend (Mr. Aglionby), that for some time past the attention of Government had been constantly and unremittingly given to the subject to which he had just adverted. For his part, he had never attempted to conceal his impression, that in carrying into effect the system which they had devised for the relief of the destitution in Ireland, under the present extraordinary circumstances, there were the means of immense 1353 abuses. The House was his witness that he had never attempted to conceal this impression. He believed that abuses were the necessary concomitant of these extraordinary measures—measures which were justified by unparalleled circumstances. But, on the other hand, while making that admission, he felt bound to express his deep conviction that but for those measures the distress and misery would have been multiplied tenfold. The bounty of that House—which he had seen no reason to regret—together with the bounty of the country, had been the means of preserving the lives of thousands and hundreds of thousands of their fellow-creatures in Ireland, under the influence of a calamity of an extraordinary nature, the extent of which it was impossible to overrate. With respect to the efforts made to check the abuses, he had no fears of any searching inquiry on the part of that House. He was convinced that the more the matter was looked into, the more that House and the public would be satisfied that, considering the magnitude of the undertaking—which he believed was without a parallel in the history of the world—considering that, at one time, there were employed by the Government on public works no fewer than 730,000 persons; considering that it had been conducted without disorder, and that the peace of Ireland had been preserved all the time; considering all those things, he thought that, on the whole, they would be satisfied that this gigantic undertaking had been carried on as successfully and with as little disturbance as it was possible to conceive under the circumstances of the case. Undoubtedly it was at last found impossible to persevere longer in that system, and that it was necessary, under the altered circumstances of the country, to resort to a different mode of supporting the people. A system of supplying rations of food was again adopted; but it was as impossible for the Government of a country to undertake to feed so immense a mass of people as to employ them. Both of these operations were altogether out of the legitimate course of the Government, and were only to be justified by extraordinary circumstances. The task imposed on the Government could not be undertaken without giving rise to great abuse and evil; but the statement of his right hon. Friend would prove that the expectation held out to the House, that the system introduced would be free from many of the evils which accompanied the system of public works, had not been disappointed. 1354 Nothing could exceed the zeal and devoted manner in which the officers of the Board of Works had performed the extraordinary task imposed upon them; they had introduced as much as was possible of regularity and order, and their efforts had successfully checked the abuses which took place under the former system. He never had denied that he thought in very many cases the Government had not received that local support from the gentry of Ireland which they had a right to expect; but, on the other hand, he would never agree to those sweeping accusations which they sometimes heard against the Irish gentry, or that their conduct was universally to be reprobated. He thought that the House would be in error unless they believed that many great pecuniary sacrifices had been made by the gentry of Ireland. He held in his hand a return of voluntary subscriptions made in Ireland for one particular purpose since March, 1846, and he found that from the 25th of March to the 8th of August the voluntary subscriptions to the relief committees amounted to 100,000l.; and from September to the 22nd of May, 1847, to 200,000l. His hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth, he was aware, was chairman of a Committee, the duty of which naturally led to an inquiry into the working of this Act in the county of Clare. He had ventured, on a former occasion, to say that that county was a part of Ireland where the Act had been worst carried into effect, and he did not believe that that county was a fair specimen of Ireland in that respect.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
explained that he had expressed no opinion as to where the blame rested, neither had he made any "sweeping charges." All that he had stated was, that hon. Members should be more acquainted with the working of the system than they were; and the scenes of confusion took place which they could not imagine.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
had on many occasions spoken of the Irish landlords as a class, and said they had not fulfilled the duties which devolved upon them as the persons possessed of the wealth of the country; and he thought the statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer would go far to justify the expressions he had made use of at the commencement of the Session. He then said that Government was travelling out of its legitimate functions in attempting to feed a whole nation. Finding employment for the whole nation was the 1355 first experiment, and that failed; and then came that of feeding them, and from all he could hear and see that was about to fail also. There was, however, one observation that he wished to make. Hon. Gentlemen did not consider the way in which this interference of Government—in which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) said they were justified, but in which he could show they were not justified—with the people of Ireland, reacted on the people of this country. Government undertook to feed the people of Ireland; and they fed them on better and more expensive food than they were used to. This, perhaps, could not be avoided; it was the natural result of eleemosynary aid. The Government were unwittingly less economical than the people would have been themselves. If the people had had the same quantity of corn, they would have employed a fourth of it only for food, and the superfluous three-fourths would have been added to the wealth of the country. He believed Government had been anxious to perform its duty, and that the persons under them had also been equally anxious; but he was compelled to say that the morality—the immorality rather—of the Irish Gentlemen had met them on all occasions. There had been neither day nor hour in which the Government had not been crossed and thwarted by interested parties, anxious to turn to their individual benefit the aid of England, and eagerly grasping at all eleemosynary assistance. This state of things was inherent in the mischievous attempt made by Government to feed the whole. This scheme had also fostered the not over industrious habits of the Irish people, weakened the morality of their character, and had broken down or endangered the stability of the whole commercial arrangements of this country. A more dangerous course was never taken by any Government—a more dreadful risk was never run by any people. And he would besides assert and maintain that the Government was not justified in what they had done by the occasion. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by a general expression of distrust of the course which the Government had pursued.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
was anxious to explain the motives which had induced him to put the question he had addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was very far indeed from seeking to impugn the conduct of the Government in this great and dread- 1356 ful emergency; and he somewhat differed from the hon. and learned Member for Bath, when he said that the attempt to feed the people of Ireland was mischievous; that it was a signal failure; and that it was not justified by the extreme necessity of the present moment. But he must say, that, considering the effect which this unexampled effort had produced on the resources of the richest country in the world, now when this Session was drawing to a close, he thought it right that under present circumstances we should carefully review our position; and he must say, that he could not consider the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a very cheering one. On the contrary, he thought the expenditure that would be still necessary under this Bill a most alarming feature in our condition. Two million rations, at 2½d. each, involved an expenditure at the rate of somewhere about 600,000l. a month, or 7,500,000l. a year. This was in addition to an expenditure of 7,400,000l. on public works, which were not yet brought to a close; for in addition to 600,000l. which would be required for alterations, there was still going on an expenditure of 300,000l. for public works. It was important that the position of the Irish landlords should be clearly understood. The whole of the expenditure for rations must be repaid by the landowners and owners of property in Ireland, as he held, immediately. The 7,500,000l. a year, or 600,000l. a month, was, by engagement under Act of Parliament with the people of this country, to be repaid by the property of Ireland. The repayment of advances for public works was to be a postponed payment, since by the Act it was not to be repaid for ten years, and that by instalments; but, on the other hand, he understood that under the Relief Act the amount of 600,000l. a month, as now expended, should be repaid forthwith. It was desirable that there should be no misunderstanding on that point. The expenditure was a large one; and, until the harvest should be cleared, it must go on about the rate he had mentioned. As rates would have to be levied in Ireland, he attached the utmost importance to a system of immediate commencement of levy, even if not to the full amount; yet, at all events, where relief took place, that a levy should be made to defray the expenditure. The question he had put was simply relevant to this point. He did not blame the conduct of the Government, 1357 much less did he dissent from those enactments to which he had given a reluctant but unlimited assent; on the other hand, he thought the Relief Act must be carried into execution immediately, and a levy of rates made without delay.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
wished to put a question he had forgotten to put, of which he was reminded by what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. In Ireland there was a Poor Law, with poor rates, and they had seen gentlemen and men of property openly resisting the payment of them; that had been proved over and over again to the satisfaction, he was sure, of the House of Commons. What he ventured to ask of the noble Lord at the head of the Administration was, if Government had formed any determination with respect to this class of defaulters, and had really brought their courage to the point of compelling the law officers of the Crown to carry into execution the law against those parties who thus openly and unblushingly resisted a charitable law, imposing on them the necessity of paying their quota to the relief of the poor? He need not recall to the recollection of the noble Lord that there was case after case of the kind he had mentioned.
LORD J. RUSSELL
I believe, that with respect to those cases—I do not think there was case after case, though there was more than one—where the rates could not be collected, orders have been given that the boards of guardians which did not order the collection of rates should be dissolved, and new boards embodied, which should immediately proceed to the collection of rates. Perhaps, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has stated his views of the subject, I may enter into the question he has again raised—whether or not the system we have been pursuing was, as he says, entirely mischievous. He thinks the relief we have given has completely failed, and that we ought to have entirely neglected or renounced any attempt either to employ or to feed the people of Ireland in this emergency. I do beg the House to consider—the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Dorchester, seems to have it fully present to his mind—what a very extraordinary case this was. It does not resemble any case that has ever happened in England of a deficiency in the harvest; it does not resemble any of those cases which we hear have given rise to riots and tumults in various parts of the Continent, where the supply of food has 1358 been less than that which is usually obtained, and the price of grain has been very considerably raised. The case of Ireland bears no resemblance to any of these; it was a case very considerably aggravated beyond all such cases. It was the case of a people, several millions of whom—say three, four, or five millions—were dependent, not on any regular wages, not on the purchase of food, but on the growth of the potato, which they themselves cultivated, and which in this year failed to an extent, we may say, of four-fifths or five-sixths, in some places more, of the entire amount. The state of society was one which did not afford any easy or prompt remedy for such an extraordinary calamity. Society in Ireland, I need not say, has within it various elements of discord; it has within it, I am sorry to remark, very few elements of harmony. It is not a granite rock with which you have to deal, it is a loose sandstone which forms the composition of society in Ireland. The gentry and landowners have but little hold—I will not say whether it is their fault or not—they have but little hold generally on the attachment of the people. The ministers of religion, again, who have the greatest command over the affections and opinions of their flocks, have but little connexion with, and little respect for, the proprietors of the land. The differences of religion, the differences of politics, are constantly setting class against class, and man against man. The people have been accustomed for many years—at first, I think, rightly accustomed, because it was necessary; of latter years, perhaps, unnecessarily accustomed—to great political agitation, rather to attendance on public meetings and hearing exciting speeches, than to take any practical measures for their own relief. It was upon such a people, and in such a condition of things, that this extraordinary calamity fell. It might have been expected, as it was found, that instead of all the landowners, farmers, and labourers assembling together and devising means whereby they might meet that great calamity, there appeared great apathy on the part of the landowners, very little concern on the part of the tenants, and amongst the unfortunate people themselves who wore struck by this calamity, a resignation which, in one sense, was very greatly commendable—a patient submission, which was much to be admired—but at the same time, a want of effort and exertion, which greatly aggravated that calamity under which they were 1359 suffering. I ask the House whether this is a state of things in which ordinary remedies could be applied? I ask them whether it is a state of circumstances in which usual rules could he adopted by a Government? If the answer of the House had been—"Let these people exert themselves; let those who have been united to us now for nearly half a century, find their own way out of these difficulties, and bear the calamity as they may"—if such, had been the answer of the House, I must say, that I believe that in such a state of society, if left alone, you would have had irreparable confusion—you would have had immense numbers of deaths, greatly beyond any mortality that has occurred, and such a state of anger, discord, and animosity of class against class, and of all classes against the Imperial Government of this country, that it would have been—I will not say impossible, but—almost impossible to bring society in that country into such a condition as to be recomposed until after a very long period had elapsed. Now, when I say, that such would have been the state of society in Ireland, if the Irish had been left alone, I do not mean to say that the measures proposed and carried into operation by the Government, were such as the utmost wisdom could have devised, or such as were best calculated to relieve the emergency which arose; but I do say that they were in some degree calculated to meet that emergency. For instance, the system of public works greatly resembled the mode of relief adopted in this country in times of extraordinary difficulty, when applied as a test of destitution. In Ireland, however, it has not proved a test of destitution. It has been found that a system which answers extremely well in England, has been a prolific source of abuse in Ireland. Parliament has tried, since the beginning of this Session, a different system, which seems to promise better results, as those who appear to be in distress do not come so readily to receive rations, as to receive money, and therefore the receipt of rations seems to be a more adequate test of destitution than any which we have tried before. At the same time, I do not mean to say that the objections which have been urged by the hon. and learned Gentleman have no weight. I do not believe that the Irish people are naturally averse to labour, but believing that the people are averse, from their circumstances, to labour, I consider that that indisposition to labour has been encouraged by what has occurred. 1360 I will admit, also, that with regard to many of the gentry, they are encouraged rather to promote those whom they wish to protect and favour, instead of distributing that relief they are empowered to give according to the most impartial arrangements. I quite admit that those abuses have sprung up, and I will admit further, they were abuses which a Government was bound to foresee, and which we could not well have avoided foreseeing in adopting any scheme of that kind. What, however, I say is, that even these abuses, great as they have been, calamitous in their effects as they may have been, are much less than the sufferings, evils, and confusion—than that demoralised state of the whole country—which we would have had to apprehend if we had not adopted these measures. More than this: after these measures shall have run their course, in future years there will be nothing which shall prevent Ireland being in a better state than she has ever before been at any former period. I consider myself, that if the people do not again place their reliance on the potato—if they do not remain in that low state of society which the exclusive use of potato food has produced, connected with other peculiarities in the condition of Ireland—if that is the case—if the Poor Law acts, as I believe it will act, beneficially, in connecting various classes in that country in one common duty—then I do believe that meeting a great calamity with imperfect remedies, and remedies which have been liable to many abuses, will yet have produced a good effect in that frightful state into which we have fallen, and will lay the foundation for a future condition of greater comfort and greater prosperity in that country. I am sorry to detain the House with these observations; but as the hon. and learned Gentleman so often takes the opportunity of passing these remarks, and as it might be considered and taken for granted that the Government admit their measures to have failed, and that they ought to have abstained—I wish to assert, that I am of the opinion still which I entertained at the commencement of the Session, that it was right to interfere; that I do not know whether it would have been possible for any other Government—it would have been impossible for us—without any experience of such a calamity, to adopt the measures best suited to that calamity and the character of the people of Ireland. And I think it was wise to incur a very great expenditure, even at the expense of the people 1361 of England—even though we have exposed them to very considerable sufferings, and to an enhancement of the prices of their food—rather than to have let Ireland fall into that state which, for my part, I cannot contemplate without the greatest horror, and which I should ever regret having occasioned. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has asked what check we have as to the future operation of the system? We have not, according to Act of Parliament, as he supposes, a check restraining any further sums from being issued without the levying of rates; but we have a certain discretion given to us, which discretion we shall exercise according to the best of our judgment. Where we find that, although the rates are small, and ordered to be levied, yet that they are not levied, and that the absence of levying proceeds not from the entire want of means, but a wish to avoid the payment, we have a discretion, which in such cases I think we are bound to exercise, in not making any further advances till satisfied that the rates have been collected from those whose circumstances admit of their paying them. In such cases the board of guardians, if they refuse to collect, may be dissolved, and a new board appointed, which shall be ordered to obtain such sums as may be required. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that it would be right to use that power; and I do not think we ought to be satisfied that there is money in the Exchequer to be applied to Ireland, without considering what is the ability of the ratepayers in that country to meet the expenses which may be incurred. On the contrary, I think myself that, proceeding from a system of works which were entirely gratuitous, to that system which consists very greatly of advances, but partly of rates, we are accustoming the ratepayers to consider what the charge will be to them; and we are inducing them to look narrowly into the revision of the lists of distressed people. My right hon. Friend has given some instances in which that has taken place. I have seen a great many more letters from different parties, in which they state, that in this revision the ratepayers had been beneficially occupied; and I think, in proportion as the assistance from the Exchequer is withdrawn, and relief comes more entirely from themselves, in that proportion will the country be benefited, and those who are relieved be really destitute, instead of those who by some favour of a member of a relief committee have got places on the relief lists. I should 1362 therefore say, that while giving great assistance, great, large, and generous assistance, as I think this country has given, both by Act of Parliament and by spontaneous acts of individuals, in order to meet the calamity of the present year, we should at the same time take care to lay the foundation of a system by which hereafter such relief shall be afforded by those who hold the property of Ireland. My own belief is, that the produce of Ireland, the rents of the proprietors, and the profits of the farmers, are such as to enable them to support, not only the labouring classes, but likewise those destitute classes for whom hitherto they have not provided labour. My opinion is, that this New Poor Law will induce those classes to employ a greater quantity of labour, so that those few who are left to be supported by the poor rates will be in reality destitute; and in this manner, the future improvement of Ireland may be discerned through the gloom and darkness of the present moment. I hope the House will consent to grant these sums. I do not ask the House to grant them in any absolute confidence that the money will be applied without any abuse, and that the revision of the lists shall be so perfect that there will not take place any of the former misappropriations. All I can say is, the best exertions of all the officers of the Government, of those intelligent men at the head of those departments in Ireland as well as those serving under them, will be given to the correction of all such abuses; and in coping with so great and unprecedented a calamity, we ask excuses for the errors we have committed, and support in the efforts we will continue to make.
SIR D. NORREYS
would like to know how far the Government would undertake to complete the public works in Ireland, or whether they intended to introduce any measure to compel the completion of those works? He firmly believed that the Government had the best intentions towards Ireland; but they had erred from the very commencement. It was urged upon them over and over to confine their efforts to smaller districts, where abuses could not exist without instant detection. Instead, however, of listening to those suggestions, they made the districts twenty, thirty, and forty miles in circuit; and the result was, of course, extravagance and abuse. he believed the future prospects of Ireland were of the most deplorable kind. He saw no means of getting out of the diffi- 1363 culties which encompassed it. It was said, "employ the people;" but, in the name of God, how were they to employ the people? What means had they? What capital could a country taxed to so enormous an extent devote to the purposes of employment? The position of Ireland required the most careful consideration of the Government; and, in his mind, measures ought at once to be adopted to make Irish property available in every possible way. They must lend money to Ireland, and spend money on her, and thus develop her resources, or a party would rise different to any other yet known in Irish history, who would compel these concessions. They must pursue a liberal course towards Ireland; and they must, without unnecessary loss of time, devise other means to enable the landed proprietors of Ireland to improve their estates, and release them from incumbrance. He wished to impress upon the House that Ireland was in a state when small measures were useless to her. The present Government commenced the Session promising many flattering measures calculated to benefit the country. One of those was to be a comprehensive measure for the reclamation of waste lands; but what had become of it now? Then, there was a railway measure; but even the small concession lately promised had not yet been finally conceded. He begged of the Government to give some comprehensive measures to Ireland.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
denied that the course of legislation adopted this Session towards Ireland could be styled petty or peddling. Was the voting of eight millions of money a petty measure?
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ House resumed, and adjourned at a quarter to Two o'clock.