HC Deb 25 August 1848 vol 101 cc529-40

On the question that the Speaker leave the chair for the House to go into a Committee of Ways and Means,


rose to move— That no future appropriation of moneys taken from general taxation be made in and of the Poor Rate of Irish Unions except on condition—1. That it be expended in the productive employment of the able-bodied poor. 2. That repayment be secured by a lien on the property improved by the works, as well as on the rateable property of the Union. He complained that the Poor Law Commissioners employed the poor in stone-breaking, which was an unproductive occu- pation, and refused the request which had been made to them by several boards of guardians, that the ablebodied paupers might be employed in productive labour on the land. There was no difficulty in finding employment for productive labour in Ireland; and experience had shown, according to the statement of Dr. Harrison, that the ablebodied poor might be most successfully engaged in reclaiming waste land. What could be more demoralising than feeding men in a state of perfect idleness? If any public money was to he contributed out of the hard earnings of the people of this country in and of the poor-rates of some of the Irish unions, he contended that it ought to be spent in such a manner as would be productive of some profit, so as to afford some chance of the money being repaid. It would be unjust to the English public if some condition of this kind did not attach to the loan of English money.


thought the hon. Gentleman had very unfairly thrown blame on the Poor Law Commissioners for not doing that which the law did not empower them to do. He complained that the ablebodied paupers were not provided for by the Poor Law Commissioners, and kept in employment. Now, it was enough to say that the law absolutely prohibited the Commissioners from giving relief in the way the hon. Gentleman proposed. The law might be right or wrong; but, unquestionably, it prohibited the ablebodied being relieved except in the workhouse. He entirely differed from the hon. Gentleman in the view he took of the question. He did not think that the employment of pauper labourers on what the hon. Gentleman called "reproductive works" would he attended with success; he did not think they would be reproductive works at all. The hon. Gentleman did not say what those reproductive works ought to be. He merely quoted from Alison's pamphlet on that part of the question. Now, the essence of Dr. Ahson's plan was, that forcible possession should he taken of waste lands; but it was impossible the Poor Law Commissioners could do this, as no such compulsory powers were given them. He believed that if such a plan as that proposed by the hon. Gentleman was carried out, they would turn the whole country into one mass of pauperism; and he therefore, hoped that the propositions submitted by the hon. Member would not receive the sanction of the House.


said, the report of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland contained a complete refutation of the crotchets put forward by the hon. Member for Stroud, and showed that it was impossible to carry out the reclamation of waste lands in the manner he proposed. The report, however, gave, on the other hand, much encouragement to the House to grant loans to Irish proprietors for the improvement of their estates. The Commissioners showed that great advantages had followed the drainage and other works, and that they anticipated no difficulty in a gradual repayment of the expenditure in half-yearly instalments.


thought the portions of the report to which the noble Lord had referred were in favour of the propositions of the hon. Member for Stroud. He concurred in the principles laid down by the hon. Gentleman, and he thought the House was obliged to him for calling their attention to the way in which future payments for works in Ireland ought to be made. He was clearly in favour of a system by which ablebodied paupers should be relieved by means of labour, provided that labour was of a productive character; and he did not see, therefore, why the proposal of the hon. Gentleman should not be agreed to by the House.


I think I can agree generally with the principles laid down on this subject by the hon. Member for Montrose; but I do not go along with him in thinking that the view which he has so far commended is at one with the object which my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has proposed. It may be very useful to advance money from the State on particular occasions, with the view of getting work executed for the improvement of estates; and that is what the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) referred to as having been done under the Land Improvement Act. In a case of that kind a loan is advanced to the proprietor, and the Board of Works sees that the particular work is executed; but the work is executed by the ordinary means of giving due wages to those who are employed, viz., the ablebodied labourers, who, in return for those wages, perform the work given them to do. In that way property may be much improved; a fair return may be obtained for the money expended; employment is given; and the whole result of such money being advanced is very beneficial to all parties. There is another mode in which the State may be called on to assist, and that is the mode in which relief is afforded in this country in a time of great distress and destitution. In those periods when there are a great many desstitute poor, those destitute poor are allowed a certain amount of relief; and in order to obtain proof that those persons are really destitute, and that they would not come for relief if they could find employment elsewhere, some work which is of an irksome kind, is given them to do—the work being of value, as a proof that they are persons to whom relief should be afforded. That is the way in which we spend several millions a-year in this country for the relief of destitution. Now, both these things may be exceedingly right to be undertaken, and both have their separate uses. But if you attempt to combine these two things—if you say you will employ all the paupers in a district, and, at the same time, undertake useful works, by means of which regular wages will be earned, you are just doing the very thing to which the hon. Member for Montrose objects; because he says, and says truly, that if the Government undertakes works and employs labour, it interferes with the labour market, and therefore the whole result is very unsatisfactory. I agree with him in that respect. If you say these persons are destitute, and therefore you must employ them, you will find that their labour is not worth that which it pretends to be worth, and that you are paying them money in the way of wages, while you are not getting work equal to the amount of those wages. On the other hand, you find a number of persons coming to these public works who are not really destitute, and to whom you would not otherwise think of affording relief. There are, however, as I have said, two courses, both of which may be necessary. The one is, to advance money to proprietors to be laid out in labour for the improvement of their estates; and the other is, that in cases of extreme destitution you afford relief for the purpose of preventing the misery that may be induced. But when you attempt to combine them, as the hon. Member for Stroud attempts to do, you will inevitably fall into an error that cannot fail to be prejudicial. I believe the hon. Member for Montrose, and I perfectly agree in these propositions; but then these are not the objects sought for by the hon. Member for Stroud. I have only to say that I do not think it would be safe to adopt the proposal of the hon. Member, as it would, I am afraid, lead to some highly injurious modes of proceeding with reference to Ireland.


From the speeches that have been delivered in this debate, and from what we know of Ireland; it is clear that country is so entirely disorganised, that it is extremely difficult to suggest any means by which relief can be extensively given without causing two evils: first, the waste of a great portion of the money which is granted; and next, the demoralisation of a large number of those to whom the relief is given. It is on account of these difficulties that I am disposed to make great allowances for the measures which the Government have undertaken, as well as for any propositions which may be made by the hon. Member for Stroud, even when they appear somewhat inconsistent with correct economical principles. As this is probably the last opportunity during this Session when the question of the condition of Ireland can be discussed, I am anxious to avail myself of it to offer a few observations to the House, and to explain briefly what I conceive to be the course which ought to be taken with regard to that country, to enable its population to place themselves in a position of comfort and independence. The past of Ireland is known to us all; it is a tale of idleness, and poverty, and periodical insurrection; and the present of Ireland is like the past, except that at this moment all its ordinary evils are exhibited in an aggravated form. But there are one or two points with regard to this subject to which I wish especially to ask the attention of the House. Have you ever fully considered the effect which this state of things in Ireland has upon the condition of certain districts in England? We have had some threatenings of disturbances in England, and of disaffection—I hope it is not wide-spread—here and there in various parts of the country. Take the county of Lancaster as an example, and you will see something of the consequences of a large influx of the Irish population into that district. In Liverpool and Manchester, and in all the belt of towns which surround Manchester, there is a large Irish population—in fact, there is an Irish quarter in each of these towns. It is true a great number of these persons are steady, respectable, and industrious, but it is notorious that a large portion of them are the directly opposite of all this. They bring to this country all the vices which have prevailed so much in Ireland; their influence on the people of Lancashire is often of the most unfavourable character, and the effect of their example on the native population must necessarily be injurious. We find that crimes attended with violence too much prevail in Lancashire and Yorkshire. These crimes to a large extent are committed by persons who are not natives of those counties, but who come from Ireland, because it is impossible for them to find subsistence in that country. There is another point which seems to me important. Driven forth by poverty, Irishmen emigrate in great numbers, and in whatsoever quarter of the world an Irishman sets his foot, there stands a bitter—an implacable enemy of England. That is one of the results of the wide-spread disaffection that exists in Ireland. There are hundreds of thousands of the population of the United States of America who are Irish by birth, or by immediate descent; and be it remembered, Irishmen settled in the United States have a large influence in public affairs. They sometimes sway the election of Members of the Legislature, and may even affect the election of the President of the Republic. There may come a time when questions of a critical nature will be agitated between the Governments of Great Britain and the United States; and it is certain that at such a time the Irish in that country will throw their whole weight into the scale against this country, and against peace with this country. These are points which it is necessary to consider, and which arise out of the lamentable condition in which Ireland is placed. When we reflect for a moment upon the destitution which millions of our countrymen suffer in that unfortunate island, the conclusion is inevitable either that the Government or the people of Ireland are in fault. I think both are in fault. I think the Government has been negligent of Ireland. I do not mean the present Government in particular; for they are fully as anxious for the welfare of Ireland as any former Administration has been—but I think the Government generally has been negligent of Ireland. It is a common thing to hear it said, and especially by Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury bench, that the remedy for Irish evils is difficult, and that the difficulty seems insurmountable; but the House may rest assured that no difficulty can be so great as that which must be met if no remedy is applied. To do anything that can be effectual, must be infinitely less dangerous than to do nothing. Now I believe the real difficulties which beset this question, do not arise from anything in Ireland, so much as from the constitution of the Government. This House, and the other House of Parliament, are almost exclusively aristocratic in their character. The Administration is therefore necessarily the same, and on the Treasury benches aristocracy reigns supreme. Not fewer than seven Members of the Cabinet are Members of the House of Lords; and every other Member of it is either a Lord by title, or on the very threshold of the peerage by birth or marriage. I am not blaming them for this; it may even be that from neither House of Parliament can fourteen better men be chosen to fill their places. But I maintain that in the present position of Ireland, and looking at human nature as it is, it is not possible that fourteen Gentlemen, circumstanced as these are, can meet round the Council table, and with unbiassed minds fairly discuss the question of Ireland, as it now presents itself to this House, to the country, and to the world. The condition of Ireland requires two kinds of remedies—one political, the other social; and it is hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins. I will speak first of the political remedies. At present there prevails throughout three-fourths of the Irish people a total unbelief in the honesty and integrity of the Government of this country. There may or may not be good grounds for all this ill-feeling; but that it exists no man acquainted with Ireland will deny. The first step to be taken is to remove this feeling; and, to do this, some great measure or measures should be offered to the people of Ireland, which will act as a complete demonstration to them that bygones are to be bygones with regard to the administration of Irish affairs, and that henceforth new, and generous, and equal principles of government are to be adopted. I have on a former occasion stated my opinions on one or two subjects, and I will venture again briefly to explain them to the House. Ireland has long been a country of jars and turmoil, and its jars have arisen chiefly from religious dissensions. In respect of matters of religion she has been governed in a manner totally unknown in England and Scotland. If Ireland has been rightly governed—if it has been wise and just to maintain the Protestant Church established there, you ought, in order to carry out your system, to establish Prelacy in Scotland, and Catholicism in England; and if you were to attempt to do either the one or the other, it would not he a sham but a real insurrection you would provoke. There must be equality between the great religious sects in Ireland—between Catholic and Protestant. It is impossible that this equality can he much longer denied. It is suspected that it is the intention of the Government to bring forward at no distant day, if they can catch the people of England napping, a proposition for paying the Roman Catholic priests of Ireland. On more than one ground I should object to any such scheme. In the first place, I believe the Government cannot, from any funds they possess, or from any they can obtain, place the Catholic priests on an equality with the ministers of the Protestant church; and if they cannot do that in every respect, the thing is not worth attempting. They will, I think, find it infinitely more easy, and it will certainly be much more in accordance with political justice, and with the true interests of religion, to withdraw from Ireland the Church Establishment which now exists there, and to bring about that perfect equality which may be secured by taking away so much of the funds as are proved to be totally unnecessary for the wants of the population. I do not mean that you should withdraw from the Protestant Church every sixpence now in its possession; what I mean is, that you should separate it from the State, and appropriate all the funds of which it might justly be deprived to some grand national object, such as the support and extension of the system of education now established in Ireland; an appropriation of money which would, I am sure, produce in the minds of the people of Ireland an entire change of feeling with regard to the legislation of Parliament in relation to their country. With regard to the Parliamentary representation of Ireland, having recently spent seventy-three days in an examination of the subject, whilst serving as a Member of the Dublin Election Committee, I assert most distinctly that the representation which exists at this moment is a fraud; and I believe it would be far better if there were no representation at all, because the people would not then he deluded by the idea that they had a representative government to protect their interests. The number of taxes the people have to pay, in order to secure either the municipal or Parliamentary franchise, is so great that it is utterly impossi- ble for the constituencies to be maintained, and for public opinion—the honest, real opinion of the intelligent classes in Ireland—to obtain any common or decent degree of representation in the imperial Legislature. I feel quite confident that in the next Session of Parliament, the questions of religious equality in Ireland, and of Irish representation, must receive a mush more serious attention than they have obtained in any past Session. I come now to those social questions which must also receive the attention of Parliament, for if they do not, the political remedies will, after all, be of very little permanent use. I advocate these political changes on the ground, not that they will feed the hungry or employ the idle, but that they will be as oil thrown upon the waters, and will induce the people no longer to feel themselves treated as a conquered race. It is agreed on all sides that the social remedies which are immediately possible to us, are those having reference to the mode in which the land of Ireland is owned, or held and cultivated—perhaps "not cultivated" would be a more correct expression. The noble Lord at the head of the Government has alluded to parts of Ireland in which it is impossible that the land as at present held, or the rates which can be collected, can find relief or sustentation for the people. It is a notorious fact, that there are vast tracts of land in Ireland, which, if left in the hands of nominal and bankrupt owners, will never to the end of time support the population which ought to live upon them. And it is on this ground that I must question the policy of measures for expending public money with a view to the cultivation and reclamation of these lands. The true solution of this matter is to get the lands out of the hands of men who are the nominal, and not the real, possessors. But Parliament maintains laws which act most injuriously in this particular. The law and practice of entails tend to keep the soil in large properties, and in the hands of those who cannot perform their duty to it. It will be said that entails exist in Scotland and in England. Yes; but this Session a law has passed, or is passing, to modify the system as it has heretofore existed in Scotland; and in England many of its evils have been partially overcome by the extraordinary, and, to some degree, the accidental extension of manufacturing industry among the people. In Ireland there are no such mitigations; a code of laws exist, under which it is impossible for the land and the people to be brought, as it were, together, and for industry to live in independence and comfort, instead of crawling to this House, as it does almost annually, to ask alms of the hardworking people of England. The law and practice of primogeniture is another evil of the same character. It is a law unnatural and unjust at all times; but in the present condition of Ireland it cannot much longer be endured. Were I called upon—and it is a bold figure of speech to mention such a thing—but were I called upon to treat this Irish question, I would establish, for a limited period at least, a special court in Ireland to adjudicate on all questions connected with the titles and transfers of landed property. This court should finally decide questions of title; it should prepare and enforce a simple and short form of conveyance, as short almost as that by which railway stock is transferred; and, without regard to the public revenue, I would abolish every farthing of expense which is now incurred in the duties on stamps, for the purpose of facilitating the distribution of land in Ireland, and of allowing the capital and industry of the people to work out its salvation. All this is possible; and, more than this, it is all necessary. Well, now, what is the real obstacle in our path? You have toiled at this Irish difficulty Session after Session, and some of you have grown from boyhood to grey headed old men, since it first met you in your legislative career, and yet there is not in ancient or modern history a picture so humiliating as that which Ireland presents to the world at this moment; and there is not an English gentleman who, if he crossed the Channel in the present autumn, and travelled in any foreign country, would not wish to escape from any conversation among foreigners, in which the question of the condition of Ireland was mooted for a single moment. Let the House, if it can, regard Ireland as an English county. Let us think of the eight millions of people, and of the millions of them doomed to this intolerable suffering. Let us think of the half-million, who, within two years past, have perished miserably in the workhouses and on the highways, and in their hovels—more, far more than ever fell by the sword in any war this country ever waged; let us think of the crop of nameless horrors which is even now growing up in Ireland, and whose disastrous fruit may be gathered in years and generations to come. Let us examine what are the laws and the principles under which alone God and nature have permitted that nations should become industrious and provident. I hope the House will pardon me, if I have said a word that can offend any one. But I feel conscious of a personal humiliation when I consider the state of Ireland. I do not wish to puff nostrums of my own, though it may be thought I am opposed to much that exists in the present order of things; but whether it tended to advance democracy, or to uphold aristocracy, or any other system, I would wish to fling to the winds any prejudice I have entertained, and any principle that may he questioned, if I can thereby do one single thing to hasten by a single day the time when Ireland shall be made at least equal to England in that comfort and that independence which an industrious people may have, if the Government under which they live is equal and just.


said, that he concurred in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Stroud, as regards the principle, that whatever money was advanced by this country to Ireland, ought to be expended in productive labour, and not in useless works. The rental of Ireland was estimated at thirteen millions, and the incumbrances amounted to six millions; but with regard to some particular estates the interest on the mortgages amounted to nine-tenths of the rental. Although the poor-rate, taking the whole country, might not average more than a shilling in the pound on the annual rental, yet in particular localities the rate amounted to five, and in some cases to ton shillings in the pound. Now, as landlords were liable to pay half the rates of their tenants whose holdings were under five pounds a year, it sometimes happened that the whole rent derived from an estate heavily incumbered, was absorbed for poor-rates. He (Mr. Brotherton, had found from experience and observation, that it was easier to point out evils, and to find fault, than to prescribe remedies and carry them out. One thing, however, he considered desirable in reference to Ireland. He would have a property-tax levied in that country, to form a general fund, which might be appropriated to the relief of distressed districts where the population was great, and the poor-rates much above the general average of the country. The burden of supporting the poor would thus fall upon the property of the country more equally than at present, and give essential relief to those districts where it was most needed.

Amendment negatived.