HC Deb 14 July 1848 vol 100 cc482-501

On the Motion for the Second Reading,

MR. STAFFORD moved, as an Amendment, that it be read a second time that day six months. The hon. Gentleman said that when the people of England heard statements of the large amounts of money granted for public works in Ireland, they naturally desired their representatives to consider the objects for which any further grants were asked. The accounts he had received from that part of Ireland with which he was connected, mentioned that the fatal disease had again appeared in the potato crop, A most respectable gentleman at Nenagh informed him that a farmer in that neighbourhood had been compelled to dig up four acres of potatoes in consequence of their having failed. The House, therefore, ought not to conceal from themselves that there might again be difficulties in reserve for Ireland. Taking into consideration these hypothetical exigencies, the House ought, before consenting to advance more money, to take care to ascertain whether the principle of the former advance had not been fallacious, and how it was that with so large an amount expended, so little practical good had been done. So far as he could make out, no satisfactory account had been furnished to the House of the way in which the eight millions already granted had been expended; and he objected to the present measure, because it applied the money upon the same erroneous principle. The object of the Bill was to advance money for public works, of which some, it was stated, had not been completed; and it was proposed that during the term of three years, the sum of 945,000l. should be transferred from the Consolidated Fund to the credit of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, on account of the Public Works Loan Fund for Ireland, the sums to be issued not to exceed the amount of repayments of former loans from districts where the works had been completed. The practical effect of this provision would be, that the districts from which the means of meeting their just debts were forthcoming, would be obliged to apply the money, not to the payment of the Imperial Exchequer, but to the completion of other public works in Ireland. Thus those neighbourhoods where the possessors of property had not done their duty by paying up, were in reality taught to expect benefit from the exertions of those who had relieved themselves from liability. It was accustoming the Irish people to the fatal practice of trusting to England for more help instead of helping themselves; which he believed to be the greatest error that could have been devised. Do not, as it were, under false pretences, let a measure be passed, the long and short of which was to give one million more money in round numbers to Ireland upon the very plan which experience had shown had increased the necessities, discouraged the exertions, and augmented the poverty, misery, and helplessness of the people. The best friend of Ireland would rather witness a temporary pressure of local distress, than time after time see that House, in its favourable feelings towards the country, again teach the people the fatal lesson of reliance upon England. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had better have come forward with the fair and intelligible proposition that the whole money must be repaid, rather than show the prosperous localities of Ireland that they must pay their debts to the utmost, and then transfer the money to those who had been given to understand that, by postponing payment, they had a great chance of avoiding it altogether. In other words, these latter districts were encouraged to obtain money under what he believed to be false pretences. He could not consent to this; and, as an English Member, as well as an Irish proprietor, he felt it an imperative duty to move the Amendment.


was not sorry to hear a disclaimer from the hon. Gentleman on the part of Irish proprietors of a wish to incur a larger debt to this country; but, at the same time, he did not think the hon. Gentleman had quite faithfully represented the object of the present measure. The Bill had three objects. The first was to enable the Treasury to readvance, for the purpose of completing those works which at the end of last year were left incomplete, such sums of money as might be repaid by different localities; the second, to postpone for half a year the payment of the first instalment; and the third, to enable the Government, looking at the different circumstances of different parts of Ireland, either to diminish or increase the number of instalments for the repayment of the advances which had been made. With regard to the first of these objects—the power of readvancing the money received—it would be in the recollection of the House that the purpose of making those advances was to relieve the destitute poor by finding them employment in the execution of public works; whenever this purpose was attained, the works were to be stopped, and the districts immediately interested were to complete the works in such a manner as they might think proper. In the early part of 1847 a large number of persons were employed upon various works. At one time they exceeded 700,000 in number. The wasteful expenditure was notorious; but for a time it was perfectly impossible for the exertions of the officers to keep it within a reasonable limit. The abuse at length reached so great an extent, that it was determined to change the system of relief, and the Relief Commission was appointed, over which Sir John Burgoyne presided. To reduce the numbers then employed was a work of no slight difficulty; and he believed that had it not been for the discretion and firmness of Colonel Jones, it would have been impossible. The country, however, was greatly indebted to that officer, whose services had not been adequately acknowledged, for he reduced that enormous army of labourers not only without the slightest danger to the public tranquillity, but without the slightest suffering to any individual. The estimated amount of the cost of the public works was, in round numbers, eight millions. The sum actually expended was a little under five millions. It was true that many persons complained of some of the works being left in a worse state than they were when began; but it must be recollected that in many instances the works were not undertaken because they were most advantageous, but because they were near the population which, being destitute, needed employment upon the spot, without walking six or seven miles to it. The Commissioners of Public Works, in their report, which would be presented in a few days, said— It had been their intention, at the opening of the season, to examine every work, and undertake only those which were of a useful character. Work had been required by the magistrates to be found for the destitute poor at their own door; doubtless, therefore, many roads were broken up which, in their present state, were worse than before. In all these cases it was desirable the works should be completed, as they remained unsightly monuments of neglect. The directions given at the end of the year were to complete as far as possible the works which were indispensable, and to put the remainder in a safe state, leaving the grand jury, the county, or the gentry, to complete them as they might think desirable. In the course of the autumn Her Majesty's Government called upon the Board of Works for an estimate of the probable expense of completing the works. The estimate for the completion of the whole was about two millions, and for those which were deemed essential it was 650,000l. He would now read a further extract from the same report, showing the grounds upon which the works were begun:— No work was begun except from immediate necessity, pressed not only through the ordinary channels, but by deputations. Work of any sort was applied for, as the only means of saving the people from the horrors of starvation. He did not mean to say mistakes had not been made in the distribution of relief, or that if the thing had to be done over again, it might not, by an organised staff, be done much better; but under the circumstances the work was most efficiently executed. The necessity of completing many of these works would not be denied. The Government had received representations from all parts of Ireland, and from Irish Members also, urging them to complete them. They were called upon as an act of public justice to expend the public money for that purpose; but he told the Irish Members who waited upon him, that, after what had boon expended in Ireland in the preceding year, and from the pressure upon the revenue, inconsequence of a large deficiency, he did not think a large advance of public money could he made for that purpose. But, he further stated, he was not unwilling to readvance that which might be re-paid during a certain time for the completion of the works. The yearly instalments of the money advanced for public works, amounted, in round numbers, to 315,000l., consequently 945,000l. was the aggregate of the throe years' instalments; and he proposed to advance again whatever sums might be repaid within three years, if it was applied for. There was also another purpose to which a portion of this money might be advantageously applied. Hon. Gentlemen were aware there were many districts where an extension of drainage was conceived to be far more important than the mere completion of works, and that proprietors wore greatly interested in arterial drainage. A Bill was introduced some years ago to facilitate these purposes, contemplating, however, that the funds should he provided from private sources. It was never contemplated that the funds should be found by the public. But in the course of last year it was found advisable to vote 270,000l. for the purpose of giving employment to the destitute poor by means of arterial draining. That sum was now exhausted, and the Commissioners of Public Works were again reduced to obtaining such loans as they could from private individuals to carry on the works commenced. The Government did not think it prudent to propose the issue of more money from the public funds; they, therefore, directed the Commissioners of Public Works to complete all such as could be completed with the money which they had in their hands, and to leave the others in such a state as they could be left in safety, until other means were provided for carrying them on. He was sorry to say the Commissioners had found great difficulty in obtaining funds of any amount from private sources; he therefore thought it advisable, in order to afford employment for the people, and to increase the productiveness of the land, to apply for the purposes of this drainage such money as might be repaid to the Exchequer, and was not required for completing the roads, &c. [Sir J. GRAHAM: What extent of drainage has been effected with the 270,000l. already granted?] He was not prepared to state to what amount the works had actually been completed. About sixty works were to be completed in the course of this summer; but he was not in a condition to state whether at the present time any had actually been completed or not. The second portion of the Bill was to authorise the postponement of the first instalment. The original provision was, that a presentment should be made at the last spring assizes, and an instalment should be levied and paid at the subsequent assize. When the spring assizes were held, one of the Judges (Mr. Justice Perrin) entertained a doubt as to the legality of the presentment; and the grand jury of the county of Armagh refused to put the sum certified by the Commissioners of the Public Works into the levy, under the opinion of Mr. Justice Perrin. Several of the other Judges, hearing of these doubts as to the legality of the presentment, wrote to the grand jury desiring them to suspend the presentment. The Attorney General of Ireland thought that Mr. Justice Perrin had made a mistake, and overlooked the 37th cap. of the Act of last Session; and the question was taken before the Court of Queen's Bench to decide the legality of the presentment; but it was not until the 6th of June that a decision was given in favour of the legality of the presentment. The levy having been suspended, it was found impossible to have the books prepared in time for a levy previous to the ensuing assizes; consequently it was impracticable, at least in many counties, to obtain the money. In addition to this, if anything was necessary beyond the utter impossibility of effecting a levy, the Government were bound to take into consideration the extreme pressure that existed during the summer months, when it was most difficult to obtain any payments. It was therefore thought better, it was indeed absolutely necessary, to postpone the payment of the instalment until after the summer assizes. The last part of the Bill referred to the different circumstances in which different parts of Ireland were placed, with reference to the ability to make these payments; and certainly no general rule could be applied to all parts of Ireland; the same rule, indeed, could not be applied to different parts of the same county; one part of a union or barony was in different circumstances from another part. The Poor Law Commissioners stated that whilst some parts of one and the same union could not be kept clear of debt, others were in the most favourable circumstances; that, whilst some parts were well provided with funds, others were in a state of hopeless bankruptcy. If Gentlemen would look into the report, they would see the difference of rating in different parts; in some 10s. and 12s. in the pound; in others not above 2s., or 3s., or 5s. This would show the effect of diminishing the area of taxation; if the area of taxation were still further diminished, the highly-rated parts would not only be in a state of "hopeless bankruptcy," but be absolutely ruined. In the union of Ennis he found, from the report of the Poor Law Commissioners, that— In one electoral division a rate of 7s. 1¼d. would be required, whereas if the whole union were taken, a rate of 2s. 1d. would in all probability cover the amount required. He admitted the heavy burdens which had fallen upon this country on account of Ireland; and he maintained not only the liability of Ireland to repay what this country had so advanced, but that it was the duty of Ireland to repay it; and he thought it was reasonable and right that the repayment should ultimately be made. But the difficulty was, to know how to enforce the whole of the repayment without depriving the people of Ireland of such means as would carry them through the state of extreme pressure in which that country now was. He hoped that Gentlemen would remember that the burden of the poor-law was to a great extent a new burden in Ireland. The first report of the Poor Law Commissioners showed that the burden was not only heavy, but increasing; that the amount of the rate up to the last year was 2,500,000l., and that last year's rate alone amounted to 1,500,000l. Gentlemen from Ireland would be better able than he was to speak to the state of the different parts of Ireland with which they were acquainted. But he had reports from poor-law inspectors, giving accounts of the state of destitution, and the consequent difficulty of repayment, which were almost incredible. In Erris, where the whole of the population was 22,000, last year there wore 18,500 who received relief. He had a letter from an officer under the Board of Works (Mr. Mooney), dated Ballina, July 6th, which said— They talk of striking a rate of 16s. in the pound in Castlebar. Every article in the workhouse has been sold by auction. Such is the change, that the barony collector, to justify a short return of cess, swore that there were seventy-eight townlands in Erris on which there was not an inhabitant or four-footed beast. Mr. Mooney, in the same letter, which was addressed to Captain Laveson, gave such a description of the distress of that part that he would read it to the House:— That all these crops should continue to prosper, and yield the full amount they promise is of vital importance, for the whole country is pauperised; and if it should not please Providence to rescue them, destruction stares everybody in the face: very many of the gentry are in the debtors' prison—very many who an; not, are imprisoned in their own dwellings, afraid to stir out. Many who were well off, and kept their horses and their vehicles, cannot now keep a cow, and I have been assured by many it is painful to witness their privations, and, in many cases, suffering. In Castlebar union there are 23,000 receiving outdoor relief; and applications have been made equal to the whole amount of the population of the union. In Ballina union there are 40,000, and in the whole county there are about 125,000 receiving rations, independent of schools, where about 30,000 children are fed by the British Association. Tirawley barony, once the nucleus of wealth, is now almost destitute of even comfortable people. A panic seized them—they fled; the paupers remain—the land grows almost nothing in comparison, and rates, &c., must he paid. He goes on to say, in a letter dated Cavan, July 10, 1848— Mr. Jones, the proprietor of the coaches running between Ballina and Sligo, assured me he would gladly give to anybody a farm of about 200 acres he holds near Ballina, for two years, for the payment of the poor-rates alone. He further says— Perhaps one of the strongest proofs we have of the poverty of the country is the incredible falling-off in the 'priests' dues.' A respectable Roman Catholic assured me, so reduced are the people, that it is not one out of ten who formerly could and would pay for 'anointing' their relatives when dying, can do so now, essential as they consider it to their future state; and even coffins must be dispensed with in many of these cases. This was one of the worst parts of Ireland; but it showed the impossibility of laying down any general rule which would be applicable to all parts of Ireland. The report of Mr. Auchmuty, the inspecting officer of the Castlerea union, dated the 5th of July, 1848, stated:— The portion of this union situated in Roscommon is mostly in grazing, and the landlords nearly all absentees; the remaining portions in Galway and Mayo are occupied by persons holding from one to seven acres; their families do what work is required. I am of opinion that there will be as many applicants for relief for the next year as there are at present; they have no means of existence; they have neither clothing, fuel, nor shoes, and have nothing to look forward to except outdoor relief. These accounts showed the state of destitution in various parts of Ireland, and the impossibility in some parts of paying rates adequate for the support of the poor, much less the sums justly due to the Government for advances, to the full extent, and that it was absolutely necessary to allow the Government in such cases to mitigate the pressure. But it was very desirable, if possible, without any undue pressure on the finances of the country, to find the means of keeping the people in employment by prolonging the period for repayment in the distressed districts. It was impossible to expect that the landlords and farmers of Ireland could be able at once to provide full employment and to repay advances, and yet it was of the utmost importance to afford employment in works or drainage. Believing the object to be of great importance, he thought it hotter to advance for these objects the money to be repaid in Ireland, and which otherwise would be available to the Imperial Exchequer. He was aware that there could not be a more dangerous state of things than for this country to become a creditor of the whole population of Ireland; he thought that this would be the most dangerous state of things for the people of Ireland as well as for ourselves, and he was therefore anxious to keep these advances within the narrowest compass. Yet he thought it highly desirable that employment should be provided. He was happy to say that as far as any opinion could now be formed, there was no prospect of the potato crop being lost. There had boon some apprehension entertained of a failure some time ago; but the recent accounts were much more satisfactory. There was a prospect of a fair crop of corn and a reasonable crop of potatoes; and with the aid of the British Association and the Government stores, there was a sufficient supply of food for the people of Ireland till these crops came into consumption.


said, that when his attention was first drawn to this Bill, he considered it one of a most extravagant nature, and he must say that the speech he had heard from the right hon. Gentleman had in no degree altered his opinion. Throughout the whole of his speech, long and laboured as it was, the right hon. Gentleman had not ventured to advert to any of the financial considerations which he should have thought would have pressed most heavily upon the mind of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, as fatal objections to the measure he was introducing to the House. The Bill had three specific objects: the first, to complete works which had been undertaken at a time of distress, and left unfinished; the second, to postpone the period at which the repayment of the money due from Ireland to this country was to commence; the third was, to give the Treasury an indefinite power of diminishing the amount and extending the period of the annuity which Ireland had engaged to pay, in liquidation of that portion of the advances made to that country which was not to be considered in the nature of a grant. This indefinite extension of the period of payment was, in fact, to convert into a grant what had been received as a loan, in the repayment of which it might have been expected that there would have been, on the part of Ireland, nothing but a cheerful acquiescence. The right hon. Gentleman had made his proposition on the ground of present destitution; and if the right hon. Gentleman had told the House that on that ground he wished to postpone the first payment for one or two presenting sessions, there might, perhaps, be no objection to such a measure. But what he objected to was this, that the proposition now before the House professed to be one for carrying into effect extensive public works, in which was to be included a great system of arterial draining. Now, if the state of Ireland were such that it had become impossible to levy another shilling without making an almost insupportable addition to the rates required by the poor-law, then the proposition to make an advance for public works upon the security of rates to be raised on a people so circumstanced, became perfectly nugatory; thus, as he understood the right hon. Gentleman, he would not levy the proposed sum, and pay it into the Exchequer, to be from thence issued for these works, but he would give it in an indirect manner. If the right hon. Gentleman meant to give a sum of 315,000l., let the House be made aware of that at once. As it appeared to him, nothing could be more clear than this, that unless the money were rigidly levied, there could not be a shilling applicable to the completion of the public works that had been already commenced. In the course of the various discussions respecting the state of Ireland, they had been told that the works undertaken for the purpose of giving employment to the destitute portion of the Irish population would be worse than useless unless they could be brought to completion. But they were now told that whenever sufficient funds were raised, they would be applied to complete the existing plans of arterial drainage. But what were they then to say to the roads, which, when over hills, were like stairs, and when through valleys were impassable? What was to be done to render the country in which roads were so left, tolerable as a residence, and profitable as property? The right hon. Gentleman told the House, that if they granted sufficient money to complete the drainage, he should leave the other works as they were. But then, every one must feel that, if they allowed the Chancellor of the Exchequer so to proceed, they would speedily have the Government coming to the House again, and calling for more money to complete the roads. Let the House remember what the right hon. Gentleman told them, namely, that 370,000l. had been spent in making arterial drains, and that sixty only of those works had approached to completion; but unless such works attained perfect and entire completion, it would by most men be admitted that they were not likely to prove of any utility. His hon. Friend near him adverted to the important principle that the Bill rested on. The true question for the House to consider now was, not whether they were to render assistance to Ireland—upon that point they were all agreed—but they were to look to the mode in which relief was to be administered, and take care that they did not encumber that country with assistance. It appeared to him that they not only run the risk of doing so by advances of the kind now under consideration, but they also incurred the hazard of defeating their own purposes, and destroying the impression which the loans granted to Ireland were intended and were calculated to create. During the year of famine, Ireland was in a state of distress that had perhaps never been equalled. England was called upon to afford her relief, and England answered that call in a manner full, complete, and effectual. It was, in the first instance, proposed to make a grant to the Irish of somewhat upwards of 5,000,000l., to enable her to get out of her difficulties; and it was intended that Ireland should repay the whole of the money to be advanced. In a short time, however, it appeared that payment of this sum to the full extent would press too heavily upon a country so distressed as Ireland then was; and by the last Act passed upon this subject it was determined that one half of the sum given to Ireland should be treated as a grant, and the other half as a loan, to be repaid by means of an annuity which was to last for a limited number of years. England had, therefore, aright, after this large concession, to calculate on receiving those sums for the payment of which she had thus stipulated. It was quite true that the money which had been advanced by England was used for the purpose of employing the destitute poor of Ireland in works which had turned out to be useless; and that happened because those persons in Ireland who were to present for the works had not given themselves the trouble to distinguish between those works which were useful and those which were useless. They loft the Government to decide everything; and the Government, thus compelled to decide, did so under the distinct understanding that the cost of completing all works actually commenced must fall on the districts in which the works were situated. Now, from that arrangement they were now called on to depart. If he admitted that Ireland had a right to claim the completion of all works which had been commenced, they were next to ask themselves, was England able to accomplish those objects? and next, was the present proposition consistent with financial principles? He wished it to be understood that he was not in any respect unwilling that ample aid should be given to the people of Ireland, so far as was consistent with the pecuniary burdens which pressed upon this country. This country was not indisposed to bear the burden; but England would not be able to undertake any such or any other burden unless she acted on sound financial principles. He did not say this with reference solely to English interests; on the contrary, everything injurious to the financial condition of England operated with equal intensity upon the condition of Ireland. It affected those things which Ireland most needed—credit and capital; and if he did resist the present proposition, he hoped it would be felt that he did so on account of its improper and unfair operation. In all questions of finance, there were two things to which a Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to look: the first was the equalisation of revenue and expenditure, without which all his efforts would be useless; and the other the receipt and expenditure of the Consolidated Fund. The House of Commons usually put that fund out of view, and seemed to consider that they were merely called upon to deal with the annual income of the country and the annual estimates. If the House agreed to vote 315,000l. and place it on the Consolidated Fund, the question would be considered as disposed of; they would give themselves no more trouble on the subject, and the whole affair would drop out of the notice of Parliament, and no check would be imposed on the particular application of the money. The grants already made to Ireland amounted in the whole to 8,300,000l. Ireland owed that to the Consolidated Fund. Of that sum 3,400,000l. was due for grants made previous to 1847, and 4,800,000l. for debts incurred in the course of that year. Of the last of these sums, Ireland had paid 3,500l., being about 9d. in the 100l.; 1 per cent, however, had been paid of the sum due before the year 1847; England was to receive a sum of 2,600,000l. in the shape of annuity. This being the state of Ireland's debt to this country, we were now required to withdraw 1,000,000l. from the receipts of the Consolidated Fund. And what was the state of that fund? They had been told that at the close of the present financial year there would be a deficiency of a certain amount. It was true they had hoard a statement as to a new state of things; but whatever stress might be laid upon that, it must be felt that the sum of a million could not be paid otherwise than out of the balances of the Exchequer. They need not at present say how much might be the amount of the balance in the Exchequer; some time ago it was understood to be 8,500,000l. In April last, it was 6,500,000l.; and there was good reason to apprehend that it would go on decreasing, even without the abstraction of this million. But, admitting that the money could be obtained, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not told them what he was to do with it. They knew pretty clearly the quarters that would be made to pay: the poorest districts in Ireland—Erris, Clare, Galway—owed the largest sums, and would be the sufferers from the enforcement of payment. Surely the expenses of general drainage in other counties ought not to fall on places so impoverished. Large districts of bog which remained to be drained were in places very distant from those localities. If they were to give money for purposes of that description, they ought to have each case clearly before them, and estimates of the expense of each brought forward in Committee of Supply. When they gave money for public works, it was essential and necessary that they should know what those works were; and if they voted sums liberally, they were bound to take care that their liberality was not thrown away. Upon these grounds, he held that they ought not to give up money that was due to the Consolidated Fund. Vote money in Supply for specific works to any extent for which a case could be made out; but do not blindly abandon revenue, and at the same time encourage improvident expenditure. These were the reasons which induced him to offer an opposition to the present Bill; and he agreed with those who thought that the real secret of the measure was this, that in the present state of Ireland the Government thought it best to say that they would give a million for the completion of public works; while by declaring that it should be raised in Ireland, they knew that the money would never be raised at all. He objected to the measure as it stood, and should certainly take the sense of the House on it.


was understood to say that there could be no doubt of the necessity for advances to Ireland—the real question was as to the mode of application of the money. He agreed in many respects with the observations of the hon. Member for Northampton as to the system of wasteful expenditure that had been carried on under the department of Public Works in Ireland. His experience—and he had been a Member of eleven Committees—induced him to view with great suspicion any works which bore the name of "public works." There were districts, however, in Ireland, which were utterly unable to meet the demands made upon them under the new poor-law. The bankruptcy of those parts alluded to by the hon. Baronet was an inevitable consequence of the poor-law; and he was of opinion that an inquiry on this subject was of the greatest necessity, and ought not to be deferred beyond the present Session. He should support the Amendment.


expressed his surprise at the self-congratulations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but when the right hon. Gentleman said that these advances and these works were solely for the relief of the poor, the Government having no other object but the relief of distress, and was determined, in accordance with the rigid views of the political economy he professed, that this expenditure should accomplish no ulterior purpose—he must say it appeared to him that that object had been most fully carried out, for that the greater part of the money expended in Ireland was as completely lost to the resources of the empire, and to the improvement of Ireland, as if it had been buried in the sea. This debate brought to his mind a subject of his continual regret, which was the rejection of the proposal of his noble Friend (Lord G. Bentinck), that advances should be made in aid of the construction of railways, to have given food and employment to the distressed, whilst it promoted that first means of improvement, the facility of transit and communication throughout Ireland. The noble Lord and his supporters were told that the money, if it were so advanced, would be inevitably lost—an assertion he never believed; but hon. Members opposite now found that the money was really gone, though that scheme was not adopted. [Mr. M. J. O'CONNELL: The money was spent before Lord George's proposition was made.] The hon. Member's recollection was not accurate, because the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, was that the money to be advanced upon the security of the rates, and not then granted, should be diverted to railways, and secured upon them. And he would ask the House whether it would not have been better to have had the repayment of advances secured upon the property of the railway companies, whose interests were involved in the success of their undertakings, than upon the baronies of Ireland, which were now alleged to be bankrupt? Would there not have been a better chance of repayment? He recollected that they were also told, "Look at the length of time that must elapse before advances to railways can be repaid!" but was the repayment not now postponed to a day so remote that the vision of it absolutely vanished in the distance? Would it not have been better to have secured some means of intercommunication through Ireland, than to have interrupted that little which did exist, until there was in some localities none safe at all? He had always thought it a pity that the scheme of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn was so perfect and complete in its form and details; for, being proposed by a Member of the Opposition, it was, perhaps, scarcely consistent with the dignity of the Government to accept it, while they might have taken up and completed a less perfect measure. Still he had always been sorry that Her Majesty's Government did not adopt at least a part of the project, and that they did not accept at the hands of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, when freely offered to them, a measure so eminently calculated to benefit the country. The hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Dunne) had spoken of the difficulty of collecting the rates in Ireland; but was that to be wondered at? Did not all the rates fall upon one species of property; and was not that property taxed to the utmost for the relief of the poor? whilst the rental was withheld, owing to the fears, the ill-will, or the poverty of the tenantry. He was not finding fault with the poor-law; on the contrary, he bad ever strenuously supported it, as the only means of maintaining the social fabric of Ireland, and because he thought the property of Ireland ought to support the poor of Ireland; but if only one mode of taxation was adopted, and that was levied against only one class of income, it must inevitably be exhausted. He regretted more and more, every day, that the Government refused to adopt for a limited period the income-tax for Ireland—because through its means they would have received repayment of the advances made by England, and they would have touched sources of profit which were totally exempted from taxation in Ireland. And what was the House now doing? Was it not passing a Bill, giving to the mortgagee a more immediate command over the property of Ireland? If any justification were wanting for the imposition of an income-tax upon Ireland for the purpose of relieving the rateable property, it was supplied by the introduction of the measure for the sale of encumbered estates. He had ventured to urge the Government to apply an income-tax to Ireland; but he had been met by the argument that the property of Ireland was deeply mortgaged; but surely the mortgagees were bound to bear their share of the burdens of the united empire, and now that the House was giving them a more direct power over the property of Ireland, it was doubly unjust to continue their exemption. It might be said that the greater part of the income derived from mortgages on property in Ireland did pay the tax in England; but why exempt any from bearing their share of this national burden? But it seemed that this money was not only applied to the relief of distress, but that it had been wasted and squandered actually to the detriment of Ireland. He supported the Amendment, and concluded by expressing his belief that the financial transactions in regard to Ireland would not form a bright page in the official history of Her Majesty's present Government.


The right hon. Member for the university of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn) has opposed this measure on the ground that it is not a good measure of finance; and he argues that it would be far better to have 1,000,000l. in the Exchequer than to lend it out to the people of Ireland. Now, if this were a question whether we should leave 1,000,000l. in the Exchequer, or lend it out as a matter of speculation in the way proposed by this Bill, I should quite agree in opinion with the right hon. Gentleman. If we were to consider the matter solely as a question of finance, I should concur with him; but when we look at the present state of Ireland, and at the condition of that country during the last two years, I think we ought not to be influenced solely by financial considerations. The right hon. Gentleman has adverted to the public works undertaken in Ireland—a system which began during the Administration of which he was a Member, when large sums were granted, and further sums were advanced for the purpose of carrying on public works during a period of great distress. That system was continued and extended in 1847 very much beyond what had been contemplated, at a time when the food of more than 3,000,000 of people had utterly failed. Sir, with the experience we have had, I am quite ready to acknowledge that I think it is a far better plan, when you have to relieve distress, and to feed people who are starving, to afford them food by the cheapest mode in which you can do it, rather than to look to the mixed purpose of affording them food, and at the same time of executing works of public utility. I think the experience we have had in this and other cases shows, that although there is an apparent advantage in having works of public utility undertaken and executed by paupers, yet that it is a cheaper system to feed persons who are in a state of starvation, requiring nothing in return; and, if you have public works to undertake, to give the best labourers the highest wages you can afford for the species of work they are required to perform. But, although that is the result of experience, I think the general opinion at the early period of 1846 was, that the execution of public works might be combined with the object of affording food to the people of Ireland. The hon. Member for Portarlington said, that it was entirely the fault of the Board of Public Works and of the Government that the works were ill chosen; but I think the hon. Member for Londonderry has completely answered that statement; because, in point of fact, no work was undertaken because the Government or the Board of Works chose to undertake it, but because it was recommended by a barony presentment. All that the Board of Works and the Treasury had to do was to choose among the works so presented. Those persons, therefore, who possessed local information, and who were able to judge of the nature of the works, were the individuals who were primarily referred to; and my belief is, that where the country gentlemen, or those who sat to make these presentments, kept their heads cool upon this subject, and considered what works would be useful, in those instances the works which were executed were really of service, and not of the useless or mischievous nature which has been ascribed to them by some hon. Members. But the consequence of undertaking works of so extensive a nature, upon which more than 700,000 people were employed, and of ceasing to continue them when it was no longer necessary to provide food for the people, was necessarily to occasion great inconvenience; and then the question arose whether, when we obtained the repayment of some portion of the sums which had been advanced, it would not be advisable to reissue part of the amount for the purpose of completing the works that had been commenced. It is obvious, with respect to many of the roads which have been commenced, that they may be completed so far as to be of some utility. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University has suggested that the better course would be obtain the repayment of all the advances, and to propose a grant in Committee of Supply for the purpose of completing the works which have been commenced. I should agree with the right hon. Gentleman on this point, if it were so simple an operation to obtain repayment of the advances; but I am afraid the result of adopting such a plan would be that, while a considerable sum would be advanced or paid out of the Exchequer, the sum received by the Exchequer might not be so large as the right hon. Gentleman seems to suppose. My right hon. Friend near me has stated, so various are the circumstances of different districts in Ireland, that while, in some cases, you might obtain the repayment of the advances by a rate of 1s. or 1s. 6d. in the pound, in other cases it would be almost impossible to obtain repayment at all. We propose, therefore, that a certain discretion shall be left with the Treasury, and that where the advances are readily repaid they shall be reissued for the completion or continuance of public works; and that where it is absolutely necessary, from the extreme distress of the country, that the period of the repayment should be postponed, such postponement may be granted. In the course of this debate the question has been revived, whether there ought to have been an inquiry into the working of the poor-law in Ireland. Now, it appears to me that to pass a law of the nature of a poor-law in one Session of Parliament, and immediately after the commencement of the next Session to institute an inquiry into its operation, would be almost saying that the law should not be put in force. I consider that such an inquiry ought not to be made until the law has been in operation for a sufficient time to afford a fair opportunity of testing its efficiency. There is now a Commission inquiring into the size of the districts—a question upon which great difference of opinion exists, not only in this House but in Ireland. I can only say, from what I have heard, that while it is very difficult, from the distress of the ratepayers in some parts of Ireland to obtain the rate, I have received from other parts of the country very satisfactory accounts of the working of the poor-law. Certainly, it appears to me that, except by means of a poor-law, no permanent system can be provided for sup-porting the destitute poor of Ireland. I am glad to find that the hon. Member for Kerry agrees in that opinion. I perfectly agree with him that the time will come when it will be light to consider the working of the poor-law; and if any amendment can be made in it we shall not be disposed to resist the endeavours of Irish Members to render that law as unobjectionable as possible.

Bill read a second time.

House adjourned at half-past Nine o'clock.