HC Deb 31 March 1848 vol 97 cc1144-9

had given notice that he would that evening move— That the extent to which the clearance and depopulation of many districts in Ireland is proceeding, demands the serious and immediate attention of Parliament, with a view to the protection of large numbers of Her Majesty's subjects, who are thereby forced from their homes, and deprived of their accustomed means of existence. He had prepared the details of a multitude of cases in all respects similar to that to which he had called attention the other night, and in which a Mr. Blake, of Gal-way, had been concerned; but since he had come into the House he had been informed that this subject was now under the consideration of Government, and that they had determined to introduce a measure for the purpose of putting an end to this dreadful state of things; and as he had no wish to impede public business, or unnecessarily to detain the Speaker in his present state of health, he would leave the matter in the hands of Her Majesty's Ministers, and at once withdraw his Motion. He only hoped that this measure would be prepared with all possible speed. The 25th of March had passed; all the notices served in autumn last were now in full force, and under these notices ejectments to an enormous and appalling extent might be carried out in Ireland, to the utter ruin of a very large portion of the population. He trusted also, that the application of the measure of the Government would not be confined to cases such as that of Mr. Blake, where the actual powers permitted by the law had been exceeded. There were other outrages perpetrated upon the peasantry, under all the forms of the law; and these were not less injurious to the prosperity of the country, and not a whit less shocking in character.


thought that the House would feel indebted to the exertions of the hon. Member for Stroud in this matter; and the evil which the hon. Gentleman pointed out was undoubtedly a fit subject for immediate consideration. He was bound to say that, so far as his humble endeavours had gone, he had, in some degree, approved of the policy of Her Majesty's Ministers; and all that he now found fault with was the absence of a sufficiently comprehensive spirit in their measures.


complained of the conduct of the hon. Member for Stroud in rising night after night without giving any notice whatever, and attacking Irish landlords and reading statements which at the moment there were no means of refuting. It would be easy to show that not one of the charges which the hon. Member had urged had the slightest foundation in truth.


thought that, instead of joining in this censure, the House would be inclined to express its gratitude to the hon. Member for Stroud for the uncompromising manner in which he had exposed this gross abuse. It was a serious accusation to bring against that hon. Member that he had made statements not founded on facts; but it would be very easy to discover whether this last charge, affecting the character of Mr. Blake, was true or untrue. If Major M'Kie had calumniated Mr. Blake, let him be dismissed; 80 far, at least, they had the authority of Major M'Kie for believing the story to be genuine. He had been in Dublin on Monday last, and though he had only been absent a month, he had observed a decided change in the feelings of the best disposed of the people. He had noticed that they had withdrawn their confidence from that House; and one of the causes producing that, no doubt, was the late refusal of hon. Members to accede to the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne). Of course people would not expect much from the British Parliament, after it had refused to inquire into the operation of the laws relating to the poor. The hon. Member proceeded to quote from the recent report of the General Relief Committee for Ireland, of which, he said, the Marquess of Kildare was the President, and which included among its members the Protestant and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Dublin. The report stated that the Committee had been furnished with returns from 580 parishes—returns substantiated by the signatures of the parochial clergy—and the statements were, that from the comment of the famine, up to September, 1847, 35,166 persons had died of actual starvation; that 94,007 had died of diseases induced by bad food; and that, at the date of the returns, 58,140 persons were labouring under various diseases. These returns included only one-fourth part of Ireland; and, as the report worded it, "some idea may he thus formed of the extent of the calamity which has befallen the country." This was the result, after all the efforts of the Government, and all the exertions of private societies and individuals; and he would ask if a parallel to this report could be found in the annals of any civilised country?


did not think that the hon. Member for Stroud was fairly open to the criticism of the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. French). The hon. Member founded his case on official documents; and the House should recollect that the blue book had been compiled by the Commissioners, who probably had left out a good deal which might tell against themselves. But when hon. Gentlemen inveighed in this way against the administrators of the poor-law in Ireland, they should not forget that they were themselves particeps criminis, inasmuch as they had adopted the legislation which led inevitably to the consequences now complained of. He had warned them over and over again, when the subject was under discussion, that by extending the electoral districts and making the improving landlord liable to the maintenance of paupers ejected by his non-improving neighbour, they created a temptation which it was not to be expected would be resisted. As an English Member, representing a hard-working, heavily-taxed, and loyal constituency, he had felt it to be his duty to get up in his place and warn the Government that, as it at present worked, the Irish poor-law was eating the capital of the country and pauperising two of its provinces. He was glad that a Commission had been issued to inquire into its working; but there would be a phalanx of bad landlords against it, and only those who desired to do their duty and to improve the agriculture of the country would assist it. By refusing the Committee moved for by the hon. Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne) the House had taken the responsibility of the whole Irish poor-law on their own hands. Having done so, let them not refuse to take the warning of an Irish proprietor representing an English constituency which he had uttered when they passed the Irish poor-law, and now repeated, at the risk of wearying the patience of the House.


had hoped, after what had been said by the hon. Member for Stroud, that the House would not have gone into matters connected with Ireland and the Irish poor-law. For the reasons assigned by that hon. Member, he should abstain from entering into any statement upon these subjects, and should only say, with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Members for Northamptonshire and Dublin, that in opposing the Motion of the hon. Member for Portarlington, he could assure the House that he was not influenced by any want of sympathy for the distress which, he admitted, did exist in a large portion of Ireland. He had thought that the appointment of a Committee at the present moment would tend to defeat the operation of a law which would mitigate the distress; for he believed that the Irish poor-law, whatever temporary evils might be incidental to its administration, would tend very greatly to mitigate the distress under which Ireland had laboured. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire, when the Bill was introduced, had advocated a town-land area of taxation. [Mr. STAFFORD: NO, no!] He was glad to find he was mistaken. With respect to the contents of the blue book, it had been his endeavour to show the working of the poor-law, without introducing any extraneous matters whatever, and he believed that, upon the whole, they did give a fair and just view of the operation of the poor-law in Ireland. The hon. Member for Dublin had called his attention to the evidence collected by Major M'Kie. Government had no reason to distrust that evidence; and they proposed to submit a measure to the House, not to give a right of perpetuity to tenants-at-will, but to give more protection than under the present law, and to give a right of sustenance to parties evicted. He hoped to be able, at an early period, to bring forward that measure.


said, the landlords of Ireland as a body would be quite satisfied if they had, bonâ fide, the English poor-law in all its details; but what they pressed upon the House and the country was, that they had quite a different law—a law which was breaking down into pauperism a large portion of the farmers of the country. The hon. Member for Stroud said he had many other cases of eviction to bring forward. That was a general statement, and he could only meet it by a general answer. If the hon. Member did bring forward those cases, when the other side of the question was heard, nineteen out of twenty would break down, and prove to be gross exaggerations.


thought the hon. Member for Stroud was entitled to great credit for his humanity, and for standing forward, on all occasions, to endeavour to amend the Irish poor-law. He did not think that the hon. Member could be justly accused of making sweeping and general charges against landlords in Ireland. He had, from the first, boldly come forward and given the names of the parties. In the case of Mr. Walsh, he had reason to think the hon. Member had been misinformed; and he came forward nobly, and said he had been mistaken. But, by the blue book, it appeared that the original statement of the hon. Member, in Mr. Walsh's case, was correct. He thanked the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth for his straightforward declaration that the conduct of Mr. Blake ought to be inquired into; and Mr. Blake had been removed from the commission of the peace. The hon. Member for Stroud had said, there were many other cases; and he might bring forward the case of a Member of that House, against whom charges of a stronger character had been alleged as to his conduct towards his own tenantry. As the right hon. Baronet had stated that it was the intention of the Government to bring this subject before the House in the shape of a Bill, he begged to call the particular attention of the noble Lord to a case in which over 500 families had been ejected from an estate in one of the divisions of the Tralee union, under the Court of Chancery. He thought, a case of that kind deserved the particular attention of the Government.


wished to appeal to the House and the Government whether, whilst they were meditating an amendment of the law upon this subject, they should not bring forward some measures to meet the wishes of the people of Ireland. He was not in the habit of feeling alarmed, but when he saw so large a portion of the people of Ireland complaining that they were not put upon the same footing with the people of England, he thought it would be true wisdom on the part of Her Majesty's Government speedily to bring forward a measure to meet their reasonable demand.

Motion withdrawn.