§ On the Motion of Mr. HAYTER, the House then went into Committee on the Distressed Unions Advances and Repayment of Advances (Ireland); Mr. Bernal in the chair.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
In proposing the Motion which I shall submit to the Committee respecting the Government advances that have been made of late years to Ireland, and likewise with respect to the present state of distress in unions in Ireland, I will endeavour, as far as possible, to spare the Committee many of the details upon those subjects that have been laid before the Government, and will rather give the Committee a general view of the present state of Ireland, and of our proposals with respect to the advances that have been made to that country. All those who are acquainted with the state of Ireland during the last few years, must be aware that a change of the very greatest importance has taken place in the condition of that country. It will be recollected that, a few years ago, the question of the condition of Ireland related to a state of things which was, in many respects, exceedingly melancholy, and to which no remedy seemed to be applicable by the Legislature. At that time the greater number of the labouring class in that country 824 were not supported by wages; they lived entirely upon small plots of potato ground; and during great part of the year they suffered extreme privation. At the same time there was such a competition for land that we heard, from year to year, of outrages and murders committed in order to obtain land; and Parliament was called upon, from time to time, both before and since the Union, to pass extraordinary measures of rigour and coercion, in order to put a stop to the crimes which were committed. Now, Sir, without entering into any question of the policy that has been adopted of late years with respect to Ireland, I may say that the failure of the potato crop, and the famine by which that country has been visited, have of themselves produced a change which I do not believe any legislative measures would have effected. In those districts of Ireland where there was the greatest competition for land, that competition has nearly ceased, and the desire on the part of tenants is rather to get rid of the land they hold. There has been an immense emigration; and the alteration which has taken place is of the most remarkable kind. On the one hand, it is gratifying to find that we have no longer, to any considerable extent, those outrages and murders which were formerly of constant occurrence. On the other hand, there has been the greatest pressure upon all persons of property, whether landlords or tenants, or others of the industrious classes, in order to preserve the lives of the people, and to mitigate the severity of the awful calamity by which Ireland has been visited. The change which has thus been taking place, is, in its main features, entirely independent of any laws which the Legislature has enacted or could enact; but the influence of the Legislature may be very great in tempering that change—in making the afflictions which must accompany it less grievous than they would otherwise be, and in preparing the country for that transition which is inevitable. In so doing, I conceive that the object of the Legislature should be to avoid two great dangers: first, that of allowing the people, who have no longer the potato to depend on, and who have no more means than they previously possessed of obtaining wages for labour, to perish from famine; and next, that of imposing such heavy burdens upon Ireland that persons of property may be discouraged, and the produce of the soil may be insufficient to sustain the inhabitants 825 of the country. I will now, Sir, proceed to state what I think so far encouraging, that it gives me hope that a beneficial change is, in some districts, taking place. I have had before me the reports of a number of officers of the Board of Works from different counties in Ireland; I have especially studied those which came from the more distressed districts; and, with the exception of those from the county of Clare, they generally hear testimony to an increased desire to cultivate the land, to a growing wish for improvements in the mode of cultivation, and to a readiness on the part of the people to exert themselves to avert those evils under which the country has hitherto suffered. With respect to two or three of those counties of which we have frequently heard as being the most distressed, it is stated that, though there is much land that is untenanted, yet that there would not be any great difficulty in securing tenants if a reduction of about 25 per cent, or one-fourth of the rent paid four or five years ago, were made. There are other reports with regard to the fisheries and other industrial employments, which are of a very satisfactory character, and show the readiness with which the people are exerting themselves to pursue such branches of industry. But perhaps the most remarkable change that has taken place since the prorogation of Parliament last year, has been the very great diminution in the pressure of the poor-rate. The House has heard how great that pressure has been in former years, and what vast numbers of the people were not only relieved, but derived their sole subsistence from the rates levied under the poor-law. I hold in my hand an account of the decrease of expenditure for the last four months—October, November, December, and January, as compared with the corresponding months of 1848 and 1849. The decrease in October was 18,000l.; in November, 40,000l.; in December, 60,000l.; and in January, 1850, 70,000l.—making a total decrease on the four months of 188,000l. The decrease in the number of persons on the relief lists receiving outdoor relief is still more remarkable. On the 27th of January, 1849, there were 524,284 persons receiving outdoor relief; while on the 26th of January, 1850, there were only 118,940—being a decrease of 405,344 persons. It is right to say, however, that there has been an increase, but to no great extent, in the number of persons receiving indoor relief during the same 826 period. I have various reports and private letters from inspectors of the poor, and others, with regard to the causes of this decrease. They say that the cheapness of food in the present season, and the fact that the produce of the potato was much more abundant last year than of late years, have increased the means of the people to support themselves, and have been the main cause of the decrease in the amount of outdoor relief. But another cause to which this decrease is generally attributed, and to which it is attributed by a person whose name has been deservedly mentioned in this House—I allude to Colonel Clarke, who acted as poor-law inspector—is the increased vigilance in watching cases of imposture, the desire to carry the law into effect according to its true meaning and intention, and the determination of all classes, and especially of the gentry, who in many instances have not hitherto attended at the boards of guardians, to investigate the cases of applicants, to see that the relief given by the law shall be afforded to the destitute, and to no others. I will now give the Committee a comparison, which is very remarkable, of the expenditure in thirty unions in Ireland, which have been taken by the Poor Law Commissioners as those which were generally the most distressed, and to which, therefore, considerable aid has been given from the votes of Parliament in former years. The cost of indoor relief in these thirty unions was, in Dec. 1849, 14,982l., and in Dec. 1848, 18,206l., being a decrease of 3,224l. The amount of outdoor relief has decreased from 28,868l. in December, 1848, to 6,048l. in December, 1849, being a decrease of 22,820l. The decrease in all other expenses has been from 18,719l. in December, 1848, to 16,093l. in December, 1849—a decrease of 2,626l.; and the total decrease has therefore been 28,670l. The total number of persons who received indoor and outdoor relief in December, 1848, was 297,918, and in December, 1849, 147,397, showing a decrease of 150,52l. This certainly is so far satisfactory, as it shows that there is an improvement even in those districts which were considered the most distressed, and which some persons were afraid would go from bad to worse. Now, Sir, among the opinions which have been given by various persons in Ireland from whom we have received reports, there is none which is more prevalent than this—that the burdens arising from the loans of former years now press 827 so heavily on many of the unions, that, though they might be able to bear the pressure arising from the relief of the poor, they are not able at the same time to provide for the repayments which ought now by law to be made upon those loans. I will state what have been the loans made of late years in aid of the poor-law unions in Ireland. In 1839 and the following year the sum of 1,225,000l. was advanced for building workhouses in Ireland. 47,000l. has been allowed to be deducted for mismanagement in the construction of those workhouses, and 48,000l. has been repaid, leaving 1,130,000l. as yet unpaid. The next public debt of this kind was for the labour works in the spring of 1846. The sum of 476,000l. was then advanced, one-half of which, 238,000l., was a free grant, and the other half was to be repaid in 20 half-yearly instalments, with interest at 5 per cent. In the summer of 1846 another Act was passed, under which, in the winter of 1846 and the spring of 1847, 4,850,000l. was advanced, of which 2,425,000l. was remitted, and the remainder was to be repaid in 20 equal half-yearly payments, with interest at about 3l. 8s. per cent. In the summer of 1847 another amount was advanced under the Temporary Relief Act, sometimes called Burgoyne's Act, of which only 953,000l. was required to he repaid, the remainder having been remitted. That amount was, however, to be repaid immediately, according to the provisions of the Act, and no interest was to be charged. By an Act of August last year an additional advance for building workhouses was authorised; and it is calculated that a sum of about 100,000l. will be advanced under that Act. The sums which are now due from Ireland to the Consolidated Fund are these:—Loans for building workhouses, 1,130,000l.; additional loans now being made for the same purpose, about 100,000l,; amount remaining unpaid for relief works under the 9th Victoria, cap. 1, about 158,000l.; amount unpaid under the 9th of Victoria, cap. 107, about 2,305,000l.; advances under the Temporary Relief Act, 790,000l.; making altogether 4,483,000l. By one of the Acts under which these loans were made, the Treasury were enabled to extend the repayments over a period of 20 years, on the application of the counties to which loans had been granted, and at the same time power was given them of shortening, if they saw fit, the period of repayment. Under that Act, six counties have applied 828 to have the time of repayment prolonged, and three counties have applied to be allowed to pay off the whole of their loan in a shorter time. The condition of the different counties is exceedingly varied; and in some cases the half-yearly payments are so small that it is more convenient to them to discharge the debt forthwith, while in other cases the burden is most oppressive, and it would be a great advantage to them to obtain a longer time for repayment. Now we propose taking the principle of the Act to which I refer, to extend still further the time within which the repayments shall be made; to consolidate, where it is desirable, all the various payments, and to allow, where it is necessary, a period of 40 years before repayment is required. I may observe, with regard to the former loans, that the time allowed for repayment was regulated by the Treasury, in proportion to the rates levied in the different unions. For instance, if the rate was under 5s. in the course of the year, no extension of time was granted; when it was above 5s., ten years were allowed; above 8s., 15 years; and above 10s., 20 years were granted on application. It is proposed now to take the same general course. While some of the loans bear interest at a fixed amount per cent, there are others for which no interest has been required. We propose to take these liabilities just as they are, to continue to require interest where the Acts provide that interest shall be paid, but not to make parties liable for interest where they have been exempted by the Acts. The Committee will be aware that in many parts of Ireland these burdens have been stated to be so large that it is difficult to provide for the current expenses of administering the poor-law; but there are some particular unions in which the burden has been far more heavily felt than in others. I may state what it appears from the report of the Poor Law Commissioners would be the burden in some unions if the payments were regularly made. In 30 unions the average, I think, is from 5s. to 6s. on the valuation, which, considering the present state of Ireland, is, I should think, generally beyond the actual value; and in some cases the amount is as high as 9s., without the payments required for current expenses. Of course, it is very difficult for these unions to meet such demands; but there is another charge to which they are subjected which is still more grievous, and which prevents them from making those efforts 829 which they otherwise would make for the purpose of providing workhouse accommodation, and relieving, according to the true principles of the poor-law, those persons who may be destitute, without lavishing money upon those who do not require aid. What I now advert to is the amount of debt which has been incurred to contractors during these years of excessive famine, to furnish supplies of food and clothing to the workhouses, and who have not received the payment of those debts, owing to the inability of these impoverished unions. In some cases all the effects in the workhouse have been seized, and it has been with great difficulty, by the interference generally of private parties, that those effects have been retained; the unions consenting to pay a very high interest—6 per cent or more—upon the value of the articles which they retained. In no less than ten workhouses has there been an execution in consequence of debts due to contractors; and in some cases the beds of the persons in the infirmary have been seized. Now, it appears to us that these difficulties are mainly owing to the circumstances of famine, and the excessive numbers of people who required relief in former years; and that if the unions could be relieved from these incumbrances they would be able to begin afresh, and to carry into effect the due administration of the poor-law. Such certainly is the opinion of the Poor Law Commissioners for Ireland, more especially of Mr. Power, who has reported to us that he is of opinion that, in several cases, they would be able to hire and fit up temporary workhouses, and that by the application of the workhouse test those unions would be able very much to diminish their expenditure, but for these debts which are hanging over them. Such being the case, we think it advisable to propose to this House, that a sum should be added to the 4,483,000l. which I have already mentioned for the purpose of advances to be applied to the discharge of these debts—that this sum should be added to the whole sum which I have stated, and be made repayable, by instalments, in forty years, with interest, in the same manner as the remaining part of the debt. According to the accounts which we have received, the general debts of the poor-law unions in Ireland were diminished between September last and the end of December by no less than 100,000l.; but the distressed unions, of which, as I have said, there are about thirty, have not been able to make 830 such efforts to diminish in the same manner their amount of debt. At the end of December the amount which they had to pay was about 270,000l. But there are other sums which are due from electoral divisions to other electoral divisions, they having obtained advances from the general rates of the union, which were levied on other electoral divisions, and which are entered in the accounts as due from the divisions. The Poor Law Commissioners are of opinion that if these debts could be discharged, not only would the district be placed in a far better position in regard to carrying on the administration of the law, but in some cases it would enable the Poor Law Commissioners to make those divisions in accordance with the reports of the Boundary Commissioners, which otherwise they find of extreme difficulty. I should mention that there has been a difficulty in the law with regard to that subject. The House is aware—especially those who sat on the Poor Law Committee of last year—that the Boundary Commissioners prepared a scheme, which it was generally thought it would be very expedient to adopt, by which several new unions were to be formed, and especially there were to be electoral divisions of smaller size; but there has been a difficulty in carrying that into effect, owing to the question as to the liability to the relief of the poor of the new unions and new electoral divisions before they had time to collect a rate. It is proposed, therefore, that part of this sum should be applied to relieve the existing liabilities, in order that this change may be able to he carried into effect. I think there are about eight new unions that have been formed, and nine unions of which the boundaries of the electoral divisions have been altered; but until Parliament shall declare its opinion upon this subject, it will be very difficult, under the present law, to carry these changes into effect. [Mr. H. A. HERBERT: What is to be the amount for this?] 270,000l. will be for the debts of the unions, and 30,000l. more will be required for this purpose, making altogether 300,000l., which, added to the 4,483,000l. already advanced, will make the whole advance amount to 4,783,000l. I will now state what has been done with regard to the rate in aid, which was sanctioned by Parliament in the course of last year, for the purpose of meeting the immediate distress. A sum of 250,000l. was allowed to be advanced under various Acts of Parliament, 831 to be repaid out of the proceeds of the rate in aid. This sum was applied to the relief of the urgent distress which took place during the months of June, July, and August, 1849. Of this sum of 250,000l., 150,000l. have been received from the unions, and paid to the Paymaster of Civil Services in Ireland: and there is a further sum in hand, which the Treasury have not ordered to be yet entered to his account. But it is to be considered that there will be sums required for purposes which appear to us to come properly under the provisions of the rate in aid. The first of these is that which I have already mentioned, namely, enabling the guardians of the different unions to support the poor who are receiving relief from the present unions during the transition, until the new unions and new electoral divisions can be rated according to the change; that would tend to the advantage of the general administration of the poor-law. We likewise think it would be advisable to apply part of this sum, which would be otherwise entered for repayments, to the furnishing of temporary workhouses, to enable the law to be better carried into effect. And I must here say—what certainly is but restating an opinion I have stated on other occasions, but which I have now more strongly confirmed than ever—namely, that by keeping to the workhouse test, and by applying it wherever you can, you have the best security for the administration of the poor-law. While upon this subject I may also make what, considering the numbers in Ireland always standing in need of relief, and the extreme poverty of that country, may seem a rather startling statement, with regard to the proportion of the population relieved in Ireland and in England at the end of December and beginning of January. I have obtained from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board an account of the numbers relieved in England and Wales on the 1st of January, and it appears that about one in fifteen was receiving relief from poor-rates at that time; whereas in Ireland, at the end of December, it appears that only one in twenty-seven was receiving poor-law relief. Now, considering the two countries, if there has been any advantage with respect to the law, it is that those who administer the law in Ireland have much greater means of offering the workhouse to those who apply for relief than those in England. I think, therefore, that we 832 should not be acting imprudently, but with good husbandry, if we enable the guardians in Ireland to provide themselves further with workhouses, and administer the poor-law there still more strictly than they are enabled to do at present. As I have said, 150,000l. of that 250,000l. have been repaid, and 100,000l. remain due. There will be further rates to be made, and, according to law, half those rates will be applicable to repayments. I do not imagine, as 150,000l. have already been repaid in a year, that there will be any considerable difficulty in repaying the remaining 100,000l. It was calculated—it was considered a sanguine calculation—that the whole amount of the rate in aid would be 320,000l. in each year; but it was always reckoned that a considerable part of that sum would have to be levied from the distressed unions, and that it ought not to be taken away from those unions, as they required relief, but that the money ought to be returned to them; so that I should think that if 300,000l. are levied under the rate in aid, it will be fully as much as can be expected. As I said, 150,000l. have been already repaid, and I do not expect there will be much difficulty in levying that rate, though we heard not a little at one time of the impossibility of it. Then, the proposals I have to make to the House are—first, that the general sums which have been advanced to Ireland, beginning with the workhouse loans of 1839, and going on to the advances made in 1846 and 1847 and subsequent years, should, where it is desired, and where the pressure of the poor-law appears to be felt, be converted into Consolidated Annuities, and be repayable with interest where interest is due, without interest where the Act of Parliament gives no interest, in the period of forty years. The next proposal I have to make is, that 300,000l. should be advanced for the purpose of enabling the boards of guardians, under the direction of the Poor Law Commissioners, to pay off the sums which are due for debts contracted for food and clothing of the poor during the years of distress. I should not be justified in making these propositions to the House if I was not of opinion that, great and difficult as the transition is to which I alluded in the first sentences I addressed to the House, and great as has been the suffering in Ireland in past years, there is now a prospect of Ireland, if these burdens are not unduly placed upon her, being able to recover from that very great depression, 833 and enabled to enter upon a new social state. It is evident that, if we were to look to the state of society which existed from 1760 to 1845, we should only be looking to a recurrence of misery and of bloodshed to a people not having those means of comfort to which the civilised nations of Europe are accustomed. There has been neither that due connexion between the landlord and the tenant, nor that connexion between the tenant and the labourer, which we are accustomed to see in civilised countries. There has not been that expenditure on farm buildings, or those outlays which the landed gentry in England and in Scotland are accustomed to make in compliance with their arrangements with their tenants. There has not been that regular payment for labour by the farmers to the labouring men, which ought to be the certain source of their subsistence. On the contrary, in the relations of various classes in Ireland everything has been disorder and disorganisation. Hence we heard of those dreadful crimes which were connected with the occupation of land. Hence we heard of those divisions of different classes of society which it seemed beyond the powers of any legislation to remedy. That which is not for us to dispose of can be disposed of by a higher Power; and I do believe that we are now approaching a period when Ireland may be constituted in a different manner—when she may look to a better state of society—when her higher classes, her farmers, and her labouring poor, may act in harmony together for the improvement of a fertile country and the happiness and prosperity of a noble and generous people. The noble Lord concluded by moving that it be—1. Resolved—That it is expedient to make further provisions for the repayment of Advances which have been made or authorised to be made for the relief of distress and other purposes, to Poor Law Unions, Electoral Divisions, Baronies, and other districts in Ireland.2. Resolved—That the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, be authorised to direct the issue, out of the Consolidated Fund of the said United Kingdom, of any sum not exceeding 300,000l., to be advanced to certain distressed Poor Law Unions and Electoral Divisions in Ireland, on such terms and conditions as may be directed by any Act of the present Session of Parliament.On the Question that the Chairman report the Resolutions to the House,
§ MR. FRENCH
complained of the unfounded censure endeavoured to be cast by 834 the noble Lord on the landowners and landholders of Ireland; and maintained that in the last half-century Ireland had made greater progress than had ever been done in the same period of time by wealthy and prosperous England. He told the noble Lord to look to the unfair treatment Ireland had ever received from this country—her manufactures prohibited, and her agriculture discouraged—and he would then find the root of those social evils of which he complained. It was worthy of remark that the noble Lord had not thought it advisable to lay before the House any information as to the working of the poor-law in Ireland for the last twelve months, previous to making the statement they had just heard, although he (Mr. French) was in a position to state that the accounts were made up to the 1st of January, 1850, printed, and in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. Why was this information withheld? Were there in it facts which would militate against the impression sought to be made on the House? Even in papers furnished to the other House of Parliament the night before, the accounts were not carried further than June. The present position of Ireland was described as a favourable change." If abandoned mansions, levelled cabins, bankrupt shopkeepers, ruined landlords, and starving people, were indications of prosperity, there might be some foundation for the statement of the noble Lord. A change had indeed taken place, and a fearful one, amongst the people—from plenty to scarcity; from great natural affection to intense selfishness; from charity to inhumanity: let the five hundred verdicts of deaths by starvation in the last year test how favourable has been the change boasted of. It was true, as stated by the noble Lord, that the desire to hold land was not, amongst the peasantry, as great as it had been three years ago. Why? Because it was not possible to work it at a profit, owing to the enactment of a law unsuited to the country, passed in defiance of her representatives, and continued in opposition to the declared opinions of every class of her people—a law which has not even answered the selfish objects of those who voted for it in this country, which has to be supported by 50,000 bayonets at an expense to the united empire of at least two millions annually. Why did not the financial reformers look to this? When. Lord Anglesey was Lord Lieutenant, 13,000 men were sufficient to maintain the tranquillity of Ireland. The 835 noble Lord stated that in the last four months there had been a diminution of expenditure, compared with the corresponding months of the former year, of 188,000l That saving had been effected since the dismissal of the paid officers of the Crown, the vice-guardians, and the merit of it was attributable to the exertions of the elected guardians. Why did not the noble Lord tell them what the expenditure of the entire year had been? When the vice-guardians were in power, it was upwards of two millions, though the number relieved were fewer, and the price of food much lower, than in the preceding year: two millions of money were levied on a rental not exceeding nine millions a year, in addition to a million and a half for grand jury cess and labour rate. There was not in Europe so heavily taxed a country as unfortunate Ireland. In the constitution of the Poor Law Board there was an improvement. Mr. Power had brought to it courtesy in communication; and he heard, with pleasure, that, from the experience of the last four months, there was every reason to hope he would add to it economy and efficiency. The noble Lord had given some explanation of the cause of delay in carrying out the recommendations of the Boundary Commissioners, though scarcely sufficient in regard to those eight new unions, and nine altered, which the Boundary Commissioners had recommended, and the poor-law authorities had sanctioned. He had before borne his testimony to the very able manner in which Captain Larcom, Captain Broughton, and Mr. Crawford were discharging their duties; and he trusted no further time would be lost in carrying those alterations into effect, by which the electoral divisions would be reduced to manageable limits. He would now come to the proposal of the noble Lord, which, he regretted to say, he considered neither liberal nor just. The noble Lord proposed an advance of 300,000l., the greater part of which was to be applied to the payment of the debts, recklessly and wastefully incurred by his own officers. He threw on the Irish unions the payment of these official debts, and told them to be thankful that he extended the period of repayment over forty years. The noble Lord stated that 1,200,000l. had been advanced at the demand of the several counties for the building of workhouses in Ireland. He (Mr. French) maintained that neither the counties nor the unions ever asked for it, that it was forced 836 on them, and applied by Mr. Nicholls in such a way that the workhouses when built were found nearly worthless, and a further sum was necessary to make them available for the purposes for which they were designed. Even of the original sum, Mr. Penethorn, the Government Commissioner, recommended a considerable deduction to be made on the ground of no value given. It must be borne in mind that this law was passed, on the solemn assurance of the noble Lord that 300,000l. a year would be the utmost required for the annual support of the poor, and one million to repay the sum expended on the workhouses. On payment of this amount by Ireland, in justice, no farther claim ought to be made. That sum has been already paid. The law was about eleven years in operation. Seven millions had been collected. 3,330,000l., according to the estimate of Mr. Nicholls, and the assurance of the Government, was more than sufficient for the support of the poor during that time, and there remained a sum of 3,700,000l. to set off against the 1,200,000l. for building the houses. Faith, however, was not to be kept with them; and, in defiance of justice, this sum was to be levied over again in the next forty years. As to the 2,500,000l. expended in the destruction of the thoroughfares of the country, repayment was also to be enforced. 4,483,000l. was to be paid by Ireland, with interest at a higher rate of 1 per cent than Government paid, by which they would, for the next forty years, derive a profit of 17,000l. a year from that wasted and impoverished country. The only portion of the speech of the noble Lord he heard with satisfaction was, the necessity of returning to the principles of the Act of 1838, and insisting in every case on the workhouse test. This the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tam-worth had truly stated must at once be done, if Ireland was not to be made an indiscriminate mass of pauperism; and the sooner the noble Lord attended to that advice the better. The hon. Member concluded by again expressing his surprise that one so well versed in the history of other nations as the noble Lord, should show himself so ignorant of the social evils of Ireland, and so incapable of grappling with them.
§ MR. MONSELL
cordially thanked Her Majesty's Government for the measure which they had introduced, for without some such enactment it would be impossible 837 to get purchasers for land, or tenants for farms. He differed from his hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon in considering the proposition was not liberal. But there was one point of considerable importance with regard to the prevention of a recurrence of the present state of things, to which the noble Lord alluded, and which he would take the liberty of impressing on the attention of the Government and the House—namely, the absolute necessity of inserting in the Act of Parliament to be framed, clauses prohibiting any board of guardians from making any contracts for provisions accompanied by penalties. He knew there was always a difficulty in getting the House to listen to a statement of an individual union, but he would beg to state the case of the union of Newcastle, in the county of Limerick, which he was sure would astonish every English Member. In May last that union was under the control of vice-guardians. On the 14th of May, the officers of the commission being present, they entered into a contract by which, when the new board came into office on the 1st of November, they found the union was involved in a debt of 8,150l., and the union were to be called upon to pay this at 2,000l. a year. The Poor Law Commissioners, on being appealed to, said, that in affairs of contracts they could exercise no control. He thought it essential, in order to prevent a recurrence of the evil, that clauses should be inserted prohibiting any boards, under any circumstances, from entering upon any contracts carrying with them penalties.
The EARL of ARUNDEL and SURREY
would venture to express a hope that the reduction of the number of the poor receiving outdoor relief, had not been effected in such a manner as he had been informed it had been in the union of Kilrush. He was credibly informed that numbers of the wretched people had come a great distance, some eighteen or twenty miles, to; have their cases investigated at the workhouse, and were obliged to return without having them investigated. If the Government found, upon inquiry, that the guardians in that district did not do their duty, they should establish vice-guardians to afford some chance to the remnant of the people of escaping from perishing.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
felt as much for the Irish poor as any man; but when he saw increasing distress in this country, arising from want of due consideration on the part of Ministers, and want of purpose 838 on the part of the House, he could not give his assent to resolutions such as those the noble Lord had submitted. They had all heard of the distress amongst our agricultural population, but not even an expression of sympathy could be afforded for them, while large advances of money were made to relieve the poverty of Ireland. When the Bill founded on these resolutions came before the House, he hoped he should be supported in opposing it. He objected to the proposition altogether. What security was there that the money would ever be repaid? Forty years! why, they would be all at peace and quiet before that.
§ MR. P. SCROPE
looked upon the measure as a great indulgence to those unions which were indebted in large sums of money and were unable to pay. But the people of England had some interest in the matter, and if the time for the repayment of these loans, which amounted to nearly 5,000,000l., were extended over forty instead of twenty years, they had a right to know that the poor-law should for the future be as fairly carried out in Ireland as it was in England. At present there were very great complaints of the burden of the poor-rates in Ireland; but the noble Lord had told the House that during the last year of distress the number of paupers amounted in that country only to 1 in 27 of the population, while in England and Wales it was 1 in 15, therefore in proportion to the population the pressure was greater in England than in Ireland. He much feared that the late reduction in the number of persons relieved, and in the amount of poor-rate levied, referred to by the noble Lord, arose from a denial of relief, rather than from any actual diminution in the amount of pauperism. This was a matter in which the people of England were deeply interested, for if the Irish destitute poor were refused relief at home, they must come over here and help to take the bread out of the mouths of our own people, or commit crime and be transported at the public charge. In Ireland the charge for relief was about ¾d. a day for each pauper, while in England it was 2s. a week, and even that paltry amount of help had, he believed, been in many cases altogether refused. The Government accounts only came down to April last; but from information he had received to a recent period, he understood that in many unions great reductions had been made in the expenditure for relief by means which appeared to 839 him unwarrantable. In some unions, as Kilrush, Westport, Innistimon, and Scarriff, he was informed 10,000 or 12,000 persons had been struck off the relief list, and persons who had been refused relief out of doors, on applying to be received into the workhouse, had been denied and sent home a distance in some cases of eighteen or twenty miles, without food or assistance of any kind. In Kilrush, outdoor relief had been stopped, and the food from within the workhouse was not according to the dietary sanctioned by the Commissioners, but consisted principally of turnips, the consequence of which was that dysentery had set in, and the deaths had increased in the six weeks ending February 2nd, from 15 to 140. He had received accounts from other unions as to the insufficiency of the diet, and the filth and demoralisation which the paupers in the workhouses were subject to. If the noble Lord meant to limit the relief to the workhouses, let him take care that the workhouses were properly conducted. But to limit the relief to the workhouses, was not treating England fairly. In England the proportion receiving outdoor-relief was six-sevenths of the whole; and why should the law be carried out differently in Ireland? He was not now speaking of the ablebodied poor, but the sick and the impotent, and he saw no reason why they should not be relieved out of the House in Ireland as well as in this country. He had no objection to offer to the financial part of the scheme, but he entreated the noble Lord to see that the poor-law was carried out in Ireland in the same spirit of fairness, justice, humanity, and righteousness befitting a Christian people as in England.
§ MR. CLEMENTS
thought every Member connected with Ireland ought to feel grateful to the noble Lord and his Government for the proposition of setting the unions on their legs again, and relieving them from the fear of the sheriff's officers. One of the great difficulties incurred in the western unions arose from the enormous extent of business imposed on the board of guardians by reason of the great size of the unions. One union comprised 178,000 acres. How was it possible that any board of guardians could satisfactorily administer the affairs of so extensive a union? It was four times the size of an ordinary union in England, and twice the average size of Irish unions. The boundary commissioners recommended the formation of fifty new unions. The noble Lord said 840 he was not prepared to carry out that recommendation to its full extent, and that there were not means at present for forming more than eight or ten. He (Mr. Clements) hoped the noble Lord would reconsider the subject, and make some arrangements for forming new unions and giving increased accommodation to the poor.
§ LORD C. HAMILTON
did not rise to oppose the proposal of the noble Lord, but to express his regret that it had not been carried further. It was well known that there were largo tracts of land in the south and west of Ireland, lying in a state of non-cultivation owing to arrears of rates. The consequence of no rates being collected on these lands was, to augment the rates on the others. Now he thought that if these arrears of rates were placed on the same footing as the arrears of insolvent unions, and loans were made, to be repaid in the same manner as by such unions, the effect would be that large portions of land now lying waste would be put into cultivation, and a considerable amount of labour employed on them.
§ SIR H. WILLOUGHBY
said, he wished to guard himself against being pledged to the principle of the measure to be introduced, because he had assented to the resolutions. He apprehended that there was a debt of 4,783,000l. Did the noble Lord mean to convert the sum of 300,000l., which was included in the large amount out of the Consolidated Fund, into Consolidated Annuities? He did not know whether that principle was to apply to the 300,000l. It was not indeed without some misgivings that he gave his assent to the resolution, because the House would recollect that this 4,783,000l. was borrowed money of the united kingdom; it was made a loan of nearly eight or nine millions, of which this four millions constituted a part. He objected to lending out this money for so long a period as forty years.
§ MR. GRATTAN
said, he was of opinion that Ireland had been born for a better state of things than that of being beggar, and that Providence never intended she should be the recipient of alms. She had got a fine climate, an excellent soil, a hardy people, the finest harbours in the world, and honesty in dealing, and morality at bottom. And, yet, with all these benefits and blessings conferred upon her, she was now at the door of England begging for bread. He despised the situation. An able writer had said, "The first foundation of friendship is not the power of conferring 841 benefits, but the equality with which they are received and may be returned." He thanked the noble Lord for having given benefits, but the means of returning them to English gentlemen he was at some loss to discover. He should not act the part of a dishonest man by saying otherwise; but if he believed he could repay the hon. and gallant Colonel who had already spoken, then, indeed, he would have the honesty to say that that hon. Gentleman or his heirs might expect to be paid. The question was, whether England was to go on eternally giving to Ireland? What did the noble Lord propose? If he (Mr. Grattan) were an English gentleman, he certainly would not trust the noble Lord upon Irish subjects, because he had given expression to sanguine hopes of the Irish people becoming great, prosperous, and happy. But these were mere words. The facts were against the noble Lord, and against his fine statements. Her people were flying away, and her gentry were reduced; and he, for one, would never submit to the continuance of such a state of things. The fact was, Ireland did not want English money—she did not require British gold, provided the landlords and tenants of the country did their duty. There was a great mistake in the noble Lord supposing that he was granting money from the English Treasury to Irishmen exclusively, because there was a large I number of English proprietors of land in the sister country, including marquesses and others of note. The truth was, that England had now been in possession of Ireland for 400 years, and she had ruined it. Let her, then, take back her money, for money was, at the best, a dirty thing, and seldom did any good; besides, there were means of getting through life without having your hand always in your breeches! pocket. The noble Lord had said, "I will give the Irish 300,000l, and do you, English Members, be quiet; and do you, Irish boys, hold your tongues, and the thing will pass." It would not pass. He (Mr. Grattan) warned them that Ireland would be the means of unfortunately pulling England down, unless they took timely care. How could they bear the constant drain of the sister country? The people were fast leaving that country. During the last year alone 200,000 persons had emigrated from her shores. There was no plan now proposed to check existing evils but a loan of money, but money would not bring back the gentry. The gentry were 842 flying away; the land was deserted; there was no society to be had; the castle was the only place were there was any society; all the rest of the people were paupers; and the country would soon be a sheep-walk, and there would be nobody left in it but a parcel of poor freize-coated men. If the Lord Lieutenant was removed, the last remnant of respectability would have departed from the land. The Protestants were fast leaving. It was difficult for him (Mr. Grattan) to induce his Protestants to remain. If it were intended to depeople the country, he hoped England would not take away the morals of the men and the virtues of the women of Ireland. He saw nothing but a continuance of peplexity and distress. Ireland was still, as she had ever been, the great difficulty in the way of English statesmen. He did not see how they were to get rid of it. He thought they might have got out of it by never getting into it. It had been sometimes asked why the Irish Members were so fond of protection. The answer was, because the Irish had nothing to protect. That was the reason they were all protectionists now. Protect, indeed! Had they acted, as Sheridan would have had them act, they might have had something to protect, for his words were, they ought to have waded knee deep in blood. But as for the dirty shilling that was now offered, or the barrel of wheat, or oats, he would never take it. The free-traders might rest assured that he would never go for the pound of tea or sugar now going to be doled out. Had the Irish held their position, as Wellington did at Torres Vedras, they would have had much to protect. He might himself be a simple man, but he believed in his soul that England would never again get so good an arrangement as was made in Ireland in 1782; and she knew it. He was doubtful whether he ought upon this point to speak in terms of debasement or indignation; but he had made up his mind to tell the truth, and the truth was, that Ireland had been given up to England in the year 1800 in a wholesome state. The Catholics were not then corrupted, neither were the Protestants disloyal. There was a bad set of men in Belfast certainly, but the spirit of Ireland at that period was not anti-English, and might have continued so, were it not for the shameful atrocities then committed of flogging the people. Her exports and imports had been increasing, and her gentry were prosperous. See her situation now. 843 Were they willing to keep the country in a state of beggary and starvation, and at the same time to hold an army there of 50,000 men? England wanted men like Chatham, Burke, and Fox at present, and such men there were if the English intellect had not dwarfed of late years; she wanted those who would bind Ireland to her with an adamantine chain, and give the sister country liberty, and life, and action. It was full time that something should be done to rescue Ireland if possible from the wretched condition to which she had been reduced. Her power, prosperity, and happiness were gone. There was no sign or symptom of them now remaining. De non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio. Let the House bear in mind that the exact amount of the revenue of Ireland was 398,000l, while the revenue of the absentees came to 4,000,000l He thought the Irish Members had not been of the least use last Session—that they could do no good this Session—and that the best thing that could be done with them would be to get them to sign a document that they would remain attached to England, and work for their country. Much had been said from time to time respecting bad landlords in Ireland; but, in his opinion, the bad landlords were those who deserted their duty, and who, when a shot was fired from behind a hedge, ran away, and left the other Irish proprietors to take their chance. He had found that to be the case. The English Minister ought to open his eyes, and see what was passing around him. Fas est et ab hoste doceri. Why did he not read the debates in the French Legislative Chamber, and pay attention to the contemptuous observation made by the French orator a few days since, who exclaimed, "Grâce à Dieu, la France n'est pas encore abiméc dans la misère commel' Irlande." What a disgrace to England it was that a country which had been for so many years under her exclusive management should be in a state of prostration which made her a by-word and a term of reproach to the nations of the earth. Then again, supposing Ireland to be depopulated, how would England be able to recruit her regiments? Would she go to Manchester for men? No. There would, however, be no use in her going to Ireland, for the only parties who were now living in that country were the policeman, the soldier, the person who received money from Government, and the gaoler. This was not the state of things which existed 844 when Chatham spoke, and Pitt planned, and Fox charmed, and Sheridan prophesied. Let England, then, fall back on Ireland, and stand by her. Yet there never was a time when Ireland was in danger that she had not been abandoned. She had been abandoned in the time of Charles, and again in 1776, 1781, and 1782. The policy now was to give her 300,000 halfpence. Such a policy would break her down, dispel her hopes, destroy her happiness, her political happiness, and her financial happiness, if there was any happiness in that. Disease, famine, and death were still rife in the country. The sum of 200,000l. had been expended last year on cases of sickness and death. Where was this to end? He called upon the House to stand by Ireland, and, if they were to sell up men, to sell up those who had been the cause of the ruin. He believed that England could not stand the shocks she might receive from other countries if she had Ireland like a log around her neck; and therefore it was high time to remove the log, and to legislate in a spirit of justice towards the country. There were no such things as comfort and happiness in Ireland now. No man could return to his home with other feelings than those of sorrow and auguish, for everything that met his gaze filled him with dismay, and tended to sadden and dishearten him. He did not object to the Motion which the noble Lord had introduced; but he would be delighted to see some measure of a comprehensive and truly statesmanlike character brought in for the permanent advantage of Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT BERNARD
thought it would be a great advantage if the number of instalments were increased, so as to lighten the pressure upon the unions generally. He thanked the noble Lord for the measure of relief which he proposed to give to the people of Ireland. The noble Lord had that evening given them a great boon, and he had enhanced its value by the period at which he had brought it forward. He (Lord Bernard) had for a considerable time been the chairman of a board of guardians. He knew the working of the poor-law; and he had no hesitation in saying that, so long as a union was in debt, it could not advantageously manage the expenses of its poor. With respect to the gentlemen of Ireland generally, he was happy to say that they began to see the necessity of attending more closely to business than heretofore. He wished to add, that he hoped the present would prove 845 a great encouragement to the people of Ireland.
§ MR. BRIGHT
wished to make one or two observations before the debate on this subject was disposed of. He thought the speech made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government to some extent satisfactory, inasmuch as it showed, what he (Mr. Bright) believed to be the fact, that in some parts of Ireland there was some improvement visible from the disastrous condition of the last three or four years. He could comprehend the kind of claim which hon. Members thought they had for the 300,000l., to pay off the debts contracted by certain of the most distressed unions,' for he had received letters from those unions, from which it appeared that the very furniture belonging to the union-houses had been put up for sale by the creditors, and the guardians had been put to the utmost extremity as to how they were to keep the people alive from one day to another. But there appeared to be this point of weakness in the noble Lord's case. He (Mr. Bright) did not think the noble Lord had sufficiently explained to the House why there happened to be a considerable arrear of rates in many of the most distressed unions. The House could easily understand how it would be difficult, under the circumstances, to collect from many of the ratepayers; but when he was in Ireland, some three or four months ago, he took the trouble to make certain inquiries, in two of the unions at least, and he found that in those unions the greater proportion of the money which was in arrear of the rate owing to the guardians, was owing, not by the occupiers, but by the owners, of land in those unions. Now he was persuaded that there was not always a strict impartiality shown by the authorities in these unions, in the collection of the rates. It might be, to some extent, the fault of the law if this was the case; but he was quite sure from what he had heard, that if occupiers had any property whatever, that property was distrained for the payment of the rate in a multiplicity of cases, while the owners of the soil were allowed to go free on account of the exceeding difficulty under the present state of the law, which the guardians met with in enforcing payment from them. If the House would permit, he would read one or two notes that he made while he was in Ireland, and he thought when Government proposed that advances should be made from the public taxes, they were bound to show that everything had 846 been done which could be done for the purpose of collecting the rate. He would not mention the unions, because it would direct the attention of the House to individuals whom he did not wish to expose; but if any hon. Gentleman wished to know, he would give him all the particulars in private. He learned that in one union more than half the magistrates were defaulters in respect of the poor-rate. Now, he took it for granted that the magistrates were themselves owners of land. Then he found that both the Members for the county were defaulters in the payment of their poor-rate. He was told, on what he believed to be good authority, that one Member of the county had made over to one of his relatives, he believed to his mother, the chattels which were in his house, so that the poor-law guardians could not take them for the rates. He found that another gentleman, a magistrate, who had a large house and a park, had no chattel property, for it had recently been sold by auction and bought in by one of his brothers. He found that another gentleman—a magistrate, and a leading man in the union—had transferred his stock to his son, and that his sheep bad his son's brand on them; that they summoned him for the poor-rate, and that the magistrates dismissed the case, and that a representation had been made to the Castle, but no notice had been taken of it. He found that another gentleman—a magistrate—sat on the bench in his own case, and that the case was dismissed, as might have been expected, and that this was also represented to the Castle; and that one gentleman travelled a great many miles to attend the sessions, at which he was not accustomed to attend, and sat on the bench and helped his friend there to baffle the poor-law, and that that friend came back and helped him, and that the guardians find it almost impossible to collect the rates. On looking over the list of arrears in this union, he found this observation:—William Burke, occupier of nineteen English acres. This man is wretchedly poor, but his land is well tilled, he and his family have been in the fever, and I am sure he will pay.He learned from the most undoubted authority, that wherever there was property belonging to the occupier, that property was invariably seized for the rate when payment was not made; but where the rates were due from the owner of the land, the difficulty of the law was almost insurmountable. First of all, the case went 847 before the magistrates, and if an order was obtained, very well. Then an application was made to a superior court, and, if successful there, of which there was great doubt, the debt became a judgment on the land. In the Clifden, the Ballinrobe and the Castlebar unions, he believed the greatest portion of the arrears was due from the owners of the land, and not from the occupiers. If that were the case, the noble Lord ought to have taken into consideration that these cases had been referred to the authorities at the Castle in Dublin; and he now found, from the best authority, that after these defaulters among the magistracy had been reported to the Castle, there had been no adequate notice taken of those complaints. Now, he was not there to raise an objection to the advance of the 300,000l. They might see it again, or they might not. If it were the last of these grants, they would be exceedingly glad. The noble Lord called it an "advance," though perhaps it looked more like a gift. But he did object to a system under which the poor-law authorities were not armed with sufficient powers to obtain the rate from the men who owned the land, who had in many places exterminated the people, and who, after all the experience they had had, refused to let their lands to parties who would be willing to take them on reasonable terms as to tenure. He knew very well there had been no man, who, within the last six months, had endeavoured to acquaint himself with the condition of Ireland, who did not know that offers had been made over and over again in different parts of the country, which had been refused because the owners of land wished to maintain a system of tenure which had existed for many years, and which every sensible man would wish to see done away with. In the union of Chifden, the poor-rates had been respectively 1s., 3s., and 3s. in the pound, making 7s. in the pound for the three years. This year they proposed to levy a rate of 5s. in the pound. When he was in Ireland, he spoke to a gentleman living in the Clifden union, and he asked him how much he was liable to pay. He said, "My rent is 80l. a year. I am assessed at 60l.; my landlord will pay half of it. I shall pay 7l. 10s." They said that the poor-rate has distressed the country; but a manufacturing establishment with which that gentleman was connected in England, paid upwards of 300l. per annum for poor-rates, and there was no relief extended to him. If the 848 noble Lord would give the poor-law authorities some extraordinary power of seizing a certain number of acres of land, and having them sold for the arrears of rates, he would bring these landlords to a sense of their duty more speedily than by any other course, and he would put them on a par with those whose chattel property was seized, while the owners of land went unscathed. It was alleged that some of these men who did not pay their rates had their watchers and keepers guarding their domains, in order that the collector and the sheriff's officer might not go near them, and probably many of them were going to an expense, in thus baffling the poor-law, which might pay the rate that was demanded of them. He did not think the noble Lord was doing right in taking from the taxes of this country to make up for the arrears of such men; but he thought that he ought to give to the poor law authorities power to seize the land.
§ MR. H. A. HERBERT
could not congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester on the result of his recent visit to Ireland; or quote, in reference to him, the language of the poet—Returning from a finished tour,Full ten times wiser than before.For in the hon. Gentleman's recent speech in another place, when a great deal was expected from him, he did nothing more than rake together a heap of propositions and remedies that had been thought of and written about during the last twenty years. But he gathered, from watching the hon. Gentleman's proceedings in the Committee upstairs, last year, that he went over to Ireland, prejudging the remedies that he would find necessary for her evils; and therefore he was not surprised if such tourists as the hon. Gentleman saw nothing during their progress but a confirmation of their preconceived notions. But when the hon. Gentleman, as he had done that night, attacked Irish landlords, and attacked them anonymously on authority which he durst not produce in that House, and attacked the Government also for sanctioning the conduct of these gentlemen—conduct that was most reprehensible—he (Mr. Herbert) must confess that it was with no little astonishment he found that one of the charges of the hon. Gentleman, the champion of free-trade principles, simply amounted to this—that certain Irish landlords refused to let their land at what the hon. Gentleman considered 849 its fair value. He understood that free-trade meant buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market; and if so he thought the hon. Member for Manchester would have been the last man to make it an accusation against an Irish landlord, that he refused a rent which the hon. Gentleman thought fair.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said that they would not pay their rates, and therefore the policy they pursued was a very foolish one. and did not entitle them to the consideration of that House.
§ MR. HERBERT
What would the hon. Gentleman say if he (Mr. Herbert) were to take him to task for refusing a price for a bale of cotton or a foreign order which he thought below its real value? Now he (Mr. Herbert) would not seek to palliate or excuse the conduct which the hon. Member had ascribed to certain Irish landlords, among whom were several Members of that House; but he called upon him to give up the names of the authorities upon whom he had accused them. If the hon. Gentleman would not do that, he (Mr. Herbert) said that to stigmatise them in the manner he had done was a calumny, and the most cowardly of all calumnies, because it was anonymous.
§ COLONEL DUNNE
, as chairman of a board of guardians, had never seen any instance of partiality in the collection of the rate to one class more than another. There were disputes about the payment of rates with parties who refused to pay, and who were known by the term of "immediate lessors;" and he thought that if these parties could avoid paying the rates they were perfectly right in so doing. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland what were the arrears of poor-rates in Ireland; whether the amount was not extremely trifling, and whether, in fact, the poor-rates in Ireland were not, on the whole, better collected in Ireland than in England? The fact was, the poor-rates were collected with great severity in Ireland, and the arrears were trifling, whether due from owners or occupiers. He felt grateful to the noble Lord for the propositions which he had made that night, which he thought would be excessively beneficial to Ireland. The debts incurred in Ireland by the unions had chiefly arisen from the poor-law and its administration, which was needlessly expensive. If the House wished to get rid of these debts, they must go to the root of the evil, and get rid of the present 850 administration of the poor-law in Ireland. No one wanted to get rid of the poor-law itself, but the system of administering it was unsuited to the wants of the country. He had stated on a former occasion that the expenditure in 1849, under the Irish Poor Law, was greater than in any previous year. The noble Lord at the head of the Government corrected him, and he (Colonel Dunne) thought he was wrong; but the House would find that the expenditure of 1849 would be greater than in 1848, 1847, or any previous year, and that it had extended beyond 2,000,000l. Since the last returns were made up, he admitted there had been a great reduction, and this he attributed in a great degree to a return from the system of paid guardians to that of the old local guardians. The noble Lord ascribed the diminution of pauperism to the importations of food, but during the last few months the importation of Indian corn had decreased, from the greater supply of potatoes. Emigration was another cause to which this diminution of pauperism might also be attributed.
§ SIR W. SOMERVILLE
thought the hon. Member for Manchester had fallen into a not uncommon error, in considering the uncollected rate as arrears. The hon. Member saw it stated, perhaps, that there was a certain amount of uncollected rate in a certain union, but he was not to consider that as arrears, but as a rate in process of collection. The returns showed that the collection of the poor-rate in Ireland was exceedingly close, and the greater part of the uncollected rate would be found to be due by the immediate lessors, or, as the hon. Member called them, by the "landlords" in Ireland. It was true that there was no power of levying the poor-rates upon the owners of the land by a distress; and if the owners and occupiers were to be, as the hon. Member recommended, both put upon the same footing, it could only be by taking away the power of distraint upon the occupier—a course which the hon. Member for Manchester would not recommend. The whole collection of poor-rate in Ireland, since the establishment of the poor-law in that country, had amounted to more than 7,000,000l. of money, and out of that sum the sum lodged in the treasurer's hands, and placed to the credit of the unions, had amounted to no less than 96 per cent. That was really a most remarkable fact, and there was, perhaps, no rate in England that was collected in so close a way as that. The 851 whole sum of money that might be consisidered uncollected arrears of the last rate, only amounted to 207,000l. This collection of 96 per cent out of 7,000,000l. was perfectly sufficient to show that no reasonable effort had been neglected to collect the rate, and that the collection of the rate had been close and successful. With regard to the complaints of the hon. Member for Limerick, he was not surprised that the hon. Member and the board of guardians for the Newcastle union should express their surprise and dissatisfaction at the contracts to which the hon. Member had alluded; but he (Sir W. Somerville) denied that the Poor Law Commissioners were answerable for such a state of things. In the case of the Listowel union, the opinion of the Poor Law Commissioners was asked before entering into these contracts; but that was not the case in the Newcastle union, and he doubted whether the Poor Law Commissioners had a right to interfere when the contracts had once been made. He was glad to find that the proposition made to-night by the Government had been received with great favour on the part of hon. Gentlemen connected with Ireland, and by most of the hon. Members who had addressed the House. It seemed, indeed, as if we had arrived at a state of things when some hope was held out, and when there appeared a fair prospect, that we had seen the worst of the unfortunate crisis which Ireland had passed through. The hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington was correct in stating that, if you took the financial year of 1849, and compared it with that of 1848, the financial year of 1849 was the most expensive; but since that time there had been a considerable improvement in the state of things. The diminution in the expenditure, since September, 1849, had been very marked and increasing, until it had amounted, in January last, to a sum which exhibited a diminution of 70,000l. as compared with the expenditure in January of the last year. This was very satisfactory. The noble Earl the Member for Arundel had expressed his fears that the diminution of poor-law expenditure had been occasioned by the maladministration of the law, and had mentioned the case of the Kilrush union. Inquiry should be made into this charge, and, without pronouncing any opinion respecting the conduct of the parties who administered the poor-law in that union, he would say that if it were 852 true that a number of unfortunate persons had attended before the board of guardians of the Kilrush union, and had not had their cases investigated, the law had not been properly administered in that union. He confidently hoped that if the House should sanction this advance of money for the purpose of relieving the most distressed unions in Ireland from these debts which had crippled their energies, they would be doing more to help the people of Ireland than by any other means. He was not without hope that the time was not distant when these unions would be self-supporting, and, when returning prosperity, and a better state of things in Ireland, would prevent the necessity for further assistance from that House for the unions in Ireland.
§ MR. MONSELL
, in explanation, said, as to the statement made by the right hon. Baronet, that the Commissioners were not responsible for the contracts, begged to call his attention to the fact that the poor-law inspector, Mr. Lynch, was present at the time, and that there was also a temporary inspector there. If they were not aware of it, it was the fault of their own officers; and if they had been aware of it, and they could have prevented the contract from being made, he could hardly doubt they would have done so.
§ MR. GROGAN
said, he thought a full and satisfactory answer had been given to the hon. Member for Manchester, and he hoped that when the hon. Member next undertook to lecture the owners and occupiers of land in Ireland, he would think of the full and crushing reply he had had upon this occasion. He trusted the hon. Gentleman would also come to the conclusion that a short tour of two or three months could not qualify any man, however able he might be, to put himself in the position of a philosophical lecturer. If the hon. Gentleman bore in mind that the proprietors who refused the offers which had been referred to were themselves bearing the loss, and also the accumulated pressure of the rates, he would find that it was contrary to the soundest principles of political economy to allow such a state of things to remain: and if he also bore in mind that these persons went to Ireland to get land at what they called a dead bargain, and that they wished the proprietors to part with their land for seven years' value, he would cease to be surprised. The hon. Gentleman had blamed Government for not giving power to seize the lands of 853 such owners as were in arrear. Now, the hon. Gentleman took a very active part in the debates and in the Committee; but he seemed to have forgotten that the power which he spoke of existed, for where the arrears had been owing for a certain time, there was power to sell the land. He could not reconcile the hon. Gentleman's consenting to this advance with his position as a leader of the financial reform movement, without his taking more stringent measures to make these landlords pay up. Representations, he said, had been made to the Castle authorities, and he called upon him to move for the production of these papers, that the House and the country might know who were these proprietors who had neglected their duty in the manner that he alleged, and that the whole body of the Irish proprietors might not be included in his condemnation.
§ SIR H. W. BARRON
was glad that the hon. Member for Manchester had made this charge against some of the landed proprietors, magistrates, and Members connected with Ireland, because it had elicited an answer from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for that country, showing that Ireland had paid at least her share of this tax, and even a larger proportion than England had ever done. He was glad that this malicious and unfounded charge had been brought forward, and had received such a retort. He unhesitatingly asserted that in that part of the country with which he was connected, no undue favour had been shown to the landlord, the magistrate, or any other person; and if the hon. Member had made proper inquiries, he would have received the same assurance with respect to a vast majority of the unions. He felt thankful for the vote which Government had proposed, and hoped that their future measures for Ireland would be brought forward in a similar spirit. There were several points of difference between the poor-law of Ireland and the poor-law of England which he would desire to see adjusted. The expense of educating the children of the poor in England was paid out of the public funds, while in Ireland it was paid out of the poor-rates. In England half of the expense of medical relief to the poor was paid out of the Consolidated Fund; while in Ireland the whole expense of medical relief was paid out of the local taxation. A return which he intended to move for, would, he believed, show that in England assistance was given for the purpose of pauper emigration out of the 854 colonial fund, while in Ireland the whole charge fell upon the poor-law unions. He believed that that return would prove that vast favouritism was shown to the richer country—England—and that three-fourths of the funds granted for emigration were expended on England. He could not agree with the noble Lord who had introduced the subject when he stated that the poverty of Ireland was sensibly diminishing. He could only say that in his union the increase in paupers within the last four months had been 900 persons. When the present board of guardians came into office, there were 1,700 persons receiving indoor relief, and 200 outdoor relief. Since then outdoor relief had been abolished, and the number of indoor paupers had increased to 2,700 persons. He had received a letter from the vice-chairman of the board, and it informed him that the increase of paupers was going on at the rate of 100 per week, and that orders had been given to hire additional house accommodation to prevent the relief being outdoor. He hoped the House would not be led away by official returns. Though in some parts of Ireland the amount of relief might have decreased, he felt certain that that must be attributed to the fact that out-of-door relief had been abolished in a great many unions. The poor in that part of Ireland in which he resided were in a most deplorable condition. Ablebodied men could be obtained who would be glad to work for the miserable wages of a shilling a week, with two meals of Indian corn per day. That was the actual rate of wages among the farmers all over the union in which he resided. The truth was that the agricultural interest was so depressed that no farmer, no landlord, could afford to give one half the employment that he could give some four or five years ago. The consequence was, that thousands were thrown out of employment throughout Ireland, as agriculture was the only source of employment for the poor. It was all very well to boast of cheap provisions, and of that lessening the pressure on the rates; but of what value were cheap provisions to a man who could get no employment or wages? He might give the answer which a poor peasant gave to him before he left home. He met the man, and asked him, "I hope you have got good work now that food is cheap." The man replied, "Oh, sir, food is cheap, but we have nothing to give for it. There, over the way, is an honest farmer who used to employ 855 me and seven or eight others; he to-day employs one, and has not given me a day's work for the last twelve months. I am consequently starving, and was going up to your house to ask for some assistance." He had heard fifty others in his neighbourhood hold similar language. However much free-trade measures might have benefited Manchester or Birmingham, they had been the ruin of Ireland. The Irish were an agricultural people, and had no employment to fall back upon if agriculture were destroyed. Their fate must be either starvation or the workhouse. If, as he had said and believed, their free-trade measures had ruined Ireland, they must pay for it to save the people from starvation. They would have more grants of 300,000l corning upon them, for this, he could assure them, would not be the last.
§ SIR W. SOMERVILLE
, in explanation, said, that in mentioning the proportion of rates collected in Ireland, he had in some respects overstated the case, and in others understated it. He had said that 95 per cent of the whole rates had been collected since the poor-law came into operation, thereby leaving the house to understand that four per cent had been lost. That was not so; for he ought to have deducted a portion of the rate now in course of collection. The real state of the case was this: Of the rates made previous to the last rate, there had been 94 per cent, collected and lodged; the remaining 6 per cent was not lost, but 4 per cent of it had been carried as arrears into the last rate. Of the entire collection since the law had been in force, only 2 per cent had been declared irreclaimable. Therefore, though he might have overstated the case one way, he had rather understated it in the other. That was the real state of things, and it fully bore out the inference he had drawn.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, the Committee would see at once that the statement of the right hon. Baronet had nothing whatever to do with the statement he had made. Everybody throughout Ireland knew, that to speak of Ireland on the whole was an entirely different thing from speaking of the unions, about which he had given the House information. Taking the whole of Ireland, the rate would be found to be low; and were he to argue, as some hon. Gentlemen had been arguing, he might say that the Government had very small cause indeed to come to the House for an 856 advance of 300,000l. or 500,000l. The whole rate throughout Ireland was not very heavy, less probably than the average of rates in many parts of this country. That afforded no ground whatever for coming to this House for grants. Leaving that out of the question, he came to the particular unions. There were some in which he could not say how large the arrears were, but the largest portion of those arrears was due from the owners of land. He had named three unions, with respect to two of which he was certain, and he believed the case was the same in the third—Clifden, Ballinrobe, and Castle-bar. At any rate, he had truly described the powers which the present poor-law guardians had to enforce the collection of the rate; and the right hon. Secretary for Ireland would be able to say whether that description did not correspond with the fact. If a landowner was in arrear, the guardians could apply to the magistrates for an order; having obtained this, they could apply to one of the superior courts, and get a decree or judgment. This became a judgment upon the land, to the extent of the amount of rates owing to the union; but the difficulty of obtaining those arrears of poor-rate from the landed proprietors, owing to the existing state of the law, was so great that it was almost impossible that these arrears could be collected. He did not bring this as a charge against the owners of the land in many cases, for he believed many of them were in such a condition that they had no funds out of which they could pay; and if the law was such that the land itself could not be laid hold of to pay these arrears, it was quite possible that the proprietors or the guardians might not be to blame. But such was the fact which required the attention of the Government before they came to the House, and asked for further grants of money. The hon. Member for Kerry had said that his (Mr. Bright's) statement was a calumny, and, what was worse, a cowardly calumny. He had not mentioned the names; but the hon. Member might see the whole if he would walk to that side of the House. The reason why he abstained from naming the individuals was, he believed there were persons in that list to whom it could not be imputed as anything blameable that their rates were not paid, for such had been the embarrassments of property in past times, and such the state of the law, that they had no funds at their disposal. But that there were such cases, he was 857 prepared to show. He had taken the particulars from the hooks of the union; he had them from the highest poor-law authorities in the union; and he was as confident as any one could he, on the best evidence, that what he had stated was correct. He should not give the names of those gentlemen to the House. He was quite certain he was pursuing the right course in doing so. He was only pointing out a fact or a series of facts to the Government, in order that their attention might he drawn thereto. He had no wish to make a great public matter like that a ground of personal attack, or to create ill feeling amongst men, some of whom perhaps might be much more to be pitied than blamed in this matter.
§ LORD NAAS
felt himself constrained to advert to the most extraordinary charges against individuals brought forward by the hon. Member for Manchester. He declined to mention names; but he had declared that certain proprietors in Ireland were using every means in their power to evade payment of the poor-rates; that they were paying their keepers to keep the bailiffs out of their houses; and these charges were brought against Members of that House. Now, he asked whether it was fair for any Gentleman to stand up in this way and make such charges without giving names, so that the class against whom they were made might have an opportunity of vindicating themselves? He asked him whether he would or would not state the union, at least, where these acts had been committed, in order that some Member might move for papers to show whether the accusation was founded in fact or not? Then the hon. Gentleman stated that Ireland paid a less measure of poor-rate than England did. [Mr. BRIGHT had only put a hypothetical case, believing that on the whole of Ireland the average rate might be lower than in England.] The hon. Gentleman had given them to understand that Ireland was taxed in a lesser degree for the poor-rate than England was. He might talk of putting a hypothetical case and taking averages, but no person who heard his statement could, if he believed it, come to any other conclusion than that the Irish people were taxed in a lower degree than the people of England. Now, perhaps he had never read the protest entered by the Earl of Rosse on the Journals of the House of Lords with reference to the rate in aid. That document showed, on the question of local taxation, that the rateable property of 858 England was 105,000,000l., and the local taxation 12,000,000l., just 2s. 3½. in the pound; whereas the rateable property of Ireland was 9,898,566l., and the local taxation 4,224,315l., just 8s. 4d. in the pound, or nearly four times the local taxation of England. He trusted this would be the last time he should hear the unfounded statement that England was taxed for the support of the poor higher than Ireland; and he would again express a hope that the hon. Member for Manchester would see the propriety of at least stating the name of the union in which the parties to whom he had referred resided; also, at what time the letters he had alluded to were written to the Castle; and that he would give the name of the Member who, as the hon. Member had alleged, had not paid his rates.
§ MR. TRELAWNY
remarked, that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had omitted to state that half the relief to the poor in Ireland was supplied by England. ["Oh, oh!"] He would maintain the truth of the proposition, that so long as the distress arising from the famine lasted in Ireland, the people of this country, in addition to their own poor-rates, contributed one-half of the expense of supporting the poor in Ireland. [Sir H. BARRON: It was a loan to a portion of the united kingdom.] It came to the same thing, for what was the meaning of a loan to Ireland? He objected to the phraseology adopted by the hon. Member for Manchester when he spoke of the Irish landlords refusing to let their land on reasonable terms. He could not understand how a free-trader could consistently with his own doctrines, use such language. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland had said that the amount of money actually raised in Ireland under the poor-law was 96 per cent of the whole charge. [Sir W. SOMERVILLE: 94 percent.] If that was the case he could not understand on what principle it was that the noble Lord came down to that House and asked for an additional grant from this country for the relief of the Irish poor. He had always conscientiously opposed these grants, and should take the same course on the present occasion.
§ MR. TORRENS M'CULLAGH
said, that hon. Gentlemen opposite had unnecessarily identified themselves with the charge made by the hon. Member for Manchester. For one, he felt grateful for the proposition now made by Ministers, and must protest 859 against the insinuation of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Trelawny), that every loan to Ireland was a loss to England. The hon. Gentleman reminded him of a story that was told of the late Mr. Grattan: A young Member asked him, on one occasion, who was the person addressing the House?" That, Sir, is Sir R. Cox, a gentleman who is never at a loss for a word, and that a bad one." For the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trelawny) had lectured everybody—the Minister who introduced the present proposal, the hon. Member for Manchester, and, finally, the representatives for Ireland. The proposal of Government would give an opportunity to the indebted districts to redeem themselves by a course of honourable industry. As to the unions alluded to by the hon. Member for Manchester, he believed the fact was that the property liable to the rates in arrear was not in the hands of the parties whose names were not on the rate books. In Clifden union the largest property in arrear was in the hands of the mortgagee, an English insurance company. But it was a great mistake for hon. Gentlemen opposite to show such sensitiveness, and make common cause with the defaulters. Nobody could imagine that the hon. Member for Manchester meant to make a sweeping charge against the whole of the landed proprietors of Ireland. The rateable property in that country was a little under 13,000,000l., and the total charge thereon for the poor-rate for each of the last two years was about 2s. 6d. in the pound. Every one knew this was greater than the average in England. If the Irish people showed their willingness thus to assess themselves, not only for the current expense of the poor, but for the repayment of advances, it was not fair to charge them with indisposition to repay the loans. It was most ungenerous and unfair to be continually repeating this charge.
§ MR. H. A. HERBERT
declared that neither he nor his noble Friend the Member for Kildare felt themselves identified with the persons against whom the charge had been made by the hon. Member for Manchester. On the contrary, they disclaimed it, and felt that parties guilty of such conduct ought to be held up to public odium. They thought such a charge ought not to be brought forward against any body of men; but so far from identifying themselves with it, they disclaimed it. The party guilty of such conduct should be shown up, and the Government that 860 screened any person of the kind should be shown up also.
§ MR. SADLEIR
said, that by the Act of last Session most summary powers were given to the boards of guardians for the recovery of arrears of poor-rates, as against the owners of land in Ireland; and if any fault was to be found with those powers, it was that they were too excessive. Any judgment obtained under that Act would become not a judgment or incumbrance upon the land, of the date of the judgment, but would stand in an unparalleled position as a first charge upon the land. Every precaution had, therefore, been taken by the Commissioners to confer upon the hoards of guardians the most stringent powers for the enforcement of arrears of poor-rates upon owners of land. With respect to the statements made by the hon. Member for Manchester, confounding, as they did, two different classes of landlords, he believed that they would, if indulged in, do more to retard the prosperity, industry, and recovery of Ireland, than any statements or any legislation, however mischievous, which could be conceived by the basest enemy of the country.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that the clause of the Act, which defined what the law was with respect to the recovery of the rates, agreed with the statement which he had first made, and with the information he had received from the poor-law authorities in Ireland [the hon. Gentleman here read the 17th and 18th clauses of the 12th and 13th Victoria, c. 104]; the authorities to whom he referred described the process of law to be exceedingly tedious. In one of the unions to which he alluded it was stated to him by the vice-guardians that there was extreme difficulty, in consequence of the tardy operation of the law, in obtaining the payment of the rates, although they did their best to collect them. Therefore it was that he said there ought to be a more rapid mode of recovery if the Government came to that House to ask for advances.
§ MR. MUNTZ
thought that it was anything but a matter of surprise that Irish Gentlemen should be thankful for the proposal now made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government to advance them more money. Placing himself in their position, he could well feel how fair and reasonable it would be for him to support the views of Her Majesty's Government in this respect. There was, however, another party who were very much dissatisfied with 861 respect to this matter, and that was a party composed of the honest and industrious people of England. They asked, and with justice, how much longer the system of giving grants was to last? The noble Lord had come down to the House year after year to ask for grants, but he had never told the people of England what was the matter with Ireland. Year after year they were told there was a great famine. Well, but was that famine never to come to an end? Were Her Majesty's Ministers for ever to hang their coats upon that peg? Would they not even fix some date, if only a distant one, when they thought the effects of this famine would cease? He had told the Government last year that they would be sure to come down again this year for a grant, and it had just turned out as he had predicted. He also told them that he would not vote for the grant, and never would for any other, and he would not vote for this. Was there a single man in the House who believed that the money would ever be repaid by Ireland? He always felt some delicacy in speaking of Irish affairs, as he could hardly be supposed to know so much of them as some other hon. Members, but still there were certain general principles upon which a person in his situation could speak his opinion without knowing much of the condition of the proprietors of land in Ireland. His constituents told him that they were taxed heavily, that there was no famine now; on the contrary, everybody was complaining that the produce of the land was too cheap. He could not understand what this money was again wanted for. An end must be put to this system of constantly taking grants for the people of Ireland. The Government ought to set about, as was their duty, to find out what was the real cause of the distress. They had no right, till they had done that, to come down to the House every year, with the burden of which they saddled posterity. He protested against any grant, loan, or fund, which was thus sought to be added to the national debt, to be paid by those who had no voice in contracting that debt. If the money was to be raised, why did they not give it up at once, and be done with it, out of the surplus revenue that was spoken of? That would be an open straightforward course. It was never meant to be repaid, and it was never expected that it would be returned; it was intended only to add it to the national debt, which posterity was to pay. He should most 862 certainly give his vote against the measure.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
did not think the hon. Gentleman's speech had at all suffered from that delicacy which he said he felt when speaking of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman generally spoke out pretty boldly when touching upon Irish subjects. The hon. Gentleman could not have been present when he (Lord J. Russell) made his statement in the early part of the evening, because if he had he would have learned what the reasons were upon which he (Lord J. Russell) proposed that the present advance should be made; and he would also have known that he (Lord J. Russell) stated that Ireland was not now suffering from famine. The hon. Member said it was a grant; for, whenever any money was asked for Ireland, there was no chance of its ever being repaid. They heard the same language last year; but the House consented, notwithstanding those forebodings, to advance 250,000l. for the relief of the very great distress that prevailed. That was made on a tax which they were told, and very truly, was exceedingly obnoxious to the people of Ireland—that the people of the north would think it unjust, and that, independent of the burden, it would create a feeling of the injustice of being taxed that would cause great difficulty in repayment. But, notwithstanding that, 150,000l. of that sum had been repaid within six months. That did not show such an extreme difficulty of having any repayment made in Ireland; and with regard to the other 100,000l., he believed it would be repaid in a very short time more. He hoped the hon. Member for Tavistock would not think it necessary to divide the House, especially in the present state of the business, for he believed the question then was that the resolutions should be reported to the House. It would be necessary to put the question into the shape of a Bill, and then it would be competent for the hon. Member for Birmingham, or any other hon. Member, to object to this proposal. He had no objection to its being thoroughly canvassed, because he thought the favour with which it was first received by the House would be justified by the nature of the case.
MR. M. O'CONNELL
said, the hon. Member for Birmingham had stated that his constituents were always asking what was the matter with Ireland? That question 863 was easily and shortly answered. The legislation for Ireland had been first for a class, then for a sect, and then again for a class; almost with perfect ignorance of her interests, her wants, and her wishes.
§ Resolutions to be reported on Monday next.