§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [5th February.]—[See page 69.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ MR. REDMOND
said, that as the Forms of the House precluded the hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Shaw) from moving the Amendment to the Address of which he gave Notice last night, he rose to move it in the hon. Member's place. That Amendment contained two distinct charges against the Government. One was, that although they received timely and ample notice of what was about to happen they failed to take adequate measures for the relief of the distress which most unquestionably existed among a large proportion of the population in many parts of Ireland, bringing the people, in many cases, to the very verge of starvation. The other charge was that they had not indicated any intention to deal with the system of land tenure in Ireland, which was believed to be at the root of the constantly recurring disaffection and distress. With regard to the last charge, there was no dispute or question as to the fact. The Government did not profess any intention to deal with the system of land tenure in Ireland, and so deeply impressed were the Irish Members with the paramount necessity for such action that that consideration alone would amply justify in their minds the Amendment of which Notice had been given by the hon. Member for Cork. They felt it incumbent upon them to take 153 every opportunity of protesting in the strongest manner in their power against the neglect of the responsible Ministers of this country to take cognizance of public opinion in Ireland. They strongly protested against the system of government which was carried on, not in recognition of, but entirely ignoring, the demands which were made from one end of the country to the other. It was utterly impossible that the system of land tenure which prevailed at the present moment, and which, rightly or wrongly, was considered to be at the root of all the evils resulting from constantly recurring distress in Ireland, could remain unchanged. Justice might be done to the tenant, security of the holding might be obtained for him, without the violation of any principle of right, and without inflicting any injury or hardship upon any landlord or owner of property in Ireland. He thought it right to warn the House and the Government that if they made no attempt to arrive at a reasonable and practical solution of this question, other attempts, based, perhaps, upon extravagant and revolutionary theories, would be made, and the result would be that when the Government should at last be compelled to take action they would find themselves very much embarrassed. The blame for this would rest entirely upon the Government themselves for having constantly ignored the constitutional expression of the grievances of the people of Ireland. There had been no revolutionary proposals that had not been begotten of despair of constitutional reforms. If a Communist propaganda should be established in Ireland, which he hoped would never be the case, it would be due, not to constitutional agitation for constitutional rights, but to unconstitutional neglect and ignoring of the public opinion of the country. It was possible that the Government and the majority of this House did not feel the reality of the discontent; but they must know that of the 600,000 tenant farmers in Ireland 500,000 were convinced that all their misfortunes, and the famine, and distress were due to the system of tenure of land. But the Government and this House turned away their eyes and shut their ears, and what was the consequence? So long as that was the case, the Government could not anticipate anything else but continued 154 discontent and an utter want of sympathy with the people. The one hope for the future welfare of the Irish people was that the time would come when the objects and feelings of the Imperial Government would be in harmony with those of the people whom they governed. The Government were doing nothing to bring about that; and on every occasion on which they could the Irish Members would protest against a line of policy which was inconsistent with the tranquillity, the prosperity, and the best interests both of Ireland and of the whole Empire. With regard to the first part of the Amendment he would make only a few observations. Like every Member of that House, he expected that they should have received the Papers promised by the Government the night before; but they had not received those Papers. The Government said that they had done everything necessary, and that they had taken all the measures which were required to meet the emergency; but the reply to that was the terrible condition of Ireland, and accounts which they received from all quarters of the state of affairs bordering on famine. Men and women had already died for want of food within the last few weeks, and many others had entered into the initial stages of the horrible disease of famine. The condition of Ireland was well known, not only from Inspectors and local authorities, but they had received reports from newspaper correspondents and from the relief committees all over the country. It was no use to rely solely on the reports of Inspectors, and ignore other sources of information. Then what were the Government measures which had been so much spoken of? At an early stage they recommended the Board of Works to make advances to landowners and others for the purpose of making improvements. Well, that was a failure. He should like to know how many people had really been employed by means of these loans in the worst districts of the country, and he should like to see how many people had been saved from starvation by the action of the Government? The Board of Guardians had been directed to lay in stores of food and fuel; but he should like to know whether those stores had been distributed? He did not know of a single Union that had distributed relief in kind; but he knew this—that but 155 for the great charity of private individuals thousands of people would have starved. He should like also to know what had been the result of the other measures about which so much had been said? The fact was that they knew nothing about what the Government had done. They only knew that there was great distress in Ireland, and that the destitution of the people was of the most awful character. The only relief that had been given was from the hands of relief committees, and not from the Government. It appeared to him that the part the Government had taken was like that of a medical officer who stood over a man being flogged to stay the punishment when the last limit had been reached. He would not further detain the House, and he would simply move the Amendment of which Notice had been given by his hon. Friend the Member for Cork.
At the end of the Question, to add the words, "We also think it right to represent to Your Majesty that Your Majesty's Government, although in possession of timely warning and information, have not taken adequate steps to meet promptly and efficaciously the severe distress now existing and increasing in Ireland; and we are of opinion that, in order to avert the horrors of famine from a wide area in that Country, the most vigorous measures are immediately necessary; and we are further of opinion that it is essential to the peace and prosperity of Ireland to legislate at once and in a comprehensive manner on these questions; and we humbly assure Your Majesty that we shall regard it as the duty of Parliament, on the earliest opportunity, to consider the necessary measures for the purpose, more urgently the tenure of land, the neglect of which by Parliament has been the true cause of constantly recurring dissatisfaction and distress in Ireland."—(Mr. Redmond.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. SHAW
said, he hoped the House would allow him to express his regret that any misunderstanding should have taken place between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and himself as to the adjournment of the debate on the previous day. He was quite willing to admit that it might have been his fault; but he had been so much lately in the London fogs that it took a few days to clear his intellect. He was sure that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition would not consider that any discourtesy had been 156 intended when he (Mr. Shaw) attempted to interpose between the noble Lord and the House. He believed that it was the ancient practice to move Amendments on the Address much more frequently than now. He did not see any constitutional or any other reason why that practice should not be continued. Of course, there could be no objection to a general conversation on political questions, provided there was not before the House an Amendment of a very serious nature; and it had occurred to some of them that, as a Notice had been given of an Amendment on a subject of pressing importance—namely, Irish distress—the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) might have given way and allowed them to have the precedence. But the noble Lord had no doubt acted according to the usual practice of the House, and he might say for himself and his Friends that they had nothing at all to complain of. The noble Lord occupied very nearly as difficult a position in the House as he did himself; and he might be excused for saying that the noble Lord always performed his duties with the greatest ability and the greatest moderation. The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry), in seconding the Address last night, had paid him some passing compliments. The hon. Gentleman said that no one out of a lunatic asylum would invest money in the South and West of Ireland. Well, he supposed he might regard himself as an occasionally sane man. Yet all the money he possessed was invested in the South of Ireland; and he had no hesitation in saying that if he had five times as much he would go into business and invest it in land in that country, where capital was just as safe and as remunerative as in England. Manufacturing industry in Cork did just as badly in bad times and as well in good times as it did in Belfast, and there had not been the slightest difficulty with the workpeople. He had been engaged in industrial works in Cork and the west of the county, where a large number of hands, the sons of small farmers, were employed, and those works had been carried, on just as successfully as in this country, and without any difference with the men. He said, without hesitation, that in proportion to their population there was just as much local money embarked in trade and industry in Cork and in Dublin as in Belfast. The Belfast 157 people thought very highly of themselves. But there were other places besides Belfast. The annual value of the entire linen trade of Ireland was £8,000,000, whilst the value of the manufactures of the parish of Halifax, in Yorkshire, was £13,000,000. Therefore, the people of Belfast should not be so bumptious. In the North of Ireland, however, they had different Land Laws from those in other parts of the country. The tenants had security, and their savings went into the banks, thus encouraging industry. Tenant right was the foundation of the prosperity of Ulster. In some of the organs of the Press he had seen an account of an interview between the Prime Minister and one of his followers, where the foreign policy of the Government was fully discussed, and he thought that must have referred to the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry). The words which that hon. Member used last night were almost identical with those which fell from the Prime Minister on the same evening in "another place," and evidently the two personages must have laid their heads together. He could imagine their devising for the next General Election the cry of "Disraeli and Corry, and the integrity of the Empire!" He himself, speaking at a meeting in Dublin a few weeks ago, made a bad joke about taking out a linch-pin—a joke so bad, that the newspapers in this country absolutely thought he was serious, and some remarks on it appeared in a leading article next day. Well, he had happened to walk to the place of meeting with a Belfast man, and it was impossible for him, after such an experience as that, to make a good joke. Turning, however, to the Papers about to be produced by the Government, it was unfortunate that they were not in the hands of hon. Members. He had expected to receive them that morning. But the Amendments which had been moved and seconded condemned the Government, not for what they were going to do in the future, but for what they had not done in the past. It would be extraordinary if they had done anything wonderful in regard to carrying out works to relieve distress in Ireland, and yet that the whole community should never have heard of it. He complained that the Government had had timely warning of the distress which was coming upon the people of Ireland. The last harvest 158 was exceptionally bad; there was a deficiency in the crops, the crops did not ripen, and fuel as well as food failed. All that could not but entail the severest distress in many parts of the country on the small farmers with 10 or 15 acres. Even the larger farmers had been working against three or four bad years, which, of course, took away their savings and swept off the means they had laid up. It was, therefore, absolutely certain that there would be great distress in the winter. The Government, with its various sources of information, must have known everything which those who lived in the country knew, and known. it a great deal better, because its information was not confined to particular districts. In October the Local Government Board sent out Inspectors, who visited the different Poor Law Unions; and on the 8th of October he believed that Board sent to the Government an official statement as to the state of the country, distinctly showing that the distress would be wide-spread. After that the Roman Catholic Bishops—interested in the temporal as well as the spiritual welfare of their flocks, and possessing the very best means of information—waited on the Lord Lieutenant and laid the state of the country before his Excellency. The reception given to that deputation was, he understood, anything but satisfactory. After that Memorials went in from almost every Poor Law Union and Corporation calling the attention of the Government to the imminent distress. Seventy Members of Parliament also signed a Memorial to the Prime Minister asking that, if necessary, Parliament should be summoned to give the Executive full power to meet the emergency. No answer was given to that Memorial. In fact, the noble Earl rather scoffed at the Irish distress before the citizens of London, when he met them at a great dinner party. Well, then, it could not be said that the Government had no notice of the serious state of the country. Now, he wanted to know what they had done? He should be very glad if the Papers about to be produced showed that the Government had honestly done their duty, and that the present Amendment might be withdrawn. No man living in the country but wished to see the Government do its duty, as it was bound to do, towards the people. It was in that spirit that all those Memorials 159 had been presented. Their purport was that money should not be given in alms, that nothing should be done to pauperize the people—they had had enough of that; but that money should be expended in some way for employing them on useful reproductive works. The Government in November issued a Circular to the Poor Law Boards, directing them to take steps for cleansing the poorhouses and for providing plenty of blankets. Now, he ventured to say that was not enough, as far as the Poor Law system was concerned, or anything like enough. They ought to have directed the Poor Law Board that in case there was anything like real distress it should at once be promptly relieved. They might very safely trust the Guardians in Ireland not to do too much in that direction, for the Guardians in Ireland were generally land owners and land occupiers, and they looked very carefully after the rates. Therefore, the Government might be quite sure they might trust the Guardians not to go too far. He believed that when the distress occurred in Lancashire those who represented the Government there did not hesitate at once to go beyond the law, and did all they could to keep the poor people out of the workhouse. No greater calamity could befall a poor man than to allow him to become, even temporarily, and in exceptional cases, a pauper. Therefore, a wise and paternal Government should strain every nerve to prevent anything like this happening. There was a case in Sligo in which a Board of Guardians had been told that over 100 persons were absolutely starving, and they at once, without thinking of the law, ordered relief; but they were promptly prohibited by the Local Government Board, and probably the money expended, pending the arrival of the order, they had had to pay out of their own pockets. The next thing the Government did was to issue a Circular saying they would advance money to gentlemen who wished to drain their land, and that Circular met with general satisfaction; but when they saw the order they found it was nothing at all. The only advantage offered by that Circular was that interest would be postponed for two years, and that the time of repayment of the loan would be extended a little. The interest would be added to the principal, and probably interest 160 upon interest would be added; but the landlords in Ireland could not be induced to take much money on those terms. The Government on the 12th of January, finding the thing hang fire, issued another Circular, in which they did offer substantial advantages, offering money at 1 per cent interest. If this offer had been made in the first instance, there would have been an amount of employment in the whole West and South of Ireland that would have met almost the entire case. Of course, there would still have been plenty of room for charity in a poor country like Ireland. For himself, he had no hesitation in offering his meed of praise to the Duchess of Marlborough and the Lord Mayor of Dublin for their great exertions in the matter of private benevolence. There could be no question that the idea that this lady had any political motive in organizing or distributing her fund was perfectly absurd. But he was wrong—he believed, after all, she had a political motive. She must have been so disgusted with the shilly-shallying of the Government, with the evidence of indecision which she witnessed every day, with the official red-tapeism and eternal letter-writing, with the frequent journeys of the Chief Secretary between Dublin and London, that she said to herself "I will do my duty at all events." The Government had not acted in time in making advances to the country gentlemen in Ireland. They might also have gone somewhat further. The law in Ireland only allowed advances for drainage to be made to owners of land or tenants with more than 40 years' lease to run. He (Mr. Shaw) had made a suggestion to the Government which he was now almost sorry he had done. It so much shocked the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland that he was afraid it might have injured his health. He had proposed that advances should be made to tenants to enable them to drain their own lands, where notice was first given to the landlords, and they did not object. His reason for this proposition was that, unfortunately, in Ireland there was a large percentage of absentee landlords, and also a number of gentlemen who did not feel themselves called upon to make great exertions for the employment of the people. There were hundreds and thousands of acres, not of waste, but of 161 improveable land that the tenants, if they could borrow the money, would themselves drain, and soon double its value. The money would be just as safe as in any other case. Indeed, in almost every instance, the interest of the money advanced was paid by the tenant. But the Government would not entertain this proposal. He had received a letter from one of the most respectable and influential country gentlemen in his own county, who had been for many years a Chairman of a Board, and who was, moreover, a good Conservative. That gentleman gave a most deplorable account of the people in his district. They were small farm labourers and had now consumed almost all their food. The farmers paid them some 3s.a-week and gave them houses—such as they were—the liberty to cut fire-wood, and land on which to cultivate their potatoes. All the produce of that land had been consumed, and hundreds of families in that district were living, or rather starving, on 3s.a-week. Starvation was a gradual process that went on for months. It was going on now, and the hand of the paternal Government had not yet been stretched out to relieve in any effectual way. He knew that in his own parish in the country there were some 80 farm labourers, 40 of whom were almost helpless and dependent upon casual employment, which was scarce enough, as no money was in circulation and the farmers could hardly pay their own way. He hoped the Government would even now take prompt measures to remedy this state of things. They ought at once to issue instructions to the Poor Law Guardians to give out-door relief without insisting upon the observance of the law in its present state. A Bill of Indemnity could be brought in afterwards, and it would be passed by the House without the slightest trouble. This, further, ought to be the settled state of the law. There were districts in Ireland where poverty occurred when it did not occur in other districts. An immense number round the coasts were engaged in fishing, and often for weeks together they were in a state of destitution. There ought to be a power in the Local Government Board to enable such assistance to be given to these people as would prevent them being driven into the poorhouse. The Government had 162 issued a Circular to provide for the holding of special sessions through the country in order to carry on relief works. He believed this course to be a dangerous one. Many of them remembered the famine of 1846–7, and the amount of money that was thrown away then upon works. It had demoralized the people for years after. They did not want to see that kind of thing repeated. No doubt landlords would scarcely be able, even with the help of the Poor Law, to give the people all the work that was required. But why should these sessions not have power to do some useful works, such as the making of railways, the deepening of harbours, or such like things? It would be replied that these matters were best left to private enterprize. That language was good for England and Scotland, where there was so much money that the people did not know what to do with it; but the case was different with poverty-stricken Ireland. It ought to be permitted to these sessions, wherever it could be shown that useful and productive work was to be done, that they should apply for it, and then borrow the money to carry it on. He had also to complain that although they were promised that red-tape was to be burned, upon this occasion it had not been burned. Gentlemen complained to him that they had as much difficulty as ever in getting their applications for loans passed through the Board of Works. He did not want the Government to lose a shilling; but they might easily do much to facilitate the granting of loans. He should not trouble the House by entering at length into the question raised by the Amendment as to the permanent sources of distress; but he must say that he felt, as one who had always lived in Ireland, that it was an intolerable thing, in the most prominent degree discreditable to England, a fact of which England ought to be ashamed, that in Ireland, a country at their very door, the state of things was such that a large proportion of the people were suffering from famine. Was this what English statesmanship had achieved? Was it possibly true that within immediate reach of that assemblage of English Gentlemen, statesmen and merchants, a whole people were in such a state that a few bad harvests left them a prey to famine? If this were so, it was a disgrace. It would 163 be said that it was the fault of the people of whom he spoke. The hon. Member for Belfast said it was to be attributed to the agitators. There never was an agitator yet who had power except springing from real grievances and wrongs; and if he were given the power to tell one of the largest meetings in Ireland that the English Government had determined to act, without prejudice, justly and fairly, he would engage to put down agitation. But the course of Irish affairs was this. First, there was great want, then followed excitement and disturbance, and this was followed by coercion. The Government had been trying, and in many cases honestly, to grapple with these evils; but it occurred to him—and this was one of the principal meanings of the existence of Home Rulers as a Party—that the Government of England very often had much more in their minds their own Party complications than the real grievances of Ireland. History was repeating itself. The former Irish Famine was made an excuse for carrying out a great political problem affecting the whole of the Empire. At the present moment the great political Party opposite was trying to blacken that on the side on which he sat, with an eye to the next General Election, and were careless as to the existing famine in Ireland. They were determined to put a stop to this without giving the slightest offence to any Party or to the English people. They would endeavour, as far as they could, constitutionally and fairly, to force on the minds of the Members of the House the real state of Ireland, and to bring about an improvement in the present state of things. The problem was great and difficult; but it was not insuperable. It was one on which, if a statesman undertook it honestly and justly, he would have the entire approbation of the whole of the Irish people. It might, perhaps, appear unseemly that they should interpose in this way between Her Majesty and the Address to be presented; but they had been taught lately that the Sovereign was to be a real factor in the political Constitution. Thus, then, they came to the Sovereign, to whom he professed nothing but the most complete loyalty, and asked for a full consideration of their grievances. The Government had been putting on her brow an Imperial diadem while her subjects in Ireland were dying 164 and starving—a state into which they had fallen by the injustice of the laws, which laws they now asked to be remedied. A Resolution had been placed on the books of the House, pledging Parliament to an amendment of the Land Laws; but the Government had never thought it worth while to take a step in that direction. They had endeavoured to impress on the House the necessity of extending to the South and West of Ireland the same law which existed in the North, and which had made the North of Ireland what it was. This the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not thought it beneath his position to describe as Communism. How could they go to the people of Ireland and say the Government meant to do anything permanently useful in this direction? The present Government had the power to do much, but he had not the slightest hope from them, owing to the tenour of the passage in the Queen's Speech, which simply meant that they intended to do nothing; and, in fact, he believed that the Irish Government was not controlled by enlightened English opinion, but by the narrow-minded opinion of the people of the North of Ireland, and that this was the main factor in the government of Ireland.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I rise immediately after the hon. Member for Cork principally to say that I have no fault to find; but, on the contrary, I think that he is entirely within his right, and is to be commended for taking the earliest opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to the question which he has brought before them. And I am not at all prepared or disposed to take exception to the spirit in which he has addressed to us the remarks he has made upon what he supposes to be the negligence or want of foresight on the part of Her Majesty's Government. No opportunity could be more proper for calling attention to such a matter than the Motion for the Address to Her Majesty. No opportunity could present itself earlier, and certainly it is both the right and the duty of Members for Ireland to take this opportunity of calling attention to a matter of such importance. If anything passed last night which led them to believe that we were indisposed to have a discussion on that subject, I can only say that it is due to a misunderstanding which I regret. 165 It is the earnest and sincere desire on the part of Her Majesty's Government to bring forward without delay and submit to Parliament the measures they think it right to propose on that important question. I will say but a very few words upon the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. Undoubtedly, when he calls upon us to consider what are the evils at the root of the social system in Ireland, and when he tells us that those evils are to be found in the system of Land Laws, and that it is the duty of Parliament and Her Majesty's Government to devise permanent remedies for that state of things, he raises a very large and important question. It is a question which has occupied the attention of Parliament not long since. It was a matter brought a few years ago very prominently under the consideration of the last House of Commons. It was discussed, and legislation was agreed on, and, undoubtedly, we have had many occasions to know how that legislation worked. I think it is highly probable that the subject will be raised again and again; and what I wish now to say is that I think at the present moment, and with reference to the particular questions of the distressed condition of Ireland, I should be going altogether aside of the question by occupying the House with the points the hon. Gentleman alluded to at the conclusion of his speech. Whatever views may be adopted respecting the tenure and distribution of land, such questions are beside the immediate question of the moment—How are people to be maintained during the present season, and what are the most efficient methods of preventing starvation? It is from no want of respect to the hon. Gentleman and the importance of his speech that I abstain from entering upon it at the present moment. The hon. Gentleman charges the Government with having, in spite of warnings and ample information, neglected to take sufficient measures for warding off famine and great suffering. Well, I dispute that proposition. I say that the course which the Government has taken has been—at all events, in their own judgment—that which was best calculated to accomplish the object which we all have in view. Most distinctly do I deny that there have been anyIâcheswhatever on our part. We may be mistaken in the measures we are adopting, but we certainly have 166 not allowed the matter to sleep. As early as the beginning of September the question of the condition of the country, and what was the nature of the harvest, and what were the prospects of the country, had engaged the attention of the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and at that time they had begun—and I submit it was the only course they could then take—to make inquiries of a systematic character into the condition of the people of Ireland, and as to the nature of the steps that might be taken to relieve the distress. We availed ourselves of all the sources of information open to us—many of them of a confidential character—in order to obtain correct and early information. The inquiries were, of course, varied in their nature, but were very minute and well diffused over the whole country. We endeavoured to ascertain the position of the tenants and the general population, particularly in those districts that we had reason to believe were affected by the distress. I may mention very briefly, as I should have done in bringing forward and justifying the measure which I hope to submit to the House, what is the result of the communications that have been made, and I desire especially to proclaim the result of the inquiry made by the Registrar General into the agricultural condition of the country. I am sorry to say that his Report, which was called for at an unusually early period on account of the anxiety felt with regard to the season, shows a very unsatisfactory state of things. It states, in the first place, that the extent of land in Ireland under crops was less in this year than in any of the preceding 10 years, and it goes on to show how the yield was affected. The Agricultural Produce Returns for this year are, in truth, of a very unfavourable character, the estimated produce being lower than in any of the past 10 years. In 1878 the harvest was up to the average, and the yield of many crops was above it. This year the yield of each crop is under the average of the past 10 years. The extent to which this is the case is measured by taking the value of the crops. In 1879, the total value of the principal crops of Ireland may be taken at £22,743,000, as against £32,758,000 in the preceding year, showing a diminution of £10,000,000. We have documents which show very minutely in what 167 particular directions the failure may be looked for, and which point to this very unsatisfactory result. With regard to the potato crop, in 1878 the estimated produce of potatoes in Ireland amounted to 50,500,000 cwt., the average for the last 10 years being 60,652,000 cwt., whereas the estimated yield for 1879 is only 22,273,000 cwt.; a most alarming decrease. I will not multiply instances in order to show that this has been a most trying and disastrous agricultural year, and that the effect of such a state of things upon a country so dependent upon agriculture must be of a very serious character. [Mr. SYNAN: What is the date of the Report?] This Report is dated the 4th of February, and it has only just been received. It is the "Preliminary Report of the Returns of Agricultural Produce in Ireland for 1879." I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to learn whether we were in a position to supply this information earlier. We were certainly not in possession of it in the form and shape in which this has been given; but, from the local inquiries which we made, we had ascertained the fact that there had been serious failures in certain localities, and we were able to form a pretty fair estimate of the nature of the depression, and the pressure on certain districts. We were not, however, in possession of the actual figures. Well, as I have already stated, in the month of September information began to be collected; and I can bear my personal testimony, having been in Ireland some time towards the end of that month, to the great care and attention which everyone connected with the Irish Government bestowed in getting all the information possible. The result of our communications was this—that towards the end of October the Irish Government forwarded to us the information which they had obtained through the various inquiries instituted by the Local Government Board. The Government at home then considered the matter most seriously, and not only examined the Reports which had been sent to them, but invited the Lord Lieutenant and various gentlemen who were particularly qualified to express an opinion to attend in this country. Repeated personal communications took place with them, and we obtained a great deal of valuable information, and were able to express our views to those who 168 were charged with the administration of the Poor Law in Ireland. When we came to consider the question, what we found was this—that, undoubtedly, there was considerable apprehension and danger of scarcity in certain parts of Ireland. We found, however, that there were other parts where the crops had not been so deficient. In some places, indeed, they had been comparatively abundant. But there were many parts of the country where it would be necessary to take special precautions, and we naturally inquired what precautions would be most valuable. Four points came under our consideration. That which immediately suggested itself was this—supposing that the failure in the fuel harvest prove as serious as has been expected, will there not be a danger of the actual supply of fuel being withheld, and of there being no means of replacing it in certain districts? This, it was obvious, would be a most serious evil, and the people would not only be subjected to the great discomfort of not being able to maintain proper fires, but they would be unable to provide for cooking their food, and a deficiency of fuel in winter might be productive of great inconvenience and also disease. It became, therefore, a matter of the greatest importance to assure ourselves on that point. Well, we inquired whether fuel could be obtained if necessary, and we were assured that proper precautions would be taken so that stocks of fuel would be available in case of need. Another question now arose—namely, how far did the law admit of the distribution of fuel? and we found that under no circumstances did there seem to be any power to distribute fuel. The Government, while thinking it undesirable to make any public announcement, considered it right to warn the Local Government Board that they must keep themselves properly informed from week to week as to the condition of the country and the prospects of any alarming demand for fuel, and instructed them, if any occasion should arise making it necessary to distribute fuel or food, immediately to report the circumstances at head-quarters, whence authority would be given them to go beyond the law. There was no necessity for making any-public announcement upon the subject. It was, in fact, far better that there should not be a public announcement. We are 169 now, happily, in telegraphic communication with every part of the country. There is, consequently, no difficulty whatever in obtaining information up to the latest date, and no difficulty in transmitting orders, provided you have made up your mind as to what your orders shall be in case of an emergency. We had thus satisfied ourselves as to our ability to get an abundant supply of information; we knew exactly what we should do to order the distribution of what might be necessary to preserve life, and we were assured that the means of fulfilling our orders existed. Therefore, we considered that we had taken the precautions necessary until the meeting of Parliament, when we should have an opportunity of describing our position. In the Bill which I shall by-and-bye have to ask the House for leave to introduce, there will be a provision authorizing the Local Government Board to give authority to the Boards of Guardians to issue food or fuel by way of out-door distribution. At present, outdoor relief is confined by strict rules, adopted after careful consideration, to cases arising when the workhouse is full, and it cannot be given to those who are occupiers of more than a quarter of an acre of land. We thought that, under the circumstances of to-day, these conditions might be suspended, and power will be asked for in the Bill to make their suspension possible. The House will see that in making proposals of this kind we are acting under a sense of deep responsibility, because the principles of the Poor Law are principles which are adopted with care and consideration, though when they are brought into action they are felt by many persons to be severe and rigorous. This severity was necessary to the maintenance of a proper spirit of self-help and providence among the people. These, however, are circumstances of an exceptional character, and it is only in such cases that you would be justified in departing from the principles of the Poor Law. Then there was another matter which we had to consider. We had to inquire not only into the condition and probable demands of the poor, but we had also to inquire into the condition of the rateable charges on the Unions themselves, and it appeared to us that there were several cases in which the rates charged upon certain districts were 170 heavy; and if the demand which was now beginning to be anticipated should take place, a very heavy additional rate would be thrown upon these Unions; and we could not but feel that this additional rate would be thrown upon them just at a time when those who would have to bear it would be suffering from the common calamity. Some of those who would have to bear the rate would be affected as much in position as those receiving relief in the failure of crops; and we thought that at the same time we were calling on the Unions to make provision for special distress we should provide that they should have power to relieve themselves of the great and sudden pressure on the rate by borrowing for a limited time in order to meet that rate. Therefore, the proposal was made in the present Bill that there shall be power, when a case appears to be made out on the part of the Guardians, with the consent of the Local Government Board, to borrow money to meet this exceptional rate. Well, those were the provisions made to facilitate the action of the Poor Laws. Additional liberty was given them to administer out-door relief, and power was given to Guardians to borrow upon the rates. Then, beyond that, we had to consider what could be done in the way of diminishing the pressure of pauperism by stimulating the employment of labourers. With regard to the stimulation of the employment of labourers, that is one of the questions very full indeed of difficulties. We remembered the years 1846 and 1847, and we know at that time a very large amount of money was unfortunately wasted upon works undertaken without due consideration, and carried on in a manner which necessarily involved very considerable waste. But the question was not one of waste of money. If that were all—that £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 were expended without producing any good result—we might have thought less of that miscalculation; but the fact was a very great evil was done, the people were demoralized, and it was found necessary to take towards the end very strong measures in order to check the evils that were occurring. We wore warned by the proceedings in 1846 and 1847 to be very careful how we departed from the principles of the usual system. With regard to the advance of money for encouraging public works in Ireland, 171 the House is aware that it has long been part of the policy of Parliament to encourage various classes of work by the advance of public money on terms somewhat more favourable than can be obtained in the open market. These arrangements have been made, not only in Ireland, but also in other parts of the United Kingdom, and they are arrangements made with a view to promote certain works of a character which are thought desirable—sanitary works, land improvements, and other things which we desired to encourage by advances on favourable terms. The system on which those advances are made is one that has been, and still is, under very careful review and criticism; and it is perfectly clear that if we are not to break down the whole principles of that system, it is necessary to adhere to them so far as concerns the system of advancing money for the sake of works of advantage, and when you come to the case of employing labour, not so much for the work that is to be done as that labourers may be employed, you get into a new class of considerations altogether, and it is a very difficult thing to combine the two things. We thought that it would be desirable that some further encouragement should be given to the ordinary borrowers who take public money from the State in Ireland, and with that public money execute works, whether in the improvement of their own estates or other works; and we could not but feel that the circumstances of the time, the great pressure which had come upon the landlords from the difficulty of obtaining their rents, and the great losses they wore sustaining by the failure in the harvest—that those difficulties must naturally deter landlords from coming forward and borrowing even to the ordinary extent to which they would go—We thought, therefore, it was desirable to make such regulations as might facilitate the borrowing by landlords, and encourage applications which otherwise might not have been made. The first thing that occurred was that one of the great difficulties in the way was that the borrowers did not wish at this particular time to take these burdens on themselves. Therefore, we in November proposed that loans should be made in the distressed districts upon the unusual terms of allowing a delay in the re-payment of the first instalment, 172 and also that we should give certain facilities. It was complained that red tape stood in the way. Red tape is always very unpopular, and it is very easy indeed to cry out that certain formalities should be dispensed with. Of course, we are always desirous of dispensing with unnecessary formalities, whether in cases of exceptional distress or not; but with regard to some "formalities," as they are called, they are such as cannot be dispensed with. Take, for example, proper advertisement, in order to let those interested in a particular estate know that a certain charge is going to be placed upon it. If there were not such advertisements, the persons so interested might say that they had not had notice of the charge, and were not bound by it. However, we have made certain changes, and somewhat diminished the charges. We found under that Order, made on the 14th of November, that applications were made amounting to about£113,000; and we also found that the applications were not being made with the celerity that could be wished; and, therefore, in January, at the suggestion of the Lord Lieutenant, we issued a further Order making a considerable advance upon those terms. The Order was made on the 14th of January for loans for 37 years, instead of 22. For the first two years they are given absolutely free, and no interest is charged and no instalment called for, and under those conditions we have a larger number of applications, applications amounting to £220,000; in all, £333,000. There have been applications for sanitary loans up to the 3rd of February amounting to £79,000. In addition to these two measures we have taken a third measure, and it was to that the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) pointed yesterday, when he said it might be necessary that we should give authority to others besides individual landlords to borrow money. We have adopted a system of extraordinary presentment sessions for the different baronies—I understand about 90 extraordinary baronial sessions are likely to make applications. In these circumstances, we can come to Parliament with confidence and ask for authority to modify the law in respect to these different particulars, and I feel sure that the measure which I shall ask leave to submit is one which will receive the ap- 173 probation and support of Parliament. It may be in the course of the discussion of that measure that further suggestions will be made which we shall be glad to listen to; but we ourselves are convinced that what we have proposed, if fairly and properly administered, ought to be sufficient to meet the wants of the case. We believe that the Irish Government are fully alive to the necessities of the case. We know that we shall be informed of everything that occurs; and if anything important or urgent should come, we are perfectly prepared on our own responsibility—though now that Parliament has met we should not have occasion to rely on our own responsibility—to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent anything like the calamities which are apprehended in so many quarters. I hope that the times will not be so hopelessly bad as some Members seem to anticipate; but we cannot disguise from ourselves that there is a very serious period to be passed over between the present time and the next harvest. While we must keep our attention fixed on the necessary measures for keeping the people from the great misfortunes which may fall upon them, we have also to bear in mind that we must do nothing that will in any way interfere with the necessary operations of agriculture. We must do nothing that will lead the people away from preparing for the next seed-time and harvest; because we must remember that, on a former occasion, the temptations that were offered by the great public works were such, in many cases, that they drew away the people from their work. We must be prepared to keep all that in view at the same time that we are making special arrangements with regard to relief. I have endeavoured, I hope without any unfairness, to explain to the House what the course of the Government has been, what their views are, and in what way they hope to deal with this question. There is another matter which has not been referred to; and upon which it will be my duty in introducing the Bill to say a few words—I mean with reference to the source from which the money to be advanced for this purpose is to be supplied. I think, perhaps, as the question is one which has not been raised in the discussion, and as it is one which lies apart from the actual work to be done, I shall 174 better consult the convenience of the House by deferring any observations on that point until I have to ask leave to introduce the Bill. Therefore I believe I have now said all that it is necessary for me to say. I can assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that while we recognize his right to bring forward such a Motion, we warmly and even indignantly repel the charge he would seem to make against us of having been careless and negligent in this matter. We have acted according to the best of our judgment, and, as at present advised, we believe the course we have taken is the best for the interests of Ireland.
It is well known to be the duty of the Opposition to criticize unsparingly the conduct of Ministers; but, in the present instance, one feels a certain degree of reluctance in attacking the Government. In dealing with the distress in Ireland, the Government have fumbled and bungled so hopelessly that an utter want of capacity has become evident, and pleads in mitigation of that unqualified censure which otherwise could not be withheld. The little the Government have hitherto done has been wrong in principle, and what it has suggested to local bodies in Ireland to do has created a panic. Up to the present moment all that the Government has done for the relief of distress has been to provide £250,000 out of the Irish Church Surplus, to be lent to landlords for the improvement of their estates. I wish to point out that this mode of affording relief is looked upon with dislike and with grave suspicion by the whole of the occupiers of Ireland; because, no matter what may be the intention of the Government, it is quite evident that the inevitable effect of loans made to landlords for the improvement of their estates must be totally to defeat and render nugatory the principal provisions of the Land Act of 1870. The great aim of the Act of 1870 was to get the tenants to improve, in order that they might permanently better their position—acquiring property in the soil; and, moreover, that by doing this they might throw up barriers against evictions, and it was thought that liability to claims for compensations would operate as a deterrent upon the exterminator. It is quite clear that where these loans have been made to the landlords the tenants will no longer improve. Hence- 175 forward the improvements will be made by, and will belong to, the landlords. The tenant's share in the transaction will be the re-payment of the loan in the shape of increased rent. All the occupiers of Ireland see how the proposal of the Government to lend to the landlords for improvements will work; they will see that it must add to their burdens. They see that there is no limit to the rent-raising powers of the landlords, and they see that while the proposal of the Government must lead to these results it actually diminishes the tenant's hold upon the soil by preventing claims to compensation. The House can now easily understand why the occupiers are averse to this mode of relieving distress. Then the plan proposed by the Government places the tenant farmer in a most invidious position. Throughout Ireland there is a general attempt on the part of the landlord party to sow dissension between farmer and labourer. The dislike of the tenant farmers to have the landlord constituted the sole improver is notorious, and the landlords and their agents turn this to account by trying to make it appear that the tenant farmers are throwing obstacles in the way of employment. The farmers are asked—"Do you want to prevent the labourers from getting work and wages?" The farmers unhesitatingly and honestly reply—"It is a foul calumny to say we want to hinder employment; but we object to a system for providing employment which we believe to have been devised to render the Land Act of 1870 quite useless, and to weaken our hold on the soil, and to supply the landlords with additional excuses and opportunities for eviction." I do not now want to create a show of ascribing infamous motives to the Government; but beyond all doubt the scheme of the Government for lending to the landlords for improvement must produce the disastrous results apprehended by the farmers. The proper course for the Government to take is to lend to the farmers themselves for the purpose of improving their farms. The farmers are only trying for the chance of doing this on favourable terms. In this way, a three-fold object will be accomplished. The labourer will be employed, distress relieved, and the position of the farmer strengthened by his accumulation of claims for compensation 176 under the Land Act, and by the interest the State will acquire in the farmer's enjoying undisturbed possession of his holding. I contend that justice and sound policy point out that it is to the farmer the money ought to be lent. In any case, even where you lend to the landlord, it is the tenant who will repay the loan, and it is the farmer who ought to reap the benefit of the improvements. I say that it is incumbent upon us, who are responsible for the well-being of the tenant farmers of Ireland, to resist by every means in our power loans being made to landlords for the improvement of their estates. Disguise it as you please, the policy of lending to the landlords is nothing short of an attempt to secure what for years has been the policy of the Liberal Party in Ireland—to confer upon the occupier security for the possession of his holding—and an attempt to supplant him in his natural avocation of cultivator and improver of the soil. I said that what the Government had suggested to certain public bodies in Ireland had created a panic. Unquestionably it has. The Government advised that in some districts extraordinary baronial sessions should be held, in order to set on foot public relief works for the employment of the people. But at present there is no way of meeting the cost of works instituted by baronial sessions except by levying it exclusively off the occupiers, like the county cess. The prospect of being subjected to these additional liabilities has simply appalled the farmers. As a mitigation of the evil, it has been proposed that the cost of those works should be borne half by the owner and half by the occupier, like the poor rate. This, however, is well understood to afford merely nominal relief, as no fact is better understood in our social economy than this, that sooner or later the occupier pays for everything in the shape of increased rent. Can anything be conceived more absurd in theory, or more disastrous in practice, than this plan of Her Majesty's Government for the relief of the distressed agricultural population of Ireland? The landlords have been forced to recognize the necessity for an almost unprecedented abatement of rent. When this has not taken place ejectments are falling broadcast. The records of our county courts furnish the saddest and the most extreme 177 difficulty; the farmers are able to pay for the bare necessaries of life; and it is at such a moment, and in the face of such a state of things, that the Government proposes that the impoverished tenantry should be heavily taxed to defray the cost of public works. The carrying out of public works in this way would be an aggravation of the misery of the people, and the idea that such a mode of proceeding is contemplated creates universal alarm. The only moans of affording relief to the labouring population is by a system of State works. There is scarcely a district where works of this nature might not be undertaken with infinite advantage to the owner, the occupier, and the general public. I shall only refer to useful lines of railway that might be constructed in Kerry. A line might be made from Killoughlin to join the Great Southern and Western at Farranfore; another from Headfort to Kenmare; and a third from Tralee to the sea, a distance of about six miles. Two of these lines would open up great districts, and the third would make a good port of Tralee. Government works, and Government works only, can, under the circumstances, supply relief to the unemployed in Ireland; and I think we are entitled to call upon the Government, who have such vast resources at their command, not to allow the people to starve when good wages can be so usefully earned. The case against the Government may, to use a familiar expression, be presented to the House in a nutshell. The Government purposes to lend to the landlords for improvements; this must render absolutely worthless the principal provisions of the Land Act of 1870, and seriously weaken the occupiers' hold upon the soil. The Government has admitted the prevailing agricultural distress, and attributed it to bad harvests. But, whatever may be the cause, all Irish farmers are engaged in a desperate struggle to hold their position. Almost countless ejectments have been served for non-payment of rent, which the farmers find it impossible to pay, and, in addition to their present liabilities, the Government now proposes that the farmers should be made liable to further charges in order to meet the expenses of public works. Comment upon such proceedings is unnecessary; but one cannot help recalling with amazement the im- 178 putation cast upon Irish Members last night by one of the most able of statesmen. But for the well-known impossibility of such an occurrence, one might almost suspect that a joke was intended. I trust the House will not commit the fatal mistake of sanctioning the proposals of the Government, and that some adequate means of meeting the distress in Ireland, such as Government works, may be provided.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
wished to call the attention of the House to the state of two parishes in the extreme south-west of the county of Cork, which he had visited within the last few days. He referred to East and West Skull as an example only, for there was a large portion of the parishes on the extreme south-west sea coast of Cork in the same condition. He found in these two parishes not less than 300 families on the verge of starvation—having no food, no money, and no credit. They had been living on one meal a-day, and that of Indian meal. Holding a small portion of land, they wore disqualified from receiving out-door relief under the Poor Law. The workhouse was built to hold 1,000, and there were now only 150 inmates. To go into the workhouse would be ruin; they must leave their land, their cabins, and be at the mercy of their creditors. So far as the Poor Law was concerned, they were absolutely without relief. What had been done in the shape of loans to owners? There were 68 owners in the two parishes of Skull Union, not more than three or four of whom had applied for loans; and it would take five or six weeks from the date of an application to the Board of Works before any authority could be sent down authorizing an advance. These people would gladly pay 3½ per cent for loans to be expended in work on their own land, especially as repayment was deferred for two years. That would be salvation to the distressed districts. The Boards of Guardians had ignored distress. Supposing these small occupiers, who were little more than labourers, to be in Lancashire, such as had families would receive an allowance, and work would most rightly be exacted from them. In case of sickness the head of the family would be entitled to out-door relief; but in Ireland three or four might be lying ill of fever, yet there was no power to give out-door relief. This state of things 179 necessarily threw an amount of odium on the law and government of England. The labouring poor in Ireland should have the same right to relief—no more and no less—as the same class in England, and work should be exacted from the able-bodied. With regard to the proposed method of re-payment, only a portion—say, 5s.in the pound—should be thrown on the local rates; and where the charge exceeded 5s.in the pound, there should be a rate in aid either from the Church Surplus or from Imperial sources. Instead of intrusting the work to baronial sessions, which were cumbrous in their mode of proceeding, it should be put into the hands of the Boards of Guardians, which, having dispensary districts under them, were thoroughly acquainted with the whole state of the Unions.
§ MR. A. MOORE
warmly endorsed the remarks of the hon. Member who had just addressed the House. The Irish Members were placed in a very painful position, for, to use a common expression, "the hat had been sent round," and, owing to the action of the Government, the people were placed in the situation of beggars. They were citizens' of the richest Empire in the world, and they were told to seek alms of the general community. The Government had, he thought, been guilty of great neglect. There was no generous man who could fail to appreciate the labours of the wife of the Lord Lieutenant, and Irishmen were greatly indebted to her; but the Government had placed her Grace in an unhappy position. What Irishmen wanted was not alms, but work. They wished to have money advanced to individuals or public bodies, and, wherever it could be done on good security, to carry on reproductive works. It should be remembered that Ireland was an integral portion of the United Kingdom. It contributed £7,000,000 annually to the Expenditure of the United Kingdom; of that sum, £4,000,000 was spent in Ireland and the rest went into the Imperial Exchequer. He thought Ireland had just as good a claim on the public rates as the Colonists at the Cape, on whose behalf a most expensive war had been conducted, and who, instead of giving assistance themselves, plundered the commissariat, and refused, except at exorbitant prices, the little luxuries necessary for the unfortunate soldiers. 180 He wished to bear his testimony to the willingness of the Irish people to work. He had seen men coming three miles in the morning and going back as many miles in the evening to earn 10d.by digging an Irish perch 24 feet long and 4 feet deep. The loans which the Government proposed to grant were surrounded by a system of red tape; and the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman) had told them that before he received a shilling from the Board of Works he was compelled to prove his title ten times over. But it was not only the red tape that was open to objection, but the direction in which the money was to be given. At present no tenant farmer who had not an unexpired lease of 40 years could receive a grant. On this point it was most important that some concession should be made, and that loans should be given to men with shorter leases, or, perhaps, with no leases at all, but who had a valuable tenant right, for tenant right was acknowledged to a large extent outside Ulster. Before the close of the debate he would like to have some information as to the steps the Government intended to take to prevent the recurrence in future of such calamities as that now under consideration. They had heard a great deal about the resistance to the law in the West of Ireland; and that had been given as a reason, in many quarters, for not contributing to relieve the distress. But was it not a fact that Connemara was one of the parts of Ireland where the soil was poorest and the rents were highest in proportion to the value of the land? In many parts the rent of those unfortunate people who were now driven to desperation was four times the Government valuation, and more, and the land was absolutely deteriorating. If both these circumstances were true, some strong measures must be taken on the Land Question. They must be prepared to lay the axe to the root to prevent the recurrence of such a state of things. The present Land Laws were intolerable. The landlord would not improve the land because he was not sure of the interest of his money, and the tenant would not do it because he had no security. Then what was to be done? This state of things called imperatively for a change in the Land Laws. They could not induce either one class or 181 the other to do its duty by the land until they had altered the law. He, and those with him, offered as their remedy fixity of tenure, in order to induce the tenant to improve the land. Too many of the landlords were, unhappily, absentees, and took no interest in the land except to obtain their rents. He knew that it was very hard to induce Englishmen to look at the Land Laws fairly; they said that the system had worked well in England, and asked why there should be a different system in Ireland. But there was no parity whatever in the condition of the two countries. One important distinction was that the one country suffered from absenteeism while the other did not. The absentee landlord lived in London or on the Continent; he claimed all the rights and performed none of the duties of property. But the great distinction, and also the keystone of the Land Question of Ireland, was the question of improvements. The English landlord let a farm with the fences, the roads, the dwelling, and the out-offices all in good order. In Ireland the whole of these things, everything existing above the level of the soil, was the property of the tenant. Would anyone say that the Irishman, who expended his labour and capital in making roads and fences, and in other ways, was in the same position as the Englishman, who had simply to take a farm ready at once for occupation? These two great principles constituted an essential difference between the two countries; and therefore it was impossible to argue that, because the land system of England worked well, the same system must also work well in Ireland. He did not know in what way the Government would propose to provide against the recurrence of calamities in Ireland; he hoped that it might be in the direction of fixity of tenure, in which direction it was competent to the Government to make a move with safety to themselves and satisfaction to the country. They had heard a great deal about peasant proprietors, and on the previous night an able speech was made against the system. While feeling gratified at the ability with which the hon. Member acquitted himself, he regretted that the ability had not been employed in a better cause. The scheme of a peasant proprietary was recommended by a Committee of the House's own appointment, and evidence was given that it was de- 182 sirable there should be a substantial increase in the number of the owners of the land. One Member who gave evidence—a late Member of the House—summed up the whole case in saying that a peasant proprietary was a special constable sworn in for the defence of law and order. He might also refer to a Resolution of the House passed last Session on the Motion of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), approving generally of an increase in the number of owners of land in Ireland. This was no new-fangled scheme. It had been tried in many countries, and wherever it had been tried it had been attended with great success. It had made Belgium prosperous, and France a land of fruit and flowers. If the present distress continued, the value of land would fall lower and lower; and he hoped that, whatever sales might be made in the Encumbered Estates Court, the estates of absentee landlords, who, he thought, merely cumbered the ground, would be among the first to be sold. The voice of the whole country called for a change. All the remedies proposed might not be approved by the House; but the remedy of a peasant proprietary was a sure one, and there was no w exceptionally favourable opportunity of adopting it. Under these circumstances, he trusted that a deaf ear would not be turned to the prayer.
§ DR. WARD
regretted that the Land Question had been brought so much into this debate, as they were not there to discuss that subject, but to consider the question of relief to Ireland. They had brought a grave charge against the Government, that the people of Ireland had been for some time in a distressed and almost starving condition, and that the Government had not done its duty. They had now had the answer of the Government, and after that he could not help feeling alarm for the immediate future of the people of Ireland. The people were actually starving in many places, and what had the Government done? It had done something public in the way of granting loans, and something private in enabling Poor Law Boards to give out-door relief. This had been done for months, and yet the people had been starving. The Government was not going to do more than it had done, and the people would starve. What had been done by the Govern- 183 ment so far had not saved the people from great distress. The Government had not saved a single life, for it was the relief funds which had saved life, not the Government. The Government had proved itself most incompetent, and such a confession of incompetency was a most alarming thing for the country. The Government had had secret intentions with regard to the Unions; but the Unions did not know these secret intentions, and therefore did not grant outdoor relief. How had the loans to landlords acted? In the very poorest districts the landlords could not get their rents, and they were unwilling or unable to encumber their estates further, and thus in the very districts in which the money was most wanted the loans were not obtained. The Prelates had stated that in the poorest districts loans were not availed of. Therefore, one of the principal means of the Government had been a complete failure. The Government was not going to do a single thing in the future which it had not done in the past. The charge, then, that they brought against the Government was that the people would have starved but for the public subscriptions that had been made, and that the Government had not rightly gauged either the extent of the distress in the past or its probable increase in the future If the Government continued in its present measures only until the next harvest, it would be guilty of the terrible crime of allowing the people to starve, for public subscriptions could not keep them alive five or six months. It was not a time for public subscriptions now, but for Government action. The whole system of the Government had been a complete failure, and if the Government were not prepared to do more than it had done at present, it would launch the country into almost as terrible a famine as that of 1846.
§ MAJOR O'BEIRNE
said, he represented one of the distressed districts in the country, and was sorry to confirm the statement of the last speaker, that the landlords would not avail themselves of the facilities offered by the Government to obtain money under the new regulations, for the very obvious reason that they were too impoverished by not having received their rents to do so. The case was very urgent, for the people were already on the brink of starvation, 184 and in another fortnight matters would be still worse. He had received letters from the various relief committees in his district, which stated that if it was not for the monies received from the Duchess of Marlborough's Fund and the Mansion House Fund many persons must have been in a hopeless state. It was quite true, as had been stated, that the Government had done nothing to keep the people from starvation, and he thought the Government ought to do something now. He thoroughly agreed with the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) in the suggestion that State works should be started in the country. One most valuable work, and one which would benefit several adjoining counties, would be to deepen the bed of the River Shannon, and remove the obstructions, such as weirs, &c, in the river. By that means thousands and thousands of acres of land might be prevented from being flooded, and would be greatly increased in value. He appealed to the Government to undertake them at once, and, by so doing, to show their sense of the gravity of the situation.
§ MR. FAY
urged the Government, instead of pauperizing the distressed peasantry of Ireland through the medium of the Poor Law, to transport them from their wretched hovels to the waste lands which, unfortunately, still abounded. By that means not only would the poor people be benefited, but acres upon acres of valuable land would be brought within the area of cultivation. The landlords owning these lands should be called upon by notice to accept or refuse an offer of loans for the purpose of being expended upon them. If they refused, the Government might then compulsorily purchase them at a fair price. He did not see why men should be allowed to retain lands in a barren state for an unlimited period which were capable of reclamation.
§ MR. P. MARTIN
said, the suggestions which had been made by the hon. Member for Cavan with reference to the reclamation of waste land were of a practical character, and deserved the consideration of the Government; but that question might, he thought, be more fittingly discussed when the Bill that was promised had been introduced for giving effect to the projects agitated with regard to the reclamation of waste lands in Ireland. He wished to say 185 a few words to the Government with respect to matters to which their attention had not been sufficiently directed. He had the honour of representing a county which the Chief Secretary had stated was not suffering from exceptional depression; but though the hand of Providence had not weighed so heavily upon Kilkenny as it had upon so many other counties in Ireland, yet he regretted to say that deep and widespread distress existed through that county. It was perfectly true that the farmers and labouring classes throughout Kilkenny had been quiet and uncomplaining. They had not proclaimed to the world at large their suffering, nor with vociferous clamours called out for Government aid. Nevertheless, the distress in the county of Kilkenny was extreme. The labourers in the towns throughout that county were, though willing to work, unable to find employment. The small farmers were deeply in debt; and, for the most part, without seed or money. The recent Returns made to this House established these facts—showed the enormous money loss sustained in Ireland by failure of crops and the general falling away in the amount of those funds which represented the savings of the people. What alone had been the magnitude and extent of the loss in consequence of the extraordinary failure which had taken place in the potato crop during the last four years? Only yesterday there appeared inThe Freeman's Journal,from the pen of a gentleman who took a leading part in days gone by, in the famine years, in relieving distress, and who was a very accurate statistician. Taking the figures from the Registrar General's Reports, Mr. Pim, in that letter, showed that in 1874, 1875, and 1876, the produce of potatoes in Ireland amounted to 511,219,000 tons; but from 1877 to 1879, the entire produce, unfortunately, had only been 5,397,455 tons, showing a deficiency in those three years from that one crop of 5,821,819 tons. He asked hon. Gentlemen to reflect on what this meant to Ireland. Taking the average value of the potato crop at 60s.a-ton, which was a very low average indeed, it amounted to a loss to Ireland of over £17,000,000. The tenant valuation of land used for agricultural purposes was, he believed, only 186 £10,000,000. The falling-off in bank deposits and notes, taken together in the last Return of Irish savings, showed a decrease of about £5,250,000 in the past three years of the present crisis. Could anyone deny, then, that the amount of distress and suffering was wider, extended, and general in its effects? It was not confined to the Western and seaboard districts. The Government ought not to limit their provident cares, or to stimulate and encourage the cropping of land, and the carrying out of works, to those districts alone. It was their duty to direct their attention to the entire of Ireland. There was no class upon whom this failure of the crops, accompanied by the low price of cattle, had weighed so heavily as on the small farmers; and he ventured to say that any such plan as had been suggested by the Government of making loans to landlords would not meet distress of the character now existing in Ireland. In places which were not classed as "distressed," landlords wanting to borrow money would have to incur legal expenses, besides having to pay a high rate of interest; and such burdens they could not reasonably be expected to take upon themselves. The State had guaranteed railways in Canada, and Indian railways were assisted by the Government; it was surely, therefore, not unreasonable to expect that in a crisis like the present aid of a similar kind should be afforded to Ireland? He supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw), because he was strongly of opinion that the Government had been neglectful of their duty in dealing with that crisis. They were forewarned of its occurrence by the representations of the Roman Catholic clergy, and by a Memorial from Irish Members of every shade of politics. There was, therefore, no excuse for their not having taken more timely steps to relieve the distress which prevailed. His main reason, however, for condemning their conduct was that the measures which they now proposed with that object were insufficient to meet the necessities of the case. If they meant to deal fairly and justly towards Ireland, they must make up their minds to this—that it was not in these districts alone which the Government had been pleased to schedule as "distressed," but throughout the length of Ireland, some stimulus and 187 encouragement must be given to productive works, and something must be done to provide seed depôts, so as to give the small farmers in these pressing times of sharp need some assistance.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
agreed with the hon. Member who had last spoken in expressing great regret that some more statesmanlike and comprehensive measure had not been offered by the Government. He agreed that this measure was not satisfactory even as a means of meeting the present distress. But he regretted still more that it seemed to carry with it no prospective advantage, and that when the Famine had done its work it would be remembered simply as one of the casual incidents in the condition of things—nothing would have been done to prevent the recurrence of calamities like that they were now suffering from. It seemed to him that during the present crisis there had been a disinclination to give any help until the people had sunk into the most extreme poverty. The Government, by the course they had adopted, had encouraged an idea that nothing could be gained in Ireland without sufficient clamour and agitation. In the county of Longford, which he had the honour to represent, the impression of the most influential men was that the time was not opportune for great agitation, that the object of everyone should be to tide over the present season of trial, and leave to a future occasion the questions of land tenure and the government of the country. Therefore, the leading men of the county abstained from holding public meetings, and the result had been that Longford had not yet been placed in the Schedule which entitled the landlords to exceptional facilities for the borrowing of money. The distress in Longford, however, was deep and intense. There was, he regretted to find, no indication given even yet by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government intended to propose any measures which would adequately meet the great and growing difficulty. The Government were apparently satisfied with proposing that for the present a system of out-door relief should be provided. Yet they could not but have been aware that great distress was impending over Ireland, for their attention had been called to the matter last Session by the hon. Member for Dungarvan, by himself, and by others; but, 188 unfortunately, they were too much occupied in making widows and orphans in Zululand and elsewhere to turn their attention to the possibility of preventing famine from making widows and orphans in Ireland. Even when it was admitted on all hands that great and widespread distress existed in Ireland, an explosion of temper was witnessed on the part of the Viceroy which could not but have had the opposite of a beneficial operation on the minds of the suffering people. A banquet was to be given in Dublin by the then recently-elected Lord Mayor, to which the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was invited. The Lord Mayor had presided over a meeting of Irish Members of Parliament, not as Lord Mayor, but as a Member of the House of Commons, at which meeting a resolution, the language of which was considered strong, was proposed. The Lord Mayor, as Chairman, did his best to have the language of the resolution altered; but, notwithstanding that fact, the Viceroy declined to attend the Lord Mayor's banquet. Could they understand such an absurd assertion of dignity at a time when the question in the hearts of the Irish people was whether a famine was or was not to spread over the land? Could they not imagine the impression which was likely to be produced on the minds of the Irish people by such a proceeding? He was afraid that the Representative of Royalty on that occasion did as little as other Members of Her Majesty's Government had done to induce the people of Ireland to believe that there was a real, sincere determination on their part to promote the prosperity of the country. They were all, doubtless, aware that many meetings were held in Ireland during the autumn, and at some of them there were some rather hasty expressions of discontent used, not, perhaps, wholly unnatural in the circumstances, but certainly going beyond what any reasonable Irishman could desire to hear on occasions like those to which he referred, or on any other occasion. He was, however, of opinion that they might well have been looked over, considering the not unnatural excitement and heat which prevailed, and not have been magnified into importance by being made the subject of a State prosecution. But Her Majesty's Government had really manifested their only evidence of vigi- 189 lance by these ridiculous prosecutions for a few foolish words uttered at those meetings. With respect to the proposals of the Government, he did not think that any enduring benefit would be gained by Ireland from them, unless they were followed up by some wise and statesmanlike dealing with the whole system of land tenure in Ireland. The discontent which existed in Ireland was not, in his opinion, merely a sentimental wish for some imaginary better state of things, but was the genuine outcome of actual suffering. It was surely time that some real effort should be made to improve the condition of the people of Ireland. For his part, he did not know whether that effort could not be more successfully made by a Conservative than by a Liberal Government, and that he said, though he was himself a Member of the Liberal Party. The Party opposite were a united Party, and always voted loyally together, while on that side a variety of opinions naturally prevailed. The time was opportune, and he trusted that the Government would re-consider their proposals, and bring in some measure adequate to the occasion, and which would confer a great and lasting benefit upon Ireland. He had had some hope that even now Her Majesty's Ministers would rise to the situation and propose a measure which would put an end to the existing state of distress in Ireland, and would also deal in a satisfactory manner with the educational difficulty existing in the country. This had not been done, and the loss of such an opportunity would probably one day be a source of universal regret.
§ MR. MELDON
said, he rose to support the Amendment, in which he most cordially concurred. He thought the occasion of bringing forward that Amendment was most opportune. They could not shut their eyes to the fact that almost the sole occasion when the Representatives of the people could approach the Sovereign was an occasion of this kind. It was then that they could lay at the feet of Her Majesty the wishes and feelings of her distressed subjects in Ireland, and he did not think it would be regarded as an ungracious thing by the Queen. On the contrary, he believed it would be grateful to Her Majesty were the Amendment which they proposed to the Address to be accepted 190 by the House. The personal loyalty which existed in Ireland towards Her Majesty and the Members of Her Family was, without doubt, due in a very great degree to Her Majesty's kind heart and tenderness, which she had always shown personally to her subjects in Ireland, her visits to that country had always been, he was sure, matters of pleasant recollection to her, and certainly none of the Royal Family ever appeared in Ireland without bringing back with them reminiscences of attachment to the Throne. In these circumstances, he regarded the present as an opportune opportunity for approaching the Queen with the Amendment which they desired to carry. What were the principal points raised by that Amendment? They complained of the action of the Government—first, in having allowed so much time to elapse; second, in not even at the present moment bringing forward proper measures for the relief of distress in Ireland; and third, in not having struck, or been prepared to strike, a blow at the root of the frequently recurring famines which afflicted that country, as a result of its present system of land tenure. The charge against the Government was not one of mere negligence, by reason of which mischief might occur. They charged the Government with having permitted actual starvation to have occurred in Ireland. Documents brought forward by Her Majesty's Ministers themselves distinctly showed they were fully aware so far back as August last that if adequate steps were not taken famine must necessarily ensue. It was, no doubt, true that up to the present time no deaths from pure and simple starvation had actually taken place; but he thought the Members of the Government had made themselves responsible all the same for the loss of thousands of lives amongst the Irish people. Starvation was not a thing which came on suddenly; it was not a disease which struck a person down like fever. Starvation might go on day after day and month after month. People were suffering from a great want of food and fuel. Their constitutions were attacked and weakened, and there could be no doubt whatever that, in consequence of this, the germs of disease had been engendered very largely throughout many districts of Ireland. Those for whom he spoke complained that Her 191 Majesty's Government should have waited until men, women, and children were actually on the point of dying, before giving them relief. Belief ought not to have been delayed until hundreds of thousands had been weakened nigh unto death from want of proper sustenance and provision. The Government, in short, had failed in their duty, in lying by and in affording no practical and adequate assistance up to the present time. The Government could not say that they had not been warned. He did not refer to the numerous Petitions and Memorials which had been presented to Ministers on this subject. He did not refer to the statements of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland; nor would he lay any stress upon the representations which had been made by the Irish Members. But he must recall and repeat the fact that statements were put forward in the Papers which had been laid on the Table of the House by the Government themselves, showing that in August last they were aware of what was likely to happen. The Government had then the most perfect information on the subject of the failure of the potato crop. They knew that there was not fuel enough in the country to last for half the winter. On that date they knew that there was likely to be a vast amount of distress in Ireland. What had the Government done in order to relieve that distress? The first step that they took was by issuing a Circular making it easy for landlords to borrow money for improving their estates, and for going on with public works; but a letter from the Lord Lieutenant to the Government clearly pointed out what had occurred—that the landlords would not take advantage of anything of the kind, and that it was not, therefore, a remedy which could meet the state of the case. His Grace pointed out, in the communication referred to—a communication made through the Chief Secretary—that there was a disinclination on the part of the landlords to come forward and to relieve distress in that way. The Government plan had failed, and would fail. What were one or two essential objections which existed at the present moment to that system of relieving distress? In the first place, it was matter of notoriety that rents in Ireland were greatly in arrear, that tenants had not been able to pay them, and that those 192 tenants themselves were in a starving state. What remedy was it, in the case of men who could pay nothing and who could not support themselves, to give money into the hands of landlords, who, no doubt, would employ it for the reclamation of lands, but who would, all the same, keep it in their own pockets and not distribute it amongst those who were working for them? In the second place, he could not see why money for the improvement of lands—money to be repaid by instalments—should pass at all through the landlords, who ultimately would simply raise the rents of the lands because their value had meanwhile been increased. What Irish tenants wished, and what Government ought to have done, would have been to allow the tenants themselves to have improved their lands, to have had the advantages of their improvements, and to have repaid the instalments year by year as they fell due. Advancing money to landlords in Ireland was not the course that ought to be pursued. If money for distress were to be given at all, it ought to be given to the tenants. What was the next thing done by Her Majesty's Ministers? The most recent thing which they had done, and the thing for which they claimed most credit, was that they had issued a Circular by which there might be extraordinary meetings of the baronial presentment sessions. That was an act which, if done six months ago, might have been useful; but now it was utterly useless. There was so much red tape to deal with, there was so much delay in calling the sessions together, that no particular relief could be obtainable from it for a long period of time. Had productive works been commenced by the Government themselves half a year ago, Ireland would not have been in the condition in which it now was. But up to the present time, with starvation coming on, with a scarcity of food and fuel, the Ministers had stood quietly by. He hoped that before the debate concluded some speaker from the Government Bench would tell the House what really had been done to relieve the existing distress. He hoped it would be pointed out what monies, if any, had been actually advanced for the purposes of works of any kind. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that there had been applications; but the right hon. 193 Gentleman did not tell the House how much money had been advanced upon those applications. His suspicion was, that if the landlords had got money in this way they had done the works, no doubt; but they had paid themselves their rents out of it. Any relief which had been extended to Ireland had not been the result of Government exertions, but had come from other sources. The total absence in the Queen's Speech of any mention of an attempt to deal with the root of these frequently recurring famines could not fail to have been noted by the Irish Members. Nothing was said in Her Majesty's gracious communication as to an attack upon the present land system in that country. He might remind the House that a Special Committee was appointed three years ago to inquire into the working of the Bright Clauses in the Land Act of 1870. That was a Committee on which the Government had a substantial majority; but notwithstanding that the vote come to and the Report made recommended the creation of a peasant proprietary, this recommendation, however, had since remained a dead letter. A change must be made in the present land system of Ireland, and the present was an opportune moment for making a respectful remonstrance on the subject to Her Majesty, who had always taken an interest in her Irish subjects, and for bringing before her the state of affairs which really existed amongst the people of that country.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, nearly a third or fourth of the families in Ireland were in danger of actual starvation if they were not supplied with some means of subsistence very shortly. Some amount of assistance had reached them; but that assistance had not been supplied by Her Majesty's Government, but by generous private individuals who had come forward. He had seen the money distributed in Galway, and he must say the money from the Duchess of Marlborough's Fund and from the Mansion House had been fairly distributed and had done a great deal of good; and, so far as he could bear witness, the money had fulfilled the purpose for which it was subscribed, and had had the good effect of saving a great many people from starvation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the two wants of Ireland were want of food and want 194 of fuel. But owing to the very fine winter that had been experienced in Ireland he did not think the people would suffer so much for want of fuel, as that danger, to a great extent, had passed away. He thought the Government had taken very few steps to prevent that demoralization which he believed always followed inevitably on all relief schemes, but which any sensible Ministry would endeavour to minimize, as far as possible, by prudent statesmanship. Now, the Government had taken a great deal of credit for advancing money at favourable rates. He thought that might do good in some cases—in cases where large proprietors were concerned; but, as far as the county of Galway was concerned, he did not believe that 5 per cent of the proprietors would borrow the money. The fact was, it was not so easy to borrow money. It was all very well for a large proprietor, who was used to the technicalities and forms attending the operation; but with small men the case was altogether different, and he believed the result would prove that only a very few proprietors would avail themselves of the opportunity. There, then, was another difficulty. At the present time wages were very low, and there was very great demoralization owing to the fact that the labourers found that they could get nearly as much money to live on from the relief committees as they would get by working. He thought the Treasury should not treat the matter as a mere Departmental matter in advancing the money, but should rather look on the present condition as an emergency and act accordingly; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he preferred to advance money on easy terms and with the same amount of security that a banker expected. He thought that was a matter of great importance, and that the Government did not thoroughly appreciate the difficulties which small proprietors had in obtaining small sums of money in the districts where it was most needed. It was a subject that required considerable attention from a Ministry if they intended to relieve such distress as existed, and it required that the machinery should be kept in proper working order. In the Famine of 1847–8 the great difficulty was that the seed-time was lost. The peasants should be amply prepared to sow the seed in the spring; and at 195 the present time, for that to be the case, everything would have to be undertaken with extraordinary rapidity and at high pressure. In the West of Ireland seed time extended from the 5th of March to the 17th, and if the people were employed after the 10th of March on the proposed works a great deal of harm would be done. He would have liked to see the Government begin the projected works on the 15th of January, so as to allow the people to earn some money; and then, at the proper time, they would have been ready to begin sowing the seed. Let them have out-door relief while they were sowing the seed, and then next year they would have a fair chance of obtaining a good harvest. Now all the schemes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be working against time; and, as far as he could see, time would win, if considerable pressure was not used. Out-door relief would be a very good measure, and, indeed, was an absolute necessity; but it was a very poor substitute for something better. There should have been one or two large public works undertaken by each of the large local bodies, simply for the purpose of employing labour. That would have been a good thing, and would have been attended with the advantage of keeping up the standard of labour. If the Government had looked round and relaxed the regulations, they would have found works which could have been undertaken with mutual advantage. So far as he knew, what was most wanted in Ireland was the completion of the railway systems; and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could see his way to make six or eight branches in different parts of the country, the money being guaranteed at 2 or 3 per cent, and a certain amount of work given, he thought there would be the enormous advantage that there would bebonâ fidehonest works going on, and they would save the demoralization which any scheme of merely giving labour for labour's sake, with the view of saving people's lives from starvation, would have. He felt sure that if they did not take great pains with regard to the harvest next year they would have a famine. The seed had been sown in nearly the same land in Ireland for some 20 or 30 years, and had thus been rendered peculiarly liable to disease, and to change the seed belonging to the people 196 would be to do a great and permanent benefit. The good effects of changing the seed would last for 15 or 20 years; and he thought the Government ought to take some special means of changing the seed, and thus enabling them to improve their crops in the future. He was afraid that unless some special exertions of that kind were made many of the people would be absolutely without seed at all; and he would suggest that it would be a good and useful work for the Government to advance money to Poor Law Unions to be expended in that manner. He trusted the Government would indicate that they would take that suggestion into consideration. The Government had a noble opportunity before them; and if they took prompt and energetic action, they might still save the Irish people from much further suffering and distress.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
desired to call the attention of the House to the form of the Amendment that had been proposed. It was, in the first place, practically a Vote of Censure on the Government for their delays and misconduct in the past; in the second place, they were asked, to pledge themselves as to measures for alleviating the distress in the present and the future; and, thirdly, they were asked to commit themselves to certain vague and undefined measures with reference to the tenure of land which were only hinted at in a confused form in the concluding sentence. The first portion, he thought, was unreasonable and untrue; the second was unnecessary; and the third was illusory and delusive. He had listened to the speeches of hon. Members opposite, hoping to extract from them the specific grounds of complaint against the course of the Government. One allegation was continually iirged—namely, that the Government had not done enough; but whatever the Government had done or proposed to do was objected to by the Home Rule Members, who, even among themselves, were not agreed as to what course should be adopted. One had advocated a general system of out-door relief; another had objected to this; one had proposed loans to the landlords, another to the tenants. One hon. Gentleman had actually risen in his place and complained of the outflow of private charity in this great distress. They had had a signal proof on 197 the present occasion from the mouths of Irishmen themselves—Irishmen of a certain type, be it remembered—that it was hopeless to attempt to satisfy them by any reasonable or statesmanlike measures. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw), the ostensible Leader of the Party, had expressed with fulness their views; but the only tangible fact he gathered from his remarks was that if the Government did so and so, without specifying what, he would undertake to pacify any fractious meeting in Ireland. It had been said that this Irish Question was treated by various English Governments with a view to Party interests and General Elections; but he could affirm that among the Home Rulers themselves there was a great deal of looking to the future, not with reference to the distressed people of Ireland, but as distressed candidates in Ireland. Everyone was pained beyond measure at the widespread distress in that part of Her Majesty's Dominions; but that side of the House could claim that they had shown the same active sympathy which had been so much the vaunt of those on the opposite side. The conduct of the young Nobleman who had recently tried to stem the tide of famine and sorrow in Ireland in this respect contrasted favourably with the language which they heard from the other side of the Atlantic, and which if uttered in this country would amount to sedition and treason. He thought that the language of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork, in which he sneered at the prosperity of Ulster, and compared Belfast with Halifax, was hardly worthy of him. If Irish Members were so enthusiastic for the commercial prosperity of their country as they professed to be, surely they ought to have congratulated his hon. Friend (Mr. Corry) that Ulster contained a town of such present and probable future greater importance. The hon. Member for Cork wanted to pass off as a joke his allusion to the taking of the lynch-pin out of a process-server's car; but this was a grim joke, at a time when process-servers were being beaten and otherwise maltreated, and delivered at a solemn conclave assembled, presumably, on a most serious occasion. How would the gallant peasantry of the West construe the allusion otherwise than as meaning that a little violence would have the sanction of the Home 198 Rule Party? He congratulated the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) on the metamorphosis he had recently under-gone. Formerly his voice used to be heard from behind the front Opposition Bench, between which and the Bench on the opposite side a great gulf intervened. Thence he formerly fulminated anathemas against his present Friends. Now, like every neophyte, he championed with, enthusiasm his most recent creed—that of the new Party led by the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell). But whatever the Government did met with the disapproval of Gentlemen opposite. If they promoted public works it was said that they were benefiting the landlords at the expense of the tenants. They were accused of trying to impede the operation of the Land Act of 1870. But when they saw the list of works of public utility which the Government proposed to carry out—such as roads and bridges, which were certainly not more for the benefit of one class than another—there could be no force in such charges as had been brought against them. If they were going to judge whether the Government had been guilty of grievous neglect and delay they would require a series of well-authenticated facts, and not be content without one, before throwing on the Government the cruel stigma of having, while hundreds, it was said thousands, of Irishmen were approaching the condition of dying, shut their hearts against the demand for sympathy and allowed their fellow-countrymen to be treated in a disgraceful way. He challenged hon. Gentlemen opposite to produce a single instance of the Government having wilfully overlooked or neglected their duty in any parish or district in Ireland. There were evils connected with the question of distress in Ireland which made the contemplation of any effectual remedy almost hopeless. In some parts there was the difficulty caused by the barren, uninviting soil. Again, let them go into many places in the West and notice the small parcels of land from which the four, five, or six members of a family were miserably trying to extract an existence. The system of division which rendered this possible was, in his opinion, an evil of no inconsiderable magnitude. When they should come to hear—as he had no doubt they would in the course of the Session—long-winded suggestions about 199 peasant proprietorship, they should remember that its advantages, if linked with incapacity or want of capital, might prove no unmixed boon. The next difficulty to which he wished to refer was the absence of a middle class in many districts of Ireland, and the consequent want of that interlacing of society by the mixture of one class with another which prevailed in England and Scotland. What, he asked, constituted the great aggravation of Irish distress? Why, the wicked agitation against the obligations of law and morals which had been going on for months under a leadership which he would not describe. When dealing with this subject among his own constituents he asked them how, if the agitation should be successful, they were to get their debts paid?—for the spirit of repudiation was like fever or leprosy, and spread from one part of the body politic to another, and would not be restricted to those who held the position of tenants. It was bad enough to have persons who were not in a responsible position going about the country talking to men on whom misery had set her heavy hand and suggesting to them that they should add to their personal degradation the moral degradation of being revolutionists; but it was worse still that observations and speeches should be made and letters written by men who were in a high and responsible position. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) was absent from his place. He had endeavoured to extract from the recent speeches of the right hon. Gentleman their gist and marrow; and he would point out to the House the three great points which were made in one of the Midlothian speeches. The first was to this effect—"It is right, as a public principle, to contend that the State can expropriate property; it is a mere question of the application of that right and that liberty." That sentence was immediately quoted by the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), now in America, as evidence that the right hon. Member (Mr. Gladstone) was in favour of his land propositions. Proposition No. 2 was—"The further you are from the Metropolis the greater number of Members your country is entitled to have." That grand, new, spick and span, statesmanlike, constitutional doctrine was enumerated, inaugurated, and 200 shot off by the right hon. Gentleman to satisfy the Midlothian electors. Irish Members might well contend that if that was the principle initiated by an ex-Prime Minister—the chosen, though not the titular Leader of the Liberal Party—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich was a better Home Ruler than they were. The third proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, in the language of many Home Rule applicants, was that "it would be a very great advantage to relieve the Houses of Parliament of much of their business connected with particular portions of the United Kingdom." [Cheers from the Irish Members] Why, that was the very formula of Home Rule; and when they found a responsible statesman going down to ingratiate himself with his last new love by such propositions, they were threatened, in his opinion, with a calamity even greater than the agitation of the hon. Member for Meath. The Conservatives had been twitted with having for a cry "Disraeli, Corry, and no dismemberment of the Empire." Well, he did not call that a bad cry to go to the country with. In fact, the evidence of that day showed it to be a very good cry. He warned his Friends opposite that it might prove a better cry than that of "Cavendish and dismemberment of the Empire." Possibly in the course of the Session the House would be able to abstract from the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) the exact propositions which he desired English and Scotch people to understand he took up on the subject of Home Rule. So far as he was able to read between the lines of the letter recently published by the noble Marquess, his proposal seemed to amount to this—"Do as you like, promise what you like, no matter what, provided you get in and turn a Tory out. All you have to do is to hold up with one hand the Union Jack, and with the other the torn Constitution of the country. You may ride in on those two horses." The probability was that if they did ride on those two horses Liberal Members would break their backs in the operation. There were hundreds and thousands of men in the city he represented (Londonderry) who abhorred and opposed, with as much vehemence as any Member of the House, the idea of separating themselves from England. The warning of to-day's pro- 201 ceedings showed that the opposition, whatever might be its temporary success, and however much the Ministry might be affected by the existence of national distress, could dare to tamper with the unity of the Empire.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he was not going to follow the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) through all his exciting comments. The speech they had just heard would convince them that the hon. Member was, if not an impressive, at least an excited, or perhaps he might say a flying-trapeze orator, for, from the manner in which he moved about, he at one moment addressed the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, whilst at the next, it seemed as if he was about to finish by addressing the Sergeant-at-Arms. The hon. Gentleman had at least lifted the House beyond the issue before it; but, as far as he could, he (Mr. O'Connor Power) should deal with the points raised and bearing on the subject before the House. Reference had been made to the difference in the ranks of the Home Rulers; but it must be remembered that they were at least united in this Resolution, which declared that the Government had been culpably negligent in dealing with the threatened and actual distress in Ireland. It was said an hon. Member had objected to the flow of charity to Ireland; but why did not the hon. Member for Londonderry accept the views on this subject expressed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw), and not hold up the words of some not very prominent Member of the Home Rule Party? Was that the hon. Member's idea of fair play—to bring forward a fragment of evidence on one side and suppress all the evidence on the other side? That kind of petty advocacy might be indulged in at a petty sessions court, but it was contemptible before a Legislative Assembly. As to the recent accession of the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue), whom the hon. Member had taunted with inconsistency, that hon. Gentleman had recognized a great crisis in the history of his country. He also recognized the many years he had devoted to the moderate and constitutional exposition of Irish grievances in that House, and what was the result of all his efforts and his experience? Why, this—that the hon. Member for Tralee came to declare that the sense of justice was so 202 small in the average House of Commons that he told the Irish people they must rely on the moral power and justice of their own cause, and on a constitutional agitation of their grievances, to exert sufficient pressure to induce the House to pass measures of justice to Ireland. He (Mr. O'Connor Power) would ask what was the history of the Leader of the Conservative Party? Had not the present Imperial Prime Minister changed from side to side until he ultimately arrived at what he believed was a truly patriotic policy, and did not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), who was the hope of the soundest elements in the Liberal Party, once belong to the Tory Party? Did the hon. Member object to the support which the Tory Party received from the Tory Home Rule Members for Wexford and Sligo because they had joined the Home Rule Party? Regarding the boast of the hon. Member as to the result of the Liverpool election, he thought that to call the return of the Conservative candidate by a majority of 2,000 a victory in that Tory city was to show that the Conservatives were thankful for small mercies. It seemed to be quite a different thing from the point of view of the hon. Member for a Liberal candidate to adopt Home Rule in his programme in Liverpool and a Tory candidate to do the same thing in Manchester. According to that view, what was a crime and blasphemy in the one case was only a correct thing to do in the other. As to the practical measures which the hon. Member said the Government had taken with regard to Irish distress, he (Mr. O'Connor Power) maintained that up to the present moment the Government had not taken a single practical step to work those measures out. All that the Government had done up to this moment was to state in one of the official letters that if an emergency threatened famine in Ireland, then the Government would consider the desirability of appointing three Inspectors under the Local Government Board at a salary of £500 a-year! He agreed with the hon. Member that Ireland suffered from the want of a middle class. There were two classes in Ireland. One—10,000 or 12,000—was excessively rich, and the other—the millions of the Irish people—was excessively poor. Surely the hon. Member might have given them a little 203 information as to the causes which brought this state of affairs about. It was brought about by confiscation, by brute force, by the power of the sword, and those other means of torture which the English Government had employed—powers which had been used by England, and which had brought about results which the hon. Member affected to deplore. The House had been treated to a warm denunciation of the land agitation. The hon. Gentleman had reechoed the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and said that Ireland was full of agitators, airing imaginary grievances. He would appeal to the House, when had one measure of freedom in Ireland—social, political, industrial, or religious—been granted that was not the result of either revolution or agitation? People made political capital out of the declarations of the right hon. Member for Greenwich; but the Party opposite ought to recollect that a former Leader of theirs, the Duke of Wellington, declared in the House of Lords that England had to consider between the granting of Roman Catholic Emancipation And civil war; and it was only when this Ministerial declaration was made in the House of Lords that the bigoted prejudices of Great Britain gave way, and the; measure was allowed to pass. If there was an element of force and violence in the land agitation, he maintained that the lesson of force had been learnt from the Representatives of English government in Ireland, and from the motives which had actuated English statesmen in legislation of a beneficial character. There was nothing new in the principle stated by the ex-Prime Minister as to the undeniable right of the State to expropriate landed property for some purposes. The principle was inscribed on the Statute Book in the legislation which said that the State might take land when it was necessary for a railway, or for any other purpose of public advantage. If the principle was wrong in the speech it was wrong in our laws. No doubt, the last speaker was to be congratulated on the reported result of the Liverpool election; but when it was considered that there were 60,000 voters, and that the place had always been regarded as a Conservative stronghold, as he (Mr. O'Connor Power) had said, he was not disposed to think the result of the 204 election was much to crow over. The Home Rule element in that election had been referred to; but had not Conservatives themselves condescended to steal a little Home Rule thunder? The noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) had himself used a little Home Rule thunder; for in a speech made recently he declared that he so far sympathized with the Home Rulers and the Irish people that he was prepared to vote for the people of Ireland having equal privileges with the people of England and Scotland. [Opposition cheers and counter cheers.] Well, if hon. Members opposite cheered, all he had to do was to turn round and congratulate his Colleagues on the success of their cause. It was evident that the near approach of the General Election was having a salutary effect on the Conservative Party as regarded their attitude upon Irish questions. But he asked those who cheered—and if the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool were in his place he would ask himself—how it was that the votes of the noble Lord were to be found recorded against measures for the equalization of the Parliamentary and borough franchise in Ireland, and against every measure for granting equal privileges to the Irish people, when brought forward by Home Rule Members? It was only when Lord Ramsay had managed to secure the support of the Home Rule Party that the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool found out that he himself had somewhere down in the bottom of his heart a well of sympathy for the Irish people. Much of the warmth of this debate was to be attributed to the manner in which the Address was seconded yesterday. The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry), in doing so, said that the great evil of the West of Ireland was over-population. But if there were sufficient resources in the soil for the sustenance of the people, he (Mr. O'Connor Power) declined to accept that view. How was it that fertile land had gone out of cultivation simultaneously with the decline of the population? Where that was so it was idle to talk of over-population, and he maintained that the extermination of the people must be owing to artificial causes, which the hand of Parliament ought to be able to reach. It was unjust to suggest that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) 205 had sneered at the prosperity of Ulster; there was no one who rejoiced more over it, or who had done more to extend manufacturing industries to the South of Ireland. The Seconder of the Address said that one of the wants of Ireland was manufacturing industry; and that hon. Member, who drank so often to the glorious, pious, and immortal memory of William III., did not seem to be aware that that Monarch had declared in a letter—"I will do all in my power to discourage the woollen manufactures in Ireland;" that he not only discouraged but destroyed that important branch of Irish industry, and so they were presented with the touching spectacle of a loyal follower of the pious, glorious, and immortal William shedding crocodile tears over the ruin of Irish manufactures. [Loud laughter and cheers.] In another case, he (Mr. O'Connor Power) might have said, that such language was a miracle of hypocrisy; but he would not say so in the case of the hon. Member for Belfast. The hon. Member further asked whether men would invest capital in a country torn by agitation? Of course not, granting the assumed insecurity. But if a man would not invest capital in manufactures without security, why should he invest in the cultivation of the soil without security? Why should four or five hundred thousand farmers be expected to convert the barren places of the whole Island into blooming and fertile fields without security? Give them the custom of the Ulster tenant right—give them the security, social and political, which the people of Ulster had enjoyed for centuries; and the result would be, he would assure them, an industrious and contented population in the West of Ireland. He was proud of the fact that the county Mayo was the source of the land agitation, and he should never deplore it. They found in that part of Ireland the richest lands appropriated by the landlords for themselves, while the tenants were driven half-way up the mountains, until they had made the land valuable, and then they were driven further up. Yet, with these facts staring them in the face, those poor people were accused of a want of industry. On minor questions there was room for difference; but they were agreed that the great evil was that landlords, being the rent-receivers, having the wealth of Ireland in the hollow 206 of their hands, being the custodians of the resources of the nation, did not, with, that wealth, possess the necessary enterprize. What was acquired by violence was freely dissipated by profligacy. Nine-tenths of the landed property had been acquired by the sword. Many of the landowners were nonresident, and, as a class, they were so wanting in enterprize that they refused to avail themselves of the facilities afforded to them for developing and improving their property. But what was the use of complaining of the poverty of the Irish soil when the tenants had no security for improvements? The fact was that there was no more fertile soil in Europe. He congratulated the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the improved tone he had shown in this debate—so very different from the manner in which he treated his hon. Friend the Member for Cork last night. But, after all, what did his speech amount to? His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) correctly described it as a basketful of good intentions. It was the old story. When any mistake was committed by the advocates of Ireland it had generally arisen from placing too much reliance on the statements of the Government. In this instance a great mistake had been made by the Irish Members when they took the proposals of the Government in a serious light, and he maintained that the proposals now put forward were not to be relied upon as means to save the Irish people from starvation, seeing that after six months' inquiry the Government still appeared to doubt if any emergency would arise, although they had the declaration of 70 Irish Members months ago that the emergency had already arisen. If, however, the Government did not do something, it would be the duty of Irish Members to take such a course as would force public attention to the sad condition of their countrymen, and bring about a universal demand that the Government should legislate in an effectual manner by introducing measures of real practical amelioration. It was with a sense of shame and humiliation that they saw their country paraded as a beggar before the nations. There were people who seemed to rejoice in this. Irish bone, and sinew, and intelligence could amass wealth abroad; and the reason why they could not do it 207 at home was that Ireland had been unfortunate in her history and in her laws, especially in those Land Laws which had surrounded the Irish people in the home of their race, and that was the real source of the poverty and degradation in that country; that was the true explanation of the chronic misery of Ireland. They were sometimes asked why they had not introduced practical measures; but had practical measures not been brought forward? Had proposals for the reclamation of waste lands not been brought forward again and again by his hon. Friend the Member for Mallow (Mr. John George MacCarthy)? Not a single practical measure introduced by any Irish Member had received the sanction of the House. Indeed, Ireland was under the rule chiefly of the alien, and the advice of Irishmen in reference to Irish wants was contemptuously rejected. Ireland was not remote even from the House of Commons. Why should it be neglected? But he feared it was remote from the intelligent understanding of the English people as to the real wants of the country. The Lord Mayor of Dublin had to-day presented a Petition from the Corporation of Dublin which was, in fact, an indictment by anticipation of the Government, because the means necessary to prevent the threatened destitution in Ireland were pointed out and forwarded to the responsible authorities in Ireland. It was curious to remark that, in 1847, the Corporation of Dublin was found accusing the Government of the same apathy and indifference as was shown by the Government of the present day; and at that time, as at the present hour, Irish opinion and intelligence was utterly powerless to do anything to help Ireland. The reason for that was that Irish opinion and intelligence had nothing to do with the government of Ireland. The government was in the hands of men alien to the country, men who knew little or nothing of the condition of the people, and who, when a great emergency arose, had to depend on second, third, or fourth-hand information. Reference had been made to the character of the relief works which were instituted during the Famine of 1847; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them they must be slow in sanctioning schemes of reproductive works, remembering the mistakes that 208 had been made in 1847–8; but the mistakes then made had arisen from the Government not following the advice of the Irish Members and the Corporation of Dublin. Had the Government attended to the representations of such men as Mr. Fagan, or to a Gentleman whose name was still warmly cherished in Ireland, Mr. William Smith O'Brien, who was well qualified to give advice on the subject, the Irish Famine would have been prevented. He saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) in his place, and to him, and those associated with him who took such generous measures to relieve the people of Ireland in the famine time, a lasting debt of gratitude was due, which he (Mr. O'Connor Power) took every opportunity to acknowledge. If anyone took up the reports of the Society of Friends in those days, would he say that the English Government had come out vindicated, or that the Irish landlords had done their duty? No; those authentic documents constituted a strong indictment against the Government and the Irish landlords of that day. He did not mean to say there were not good landlords in Ireland. If all were equally good, there would not be the same need for legislation. But, as a general rule, he maintained that the cultivator ought to be the owner of the soil, and he could be made so in Ireland without robbing any man of a shilling to which he was justly entitled. That was the only remedy for the chronic state of things which existed in Ireland. If a Government having undisputed power failed to improve the condition of a country, the responsibility rested with them. His contention was that the Government of England was responsible for the poverty of Ireland because they had usurped the government of Ireland; for they started with the theory that, whether right or wrong, Irishmen should not be allowed to govern their country. They had undertaken to decide Irish questions, not by the majority of Irish opinion, but by English, Scotch, and Irish opinion mixed, and, legislatively, it was a very bad mixture. It was said, and from a social point of view he agreed with it, that Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen made a very good mixture; but it was very difficult to get them properly mixed. He trusted that this discussion 209 would not close until the House had some more satisfactory declarations from Her Majesty's Government than had been hitherto made. With regard to the peasantry of the West of Ireland, he knew them well; he had seen different classes on both sides of the Atlantic, and he could honestly say that a more industrious people did not exist in any part of the British Empire, or a people more willing to expend their entire labour on the soil from the rising to the setting of the sun. They were confronted now by an agitation which had received considerable attention from the organs of English opinion, and they also found that American opinion was in sympathy with the aspirations of the Irish people. Though that House had declined to listen to the representations of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), the Congress of the United States had placed its Representative Chamber at his disposal for the purpose of enabling him to explain the grievances of his country. Some great men of this country had not hesitated to appeal to American opinion on the condition of Ireland. The man whoso proposals had been scoffed at in that House, and who had himself been denounced as a Communist, had been received in Congress with great distinction as a Representative of the Irish people. He trusted it would not be necessary for Irish Representatives to engage in a similar mission to other countries. But he must say that the strongest feeling he had in the present crisis in Ireland was one of shame and humiliation that his country—one of the fairest and most fertile in Europe—should be subject to the evils that now afflicted it; and he trusted that there were many young men who might look forward to a political life during the next 25 years, which, if they were true men, they would dedicate to every just and legitimate effort to remove the chronic poverty by which Ireland was afflicted, labouring earnestly for the time when the reign of peace, freedom, and prosperity would dawn upon that unfortunate but still unconquered land.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he was certain that, in common with himself, every hon. Member of that House, whether Englishman, Scotchman, or Irishman, would heartily sympathize with the eloquent peroration of the hon. Gentleman 210 who had just sat down (Mr. O'Connor Power), and sigh for the time when peace, prosperity, and contentment would be established in Ireland. But it struck him (Mr. Plunket) that there was an odd and remarkable contrast to that aspiration, when the hon. Gentleman spoke with such enthusiasm of the achievements of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), and the representative character he assumed in America. If they were to judge by recent accounts from that country, the reception of that hon. Member was now assuming a less cordial character. He would not follow the hon. Member through his speech; but he must say he could not find—although it had touched upon a great many topics more or less connected with the Ireland of the past and the future—that any remedy had been suggested or practical observations made to meet the distress of the present. The hon. Member had challenged the Government to defend their policy; but had he indicated any one point on which they ought to have done and had not done their utmost to avert and relieve the distress? Some part of that distress he had attributed to the absence of English capital from Ireland and its non-application to the reclamation of waste land; and, if he understood him rightly, he had suggested that greater security should be given for the investment of capital in that country. Unhappily, it was one of the most melancholy circumstances of the agitation in Ireland that not only had English capital ceased to flow into the country, but it was even being withdrawn from it! He would now ask the attention of the House for a few minutes while he discussed in a practical way the actually existing distress and the remedies that had been proposed for it, because he had passed probably as much of the last six months in the West of Ireland as any hon. Member opposite, and had had opportunities of seeing as well as hearing what was going on in many of the most distressed parts of that district. One word as to the extent of the distress. He did not wish to under-estimate it, and he was well aware that in the South, the West, and the North-West of Ireland it pressed heavily upon the people, and had come on them very suddenly; but when he heard complaints that the Government had not interfered to check its progress, 211 he could only ask what they could have done or attempted that they had not endeavoured to do, and what misery had befallen the people that they had not striven to avert? He might be told, perhaps, that had the Government done their duty, organizations for the distribution of private charity would have been unnecessary. Now, he could never think those organizations superfluous, for it was obvious that in its scope and reach private charity differed very widely from the public Poor Law. It was, of course, impossible for the Poor Law to grapple unaided with the distress as far as isolated cases were concerned. Government could only deal at large in such affairs, and its aid must be given according to general rules. Private charity came in at a particular time, and with the special object of preventing the occurrence of sudden and individual suffering. He trusted, though he heartily believed that the Government had done and were doing all they could to mitigate the distress, that the generous public of England and of other countries would not suppose there was no reason for the continuance of their charitable aid. He knew that under any Government, no matter how willing or how able, there must needs be many opportunities for the beneficial exorcise of private charity; and whatever was the end of this terrible and, he hoped, temporary affliction, he trusted it would ever be remembered that in the time of distress men of all classes and of all political parties had united in the common endeavour to relieve a suffering population. He said, then, let there be no check on generous private charity. A very different view, however, of the case was apparently taken by the Irish agitator, who found in it a fair opportunity for recalling the grievances of the past, for raking up buried sorrows, for exasperating the people, and making them more impatient under their suffering. No doubt distress served to strengthen the political position of such a man. He wished to call the attention of the House to some of the more extreme statements that had been made. The hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) would be able to corroborate or to deny the report that at a land meeting at Louth he had said—I arraign before the world as guilty of murder the Ministers of the Crown, who, fore- 212 warned and forearmed, were allowing already the victims of famine to he consigned to the earth.What shadow of foundation was there for such a charge? A Government guilty of murder—of killing their fellow-subjects with malice aforethought! Why, there had not been one single instance of death by starvation. Nothing of the sort had happened, and yet the hon. and learned Member had not for a moment hesitated to make that wild accusation. The evil, however, did not end with the mere inaccuracy of the statement, but probably had the effect of staying the flow of charity. Hon. Members who spoke in that way surely knew that by the charitable public such language must be deemed exaggerated, and as conveying a wholly incorrect view of the state of their country. But he begged them not on that account to close the hands that were now open for the assistance of real suffering. He would ask the House to listen to the language of the hon. Member for Meath, who, he was aware, was absent, but who had not taken particular care, in the country where he now was, to spare the absent. The hon. Member for Meath seemed to him (Mr. Plunket) to consider the threatened famine as a kind of monopoly of his own, as an opportunity sent him by good fortune for the advancement and promulgation of his own views and theories as to the Irish Land Laws and the relations that ought to exist between owners and tenants. That hon. Member was reported to have cautioned his hearers against contributing money to the Duchess of Marlborough's Fund, as it would only go into the pockets of those tenants who had obediently paid the last penny of their rent. Further, he said that if the money for relief were given into the hands of the English governing classes, it would inevitably be used for the purpose of demoralizing the people, and, to use his own words, "checking our movement." If that report was correct, he could only say that such statements could be received with little less than loathing. But that was not all. The hon. Member for Meath, in the earlier days of the agitation, when he was exciting the people to rise against their landlords and against the laws of their country—["No, no!"]—against their landlords and laws of their country 213 —he told them the Heavens were fighting on their side because the rain was coming down, making worse the prospects of famine. Now, what inference could be drawn from those words, except that the hon. Member for Meath hoped starvation would render the people of Ireland more pliable instruments in his hands, and that they would thereby be more easily drawn to his mad and ruinous purposes? But the hon. Member for Meath did not stop at the Duchess of Marlborough's Fund. Even the Dublin Mansion House Fund, together with Sir Arthur Guinness and his own unworthy self, had come under the hon. Member for Meath's sweeping condemnation. The people of America were cautioned against sending money to the Dublin Mansion House Fund. The members of the Committee could not be trusted. They were people who would divert the Fund from its proper purpose. Now, so far as he personally was concerned, such statements only provoked a smile; but if they had the effect of preventing relief being extended to Ireland, then the hon. Member for Meath did his country a grievous wrong. It was unnecessary to vindicate the impartiality of that Committee. Every Catholic and every Protestant Bishop in Ireland could testify to it; and he himself, while radically at variance on most points with the present Lord Mayor, the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray), the President of that Fund, felt bound to say that nothing could be more impartial than his action in reference to it. The hon. Member for Tipperary would, he doubted not, do him similar justice in return. [Mr. GRAY: Hear, hear!] Perhaps the House would now allow him, as a relief to the vague disquisitions they had been hearing on the rights and wrongs of landlords, to throw a little practical light on the subject, and draw a picture of the way in which this distress came upon the people. He would refer to the property of Sir Arthur Guinness, the senior Member for Dublin, and challenged contradiction of his statements. On that property there was no difference whatever between the landlord and the tenant. A better landlord there could not be. Absolute harmony and peace prevailed; the rents had not been raised for 20 or 30 years; there had been no evictions, or, if there had been one or two, they had occurred, for the most part, in the hopeless struggle 214 of trying to prevent the sub-division of the land. The proprietor was fortunately one who had wealth from other sources, and he had found it his pleasure and his duty to re-invest in the land more than his real income from it. Therefore, in that case, every element that the agitator could suggest was absent: there was no rack-renting, no absence of security of tenure, no want of works, nothing of that kind. Yet, what had happened there? The part of Ireland in which that property was situated was one of the worst centres of distress. There was an immense number of small tenants, with holdings of from one to five, six, or 10 acres of land, and families of five or six children. It was amongst these people that the distress existed. They were not tenant farmers in the English sense of the word; they were labourers working on their own farms, and the wages of their labour for one year was the following year's crop of potatoes. The wetness of the season had almost destroyed their crop of potatoes. Usually, they had enough to feed themselves and the pig, who sometimes himself paid the rent; but this year there were not enough potatoes to live upon, and they had nothing else. They had exhausted their credit. No rent had even been asked from them, in such cases, for the last year and a-half; but while they owed, perhaps, £2 or £3 to the landlords, they owed some £14 or £16 to the shopkeeper in the neighbourhood. They were an honest, truth-telling, and well-behaved people, and in a good year as happy a people as one could see anywhere. In the beginning of December, when he visited the cottages there with the proprietor, they said they should soon have to begin to eat what they had reserved for seed. Some said they could hold out for some weeks—most of them until the end of February; others that they would just be able to battle through the present year. That showed how difficult it was for the Government to deal with a case of this kind. Were the Government to make railways there? Make a railway to the moon! There was no place to make it to there, and you could not make a starving man walk for 12 miles or so, and come back again, for a day's work, and no railway contractor would employ such men. So with regard to roads. Then, as to reclaiming waste land, they could not go further up 215 the mountains. Above them was the home of the grouse, the snipe, the woodcock, and you could not improve those rocks. As he walked through the property the proprietor saw the people could not help themselves in the position in which they were placed, and he said—"You must eat your seed potatoes, and get on as well as you can; and after that, boys, you may look to me, and you shall not look to me in vain." The first idea suggested by this state of affairs was that, perhaps, the landlord next door had not the means to enable him to act in that way; it was a hard year for the landlords as well as for the tenants. There were some tenants who could not pay, and there were some who could pay but were not allowed to do so. Was the Government to be asked to interfere in a case of that kind? In these circumstances, his hon. Friend and himself gave what help they could to the Committee at Dublin. They also went to the Government Office, to the Executive; and more especially he would refer to Mr. Robinson, the local head of the Irish Poor Law Board, who had spent all his life in the Poor Law service, had gone through the Famine of 1847, than whom a more considerate man could not be found, and who understood the whole business thoroughly. Having told him their story, he satisfied them that everything had been carefully thought over, and that all would be done which could be reasonably or wisely done to relieve those poor people. Now, a good deal had been heard about fixity of tenure and peasant proprietorship as a specific for the state of things which existed in Ireland. It seemed to him, however, he must confess, rather cold comfort to offer such people as those of whom he had been speaking these high-sounding privileges. Fixity of tenure and peasant proprietorship!—to root them in the soil!—to take away the men from them who in bad years like this would have to feed them out of the hollow of their hands in order to save them from starvation! Yes, to root them in the soil, and leave them there till the bad years came, and the famine, and the fever, to make a prey of them! Hon. Members had heard of the Siberian caravans, where the sickly prisoners fell away and were left frozen in the snow till wolves made an end of thorn. Peasant proprietorship! To make pea- 216 sant proprietors of such men as those of whom he had been speaking, loaded as they were with debt, without chance of improvement, and devoid of knowledge or enterprize to start with, would be productive of the utmost misery. It would simply secure, and make inevitable, his doom when the bad time came. In saying that, he must not be understood as speaking against peasant proprietorship under other circumstances. He was now simply dealing with it as a specific for the distress which at present prevailed in Ireland. He was not opposed to peasant proprietorship of solvent tenants; but the State must proceed with great caution before attempting to apply such great principles to a case of this kind, taking away their landlord, leaving them without a penny or a friend face to face with the Government when its tax collector came to gather up the instalments of its debt. There was another consideration which occurred to his mind as he saw his hon. Friend followed out of the villages which he visited by old tottering men and women who, holding up their children in their arms, blessed him and prayed for him, and that was to contrast what he saw with the proceedings of the loudmouthed, swaggering agitator, followed by a Fenian mob, and preceded by a brass band, who told the people of America not to send their money homo to this country, because the governing classes here were not to be trusted, as they would misapply it; who told them not to send home money to the ladies of Ireland, because it would not be applied in charity; and who thanked God at the commencement of the distress that the rain was coming down in torrents, soaking the turf, rotting the potatoes, and poisoning the food of the people, so that they might be more ready tools for him to incite on to a bloody resistance. [An hon. MEMBER: It is false!]
§ MR. O'DONNELL
rose to Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in addressing the House, had clearly specified his hon. Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) as the agitator to whom he was referring. He had just stated that that hon. Member had thanked God for the famine in order to rouse the people of Ireland to a bloody insurrection. He (Mr. O'Donnell) would refrain from characterizing that statement; but he should like to know whe- 217 ther the hon. and learned Gentleman was in Order in making use of such expressions?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that if the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Plunket) had charged a Member of the House with inciting the people to a bloody insurrection, such language could not be Parliamentary.
§ MR. PLUNKET
should be sorry in any way to have transgressed the Rules of the House. [Loud cries of"Withdraw!"] What he meant to say was this—and if in the heat of debate he had said anything stronger he was willing to withdraw it—that the hon. Member for Meath had, in his speeches, called the attention of the people to the storm and to the rain that was descending, and said that the elements were fighting on his side. He said, further, that he was thankful to the elements for fighting on his side, and the only inference that could be drawn from such language was this—that the people would be themselves the more ready instruments of his agitation; and he (Mr. Plunket) said, and would say again, that that agitation could have no other result, and had had no other result, than to incite the people to a bloody resistance to the law. Well, of course, it would be said that he had spoken of but one landlord, and that he was an exception. Of course there were bad landlords in Ireland, as there were in other countries; but he knew that there were many good landlords in Ireland—landlords who, in spite of all that had been said against them, would be only too glad to relieve those unfortunate tenants whose interests were their interests, though all had not the means to be generous as some were. His lot had been cast among many such landlords; and he could say that, notwithstanding all that they had been exposed to, and bitterly as they resented the unjust language used against them by these agitators, he never heard one word of resentment uttered by any one of them against the people. Well, he had no intention to trace the course of the agitation of the hon. Member for Meath, or to refer to what he would call his revolutionary speeches, or his extraordinary promises as to what the result would be. He had, no doubt, gained great influence over the people of Ireland. For the time he was, as was once said of O'Connell, King of Ireland; and 218 so long as he continued to hold out those hopes, and so long as the people were given any ground to believe that there was any chance of their being realized—although it was impossible that they could be—no man could compete with him, or bid against him, among the people. It was a lamentable thing that language which gave, or seemed to give, encouragement to such wild dreams, had been used, and used by some speakers of great authority in this country. He did not say this merely for the purpose of making a personal or a political attack, although no one loved a Party fight more than he did; but he feared they would hear something by-and-bye as to the evil consequences of such language being used. The House would, he hoped, allow him to refer to one other instance. If hon. Members opposite were to choose what had been represented as specially a bad case, perhaps they would select that of the eviction of Balla, in the county of Mayo, on the property of his kinsman, Sir Robert Blosse, than whom a more kind-hearted man towards his tenantry did not live. Sir Robert had asked him to lay before the House the truth of the story. This was not merely a personal matter, as it bore directly on the question. The estate extended over 23,000 acres, on which were about 400 tenants. The rents for all residential holdings were valued a quarter of a century ago, and they had, with scarcely any exception, never since been raised. The houses were rented at a fair letting value, and the rents for a quarter of a century had been punctually and cheerfully paid on the estate. There had been only five evictions all the time, and only two of these had involved the tenant being actually put out. One of these was the case of Dempsey, and there the rent had been paid willingly until lately, when quarrels arose among the occupiers themselves. It was the old story of a widow and an unmarried son living in the same house with the eldest son, who was married. What were the circumstances of the eviction? The rent was due the 1st November, 1878, and should have been paid before the 1st of May, 1879, when Patrick Dempsey asked for a prolongation of time. That was granted from time to time until August, and up to that date the landlord was willing to take the half-year's rent instead of a 219 year's. It then became evident, however, that there was no intention of paying the rent, for Dempsey had joined in the anti-rent agitation for the purpose of preventing others paying their rent; therefore, an ejectment for the year's rent due the 1st of May, 1879, was served. The Sheriff, on the 15th of November, proceeded to take possession, but finding a child ill of the measles he went away, saying he would return in a week if the rent was not paid, and Dempsey undertook to pay it, and would have done so, but that local agitators prevented him, and promised to pay it for him afterwards if he would allow himself to be ejected. Sir Robert was threatened, and they defied him to carry out the ejectment. Infamous placards were posted on the subject. A monster meeting was called, and finally the hon. Member for Meath came to encourage the people and addressed a mob meeting the day the Sheriff was expected. The Sheriff did not come, and so bloodshed was prevented. Subsequently possession was given to Sir Robert Blosse. After the eviction a number of falsehoods were circulated through the Press. It was said that Dempsey and his family slept on the road, and that Sir Robert directed his agent to give them no shelter. That was false. Dempsey and some of his family went direct to the hotel at Balla, the others to a neighbour's house, and they all returned to the farm in 10 days, when the rent was paid. It was also said that Dempsey's family were ill with fever. That was not true. The doctor certified that one had fever, but that the other, who had had measles, had recovered. The younger had given to the elder brother an amount of money sufficient to pay the rent; but the latter applied the amount to other purposes. He asked what the landlord could do under these circumstances? The landlord knew the people were well able to pay their rent. Was he to submit, and have his rights set at nought? It was important for the House to consider what, if anything, should be done in the case of persons who took to courses of this kind—a question which it was most important to discuss before attempting to arrive at a decision concerning the question now before the House, which could not be done without giving attention to the ob- 220 ject of the revolutionary agitation which was now and had for some time past been going forward. The two objects which were principally urged as those sought to be attained by the supporters of the Amendment to the Address were fixity of tenure on the payment of fair rents and tenant proprietorship. Unless both political Parties were very untrue to all they had ever said or done, there could be no possibility of such an agitation proving successful. He did not intend then to discuss the principles of fixity of tenure, for the whole of the subject had been a hundred times thrashed out from beginning to end. In 1870, these very proposals were made on the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, and by overwhelming majorities, and by the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman himself and his Colleagues, it was utterly repudiated. Only the other day, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who, he supposed, well represented the left wing of the Liberal Party, showed that it was impractical to establish fixity of tenure on farms, and in the current number of the old Whig Quarterly its fallacies were conclusively exposed. As regarded the last of these objects he had no objection in principle to it; but he should venture to insist that the peasant proprietorship should also be a solvent proprietorship, and that the experiment should be made in so slow and cautious a way that such a class of insolvent tenant occupiers should be precluded from becoming a race of bankrupt proprietors. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), who had taken great interest in the subject, had, he thought, not correctly stated the other day what took place in the Committee which sat to inquire into the working of the Bright Clauses of the Land Act. The hon. Member seemed to infer that his proposal on the subject had received the unanimous sanction of that Committee last year, and that it would be at once passed into law; but that was not the case, for what the Committee were really very nearly unanimous about was that it would be a good thing if peasant proprietors could be established in Ireland of a solvent character. He (Mr. Plunket) had proposed that as an Amendment in the Committee, and he was still willing to have the experiment tried.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
remarked, that what he stated was that the Resolution which he proposed to the House itself was adopted unanimously.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he had never resisted the most extreme proposal ever put forward by the hon. Member for Heading in the interest of the landlords. He supported the Resolution of last Session, because it merely proposed to create proprietary tenants in Ireland, and he was in favour of the experiment; but he submitted that that must be done with great caution, or they would not avoid the dangers which had been described of creating a proprietary of poor men whose present insolvency precluded them from becoming real proprietors at all. So far as the plans of the hon. Member for Reading went, this was no Party question, and he was in favour of the experiment being tried. But it must be approached with great caution in the interest of the State which was to lend, and still more of the tenant who was to borrow. He had never opposed it in the interest of the landlords; indeed he believed that in the case of some landlords it might prove beneficial; for it would enable them to escape from their difficulties and sell their present property. But quite another proposal, however, had now been whispered abroad, and it was to that that he particularly desired to call the attention of the House. He referred to the wild words which had been rashly spoken as to the compulsory expropriation of estates—words which, having been spoken in the first instance by the hon. Member for Meath, had since been, to some extent, adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich. He (Mr. Plunket), however, must earnestly protest against them. He contended that it was a mischievous and impossible proposal, and that it should be denounced as early as possible, so that the Irish people should not be misled. The hon. Member for Meath had said—I have pointed out that we had, besides the estates of the London Companies, and the estates of the absentee owners, which we might fairly call upon the Government forcibly to expropriate. I have stopped short up to the present at resident owners, who live in the country, who are not rack-renters, and do their duty; hut I cannot say that the line will continue to be drawn even with them in the future, and that if these times, and this pressure are to proceed, the whole institution of landlordism will not come down altogether.222 He did not know whether the right hon. Member for Birmingham had read that sentence or not; but he had advocated the forcible expropriation of the London Companies. In his opinion, that was sailing dangerously near the wind, and was likely to encourage a formidable agitation. It was also exceedingly unfortunate that the right hon. Member for Greenwich, in one of his wonderful speeches in Scotland, while deprecating, on the whole, the theory of small proprietors, should have used formidable and suggestive language. He had said—It is not intended, probably, to confiscate the property of a landed proprietor more than the property of any other man; but the State is perfectly entitled, if it please, to buy out the landed proprietors, as it may think fit, for the purpose of dividing the property into small lots.And again—I freely admit that compulsory expropriation is a thing which, for an adequate public object, is itself admissible, and, so far, sound in principle.The right hon. Gentleman, he supposed, grounded his statement upon the right that the State possessed to authorize railways to compulsorily purchase land. But this was a case in which it was proposed to forcibly transfer the property of one whole class to another. Was there, or was there not, to be compulsory expropriation? Was there any precedent in English history for a compulsory taking of the property of one class of the people and transferring it to another? That was what the Irish tenant understood. [Cries of"No!"from the Irish Members.] If hon. Members opposite repudiated that desire, if they thought that the proposal should be carried out only as far as the landlords might be disposed to assent to the arrangement, then he heartily retracted all the hard words he had uttered on this part of the subject. Seeing the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) in his place, reminded him that a very lively correspondence had appeared in the public newspapers lately. The hon. and learned Member appeared to have been devoting himself lately to bringing about that agreement between the Home Rulers and the Whigs, which had resulted in such eminent success down at Liverpool. The hon. and learned Member had come to town yesterday covered with glory; he was the hero of the hour, having effected 223 a reconciliation between the most determined Nationalists and the most spotless Whigs, supporters of the noble Lord. But the better to accomplish his purpose, the hon. and learned Member asserted that it was an unwarrantable statement that the Whigs were trying to drive a bargain with the Home Rulers—in fact, the whole Home Rule movement, as he had hinted, was a Conservative plot. [Mr. PLUNKET here quoted from aTimesleading article.]
§ MR. PLUNKET
But that was the effect of it, and the inference to be drawn from what the hon. and learned Member said——
§ MR. SPEAKER
ruled that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin was in possession of the House.
§ MR. PLUNKET,
resuming, said, that what he had quoted was the result produced on the public mind, and although what the hon. and learned Gentleman himself said was a little different, it was not very different. His letter had conveyed the impression that such was his meaning, and it had excited the surprise of that excellent journal,The Times.He thought that according to the impression caused in the public Press by the hon. and learned Gentleman's revelations at Liverpool as to the formation of the Home Rule Party, it would have been as well if he had kept the matter to himself. He (Mr. Plunket) could speak from some personal knowledge upon the subject, and he believed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who, at the time, had managed all election matters for his Party in Ireland, could corroborate what he said. The Home Rule movement, it was true, had with it in its origin a good many Conservatives, though he could not admit that the late Mr. Butt was one of their number; but the Conservative authorities did everything in their power to prevent their sheep straying into that very attractive camp. The fact was that some Irish Conservatives were very angry in consequence of the passing of the Irish Church Act, not only with the Liberals, but also with their own Friends, for not having, as they thought, made as good a fight for 224 them as they might have done, and for a short time they gave support to the Home Rule movement; but it was against the advice of the Party. As to the allegation that Conservative money was given in Tipperary for the election of a Home Rule Member, he had heard that a gentleman named Roe, a member of a very respectable Conservative family, but who held very strong views himself, of his own accord, and without any consultation with the Conservative Leaders, advanced £500 for O'Donovan Rossa's candidature, and in the case of the other election which had been referred to, the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman) fought it at his own expense. The Conservative Party had nothing to do with it; it was a Home Rule, and not a Conservative, candidature. There was an election for the City of Dublin in 1870 which might, for the present purpose, be regarded as a test election, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman stood; but, as a matter of fact, the Leaders of the Conservative Party refused to vote for him, though asked to do so. Liverpool was past and over; but Southwark and other elections were coming on, and they would have again this kind of Whig-Home-Rule candidate authorized by the highest authority. From a Party point of view he did not object to their doing it, for he thought it would not be successful; but they should not accuse the Conservative Party of doing what they had never done. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), who he was sorry not to see in his place—he noticed the hon. and learned Gentleman had been in great personal danger in a cab, and sincerely hoped that nothing had happened to him—had been speaking in Liverpool. There was no one in that House who enjoyed more thoroughly than himself the clever speeches of his hon. and learned Friend, although he was sometimes amused by the superb arrogance of his self-assertion, and amazed at the rollicking recklessness with which he dealt with serious subjects. His hon. and learned Friend, as an excuse for the present dealings of his Friends with the Home Rule Party, had made a vigorous attack about the appointment of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sligo to the Lord Lieutenancy of a 225 county. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was made Lord Lieutenant of the county of Sligo, as he understood, because he possessed a property of some £40,000 a-year in the county, because of his great position and popularity in the county, and also because he was one of the ablest country gentlemen, and one than whom none had done more for the good of all classes of the people. On these grounds, no better appointment could have been made; but, as far as his Home Rule views were concerned, he believed they went far towards losing it for him. At Liverpool the Home Rulers, wiser by their experience at Sheffield, put their test to the Liberal candidate in a form which he was sorry to say was accepted in a way which was declared to be entirely satisfactory to the Nationalist Party. It was this bargaining—this trafficking in dangerous political questions—that those on his side of the House objected to; and he would tell them why. Where were these things to stop? Liverpool and Sheffield were not the only towns where that game might be played. How many supporters of that stamp and colour did the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition wish to welcome into that House? Events marched rapidly in our day. In a debate on the demand for an Irish Parliament on the 24th of April, 1877, the noble Lord was reported to have said—I am hound to say that the effect, the necessary effect, will be to deceive the Irish people. What has happened in certain constituencies is likely to happen again. There are many English constituencies in which the Irish vote is an extremely important element, and that vote can be secured by an apparently harmless pledge. To vote for a Select Committee pledges a Member to absolutely nothing. The liability of the candidate is discharged by an annual vote, and even if the Motion were carried, he feels that the integrity of the British Empire would not be in the least impaired. But in Ireland the effect is very different.The noble Lord had been a Member of a Cabinet as Chief Secretary for Ireland, and knew what he was talking about. And the noble Lord, on the occasion to which he (Mr. Plunket) was referring, added—The pledge given is not minutely examined. It is known that the candidate having pledged himself to something which sounds very like Home Rule the agitation is thereby prolonged, and groundless hopes, which otherwise would have passed a way, and which it would be best 226 should he as soon as possible destroyed, are raised and sustained."—[3Hansard,ccxxxiii. 1839.]He would like to push this matter further home; but time would not allow of his doing so. He had only now to thank the House most cordially for listening to him so long, and if he had not succeeded in carrying his voice to all those whom he addressed, it was in consequence of the best argument in the world for Home Rule—namely, the fogs which at the beginning of the Session so often prevailed in this capital.
ventured to say that in all the annals of Parliament a more extraordinary display than the speech they had just heard could not be found. They were now supposed to be discussing an Amendment which raised the question of misery or suffering and, it might be, of untold horrors in Ireland—the question of an impending famine; and when the Ministers of the Crown had complained but yesterday that it would be a waste of time to speak of things germane to that subject, their champion put up there to-night to make their pugilistic fight all round the arena had treated them to all sorts of irrelevant matters. They had had a speech from the Leader of the Opposition on Home Rule; then the Sheffield election; then an attack on the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt); and then the narrative of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) of the connection of the Tories with Home Rule, and of which he knew nothing whatever. Then they were treated to a noisy crow over the diminished majority by which his Party had managed to hold a seat for a while in Liverpool; and then they heard Mr. Gladstone's views on local government. ["Order, order!"] Well, the hon. and learned Gentleman used the name himself; but what would he say to the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich on local government? Next they were treated to a panegyric on the hon. and learned Gentleman's own family connections and kindred, and the time of the House was taken up while he was extolling, and justly extolling, the merits of his cousin. The hon. and learned Gentleman would note, perhaps, that whenever he praised an Irish landlord he was cheered from that side of the House; while when he struck a blow at an absent man he was sure of 227 exultation from his own Friends. Mark, all this occurred in a debate on the Irish Famine ! He complimented the hon. and learned Gentleman in that, at all events, when he struck at him (Mr. Sullivan) personally, he was present. But he took good advantage of the absence of a man, before whose face he would shrink from saying what he had done. He had followed the evil example of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis). The House was crowded now, but, unfortunately, it was empty when that hon. Member spoke; and, therefore, he would tell that crowded Chamber that they had, by their absence, missed the greatest histrionic treat ever witnessed on the floor of that House. That hon. Member had also attacked the hon. Member for Meath. [Laughter.] Well, at any rate, the hon. Member had crossed the Atlantic on an embassy—[Ironical laughter.]—Well, on an important errand; and because he had done so, he was described, forsooth, as having decamped from this country. Well, at any rate, he had not gone on the service of bondholders in connection with any re-construction schemes, or as the emissary of some London financiers. As for the hon. Member for Meath, they must admit he had gone on an unselfish, errand. ["Oh, oh!"] Let it be remembered, also, that the hon. Member was himself an Irishman, and had gone there, not to arrest the flow of charity, but to promote it; and, side by side with that object, to make an appeal to the American people in order that these perpetual needs of charity for Ireland might be put an end to for ever. If the hon. Member for Meath had done and said things which he himself might condemn—if he had said, "Do not send money to this committee," he had also said, "Do send it to the other." If he thought part of the story was suppressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite—and he knew he was suppressing it—when he said, "Do not send to the Mansion House Committee, or to the Duchess of Marlborough's Fund!" he did say, "Send to the Land League Fund." And who set the hon. Member for Meath the example in saying that? The example of Dublin itself. There was issued to the Press of England, and to all the public bodies of England, a notification, which must have reminded those who read it of the announcements of rival costermongers in connection with 228 the shop over the way. The message from the Vice-regal Lodge was, "Do not send to the Mansion House, but send to me;" while, for his part, as long as any promoters of these funds sent to anyone at all, he, for himself, would not complain. He was curious to know whether these attacks on an absent man, which should be checked from the Chair, would be repeated when the hon. Member returned to that House, and whether somebody else would not find it necessary to decamp to Canada or the United States? The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had not been put up—he had sprung up voluntarily—to tell the story of the action of his Party, and the origin of the Home Rule movement. What could he know of it? He took good care to keep away from the generous men of his Party who made that effort. What could he know about meetings he had never attended, and speeches and representations that he had never read? The only accusation against himself and his fellow-Members was that they were guilty of not believing the words of Conservative Gentlemen when, in language that would move that Assembly, they swore by High Heaven—oh, those Conservative oaths!—when they swore in the most solemn and sincere language that if he and his Friends would but link hands with them in a common effort for their common good, and would only put on one side the distrust which Irish Catholics were said to have of their Protestant fellow-countrymen—if they would only cease to be factionists and become Irishmen, that they, the Conservatives, would be true to the death in the effort which they then invited him and his Friends to make for the re-setting up of an institution which was Protestant before—with which the noble memories of Protestant Ireland were associated, and with which the only noble traditions of the hon. and learned Member's (Mr. Plunket's) name were indissolubly linked. The hon. and learned Member had said that there were only a few Conservatives who joined the movement; that they only kept their word for a very short time, and that they only acted as they did because they were irritated. In answer to that, he would only ask the House, ever fair as it always was in matters of this kind, to hear him out on this matter, which was in a measure personal to himself. When 229 the Irish Church fell in Ireland, the lion, and learned Gentleman would recollect that the leading Conservative organ of the country declared that the "hateful Gladstone" had severed the bond of union and had broken the Treaty contained in the Act of Union. He admitted that the charge was true, for the 7th Article of the Union declared that the maintenance of the Irish Protestant Church was an essential and fundamental condition of the Union of Ireland. He felt that, and he agreed that, those Protestant Conservatives who then came forward and said to him—"Here, we have kept our troth with England as long as she kept faith with us; but now union has been destroyed, will you, so long estranged or opposed to us Irish Catholics and Nationalists, join us in an effort to establish the Irish Parliament? Will you promise to aid us in an attempt to give to an Imperial Parliament the control of Imperial affairs? For, if you do, we pledge ourselves to you with regard to personally endeavouring to obtain a Parliament which, so far as domestic affairs, shall be supreme." Were the men who offered this few in number? On the contrary. Two of them, whom the hon. and learned Member now tried to disparage, were his most determined and active agents at his election. But though they were now unorthodox Conservatives, it was not for Party purposes to disavow them that night. These Conservative Gentlemen sent out a printed circular inviting him and others to attend the meeting. They did not invite the hon. and learned Gentleman, because they only consulted men of prominence and men of position among their Party in Dublin; and though the hon. and learned Gentleman, with a modesty which was peculiarly Hibernian, had spoken of himself as one of the Leaders in the Party of Ireland, he was a young Leader then. At that time he was almost unknown amongst Conservative politicians in Dublin, and he could appeal in support of that statement to hon. Gentlemen opposite who were in Ireland when all this took place, and who were now listening to him. He attended the meeting; and, so far from those present being nobodies, and there being but few Conservatives, he could tell that honourable House that though men of every political Party and creed were present, they were yet in the minority 230 as compared with the Conservatives, who numbered between 60 and 70—all the foremost gentlemen of Dublin. Was Mr. Edward W. Kinahan a nobody, whose high social position could not be denied, nor the position he held in the Conservative Party? Mr. James Hope Mackie was also present, and in the Conservative Party. Then, as now, there was no man more prominent and more trusted than he, yet he was one of the foremost founders of this Home Rule movement, and one of the particular men by whose entreaty he was led into the error of trusting in the word and honour of Conservative gentlemen. Mr. Purden, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, was present, than whom there was not a more prominent Party man in the whole City of Dublin. He also saw there the editor ofThe Dublin Evening Mail;and who did not know the politics of that paper? The late Lord Mayor (Sir John Barrington); Mr. Wilde; Mr. Boyle, the banker; Mr. Maden, of Hoden, once the Grand Master of the Orangemen of Ireland, were also amongst the men who, on that occasion, founded and established the Home Rule movement in Ireland. He was warned at the time by friends of his own that he ought not to trust those Conservative Protestants. To the knowledge of hon. Members sitting round him, he was personally singled out for invective by the Whig organs of the day at that time, and told that if once the Tory Party got into power these men would break their faith, discard them, turn round, and pretend that they were playing a part. But if there had been chicanery and dishonour, he knew with whom it lay; and that night he declared that he felt it was better to have trusted and to have been deceived than never to have trusted at all—even with the bitter example before him of the result of this attempt to banish sentiment and to trust in Conservative representations. If to-morrow the same thing were going to be done again, he would rather see his co-religionists trust these Conservative gentlemen once more than that a hateful spirit should be raised by declaring that the words of a Protestant and Conservative gentleman could not be believed. Next, as to the money. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that Mr. Roe, no doubt, supplied the funds for a Fenian candidature in Tipperary.
said, he would soon set the innocent soul of the hon. and learned Member at rest. It was a brother Conservative and a Constitutional Tory who supplied the money for the candidature of 0'Donovan Rossa in Tipperary. If he could believe the newspapers, that statement of his had been contradicted by a Member of the Government, who had dared to say that it was not true. He could only say, in reply, that he could point to a document signed by Mr. Roe, the Constitutional Conservative, by which he became security for the Fenian candidate's Petition against the election, and on which security he was mulcted in heavy costs; and so much did Fenians feel their indebtedness to their Conservative ally that, with a sense of honour that did them credit, they raised a public subscription, and one of their number, with a chivalry quite characteristic of Tiporary, crossed the Atlantic—decamped, as the agent of some financial establishment somewhere or other might call it—and there collected the money to refund the sum they had advanced for their candidature. He would add, for the benefit of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that every one of these statements of his were literally true. He had asserted nothing that was of a private nature, and, therefore, nothing that was discreditable to the Conservatives or the Home Rulers. No secret understanding was created. There was no intrigue. It was the honest, manly, and patriotic endeavour of men in both camps to grasp hands, and see if they could not find a common platform upon which to work for the benefit of their countrymen. It was a holy example of a country like Ireland, torn, as it was, by this warfare. Yet that rainbow set in the stormy sky of Ireland had been the subject of a torrent of invective by the grandson of Plunket. Surely the bones of the dead must rattle in their shrouds ! The hon. and learned Gentleman had quoted something he (Mr. Sullivan) was reported to have said in the newspapers, and had very properly prefaced the quotation by the phrase, "if correctly reported." He was accused of having said that the Government, forewarned and forearmed, had allowed the people to perish, and that he would 232 accuse them before Parliament of the crime of murder. He was himself not in the habit of writing out his speeches, for the only two occasions on which he did so he made a miserable mess of it; but that passage he had written out before, and he was incorrectly reported. He had, however, such a horror of the appearance of shrinking from what he had said outside, that he preferred to own the words and stand by them, although they were incorrect and did not correctly represent his language. He had always tried to act on the principle, if he was guilty of moderation—which was very seldom—of trying to be moderate when he spoke to his own countrymen, and to go to the other extreme when in the presence of his opponents there. He would repeat now what had been suppressed, or, at any rate, not mentioned, by the model of judicious force who had just sat down, and who was destined some day to be a Judge; but he was old enough to have seen the horrors of 1847. Though but a boy, he felt maddened, as it were, at the spectacle of that evil time. But at that time he vowed and swore—as he hoped many Irishmen, looking on the corpses that strewed the roadways on that day, did also—that never again, if act or word of his could avert it, should a similar disaster come down upon the land. He knew the action of the Government at that time, its vacillation, and its murderous delay; and because of those memories, and because of those dreadful experiences, he declared to his constituents that he would accuse the Government of wilful murder, because, though forewarned and forearmed, they were again allowing the people to perish, and were not averting the spread of famine in their land. He would say it now if he did not say it then. They were asked to specify anything that the Government might have done which they had not done. While, neither in Ennis, in Connemara, nor in any part of Connaught, had they provided any kind of reproductive employment in preference to the demoralization of charity. In the western part of his own individual county of Cork, they had not put 1,000, or even 100, men to work, nor had they spent £1,000 to save the dying people. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who came too late into public life to know the terrible scenes of that time, had pretended 233 to describe what was being done, as if that applied to the whole of Ireland. But there was an authority superior even to that great legal luminary. Even in 1822—how long, alas ! had that House been waiting to do its duty—Mr. Munroe, reporting on the state of Ennis, which covered 600 square miles, had reported that it would maintain an increased population of at least 200,000 souls, and had remarked that the uncultivated state of those districts marked them out as a proper field for public works undertaken by Government. What did Lord John Russell do in 1847? He proposed a Vote of £1,000,000 for the purpose of bringing waste lands under cultivation; but the landed proprietors requested him to withdraw the proposition, promising to reclaim the lands themselves. That offer was exactly the same as the one Government were about to propose for relieving the suffering people of Ireland that day. It was the same old and weary story. Always Government promises; always something going to be done; always some plan ready for proposal; yet nothing ever done, and the people again on the verge of starvation. Why, the coroners' inquests were better authority even than the hon. and learned Gentleman; for in Ireland even the coroners were beginning to return deaths from starvation. He read, only the other day, of a poor creature whom now he supposed would be tried for her life, who had cut the throat of her little child, declaring that it was better it should go to heaven at once than suffer the continual pains of hunger. In another case a wretched man, evicted for non-payment of rent, which he could not pay by reason of the distress, going to see the old homestead which had sheltered him so long, lost his reason, and was now in an asylum for the present. The hon. and learned Gentleman came there to prophesy pleasant things. If there was a gleam of sunshine, he told them that the Irish tenantry had millions in the savings banks, and were prosperous, happy, and contented. A bad season came, and Ireland was exhibited in the miserable guise of the public beggar of the world. What nation ever had so often to seek the charity of other nations as this country which England managed, and for which she was responsible? For his part, he blushed to see the miserable pictures exhibited in 234 the streets of London, of a wretched, famished, hideous, decrepit creature being relieved by a noble, handsome old gentleman feeding it. That was Ireland, fed by John Bull, out of his bounty. That was the picture some people wished to print on the page of history, so that to-morrow, and the next day, and for ever, their efforts to obtain for themselves right and liberty might be met with the taunt that they were beggars, whom the Government fed. Let the Government give them their own Legislature, even though the measure were passed by Conservatives, whose words ought not to be trusted. Let them but have a Government and a Legislature in Dublin, composed even of the 103 men who now sat in that House, and he would willingly make them a present of the excited Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis); and, before a month would have passed, that Body, whether composed of Gentlemen sitting on one side of the House or the other, would have adopted measures that would put an end, at once and for ever, to those recurrent miseries, diseases, and sufferings which disfigured the whole face of Irish history.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Though the House is doubtless anxious to bring this discussion to a close, I shall venture, with its permission, to detain hon. Members while I make a few replies to some statements uttered during this debate. Without trespassing at any length on the indulgence of the House, I may observe that the speech of the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down was looked forward to with considerable interest. He made himself responsible for two very serious charges against Her Majesty's Government.
The right hon. Gentleman misrepresents me. Her Majesty's Government were in no way referred to. The present Ministry were at that time in Opposition.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
The hon. and learned Gentleman, at any rate, spoke of the Conservative Party, "of Leaders, Chiefs, and agents." All I can say is, that the ordinary reader of those words would never infer that Leaders and Chiefs of the Conservative Party would eventually be brought down to the highly respectable, no doubt, but certainly not very conspicuous, personages who figure in the hon. and learned Gen- 235 tleman's speech. It appears, in fact, that certain local politicians engaged with the hon. and learned Member and others to establish the Home Rule Party. But the hon. and learned Gentleman, when speaking before his constituents, made another and a far more serious charge, one which I think he will hardly deny we are bound to take notice of in this place. He certainly was represented to have said that Her Majesty's Government had been guilty of the crime of murder. I understood him to admit the substantial accuracy of those words, and they bear the interpretation of a deliberate charge against the Irish Government of having left Her Majesty's subjects to die of famine. What has become of that charge? The hon. and learned Member has spoken to-night of chivalry. He interpreted that word to mean as forbidding an attack in this debate on another hon. Member, because that hon. Member, for reasons best known to himself, has chosen to absent himself from his place in Parliament. The hon. and learned Member also defines chivalry as an obligation to accept the responsibility of words he never uttered. The hon. and learned Member, with his ideas of chivalry, allows to be attributed to him a charge of wilful murder against the Members of the Government, and when called upon to make good that serious charge, it resolves itself into certain statements against Mr. Secretary Goulburn, and to the allegation that certain persons had lost their reason through the famine. It is trifling with the indulgence of the House for the hon. and learned Member to stand up in his place and undertake to vindicate so serious a charge by evidence so wholly inadequate. As a matter of fact, however, I will undertake to say that no deaths from starvation have as yet occurred in Ireland. I am not now merely fortified by official documents or by Reports of Government officials, but I have also the statement of persons who are responsible for the charitable organizations, who state that, so far, starvation has happily caused no deaths in Ireland. I cannot, at this hour of the morning, undertake to follow the whole course of this debate. I can only repeat, in a very few words, what has been already stated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Government, without waiting for the actual occurrence 236 of famine, have already carried out large advances for the purpose of works by landowners, by sanitary authorities, and others. Although the Poor Laws are humane enactments, not obsolete legislation, but Acts of Parliament of comparatively recent origin, which have been the subject of review during recent times, and upon which the Government might in ordinary circumstances fairly rely, we have felt it our duty to accept the responsibility of relaxing the strictness of those laws. Exception has been taken to our conduct, and certain suggestions have been made. It is needless for me to say that I am unable to express my concurrence with hardly any of these suggestions. If I had time I would point out that the suggestions made, however good or bad, as remedies for distress in the ordinary condition of the country, are totally improper and beside the mark in dealing with the settlement of this question of famine. The hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) has talked of lending money to tenants. He has not told us upon what security. All he has told us is that he objects to the tenants paying back either principal or interest. [The O'DONOGHUE: Not when lent to the landlord.] I presume that means that the tenant is to spend it, and the landlord to repay it. Other suggestions have been made, such as fixity of tenure, and its twin brother, peasant proprietorship. My opinions upon both these subjects are tolerably well known; and I shall certainly not trouble the House by further reference to them, except to say that the suggestion that a struggling tenant should for 38 years pay an annual increased rent, appears to me a truly Hibernian remedy for exceptional distress. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) spoke of the extension to the whole of Ireland of what is commonly known as the Ulster tenant custom, and he says that on a former occasion I spoke of that suggestion of his as pure and undiluted Communism. That, Sir, is a statement that I did make, and which I am quite ready to repeat now. It was my opinion when I made it, and it is my opinion now. I confess I have been somewhat taken to task for making that speech. For instance, a very able and learned Gentleman who formerly occupied a seat in this House, and who is now a member of the Judicial Bench in Ireland, told me that I was 237 quite wrong in speaking in that way. I, of course, listened, thinking I was going to receive a reproof after the fashion of that which was administered to me by the hon. Member for Cork. "Communism" (said the witty and learned Judge) "I always understood to mean that everybody should have a share. But by this the landlords get nothing." I must confess the justice of his reproof, and by that correction my previous remark must be construed. I still, however, adhere to my statement that this remedy for Irish distress would partake of the character of Communism. Much has been said of the present state of the Land Laws; but I have no hesitation in saying that they have nothing to do with the present state of Ireland. It is certainly true that an unprincipled agitation has been conducted against that system of Land Laws which has had a most baneful effect. It has not only banished capital from the country, but it has prevented the landlords from doing what they were desirous to do, and what I have every reason to believe they would have done—namely, have afforded employment on their estates. Thus, those who have promoted that agitation have done more to cause famine and promote distress than any weakness of the law. I cannot at this hour go further into this matter; but I think it will be the wish of the House that this debate, which was adjourned in order that hon. Members from Ireland might have good opportunities of discussing this question, should now be brought to a conclusion, and that at another stage any further questions should be raised.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRYmoved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am sorry for this delay in the proceedings of the House; but, at the same time, I am perfectly well aware that this is a subject in which many Irish Members are much interested, and on which some still desire to speak. I am, therefore, quite ready to consent to the adjournment; but I hope there will be no objection to proceed with my Mo- 238 tion for leave to introduce the Bill of the Government. Hon. Members will see that, whatever may be the result of the discussion in which we are now engaged, the proceedings of the Government cannot be stopped, and that they must, at all events, introduce this Bill. I am sure it will be for the convenience of hon. Members that the Bill should be in their hands as soon as possible.
§ Motionagreed to.