§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [5th February]—[See page 69.]
And which Amendment was,
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 compre-
hensive 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 again proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, that he had moved the adjournment of the debate on Friday, because it seemed to him to be impossible that a discussion of the question involved in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) could be carried on in the absence of Papers which, it was said, justified the action of the Government. He had also in his mind a deep regret that the debate should have closed amidst the tumultuous oratory of that evening, because he knew well that, whatever might be said by others, who were not so well acquainted with the West of Ireland as he was, that famine did exist in that country, and that it would be worse before it became better. First of all, he wished to say a few words with regard to the circumstances in which they found themselves. Great fault had been found with the Irish Members because they moved the adjournment of the debate upon the Address on Thursday; and the leading organ of public opinion, as well as other newspapers, had criticized their conduct. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had also criticized their action; but he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) appealed to the fairness of the House whether they could have acted otherwise than they did? He would now explain the exact circumstances under which they found themselves placed. Before Parliament reassembled, the Irish Members met in Dublin, as it had been their custom to do ever since they had been organized as a Party; they discussed the question of what was to be done if the Government did not indicate in the Speech from the Throne that they contemplated taking sufficient measures to meet the condition of things which existed in Ireland. Of course, they came to the conclusion that they ought to move an Amendment to the Address; but there were persons who believed that the Go- 271 vernment had determined to take the wind out of the sails of everybody by introducing comprehensive measures dealing with that distress; and many of the newspapers put out statements that the present Cabinet was going to do that for Ireland which had never been done before—namely, to foster and develop her industrial resources. Under those circumstances, therefore, they were uncertain as to whether or not they ought to move an Amendment. However, in Her Majesty's most gracious Speech, the only reference to the state of affairs in Ireland was contained in a paragraph which stated that a serious deficiency of the crops in Ireland had rendered necessary precautions on the part of the Government to guard against distress in certain districts, and that, with that view, instructions had been given for an ample distribution of food and fuel. They knew perfectly well that neither food nor fuel had been distributed by Her Majesty's Government; and if it had not been for the action of private charities, thousands of persons would have already died from actual famine in Ireland. Under those circumstances, it was felt by the Irish Members that the reference to the distress was very vague; and during the adjournment of the House on Thursday, his hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) drew up the Amendment now before the House. That Amendment stated that the Government had not taken adequate means to meet promptly and effectually the severe distress now existing and increasing in Ireland; it also stated their opinion that, to avert the horrors of famine, further and more vigorous measures were immediately necessary. In addition to that, it expressed their opinion that it was necessary to legislate in a comprehensive manner upon these questions. Then his hon. Friend proceeded to indicate that the principal cause why these famines were constantly recurring in Ireland was the evil tenure by which land was held. On Thursday they had a very extraordinary speech from the hon. Member who seconded the Address (Mr. J. P. Corry), to which he would make no further reference than to say that, though usually a most agreeable person, yet, when robed in the panoply of war, with his rapier by his side, he became the reverse, and was found unsparing in his attack on those who, if 272 not his friends, were certainly not his foes. The right hon. Gentleman, too, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, observed, in the course of his speech on Thursday, that the hon. Member for Cork had given Notice of an Amendment to the Address, upon which he would then only observe that hon. Members would see, when Papers which had been presented were in their hands, that the Irish and English Governments had not been remiss in making use of the means at their disposal in alleviation of the distress. They would find, he said, that the Irish Local Government Board had taken the means of making itself acquainted with the condition of the districts where famine prevailed. In his (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) opinion, the Government would, therefore, have had just cause to complain if the Irish Members, without having seen those Papers, and not knowing from official sources what the Government had done, had desired, in the absence of such information, to discuss their conduct in the House accordingly. A most reasonable proposal was made to the Government—namely, that their criticisms should be postponed till the Papers were in their hands. But what did the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer say to that proposal? Animated, apparently, by the spirit of the Seconder of the Address, he was pleased to pass upon the Irish Members what he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) must stigmatize as the most uncalled-for and unfounded criticism that he had ever heard passed in that House upon men who were animated in their conduct by a sense of the deepest responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman had thought fit to toll them that if the chosen Representatives of Ireland preferred to palter with the subject of distress, and to think more of censuring the Government an d of airing their speeches than of passing measures of relief, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had nothing more to say. The right hon. Gentleman then promised that the official Correspondence should be delivered to Members next morning. It was hardly necessary to toll the House that the Papers which wore promised wore not delivered the next morning.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he supposed that the Chancellor of the Ex- 273 chequer claimed that the evening and the morning made up one day; but he should like to know why the Papers were not ready when Parliament met? The last despatch which had been issued was dated the 31st of January; and there was an interval, therefore, of five days during which time, if the Government had wished, the Papers could have been presented to the House. It was trifling with the whole subject to delay these Papers, and to tell them that the conduct of the Government could be discussed without them. Of course, they did not get the Papers till late the next evening, and on reading them he was not surprised that the Government did not wish them to be criticized, for those Papers showed that the Government had not only not done what it ought to have done to meet the distress, but had utterly failed to take a just view of its own responsibility and of the widespread area over which the distress prevailed.
As everything depended upon the contents of the Papers, he would, with the permission of the House, refer to them somewhat in detail. The first document was dated the 5th of September, and was a Circular from the Local Government Board to its Inspectors in Ireland, directing their attention to the threatened distress, and requesting them to make detailed Reports as to the condition of every district. The Inspectors took a considerable time to obtain the required information, for their Report did not appear to have been delivered in much less time than six weeks. The next document was dated the 28th of October, an interval of nearly eight weeks, and consisted of a letter from the Local Government Board to the Irish Government, directing its attention to the results of the inquiries made by the Inspectors. The Irish Government did nothing whatever with regard to the matter, so far as could be judged from the Papers. The next step was taken, he imagined, somewhere in the beginning of November; but he could not tell accurately, for the document was without date; but, under the circumstances, he thought it was one of the most cruel documents he had ever read. It was a Circular to the Guardians of the different Unions in Ireland, telling them to take care to lay in sufficient bedding in case their resources should be called upon further, and it told them to cleanse 274 and whitewash the walls in the wards of their workhouses. Anyone who knew the Irish peasant must be aware that the workhouse was his greatest horror, and at that very moment there were numbers starving because they would not accept the Union relief and go into the workhouses; for in Ireland, unlike England, out-door relief was not allowed until all the workhouses were full. Considering that that Circular was the only communication that the Government had with the Guardians on the subject, and that, up to the time of its issue, it was the only public declaration of their intentions, he thought that it was the most heartless document ever issued even in the history of the Poor Law. The next date was the 14th of November, and between that time and the 28th of October something or other seemed to have alarmed even the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to have come over to London to see the Heads of the Government, and on the 14th of November he wrote a letter to the Treasury asking it to relax the terms upon which ordinary loans were issued for land improvement by the Board of Works. On the same day the Treasury replied, agreeing to the proposal of the Irish Government. The letter appeared to have been written in the Office in London by the Chief Secretary, and to have been answered by the Treasury on the same day. He did not see how any minute investigation could have been made into the proposal during that time. The proposal was that loans should be advanced to Irish landlords who had any money left to take them up at 6½ per cent, in order that they might employ the starving people. At that time very few of the landlords were getting any rents at all. The Government and its Friends had harped greatly upon the fact that many of the tenants who could pay did not pay; but it was admitted that many could not pay whether they desired to do so or not. Yet the landlords were expected to pay 6½ per cent to the Government for the use of the money wherewith to employ the starving peasantry.
As might have been expected, very few loans were either applied for or taken up. It would appear that all that had been done up to the 11th of January was that loans to the extent of £113,000 had been applied for by land- 275 lords. He should like to know, however, how much of that sum was issued prior to the 12th of January, so as to give employment to the starving people? He might be wrong; but he felt quite sure that a very small portion of the £ 113,000 had then, or even now, been issued. The Irish Government then appeared to have become more alarmed, and to have applied to the Treasury to sanction a further relaxation of the rules for the issue of loans; and ultimately the Treasury sanctioned the issue of loans on more favourable terms. The reasonable terms, upon which so much had been said, were that the re-payment should be deferred for two years, and that the loans should be issued to the landlords at the rate of £3 8s.6d.per cent. He did not consider that those were very liberal terms to the landlords who were expected to employ the people, and up to the present time the whole sum applied for was £284,000; but how much of that amount had been actually issued was only known to the Government themselves. But while all this was going on for a period of three precious working months from the beginning of September, the peasants had been living in a state of semi-starvation, consuming their seed potatoes, and, in some cases, compelled to feed on sea-weed. So far as the Government was concerned, not a finger had been stretched out for their relief, although two or throe charitable funds had been started to supply food. He, for one, objected entirely to that indiscriminate system of relieving the distressed, for it had produced, and was now producing, the greatest demoralization. The Government had formed no comprehensive plan for dealing with the situation, although they were warned over and over again. They ought to have formed some plan for employing the people in the way in which they now wished them to be employed—namely, in remunerative works. But during all that time, from September till the month of November, and practically till the month of January, no employment was provided for the people, and no assistance was given them except that which was indiscriminately given in charity. He did not think that charity of that kind should have been extended to them; it might be all very well to supplement the employment of the able-bodied in public works; but to relieve distress such as that which existed 276 amongst the people in the West and South of Ireland in such a manner was perfectly suicidal.
In the debate which had taken place, a great deal had been said on the other side of the House to lead to the belief that the distress was not so great as it had been represented to be. He would ask the House to consider whether the distress was great or not. In the Western districts of Ireland the distress was almost universal, and in one county in the Province of Ulster—that of Donegal—the distress was quite as bad as in the South and West. All that had been done to relieve it was from charitable funds lately raised in Dublin and in America; but during the last Session the Irish Representatives knew perfectly well what was coming, and made numerous representations to the Government. In the course of the summer, before September, a deputation of Irish Bishops, who might be supposed to know the condition of their flocks, waited upon the Lord Lieutenant, and represented to him that unless energetic measures were resorted to there would be absolutely starvation and famine in the course of a few months. Again, about the end of September or the beginning of October, a Memorial, signed by 70 Members of Parliament, was presented to the Prime Minister on the subject of the impending famine; but the only acknowledgment it called forth was the receipt upon the same day of a note from the Secretary of the Prime Minister, informing them that the Memorial had been received. No further attention had been paid by the Government to the representations either of the Irish Bishops or of the Irish Members. Nor was any attention paid to the representations of the Local Government Board. He would tell the House what the result had been by referring to the reports of the Special Commissioners whom the London newspapers had recently sent to various parts of Ireland to inquire into the distress. They wore sent to find out whether the people were so sadly off as they were said to be, and whether the reports of the distress existing were true or not. He would first read extracts from letters in newspapers which supported Her Majesty's Government. On the 10th of January, the Correspondent ofThe Daily Telegraphwrote— 277By the side of the road, on a patch of waste, or a mound of soil and rubbish such as one often sees about the premises of an untidy farmer, close to it stood a bench and a few articles of domestic utility, and from the base of the mound rose a little column of smote. This was the residence of a man who, some time ago, the landlord evicted, and who stood there, towering far above his present habitation, to tell me as much of the fact as I cared to know. Thence we drove to the shore, and, giving the car in charge of a man idling there, we roamed among the sandy hillocks in search of something. 'Here it is,' cried my guide, and pointed to a hole in the bank partly stopped by a lobster pot. Looking in, we saw, as well as the gathering-darkness allowed, that a cave had been excavated, and was used as a dwelling, on the floor being the ashes of an extinct fire, while, on ascending the bank, we found an aperture in the earth through which smoke had evidently long made its upward way. This was, indeed, the residence of another of Queen Victoria's subjects; and to this, unless something be speedily done, will many another come. The pressure of distress in and around Clifden is extreme. I go further, and declare that the people are at this moment starving, and that if they are not to perish of hunger instant measures must be adopted. The question is not of famine impending; but here the grisly spectre has arrived, and stalks abroad through the country seeking its victims.On the 14th of January, Father Conway wrote from Screen—The visit of the Correspondent ofThe Daily Telegraphon the 3rd instant proved a happy one for my poor people, and I have since received relief for 691 persons, which I hope will last for 10 days.He gives instances of a man of 10 acres of land, and 10 in family, who ate nothing for 10 days but turnips sprinkled with a little Indian meal. Another, Widow Harte, ate nothing at all for two days, and for four days previously had only one meal on each day. On the 14th of January, Father Gearty wrote from Grange, County Sligo—At this moment there are 60 or 70 families in appalling distress. In a short time 200 more will be added to the catalogue. The potatoes—even the small ones kept for seed—are almost all eaten. The people have no cattle, no credit, no food. Even here, where the people are comparatively comfortable, there are at this moment some without a morsel to eat. This very evening I saw the mother of a family who had eaten nothing for 24 hours. Hunger traced its sad lines upon her face. What would be the feelings of Her Majesty's Ministers if they were obliged to dine on a head of cabbage, minus potatoes, minus everything else, which was the Christmas dinner of people here.The next extract he would read was one dated the 2nd of February, and was 278 from the pen of a Correspondent of an Irish newspaper—The present condition of things," he wrote, "is simply famine tempered by charity—that fully half the population are half-starving I will not exhaust your patience and my own by pretending to argue. It is like proving sunlight. Although I still make it my business to visit 80 or 90 cabins per day, and to satisfy myself minutely of their circumstances and resources, I have no idea of heaping up tabularies. It sickens me to recall the crowds of broken-spirited, cowering, half-clad men, women, and children that flit across my memory, squatted in the darkness around the turf ashes, or ravening their horrid mess of sea-weed or periwinkles; their potatoes gone since Christmas; nothing to sow; nothing to fish with; nothing to pawn; children without a rag of under-clothing; sick men and women without a drop of milk or tea to wet their lips with; hollow cheeks, lustreless eyes, broken hearts. I am heart-sick of it all—enough that I have in two days seen that scene repeated in every cruel variety of affliction in more than 90 cabins in these Islands.So much for the exaggeration hinted at by hon. Gentlemen opposite. One of the first things done by Her Majesty's Government, when the Local Government Board represented to them that there was great distress existing, was to sanction the appointment of three additional Inspectors to keep them well informed as to the state of the country. That was on the 13th of November. The Irish Government asked the Treasury to agree to the appointment of three gentlemen at a salary of £500 a-year each, with travelling expenses, and an allowance of one guinea a-day, when absent from head-quarters. The Treasury agreed to the proposal; but thought it desirable to caution the Irish Government as to what class of person should be appointed. They desired that the services of gentlemen of adequate ability and experience should be secured. Whom, then, did the Irish Government appoint to visit the West coast of Ireland and keep the Government well informed of the state of events in that part of the country? Why, the Inspector appointed was a young gentleman of 25 or 26 years of age, the son of the recently-appointed Vice President of the Local Government Board in Dublin. That was considered to be an appointment of a gentleman of adequate ability, and qualified by previous experience to inform the Government of the state of things which existed. He would tell the House what that young gentleman 279 did. Some time in the month of November, the people from the village of Tully, who were in the habit of visiting his (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) residence in order to sell their oats, as it saved them a journey of 25 or 26 miles to the nearest market, came to the farm yard as usual. On those occasions he generally saw those people, and had a chat with them; for they came from the extreme West, and did not live on his own property. On this occasion, however, he was so horrified to notice the change in their appearance that he could not rest in his bed after seeing them, but got up at night and wrote a letter to the Lord Lieutenant describing the state of things. To that letter he received no other reply than a bare acknowledgment of its receipt. His letter not only went into details, but urged the immediate necessity of something being done. What, then, did the newly-appointed Inspector do when he specially visited the district to inquire into his statements? It might have been thought that one of the first persons he would call on would have been the hon. Member himself; but although he drove under the very walls of his residence he did not visit him. Surely the next person he should have gone to see should have been the parish priest in that lonely district, for the state of destitution existing amongst the people was always better known to the priest than, perhaps, to anyone else; but the only person the Inspector went to see was the parish doctor. He had not a word to say against the doctor. He was a most excellent person. Anyone who knew the Irish peasant, however, would be aware that he would not send for the doctor first, and that the priest would be resorted to, unless he were exceedingly ill; but the doctor was an officer of the Local Government Board like himself, and the young Inspector went to him for his information. The doctor could not have shown him the state of destitution, because he did not go near the localities where it existed. He wished, however, above all things, to guard himself against making any attack against the parish doctor, for they had a most excellent man in that capacity, who did his duty admirably and was a pleasant neighbour; but he contended that if this young Inspector, the son of the Vice President 280 of the Local Government Board, had had the ability and experience which were required, he would have gone to those best able to give him information, and not have slurred over his work in this way.
He would now read to the House one last extract, which related to a subject nearly as important as food—namely, the bedding of the people. In his letter to the Lord Lieutenant he drew attention to that subject, and it might have been expected that the gentleman sent to make inquiries would have spoken to him with regard to the state of things disclosed; but, as he had said before, he only received a bare acknowledgment of the letter, although he drew attention to the fact that the bedding of the people was in the pawnshop. That statement was confirmed shortly afterwards by the Correspondent ofThe Daily Telegraph,who said—Clifden, January 10.I visited the pawnshop in this town. The home-made woollen mufflers, even the pots off the fire, are brought to the pawnshop to raise money enough for a meal. In one room were upwards of 100 feather beds, pawned by the people from under them; and in the whole town there are no fewer than 500 beds and blankets. As for blankets—splendid homo-made articles, heavy in weight and endless in wear—they were piled high in Mr. Conolly's store-rooms, along with heaps of men's coats, bundles of wool intended for winter spinning, fishing lines, and other things with which the people would not think of parting save in the last emergency. The anxiety of the poor folk about these articles must be troublesome even to such a kindly tradesman as my informant. Not only do they come again and again, begging that the pledges may he held over till better times, hut they often present themselves at the shop asking to see their precious goods and have ocular proof that they are still within reach. Sometimes a rumour floats about, and finds eager credence, that Government or some charitable association is about to redeem all pledges, and then the pawnbroker's premises are besieged. Even as I remained with Mr. Conolly, a number of women gathered round on the bare chance, so it was said, of being able to carry away something; for what business, save that of redeeming the pledges of the poor, could two gentlemen have in a pawnshop?Perhaps the House would wonder that the poor peasantry were possessed of feather beds; but the fact was that when they killed their poultry they had nothing to do with the feathers but to use them for beds, and the making up of a feather bed was almost the work of a lifetime, and they would not have parted 281 with them unless reduced to the utmost destitution. He had shown, by the extracts he had read, that the state of distress on the West coast of Ireland was intense at that moment. He wished to ask the House whether, from its knowledge of physiology, it could think it right to keep the people merely alive upon Indian meal without milk, or whether that was the proper way to feed them? Yet that was all that had been done. A little meal had been distributed, and the people were in a state of chronic starvation. Unless some other means of assistance were afforded to them, undoubtedly disease would break out amongst them, for it was impossible for human beings to live upon seaweed sprinkled over with meal. In one instance, he believed, a benevolent gentleman from Liverpool had distributed a quantity of tea and bread amongst the starving people. That was, however, the only instance in which such substantial relief had been given. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary for Ireland were not in their places, for he wanted to know what the Government were going to do for the future? The Government seemed to treat the famine as they would a temporary emergency, like a fire or an accident in a coal mine, in which a subscription was to be raised, and a little assistance given. But what were the people to do for seed for next year's crop? The famine now was sore in the land, and unless energetic measures were taken it would become worse next year than it was now. They had eaten their seed potatoes, and had no materials for next year's crop.
And now let him ask—What had been the actual loss suffered by the people during the past year? In the single article of potatoes, which still formed the staple diet of the majority of the people in Ireland, the Returns of the Registrar General showed that the loss amounted last year to not less than between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000. The Government contemplated an expenditure of £500,000 in recuperative works from the surplus revenues of the Irish Church. But it would take nearly £500,000 to buy potato seed if the people were to have anything to eat in the autumn and winter of 1881. The action of the Go- 282 vernment reminded him of Nero. They had been fiddling in the autumn instead of instituting works which they were now desirous to begin. At that very moment the people ought to be engaged in tilling their little patches of ground and putting in the seed if they were to have a crop next season. In the West of Ireland the potato crop had to be planted in the middle of February or March. When the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed to be taking care of the people of Ireland, would he, then, tell them what the Government was doing to supply the people with seed to sow during the present spring? Unless hundreds of thousands of pounds were expended, there would be no harvest at all next year. The Government had had full warning of the condition of the country; but all the relief that had been given consisted in the application of loans to the extent of £300,000. But the Treasury Bench had been in no want of warnings during the past few years. The House might recollect how he, for one, had in the various debates that had taken place upon Irish affairs protested against the statements as to the great and extraordinary prosperity of the country. It was the favourite dish to put before the House to inform it of the manner in which the deposits in the savings banks were increasing, and how the people were better clothed and better fed. For himself, he was not to blame for those representations, for he had always protested against them; and during the Home Rule debate in 1874 he took as his text the economical condition of Ireland. His demand for permission to the Irish people to manage their own local affairs he based upon the fact that the Government in England so mismanaged the affairs of Ireland that famine would be the certain consequence of a couple of bad harvests. In 1874 he gave it as his opinion that that prosperity upon which so much stress was laid, was altogether illusory, and that the money in the banks, to a large extent, belonged to rich graziers living in Liverpool and elsewhere, who had invested their money in cattle and made large profits. The warnings which the Government had received were certified by a complete body of statistics, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant and the Local Government Board ought 283 to have had those statistics at their fingers' ends. It appeared that the potato crop in 1876 and the two preceding years was worth about £34,000,000; but in 1877–9 it was only worth £16,500,000. Thus, in three years, there was a loss affecting the poor tenants in Ireland amounting to £17,500,000. In 1877 there was a loss, and again this year there was a loss of between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000. To meet that deficiency, he repeated, the Government had advanced loss than £300,000. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), who had appeared as the defender of the Government, on Friday night said that the "distress came upon the people suddenly." But was that so? He held that it was not, and that the Government had received ample warning during the last three years, in the course of which the savings banks had, according to a Report of the Registrar General, lost £3,699,000. The bank deposits had also decreased by a sum of £1,500,090, making£5,250,000. It was true that there was in that time an increase in the returns of the Post Office Savings Bank, and in Indian Stocks and State securities, amounting to about £600,000. It was easy to understand why the Post Office Savings Bank had obtained an increase, while the banks had less money intrusted to them. The failure of the City of Glasgow Bank frightened everyone, and induced many persons to place their money where no risk could be incurred. In Ireland also, as in England, there were a considerable number of persons who were in receipt of small incomes or pensions, and they naturally desired to be perfectly secure. But was the increase of £603,000 in Government and India Stock and in the Post Office banks any set-off to the £5,250,000 that had been withdrawn from the banks and the savings banks? In less than three years they found that the small tenant farmers had lost£l7,500,000 in potatoes, and that£5,500,000had been withdrawn from the savings and other banks. Deducting from that roughly the gain in the Post Office Savings Banks, it showed a loss to the Irish people in the three years of £21,000,000. And was that state of things, he would ask, to be coped with by the offer of loans to landlords for the employment of labour for the next few months?
284 He would now pause for a few moments to inquire how it was that living was so precarious in Ireland. Why were famines so constantly recurring in that country? Well, the Irish peasant, in his normal condition, was miserably fed. The Irish peasantry in the South and West, and, in fact, the great majority of the Irish people, scarcely ever ate meat more than six times in a year, if as often as that. A great many did not eat meat more than twice a-year. English people—he meant the English artizan—ate meat three and four times a-day, and thought himself hardly used if he did not get it so often. The Irish peasant, on the other hand, was fed upon Indian meal and upon milk, and, if he could get them, upon potatoes, which were generally exceedingly bad, for during the last three years they had become worse and worse, owing to the constant use of seaweed, the only available manure. What a contrast his condition presented with that of the English artizans in towns. The latter were the great customers for Irish produce, and by their means prices had been so greatly raised. But the Irish peasant was nearly starved; and the lamp of life, in his case feeble at the best, was, therefore, easily extinguished. Ireland, in fact, had undergone within the last 25 years a most remarkable change in the matter of its agriculture. Hon. Members did not probably know the exact circumstances attending the pursuit of agriculture in Ireland at the present time. They often heard it stated that Ireland was specially suitable for the grazing of cattle; but the cattle trade in which Ireland was engaged was the most unprofitable in the world. So soon as the cattle were half fed they were taken off to England, and thus the Irish soil was deprived of the manure and bones and the other fertilizing agents which properly belonged to it. As a consequence, the land had long been undergoing deterioration, till, in many districts, it would scarcely even support half-fed cattle. Then there were no manufactures upon which the Irish people could fall back for support. The whole number of manufactories in Ireland was only 273, and that included the flax mills at Belfast, of which they were justly proud. Those manufactories gave employment only to 80,000 persons. The fisheries during the period from 1858 to 1878 285 showed a decline of from 12,000 boats and 52,000 men in 1858 to 5,700 boats and less than 20,000 men in 1878. Such was the deterioration of the country from the driving away of the Irish peasantry from the fertile land and edging him off to the side of the mountains and the coast, that during the past 20 years the area devoted to cereal crops had decreased by 1,000,000 acres, and that devoted to green crops by 300,000 acres. All that land had gone out of cultivation, and had been turned into indifferent pasture. About 1,231,000 acres had ceased to afford profitable labour to the peasants during that period of 20 years. Against that they had to set an increase of 518,000 acres brought under pasture. Now, he would like to ask the House what had become of the 712,000 acres unaccounted for? If the Government Return were examined, the great increase in the amount of waste lands would be seen; and it would be noticed that a great proportion of the 712,000 acres had gone back to waste, affording little food for cattle, and only fit for the birds of the air. The whole case was gone into inThe Irish Agricultural Gazette,in which it was stated a short time ago that some of this land in Ireland had become so sterile that it would hardly support any cattle upon it. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin described a visit to his Friend the hon. Member for Dublin (Sir Arthur Guinness) in the county Mayo. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) regretted that speech very much, for the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was calculated, no doubt most unintentionally, entirely to mislead the House as to the condition of the Irish peasants. He said, perfectly truly, that the peasants upon the mountain slopes of that estate had not had their rents raised during the whole time the hon. Member for Dublin had possessed the property. But the hon. Baronet had had a predecessor, by whom the tenants were placed on such sterile places as the hon. Member admitted made it impossible for them to live. The hon. and learned Gentleman had given an affecting picture of the reception he met with when he went amongst those poor people. He described how, when their landlord went amongst them, they held up their children and blessed him. What was the reason for their conduct? The hon. Baronet was known to be entirely 286 independent of his rents, and it was his habit to do everything for their comfort and prosperity, and the reason why those poor people were so fervent in their blessings on Sir Arthur Guinness was that the visits of other landlords in the locality to their tenants were so few and far between. The tenants in the Western portion of Ireland were totally unaccustomed to be visited by anyone but those who received their rents, and were quite unused to finding any human interest taken in their welfare; and the gratitude of the tenants upon the estate of the hon. Baronet who were differently treated was, therefore, unbounded. When, again, the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin warned the House not to sanction any scheme for converting the tenants of the West of Ireland into peasant proprietors he left upon the House a very mischievous impression. In the West of Ireland there were at least 1,000,000 acres of land which were only awaiting the labour of man to become fertile and smiling farms. He would ask of the Government to look at the question as one unconnected with politics. Hitherto, both sides of the House had never looked at Ireland but in a Party light. No Government had ever yet regarded Ireland in an economic point of view. Ireland was simply an undeveloped estate, and instead of emigration being required the loss of every man who left the country was a loss to the Empire. Ireland had not too large a population, although there was, no doubt, a local congestion of population in some districts. That state of things had been brought about by the people being gradually pushed off from the land on which they had lived, and being sent to the edges and waste patches of ground. Why, then, did the Irish tenants ask for fixity of tenure? It seemed to be thought an extraordinary thing that the Irish tenant should want fixity of tenure. Why did the millowner ask for fixity of tenure in his mill? The Irish soil was the manufactory of Ireland, and the tenants were the manufacturers; but they could be removed from their land at the will of their landlords whenever they were desirous of using it for other purposes, and the tenants were, therefore, naturally much discontented and asked for fixity. Was there anything extraordinary in that demand? In Ulster they had fixity of tenure—namely, the Ulster custom, which prevented a landlord from 287 arbitrarily evicting a tenant; but there was no such custom in the rest of Ireland, and there was nothing to prevent arbitrary evictions except public opinion and the danger of the proceeding. The only thing which had been done to insure fixity of tenure to the Irish tenant was the passing of the Land Bill of the late Government; but that Bill had this great defect—it legalized eviction, and made it respectable by affixing a price to it. The law said that no tenant should be evicted without receiving not more than a seven years' rent as compensation; consequently, that which it was discreditable to do before the Act was not discreditable since, because it could be said that the tenant received the legal amount of compensation. But what could compensate the Irish tenant for the loss of his holding, which was his manufactory in which he had been brought up? No mere money compensation of a few pounds could be adequate to satisfy the Irish tenant for being evicted from his home.
And now, he would ask, what were the remedies for the existing state of things? If Ireland were regarded as an undeveloped estate it would be easy to find the remedy. The first thing to do with an undeveloped estate was to make roads and communications through it. Why should not the Government adopt a bold policy, and propose to the House the advancing of £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 on security for the making of branch railways in various parts of Ireland? That was a proposal made by the late Lord George Bentinck, but which was defeated by the Liberal Party, in conjunction with the Irish Members. It was true that some of the Irish Representatives voted for the proposal; but the majority voted against it because it was introduced by a Conservative. Let the Government do what it had done in India. For years the Indian Government had been making railways and other works, because they knew that India was an undeveloped estate. What reason could be alleged why Ireland should be left entirely undeveloped, while public works of all kinds were carried on in India? Thirty-three millions of money had recently been paid for the purchase of one system of railways by the Indian Government; and, at the present time, works were being made all 288 over the face of the country. In Prance the Minister of Public Works, recognizing the fact that Prance was, to a great extent, an undeveloped estate, had brought in Bills for the making of various railways at an expense, probably, of £70,000,000 or £80,000,000. In Ireland private enterprize had made the great trunk lines, and what was required was a number of small branch lines to connect the main railways with out-lying towns. The Irish Railway Companies were unable, or unwilling, to make those lines, and they must be made by Government assistance. The Government had recently been appealed to, to make advances to form a branch line 12 miles in length, which would connect the Midland Great Western Railway with the town of Loughrea. The assent of the Midland Great Western Company was obtained to the scheme, provided the Government would advance the money to them at 31 per cent, for which they offered the security of millions of capital. They also had the consent of every landowner, with the exception of one, through whose land the line would pass; every tenant through whose holding the line would pass had also given his consent. The only landlord who stood out was one who drew a revenue of £25,000 or £30,000 a-year from the county, but who never went near it or spent sixpence in it, and he refused to accept the terms to which the resident landlords assented—namely, 23 years' purchase, preferring to see whether the arbitrators would not give him more. Well, the Government, when asked for assistance to make that line, would not hear of it. When the deputation had an interview with a Member of the Government they were received with great cordiality, and, apparently, great interest was taken in their scheme; but after a few weeks all recollection of the matter seemed to become effaced from the mind of the Government. Another proposal was made for a branch to connect the town of Tuam with the Midland Great Western Railway, in which the Board of Guardians of the Unions offered to guarantee the interest of the money required, if only the Government would bring in a Bill to allow them to do so. Were the Government prepared to do so? As he understood, they were acting on the principle that the works should be completed 289 by the end of July, and that no money was to be advanced for any works which would not be completed by that date. In some way or other the Government had got it into its head that the famine was to come to an end in February, and any loans which were made must be expended before August. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No.] He was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer say he was wrong, because it would be impossible to make railways in the time fixed by the Government. The railways could not possibly be completed by the time the Government had fixed for the famine to cease. He should wish to see the Government encourage every well-intentioned effort to give remunerative employment to the people; and when a great Railway Company offered to make a short line of railway that was much wanted, the Government ought, in his opinion, to have accepted the proposal with alacrity. There was a great necessity in many districts for increased railway communication. The town of Clifden, of which he had before spoken as being in a state of great distress, was 48 miles from the nearest railway station. In a village with which he was acquainted in Connemara, the pig-jobbers had to drive pigs, which were bought in thousands, 38 or 40 miles before reaching a railway, and it was in the districts which were 40 or 50 miles from railways that the greatest distress existed. He would illustrate the loss sustained by the pig-breeders by the case of a man who had seven pigs. In his own district he was offered £23 for them on the spot; but he drove them about 30 miles to the railway, and there realized £29. The absence of railway accommodation in this case entailed, in effect, a direct loss of £6, or upwards of 17s.on each pig, probably enough to pay a half-year's rent. That was a great loss to the poor tenant, and yet the Government which could govern a great Empire could not find any mode consistently with economical science to assist in the arterial development of a country by means of railways. Another plan which he would urge upon the Government was the reclamation of waste lands. He had done a little in this way in the West of Ireland, to which he had been attached by a love of fishing. The plan which he had adopted for the reclamation of the 290 wasteland had succeeded well. Nothing was required but to drain off the water from the bog, and to put lime upon the peat; they thus obtained the most fertile soil in the world. That substance could not, however, be done without. When he first went to the West of Ireland it was so wild that he had to send down wooden huts and preserved meats; but he became attached to the place he rented, and ultimately bought a large tract of land. Like the hon. Baronet the Member for Dublin, he had never interfered with the rentals of the estate, which were small, and he spent many times their amount in giving employment. He did not take any credit for that, for, having a taste for agriculture, he had spent his money in that pursuit to amuse himself; and he might, perhaps, have spent it in horse-racing. But he did not do so from any notion of benevolence—it was simply his hobby. He was glad to say that now the waste place blossomed like a garden. The Royal Agricultural Society sent down their Commissioner to the district, andThe TimesCorrespondent had also visited it. The remarks ofThe TimesCorrespondent he had supplemented, because he wished to show the English people what could be done by anyone who engaged in this reproductive work of developing a waste Irish estate. There were in Ireland parts of the Empire which had never been touched. Let it not be supposed that the money spent would be, as it was said, thrown into the bog. It would come back 10, 20, and 40-fold. Only let the Government cease to look upon Ireland as the battle-ground of a Party. Let them regard Ireland in an economical light, and as an undeveloped estate. Let them bring forward well-considered and wise plans for the development of Ireland, and he was convinced that every shilling invested would return ten-fold in interest and capital. Not a single penny should be expended in waste. The Government that did that would solve half the problem of Irish discontent; for half the reason for Irish discontent was to be found in the words "Irish hunger." With those words he would conclude, thanking the House for the attention which it had shown him.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he had listened with painful interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Galway 291 (Mr. Mitchell Henry) with regard to the prevailing distress in some parts of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman had told a very sorrowful story which must have touched them all; and he (Mr. W. E. Forster) quite agreed with the hon. Member, when he said that so serious was the state of affairs that the Government should at once undertake to deal with it. He did not say that he agreed with the hon. Member in every one of his inferences; but the hon. Member had given many facts which no doubt the Government would feel compelled to answer. He could not help joining with the hon. Member in his expression of surprise that the Chief Secretary for Ireland was not present. It was true the right hon. Gentleman had spoken in the debate; but every Member of the Government could not be so fully acquainted as the Chief Secretary for Ireland with the facts. Besides, it was known that the debate would be opened by the hon. Member for Galway, who had practical knowledge of the subject and was the Representative of the district in which the greatest distress existed, and he (Mr. W. E. Forster) should have thought that the Irish Secretary would have felt it to be his duty to attend. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) supposed that what had been stated would be replied to by some Member of Her Majesty's Government; but he thought they were not in a very comfortable position in the matter, because the House generally did not know who was really responsible in the Cabinet for the government of Ireland at the present juncture. At present, neither the Lord Lieutenant nor the Chief Secretary were there represented; and he had no doubt but that generally both Officers, as the Chiefs of Irish affairs, paid full attention to all ordinary matters arising. But in the present great crisis, when the Government had to deal with widespread distress in Ireland, he thought that there should be at least one Cabinet Minister responsible for the state of that country. He agreed that it was fortunate that the debate did not terminate on Friday night, considering the exciting conditions, consequent, to some extent, on an event which happened "elsewhere." As he was the first Member who had spoken from that Bench, he must be allowed to notice one or two remarks made on Friday. It seemed to amuse hon. Members opposite to take the opportunity of charging 292 his noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) with being more or less a Home Ruler in disguise, because he thought it right to wish success to a candidate not in favour of Home Rule, but in favour of voting for an inquiry as to the reason why Home Rule was demanded. It might be interesting and amusing to Members on his side of the House to ask why, if this inquiry was such an unpardonable offence, it was that the Government had appointed an hon. Member respected by everyone in the House, who sat on the Conservative side, and who seconded the Motion for the Home Rule inquiry, to the very high political and social position of Lord Lieutenant of his county? He dare say his noble Friend would make some remarks on this subject before the debate was over; he merely wished to say this—that he did not think there was much reality in either of the charges. Both sides were able to defend themselves. It was well known that the immense majority of the Members of that House were opposed to Home Rule and that inquiry; but there was also a very general feeling that the opposition to Home Rule was only a greater reason why they should give the utmost attention to Irish Members when they brought forward such a matter as Irish distress. "When he recollected what Irish distress was 35 years ago, he could not look with much patience on Party attacks from either side in a debate dealing with this question now. The question was—"Is there likely to be a famine in Ireland, and, if so, have the Government done their best to ward it off? "That was the chief question they had to consider, and he regretted the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) did not confine his Resolution to that. The Resolution was not very clear; but he understood it to cover three things—a Vote of Censure on the Government for not having taken adequate steps to ward off the horrors of famine; secondly, a pledge to take into immediate consideration the question of land tenure; and, lastly, an expression of the belief of the House that the present position of land tenure was the true cause of dissatisfaction and distress in Ireland. The last two questions were of great importance, and it was impossible to overrate them; but the first was of such overpowering importance that he thought the House ought to have been asked to vote on that 293 alone. If it were really the ease that the Government, with the experience of 1846 and 1847 before them, had not been alive to the danger of another famine, and had not done what they could to ward it off, no words could sufficiently express the censure that ought to be conveyed; but the very graveness of the charge made it the more necessary that it should be absolutely made out. This Government or any Government had the right, when such a charge was made, to call upon Members, entirely irrespective of Party, to support them if the charge were not proved. The difficulties of governing any country would be exceedingly great if credence were given to such a charge; and in the special position of Ireland they would greatly increase those difficulties and make government almost impossible. When he said the charge was not made out, he must not be supposed to doubt the conviction of its correctness on the part of those who made it. No doubt there was great distress in Ireland, and he did not wish to make light of it; but, remembering what occurred 35 years ago, he believed the present state of things was as yet very different. He did not think the hon. Member for Gal-way had justified his statement that there was a famine; it could not be said that was proved. The two main statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were that the Government had accumulated stores of food and fuel, and that they had relaxed the restrictions with regard to out-door relief. He understood these two statements to mean that the Government were determined to prevent a famine, and they believed they would be able to do it. He was talking of absolute famine, and of keeping the people alive. He was not saying that, though the people might be kept alive, there might not be great misery in Ireland; but he understood the Government to declare they were taking steps to avert a famine in the belief that they could do it, and, therefore, he could not vote for the Amendment. Two things had been stated with regard to the action of the Government; the first was, that they ought to have allowed the accumulations of stores to be made known earlier, and the other, that they ought to have relaxed the restrictions on out-door relief some months ago.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Let me correct the right hon. Gentleman. I have not said that we have accumulated stores, but that one object we had in view was to ascertain that food and fuel could be had at any proper notice; that we had inquired into the necessity for accumulating stores, and that, having reference to the means of communication and the means of obtaining supplies, of which we had good information, we did not think it necessary to accumulate stores of our own.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
thought that considerably increased the responsibility of the Government. He certainly understood the statement to be that accumulations had been made; he now understood that they had satisfied themselves of their power of getting stores quickly to the distressed districts, and that they were determined to do so. One objection was made that the Government had not at an earlier period informed the country what they intended to do, and also that the regulation as to out-door relief had not been relaxed some months ago. Well, with regard to the negligence in the first matter, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made out an intelligible case. It would have caused alarm, and one effect of it the right hon. Gentleman did not mention. It would have discouraged private subscriptions, and it would have been a great pity had they been discouraged, for everybody knew that they were very much wanted to assist and help the Government. And with regard to the relaxation of the restrictions, he confessed that he understood that for some time the Guardians had had the power to do that. ["No, no!"]
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The Local Government Board had power to inform the Guardians that they might grant out-door relief.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
The Local Government Board had power to inform the Guardians that that might be done, although it was against the law; that it might be broken, and an indemnity would be asked for.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. That is not exactly so. What took place is this. The Local Government Board were instructed to take care, in the event of 295 famine being imminent, that they were fully informed of the power given by the Executive Government to relax the law.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
had supposed the Guardians were informed that that might be done. ["No, no!"] Then, again, that increased the responsibility of the Government, and the stories they heard from day to day made it clear that the Government must not lose a day nor an hour in removing the restrictions; for they meant that a man could not be relieved without losing his land, and that was a tremendous penalty. The Government ought to have had better reasons than they had given why they had not removed these restrictions before. The question raised was not merely whether the amount of relief given had been sufficient, but whether the mode in which the relief had been given was satisfactory. The hon. Member for Gal-way had made some excellent remarks about the demoralization which followed charity; but the question whether the Government ought to have given more employment, or caused more employment to be given by others, was not raised by the Amendment. The question raised by it was—would the Government avert the horrors of famine, or would they not? How could they avert those horrors with the least ill-effects, with the least demoralization of the people, was a very important question; but it was not the first question; it was not the question raised by the Amendment, which was simply whether the Government were taking steps to avert the horrors of famine. In voting with the Government, he understood them to pledge themselves to give the relief which was necessary, and in thus voting he would hold the Government to their pledge. Then would come the question how that relief could be given to do the least harm to the people who were the recipients of relief. He supposed the proper time for the discussion of this matter would be when the Bill was presented for the Second Reading; but he observed that, in addition to loans to the landlords and to sanitary authorities, the Government had also thought fit to express their intention 296 of lending money through baronial presentment sessions. He thought, also, that 90 sessions were already at work in that matter, or that applications had been made from 90. Well, he should have wished that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said a little more as to the mode in which he intended to guard against the evils attendant upon that system, remembering what took place 35 years ago. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted there had been great evils then; but he gave no information as to how they were now to be guarded against. He hoped his Irish Friends would not think that he was unduly interfering in that matter. There was no doubt, however, that that system had completely broken down. He was sensible of the difficulties of carrying on such an organization successfully. It was a very difficult matter when they set people to work, not for the purpose of getting work done, but that they might be paid for doing it. They had only to consider the least dangerous mode of undertaking it when they entered upon the execution of a large public work upon that principle. Reference had been made to a project of railway extension with a view of providing work for the people. There was no doubt that a railway would be of advantage to a district, and that railways were of public benefit to a country; but the misfortune was that they had to try and stave off immediate want, and the people they wanted to relieve were not always those who could be employed in the construction of a railway. Sanitary works had been spoken of, and, no doubt, a great deal might be done in that direction. Sewage and drainage works might be carried on in many parts to the profit both of tenants and landlords, and with possibly less danger than might be expected to arise from other modes of affording relief, because in cases of that kind this was simply the proposal of a way to get work done which would be done by the proprietor if he had the means of doing it himself. When the money passed through the hands of a private landlord, of course he took care that it was properly spent, and that the work done was necessary and good. But the way in which the money for public works was spent had been before, and he supposed it would be now, something 297 like this—the ratepayers were called together to say what was necessary, and what sum could be expended in the district for roads, bridges, or other useful improvements. Each individual who voted would have but little charge on himself, and his great desire was to get as much done as possible. Now, he was sure his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty had studied these questions sufficiently to know how completely that system had formerly failed in its application; and he (Mr. W. E. Forster) had been rather alarmed by the accounts which he had heard a day or two ago that application had been made in some quarters where there was no distress. There was undoubtedly a feeling prevailing that if the Government would lend money on such easy terms, they would hardly be doing their duty if they did not go for having as much of it as possible for their respective districts. The system which had broken down in 1847 had cost an enormous sum—he believed £3,000,000 or £4,000,000—and had failed, both as to its object of affording relief, and the producing of useful works. The report of the Society of Friends had shown that in many cases it was the able-bodied, who did not require relief, who were assisted, and the weak and suffering were left without aid. Sir Charles Trevelyan had said that in the first year—1846—a rush had been made upon the fund. The special object of relieving the people had been lost sight of; and, in many cases, the avowed object was to obtain a share of the grant. This operated on the class of works which were executed. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) had ventured to refer to that testimony, as he hoped the Government would not altogether disregard the experience of past times. There were two other points that seemed to him to be of such importance that he would like to refer to them before he sat down. He was not prepared to state, in the terms of the Amendment, that the land tenure—important as it was—was the sole cause of the distress in Ireland. But it was the most important Irish question that could be brought before the House, and the one most urgently requiring consideration, and he did hope that even in this Session they would not separate without attending to it. On this subject they had passed a Resolution brought for- 298 ward by his hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) last year; but it was mere trifling with the question to keep it on the Journals of the House without endeavouring in some way to enforce it. He could not express his disappointment—it hardly seemed a strong enough word—his bitter disappointment—at the distress which had again overtaken Ireland, and the present condition of that country. He did not believe that there was a famine, but there was great distress and suffering; and it was sad that they should feel that it was true what the hon. Member for Cork had said—that the cultivators of the soil in Ireland had only two harvests between them and famine. That was a matter which was most discouraging, most sorrowful, and, he need not add, disgraceful—disgraceful not to this or that Government, but to the whole constituency of the three Kingdoms. He had formed himself a more hopeful opinion of the actual condition of the country. The autumn of the year before last he had visited one or two districts of Connemara, which he had visited before in the year of the Famine. He did not say that he had the best opportunity for ascertaining the exact condition of the population; but, from what he saw, he thought it had much improved from what it was in 1845. The people had seemed much more comfortable than they had been before. Well, it was disheartening to find that they were now, if not suffering famine, at least threatened with it. In fact, what he heard now reminded him of what he had himself witnessed in 1845, the year which preceded the two famine years. He agreed that such a state of things should not be allowed to continue, and that the Legislature should do all in its power to effect a remedy. There were two new features in the present state of things—one discouraging, and the other encouraging. The discouraging fact was the agitation which it was feared would prevent the people of England from doing their duty. But he felt assured they would not yield to that temptation. They were determined to undo any harm the agitation might produce. The encouraging fact was this—if there had been hard and selfish landlords in Ireland, there were now many more cases in which the landlords were recognizing their duty and attempting to 299 perform it. The landlords in Ireland were suffering very much from the evils of the past, from what harsh men of their own class might have done. Moreover, the position of tenant and landlord had been different in Ireland from what it was in England and Scotland. In Ireland a larger portion of the gross produce was taken by the landlord in the shape of rent than in England or Scotland; and, on the other hand, the landlord did not make real improvements in anything like the same proportion. The Irish landlord took more and did much less. But there were a great many exceptions now. He believed everywhere throughout the country they would find Irish landlords examples not merely to Ireland, but to England and Scotland. Even if the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) were to pass his Bill to get rid of landlordism, he would be obliged to introduce a saving clause excepting such landlords as the hon. Baronet the Member for Dublin (Sir Arthur Guinness) and the hon. Member for Gal way (Mr. Mitchell Henry). But there were a great many other landlords also who, without the means of these two Gentlemen, were working very hard on their estates for the benefit of the people. He would end by saying he wanted those good and patriotic landlords, and good and patriotic men and women in Ireland who were not owners of land, to have some confidence in the sympathy of their fellow-citizens in England and Scotland, and to feel that there was a general conviction on both sides of the House that there was no way in which they could better fulfil the wishes of their constituents than by taking counsel with the Irish Members to do whatever the law could do to better the position of the Irish peasant.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I am sure the House will heartily reciprocate the wish which the right hon. Gentleman has expressed. There is but one desire in the House, as, I am sure, there is but one desire in the country—and that is to do all that is possible for the amelioration of the condition of Ireland. The one desire which we have is to place the people of that country in such a position that they may live happily, prosperously, and contentedly as subjects of the Queen. The right hon. Gentleman very properly alluded to the great responsibility of the Government in this matter. Her Ma- 300 jesty's Ministers feel that responsibility; they have fully realized it, and they entirely undertake it. It is their duty to prevent a famine in Ireland. They are conscious of that duty, and the steps which they have endeavoured to take during the last three or four months have been directed with the firm resolve, as far as they could, to prevent the horrors of famine in the Sister Island. The duty which we have undertaken, and the task which properly falls upon us, is one of very considerable difficulty. If we had early embarked on ambitious schemes of reproductive works in Ireland, under an apprehension of famine—if we had sounded the notes of alarm—we should have deranged the whole course of the natural supplies of food to the people and the whole course of their employment, and we should have interfered with existing social conditions, and created an amount of embarrassment and difficulty for which we should have been justly held responsible. Our course has been most careful. From day to day and week to week we have watched the progress of the calamity which we saw impending in the distressed portions of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman very properly asks who in the Cabinet is responsible for the condition of Ireland? And he remarked upon the absence of the Chief Secretary and the Lord Lieutenant from the Cabinet. The whole Cabinet is responsible for the condition of Ireland; and we have not ceased to take constant precautions, and to inform ourselves, both by personal communication with the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary, of every proceeding and of every symptom of the malady which seemed to be afflicting Ireland. As the Papers show, we directed our serious attention to the subject early in September; but I do not rely upon these Papers, except as indications of the care and duty which rested upon us to provide such measures as, in our judgment, were necessary in the emergency. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the understanding which has been attached to some remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago. I may be permitted to read a sentence from a private letter of the Lord Lieutenant to the Home Secretary, to show precisely what view his Lordship had on the question of fuel. He says, writing in December last— 301The measures which have been already sanctioned by the Cabinet will, as regards fuel in certain districts"—the distressed ones—"have the effect of meeting any wants that may arise when the present stocks are exhausted.And, as regards food, we have the strongest reason to believe that there will be no difficulty whatever in providing supplies, when it is known that their application will be authorized. The right hon. Gentleman insists on the fact that the Local Government Board have not informed the Boards of Guardians to relax the rules in regard to out-door relief. In this also we acted advisedly. We had Inspectors on the spot. The Local Government Board was charged by Her Majesty's Government to watch the progress of the distress most narrowly; but we did not tell every Board of Guardians, or any Board of Guardians, to relax the operations of the Poor Law until we saw that a real necessity for it had arisen. We took the responsibility on ourselves, and we believe we have acted wisely, in order to prevent an indiscriminate and unnecessary application of this out-door relief. The right hon. Gentleman knows that persons holding more than a quarter of an acre of land are disqualified from obtaining out-door relief. That rule has been relaxed so as to allow out-door relief to be given to persons really destitute. The right hon. Gentleman has insisted with very great force on the errors committed in the administration of relief under the system of large public works in 1847 and 1848. The Government have all along felt that any large system of public works was open to great objection; that it carried with it the impossibility of supervision, or of exercising such control over it as would secure the desired end—the relief of the destitute. Our object has been that relief should be given in the least injurious form to the persons who received it. In the first instance, we desired to stimulate applications from landlords who wished to improve their own property and who had a care for the people. In the next place, we offered loans to the sanitary authorities and to the presentment sessions, and insisted that the amounts should be returned within a certain period of time. The works undertaken in consequence will be carefully supervised by the local county surveyor—the county itself being responsible for the capital sum advanced. 302 Greater supervision will be exercised in that way than could be done in the case of vast public works. Where many thousands of persons might be employed it would be quite impossible to exercise effectual supervision. Another matter I may mention in passing is that of the food supply. Upon that question I beg to refer to the opinion of Sir Charles Trevelyan, who states, in effect, that neither wholesale dealers in towns nor retail dealers in rural districts will lay in their usual stocks of food or make any extraordinary exertions to supply it while they have a prospect of the Government competing with them in providing food for the people. These words, I think, go far to justify the cautious course the. Government have followed. It has been their desire not to interfere with the natural means of trade supply and employment, but only to supplement and aid those means when they appeared to fall short of what was required. As to railways, the Government have not been unwilling to consider proposals made, under already existing Acts, to assist in operations of that character; but, as the right hon. Gentleman has shown, such railway works could not be carried out, in all human probability, successfully, in order to meet the present emergency and the present distress. An Act of Parliament would have, perhaps, to be procured; and a contractor would have to be obtained, who could not be bound to find employment for persons in the particular district through which the railway passed, and the consequence would be that other people would be imported into a locality already suffering from distress. The other day some works were to be carried out in Dublin, and the contract was obtained by a Scotchman, to the great dissatisfaction of persons in Dublin who sought employment. But the Lord Mayor and Corporation showed that they could not do otherwise than accept the lowest tender. Would not something similar be the case with regard to those railways? The hon. Member for Galway shook his head.
§ MR.MITCHELL HENRY
said, he had spoken of two particular cases in which persons on the spot would be employed.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
Then there is another point. If employment is given, it should not be of such a kind as to interfere with the proper production of food for the people. I do not 303 think it necessary or desirable that I should follow my right hon Friend in the remarks he made with reference to the events of last week. We are here in presence of a much more serious matter than anything which can happen to a political Party; and I think we can appeal not only to hon Gentlemen opposite, but to the country, to support the Government in the duty which they have to discharge at this time, and that is, to care for those poor people in the manner which, as set forth in the Treasury Minute that has been laid on the Table of the House, will afford relief with the least demoralizing effect to those distressed fellow-subjects. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) referred to the error which he thought the Government had committed in not announcing their proposals earlier, so as to prevent the necessity for the collection of money in the form of charity. On the other hand, I take credit, on the part of the Government, that they did not do so. It is most desirable, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that just now any effort they might make should be supplemented by private charity; and we know that any effort the Government makes does check relief from private individuals, and, in a measure, deter them from discharging a duty which is incumbent upon them, and which they would otherwise discharge. The hon. Member has referred to the conditions under which a large number of the people of Ireland are living. I own that those conditions are sad to the last degree. They deserve the consideration of Parliament and of all persons who take an interest in the welfare of their fellow-subjects, and they deserve still more the full consideration of gentlemen who own property in Ireland, and live amongst the people there; because, after all, anyone who has any knowledge of social affairs is aware that law has very much less to do with the conduct of the people than the influences which are otherwise exercised upon them. I cannot help feeling that it is a misfortune of the gravest character that so many persons should be contented to live on such small patches of land, because, certainly, when there is any failure in their crops, they must fall into that destitution which has been described by the hon. Member for Galway. I may also be permitted to refer to a question 304 which the hon. Gentleman raised, and which was also raised the other evening with moderation by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan), and that is, the necessity of making some provision for procuring seed for the occupiers of land. Many persons, landlords and others, who take an interest in the welfare of those people have already procured seed to a very considerable extent. We had information this morning that some vessels had been chartered to go to the West coast of Ireland with seed, which in a measure would afford relief. With reference to the Bill which has been brought forward in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway, I should say that the Government, though most desirous that it should be read a second time tonight, are not prepared fully to accept all its provisions. There are, in fact, several points in the proposal of the hon. Member to which I take exception. In the first place, the Bill has reference exclusively to potatoes, and I believe it would be a great misfortune if the cultivation of potatoes alone were encouraged in the distressed district; for, as I have already said, it is a mistake to rely entirely upon one crop, which might possibly be a failure. Again, I cannot think it wise that the seed potatoes should be sold at loss than their proper value. It is of the greatest importance that trade should be encouraged to do for the country all that it possibly can do during the present crisis, and I fear that the proposal to sell seed potatoes below their market price will have the effect of stopping the importation of them into any part of Ireland. It matters comparatively little whether the farmers paid a shilling or so, more or less, for their seed potatoes; what is all-important is that the seed should be sown and the crop put into the ground. However, the Government will be able to state their views on this and other details more fully in Committee on their own Bill, or on the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member. I trust, therefore, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will understand that we are fully prepared to give the subject very careful consideration—in fact, have given it the most careful consideration—and will be prepared, at the proper time, to introduce clauses to give effect to our views. We have not moved earlier because we did 305 not wish to interfere with the market, or raise hopes sooner than was desirable; but the Government will give every possible assistance which they believe would tend to confer real benefits on the farmers. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Galway, and my right hon. Friend, on the question of land tenure, or peasant proprietorship, or any of those points referred to in the Amendment. What I desire to address myself to is, simply, whether the Government are doing and endeavouring to do their duty in the matter of this distress which exists in some parts of Ireland. I think I have answered the questions of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I have shown that the matter has been constantly before us, that we have not lost sight of it for a single moment since Parliament rose last August; and that we have fully understood our responsibility, and fully accept it. Deplorable as is the present state of some parts of Ireland, I hope that, by the blessing of Providence, there will be a good harvest this year, and that the distress will, in a short time, pass away.
§ MR. T. DICKSON
hoped that the House would not accept the statement made by more than one hon. Member as to the unsympathizing attitude of the inhabitants of the North of Ireland towards their distressed fellow-countrymen. In justice to Ulster he begged them to believe, and, indeed, could say from his own knowledge, that that was not the case. The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry) had spoken of the prosperity of Ulster, and of the great revival of trade. He (Mr. T. Dickson) would admit that there was in Ulster at the present time a very great revival of trade; but he would like to ask the House what immediate connection the revival of the linen trade and of the shipping interest had possibly with the agricultural distress? Although, at the present moment, there existed no starvation and no want in Ulster, the people were in penury; their savings had been swept away, and the small farmers of Ulster were in the very deepest distress, bordering, indeed, on starvation. One great point of safety in Ulster was that which the Chief Secretary sneered at—the Ulster tenant right. It was the basis of credit for the small farmers at the present time; and although their savings had been entirely 306 swept away during the past two or three years of distress, the tenant right of Ulster was still the basis of credit upon which the small farmers now depended for carrying them through the present crisis. The Seconder of the Address had stated the great grievance of Ireland to be over-population. Was there any Member of the House who believed that Ireland was really over-populated with 5,000,000 of people, and that the country, if properly developed, was not capable of supporting twice that number? It had been a matter of surprise to many Members of the House that the Seconder of the Address, in the long discursive speech he had made, should have evaded all reference to the subjects of the Queen's Speech; but he (Mr. T. Dickson) thought he could give the House the explanation. The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry) had been called upon to address a great Orange soiree, and, instead of delivering his speech to that assemblage, he had kept it for the House of Commons. He could not but look with regret upon the unfinished line of railway between Londonderry and Donegal. The Bill had passed all stages in the House of Commons last Session, but had been arbitrarily thrown out in "another place," though if it had become law there would have been employment in Donegal for hundreds of the population. The First Lord of the Admiralty had said they had first to get an Act of Parliament and buy land before they could proceed with railways. There were, however, two railways which had got the Act of Parliament; and, so far as he could find, there had been no response from the Board of Works as to giving money for the beginning of the work. He believed, personally, that had the Memorial which had been signed by the Irish Members received the attention of the Government the distress would have been averted; and, owing to this inaction on the part of the Government, he should support the hon. Member for the county Cork in the Amendment which he had moved to the Address.
§ MR. HERMON
said, the hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Shaw) had placed before the House facts which were well worthy of consideration. The hon. Gentleman had spoken in much more moderate terms of the anticipated famine than some of the speakers who 307 followed him. He agreed that this was a time, not for talk, but for action. Believing in the axiom"Bis dat qui cito dat,"he urged on the Government the necessity of avoiding anything like delay. If the Government were not certain that they had already made a proper estimate of the amount which would be required, he hoped they would not hesitate for a moment to ask for full power to deal with a most distressing event in a manner that would be worthy of this country. He spoke feelingly on this subject, as he had himself witnessed something of the same kind during the cotton famine in Lancashire. Impressed as he was with the dire necessity which might befall an almost helpless people, he thought Her Majesty's Government could not be too earnest nor too ready in their efforts to alleviate the distress. At the same time they ought to take care that nothing should be done to demoralize the people. He feared that some of the speeches delivered by hon. Gentlemen opposite had had the effect of checking the flow of those voluntary subscriptions which were so necessary in times of great trouble. In his opinion, some of the provisions of the Bill introduced by the Government were not sufficiently wide; and he could not help thinking that a generous and sympathizing Parliament would support without hesitation any Ministry which, in the face of this dire calamity, should feel inclined to help our fellow-citizens in Ireland.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, he had heard a good deal about the characteristic of regarding the industrial resources of the country which always marked a Conservative Government; but he thought, after the statement made by the Government as to their proposition for dealing with the present distress in Ireland, he should no longer hear the Conservative boast, with which Irish hustings had so long run, as to the beneficent intentions of the late Lord George Bentinck in 1846, relating to advancing millions of money to Irish railways. He would not imitate the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) by indulging in personalities. In common, he believed, with all Irish Members of that House, he considered the question too grave for such a course, and he preferred to think of the welfare of the struggling people rather than 308 of oratorical triumphs. He should vote for the Amendment in order to express his opinion that the conduct of the Government had been marked by inaction, and that they were not justified now in coming forward and appealing to the Irish Members for their support. Allusions had been made to the warning the Government had received, and to the large body of Irishmen of all Parties who had signed the Memorial to the Prime Minister; but there was one thing which they had all agreed in acknowledging—the conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough. In common with everyone who had spoken on the question, he would give his humble tribute of admiration to the conduct of that distinguished lady. He was sure there was no hon. Member present who would believe that a lady who hitherto took no part in politics, though connected with the highest circle of society, had adopted her present action of her own motion. He believed that the Duchess of Marlborough was put in motion by the Government, who, feeling that they had rather ridiculed the idea that there was any serious distress in Ireland, and finding out that they had been misinformed, did not do what they ought to have done, and what it was their duty to do—say—"We have been misinformed on this subject, and now, we know it, we, without asking the intervention of the Duchess of Marlborough, or the assistance of any body of Irish ladies, will come forward as a Government, and say that it is the duty of a Government, in cases where distress is impending over the land, to come forward and do our utmost to alleviate the distress." What had the Government done? They had relegated the question of private charity to a foreign country like America, and they had also published, through the agency of the Duchess, in theFigaroand theDehats,appeals to the French people of a similar sort; and then the Government came down now to Parliament, and told them that everything that was possible had been done. The Government said they were about to institute a new system, and that system was like the most of the systems introduced by the Government—namely, a system permissive in its character. The Government told them that the Irish landlords received little or no rent in the distressed districts; and, therefore, they would give 309 the landlords an opportunity of increasing their liability by borrowing money under the Bill. Then, if that did not succeed, the Government said they would give power to call baronial sessions; but where were the baronial sessions to be called? They were only to be called in the distressed districts, and who were to pay the rates for the employment of the people? Why the persons so employed? This was what the Government proposed to do, and yet they said they had done everything that it was becoming a Government should do. He might not, perhaps, be justified in stating that starvation was rife in the country. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] An hon. Gentleman gave an ironical cheer; but perhaps that hon. Member could recollect 1847? The deaths from fever in 1846, 1847, and 1848, no doubt outnumbered the cases of deaths from actual starvation; but it did not much matter to the poor people whether they died from starvation or fever. "Was there any hon. Gentleman present who would venture to say that in consequence of the diminution of food in the distressed districts the seeds of fever had not been sown at this moment; and yet the remedy which the Government proposed for this state of things was to allow the landlords to borrow money which they would find it difficult to repay, and occupiers to borrow money to defray the charge of food of which they were to be recipients. With what justice, then, could he and other Irish Members be charged with factious conduct, when they denounced the action of the Government as being inadequate to the occasion? Coming, as they did, from the distressed country, and having the interests of its people at heart, they were simply pleading for them at a time when their lives were in danger. For his own part, if that were faction, he should glory in the accusation. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin University, who had made himself the apologist of the Government, gave the House the other evening a sketch of the history of Irish landlords; but would anyone who knew Ireland accept the case of Sir Arthur Guinness, with his country seat on the shore of Lough Corrib, as a case fairly illustrative of the class he undertook to describe? It was always rash to argue from particulars to generals, and that was what the hon. and learned Gentle- 310 man had done in dealing with that part of the subject. He looked with feelings of alarm on the action which the Government had determined to take. He was far from denying that abuses had arisen in Ireland in connection with public works; but who would venture to assert now that those abuses could not be prevented? There were many railways in an unfinished state, for example, which might be assisted. In his own county a line partially constructed might be completed and worked with great advantage; but it remained unfinished for want of funds. The House surely would not affirm the principle that, in a time of peril like this, those who asked for useful help for the people should be met by the economistic views of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. In a late debate in "another place," himself and hon. Gentlemen sitting near him had been stigmatized as disloyal to the Crown. That charge was made by no less a personage than the Prime Minister himself on the first night of the Session. On the part of the Gentlemen thus stigmatized, he indignantly repelled the imputation; and though they were beneath the Prime Minister in position and in dignity, he trusted they were his equals in honourable feeling. He knew the great abilities of the Prime Minister, his mastery of language, and the manner in which he could give utterance to incisive sentences; but he was astonished at the taunts in which he had thought proper to indulge. He (Sir Patrick O'Brien) humbly begged to say that the noble Earl should be more careful in his language. He recollected when Sir Robert Peel was charged by the noble Lord with having stolen the clothes of the Whigs; but in 1867 he had not hesitated to do the same, and when he read his speech he was reminded of the words of Montesquieu with regard to Cicero—"Un beau génie, mais une âme souvent commune."
§ MR. BLENNERHASSETT
said, he would not have ventured to intrude on the House but for the fact that he lived in a county where the present distress was felt with extreme severity. The whole of Kerry was affected by it, but especially the part where he lived. He approached this question with no desire to embarrass the Government, but every wish to assist them. Speaking from his local knowledge, he could not refrain 311 from saying that the measures of the Government up to the present in dealing with the state of things in Kerry had been far from prompt or adequate to the occasion, and for that reason he should feel bound to vote for the Amendment. They had been told over and over again in the course of this debate that the Government had had full and ample warning of the impending distress, and he could assert with confidence that that was so in the county Kerry. In the extreme south-west of that county there was a wild, mountainous, boggy district of 200,000 acres, with a scattered population of over 20,000. A meeting was held in the principal town, representing all classes. The real state of affairs was placed before the Government, and remedies suggested in the shape of reproductive public works; but only the usual official response was received, and nothing had been done. Meanwhile, people had been starving and dying for months, although they might have been profitably employed in reclaiming an immense area of rich land now covered by the sea at high water. Had a railway been constructed in the district it would have added thousands a-year to the resources of the country. There were absolutely no sanitary works throughout a large part of the district, and no fewer than 37 per cent of the population lived in wretched hovels, which had not more than one door and one window. The consequence was that the people of that part of Ireland felt themselves in the position of having no Government to which they could appeal for relief in their distress; and although no actual deaths from starvation had been recorded as having occurred among them, still the constitutions of thousands among them had been so shattered by deprivation of adequate food and fuel that they would be sickly and miserable for the rest of their lives. It was only that morning that he had received letters stating that the old famine fever had broken out among them, and there was no telling where the pestilence would stop. It was idle for hon. Gentlemen to get up in this House and say that Government had done and were doing great things. Had it not been for the efforts of private individuals and charitable committees, he believed there would have been hundreds of deaths from actual starvation. For what the 312 Government were going to do he gave his full acknowledgment. Those proposals had been so clearly and so fully considered that he would not dwell upon them, except to say that, listening just now to the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. W. H. Smith), he could not but come to the conclusion that he spoke like a man who had entirely failed to grasp the serious state of the case. Well disposed to the Irish people, and anxious to relieve their suffering, the right hon. Gentleman had misconceived and quite under-estimated the serious nature of the difficulties with which his Government had to deal. Moreover, the assistance given now would, to a great extent, come too late. Help should have been given throughout the winter, so as to enable the people to resume their ordinary farming duties in March and April; whereas now the Government assistance might do as much harm as good in tempting the people to neglect their tillage in order to earn money on the public works to meet their immediate necessities. He feared that even if seed potatoes were sent over to the country and offered at cost price the people would be too poor to buy them. He did not say that the Government were bound to make people rich. That would, indeed, be a foolish thing to assert. But he did say this most confidently—that when the condition of any people from year to year, and from age to age, was one of misery and poverty, those people were entitled to see that their misery and their poverty were not produced by artificial causes. The Chief Secretary had alluded to the agitation as the root of the present difficulty; but he had not indicated the secret of the agitators' power in the idleness and faithlessness of those who were bound to offer redress for grievances. As the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) once said—"Take out of the hands of the agitator the weapon he wields, and out of his mouth the grievance he pleads." The state of Ireland bad for centuries been a disgrace to civilization. The description given by Dean Swift in hisShort Account of Ireland,would apply to the present condition of that country, the truth being that it was intolerable, and could not be allowed to exist. All that a Government could do was to see that the industry and forethought of the people 313 were not wasted by a vicious system. The Irish cottiers, it had been truly said, gained nothing by being industrious, because of the state of their land system; and although by a stroke of the legislative wand the accumulated evils of generations could not be removed, yet we ought to put them in a fair way of improvement by putting an end to that uncertainty of tenure which had crushed out the life and hope of the Irish tenant, and should provide by just measures for the restoration of the great mass of the people to the ownership of the soil. If the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham had been adopted there would now be in Ireland many thousands of persons owning the land which they cultivated, and the debt they incurred for the purchase of that land entirely, or almost entirely, swept away. In the case of adverse seasons, such persons would have a stock to fall back upon. One good result, he thought, would arise out of this debate—that the national conscience would be awakened to deal with this great and difficult question. He hoped the Government would deal with it properly, and that thinking men in this country would set their minds to work to deal with this deeply-rooted cause of distress; for if they did not do so the dark shadow of disaster would again and again sweep over Ireland.
SIR TOLLEMACHE SINCLAIR
said, he thought it was about time the Home Rule Party should hear some home truths from the English and Scotch Members. Few of the latter had spoken in this debate, and he shared the dissatisfaction which many Members felt at the course the Irish Members took on the first night of the Session, in moving the adjournment of the debate at 10 o'clock. Such a course was unwarranted and unprecedented. The reason adduced for it at the time turned out not to be solid; for while it was stated that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) had been put in possession of certain facts of the most material consequence to the debate, not a single fact had since been brought out which could not have been adduced equally well on the night in question. Now, as an independent Member, he said the Government was bound to nip the policy of obstruction in the bud. It had begun with the opening of the Session, and he believed that 314 English and Scotch Members would no longer tolerate it, or allow the business affecting 26,000,000 of people to be thrown aside at the bidding of 5,000,000 or 6,000,000. Obstruction should be treated like the cattle disease—it should be stamped out. The Irish Members seemed to forget the small ratio of their population to that of the United Kingdom, and that they had no sort of right to more than a fair share of the time at the disposal of the House. It would be interesting to have a Return showing, on an average of the last three Sessions, how many hours out of the time at the disposal of Parliament had been devoted really to Public Business. Properly speaking, two-thirds of that time should have been devoted to Imperial questions, and one-third to local matters. Of that one-third a proportionate share should be allotted to Ireland, England, and Scotland, according to the amount they severally contributed to the Public Revenue. Then, if the Irish Members chose to take up more than their fair share of time, they should be restricted from bringing forward any further measures for the rest of the Session. The distress in Ireland appeared to him to be very much exaggerated. He had carefully read all the information he could obtain on the matter; and although, in some districts, the distress did appear to be severe, it was the exception and not the rule. He, for one, thought the measures of the Government were perfectly satisfactory, and fully adequate to the occasion. He considered, moreover, that the Government had in one respect gone a great deal too far. It was a monstrous injustice to English and Scotch landlords that Irish landlords, forsooth, were to have advances at 1 per cent, whilst those in England and Scotland had to pay 6½. He, for one, would certainly divide the House against such partiality and injustice. He would have no objection, considering the exceptional crisis, to allowing Irish landlords to have money at the same rate as the Funds—3 per cent. They would then be getting it at less than half what the English and Scotch landlords had to pay. The proposal of the Government in that respect was founded on a most unsafe policy. He would rather give Ireland £1,000 than lend them £2,000. Anyone who went into the Library, and looked at the statistics of Irish loans, would find that 315 they were very often not repaid, and that hardly a year passed without large arrears of principal and interest having to be wiped off. That was especially the case with regard to loans for harbours of refuge, of which he had some experience. A great fuss was made by Irish Members about the landlords; but he could tell them the Land Laws of Ireland were infinitely more favourable to the tenant than the landlords of England and Scotland. The only vote he ever regretted giving in that House was his vote in favour of the Second Reading of the Irish Land Bill. He was ashamed of himself to think he was not found in the Lobby with the late right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), who had the courage of his opinions, and voted against the principle of that Communistic and Socialistic measure. He could not conceive a greater piece of confiscation and folly than the granting of compensation for disturbance, and that, too, on a sliding scale, according to the size of the farms. If it was granted at all it ought to be on a uniform scale; but it was a most absurd principle altogether. A man in a mercantile business might be injured by having his possession disturbed; but what could it matter to a farm tenant whether he farmed one plot or another? It was generally understood that a great deal of the land in Ireland was held very much below its real value, on valuations made many years ago. If the tenants were rack-rented, he would like to know how it was that sums unknown in England and Scotland were paid for the goodwill of farms—in some cases, indeed, more than the fee simple of the land? This proved that the tenants were justly and liberally dealt with; and he, as a landlord, could not sit there and hear the Irish landlords abused without putting in a word. The Liberal Party was like the Empire of Japan, in having two leaders. They had their Mikado and their Tycoon—they had a Mayor of the Palace and an Emperor. With reference to the first, whom he would call the Mikado, the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs, the nominal Leader, in writing to the Home Rule candidate for Liverpool, had expressed his opinion that the question of Home Rule was not a vital question. That certainly was not the opinion of 1 in 10, or 1 in 100, of the people of 316 England. They held that the question of Home Rule was a vital question, and, moreover, that it was one that they would never consent to be even inquired into. He hoped and believed that the people of England and Scotland were just as determined to hold the Three Kingdoms together, one and indivisible, with one single Parliament, as the people of the Northern States of America were to hold the Southern and Northern States together; and, if necessary, they would take the same effectual means to insure that result as the Northern States took on that occasion. Ireland was a geographical expression. The Province of Ulster was as different from the rest of Ireland as Scotland was from England; and he would like to know what would become of Ireland if Ulster did not form part of it? A great deal had been said about Irish absentees. He had taken the trouble of looking into that question. He had seen in the Library the Returns procured at the instance, he thought, of the hon. Member for Westmeath. What was the result of the inquiry? So far from nearly every Irish proprietor being an absentee, only one-fifth of the soil was held by absentee proprietors. He was not at all clear that there were not as many absentees Scotch and English proprietors as Irish. Yet they never heard of any complaints, or of any threats being made by English or Scotch tenants upon the subject of absentees. Were the Irish landlords to beadscripti glebœ—tied to the soil? It was an Englishman's privilege to go where and to do what he liked, and it was equally the privilege of the Irish. Though he might be a resident proprietor in England, he certainly would not be a resident proprietor in Ireland. When hon. Members considered the little gratitude they received for their kindness, and the chance they had of assassination, he was only surprised that so many resided in the country. Now, as to the plan of establishing a peasant proprietary in Ireland, he wanted to know how it was that very few of the Irish, when they had an opportunity of buying the property of the landlords under the Bright Clauses of the Land Act, took advantage of it? A little boy might take a horse to the water, but a thousand men could not make him drink. He thought it would be as difficult to make the Irish tenant 317 farmers buy their land. If the tenant farmers were to be assisted in buying the property of the landlords, he wanted to know what was to become of the labourers? Were they to be cut out, and to have no share of the plunder? If it was right to assist the tenant farmers to buy their land, by all means let the labourers have their share of it. What would be the consequence? From the year 1821 to 1841 the population of Ireland had increased by 1,500,000; and if they had gone on at the same rate of progress, Ireland would now have been like a human rabbit warren, with a population of something like 14,000,000. If we had now such difficulty in dealing with the distress amongst 5,500,000, what should we have done with 14,000,000? The Irish were notoriously unthrifty. They were bad farmers, and their climate was the least favourable to agriculture in the world. The land would soon, under the desired system, be sub-divided like Switzerland, where the soil looked very much like a chess-board—each small square with its proprietor. The population would in a short time be doubled or trebled, and what would happpen then? Famines were now rare. They would then become periodic and chronic. Reverting to Home Rule, although about three-fifths of the Irish Members were pledged to that principle, some of them very reluctantly, the other two-fifths repudiated it; and although its advocates were the most noisy of their countrymen, he was not sure that they had the majority of the population behind them. Moreover opinions must be weighed, and not heads counted merely; and he, for one, would put the brains of Ulster against those of any two other Provinces of Ireland. He rejoiced extremely that the Home Rule candidate had been defeated at Liverpool, and he thought that was the prevailing opinion of the people of the country, of Liberals as well as of Conservatives; and he said, further, that if the policy of their Leader was continued he would make certain the defeat of their Party at the next General Election, and insure the return of another Conservative majority. The question was one which the country would not allow to be tampered with. A candidate came forward who disapproved Home Rule, and because a word was altered he immediately turned round and promised to support an inquiry into 318 it. The alteration of one word might seem a very little thing; but "Yes" might be put for "No," and he supposed that was about the difference in this case. During the last half-century everything had been done to satisfy the Irish without the slightest success. Until lately they paid no income tax or assessed taxes, and they had received far more than they had a right to in the shape of payment for the Constabulary and other matters. The grants we made to Ireland were enormous. The hon. Member for Edinburgh had gone into statistics he had moved for and obtained, and he had shown that Ireland had been most exceptionally and unfairly dealt with, to the prejudice of England and Scotland. It was impossible to satisfy the Irish. His father, as a Member of the House, knew Mr. O'Connell well, who once said to him—"Sir George, what is the use of the Whigs trying to conciliate us, as if we could be conciliated?" Another story of O'Connell's showed the perversity of the Irish character. A man was brought up on a charge of murder. O'Connell was his counsel, and he said—I produced but one witness in favour of the accused; but that witness would in any other country in the world have carried conviction to the minds of the jury. That witness was the murdered man himself, and yet my client was brought in guilty.There was a familiar saying that if they wanted to roast an Irishman they would always find another Irishman to turn the spit. He (Sir Tollemache Sinclair) did not care to conceal from the Irish his opinion of their country, and his opinion had been backed up by the course that Parliament had pursued. They had refused to allow the Irish to have Volunteers, and he thought very properly, because very soon their arms would be turned against each other, and like the Kilkenny cats, they would only leave the tail of one behind. He utterly disapproved of this Home Rule agitation. He believed that even the Irish Members had no sort of belief in it. The notorious demagogue Wilkes said—"I never was a Wilkite." He believed if they could dive into the secret hearts of many of the loudest advocates of Home Rule, they would be found to have no sort of belief in it. With reference to the ensuing Election, he hoped that both Liberals and Con- 319 servatives would be patriots, and, remembering that they were Britons, would not have recourse to such weapons as Home Rule. It ought to be understood that the use of the Home Rule weapon would be looked upon in the same light as would explosive bullets in modern warfare. He had nothing to gain or lose from the Home Rulers, and he took this opportunity of expressing his opinion of them.
MR. JOHN GEORGE MACCARTHY
offered his sincere congratulations to the hon. Member who had just sat down on having afforded one of the finest arguments for Home Rule ever addressed to any assembly. Dealing with the most important question which had ever come before this Parliament, the hon. Member had not said one word on the subject of debate, but had treated the House to a series of observations on almost all conceivable topics, and had not touched on any one of them without blundering. [Sir TOLLEMACHE SINCLAIR said, he had touched on the Land Laws.] He could allow for the impulsive excitability of the hon. Gentleman. That a Gentleman holding his opinions, and having so little knowledge of Irish affairs, should have a vote upon them, was an argument in favour of the contention that the present arrangement of legislation ought to be most carefully considered. Turning to the subject under debate, he begged to remind the House that they were then discussing the gravest and most important subject that had engaged it attention since this Parliament was called into existence. It was, unhappily, no rhetorical exaggeration, but the calm and measured statement of the fact, to say that within a few hours' journey of where they sat, thousands of their fellow-subjects—men in the prime of manhood, mothers surrounded by their little children, and maidens in the bloom of their innocent beauty—were suffering the pangs of hunger. It was greatly to be feared that, unless Government took care, they would let those people die of starvation, or of the diseases which starvation brings in its train. He was not guilty of the wild injustice of suggesting that Government would do this deliberately; but what he did say was—they were governing a country they did not know, and, in disregarding the advice of its Constitutional Representatives, they were 320 incurring a terrible responsibility. In his admirable biography of Lord George Bentinck, the Prime Minister tells how, previous to the Famine of 1847, O'Connell dragged his tottering limbs to that Table and raised his dying voice to warn the House that a great calamity was approaching, and to point out the measures that would prevent its occurrence. The warning was neglected; the Famine came; the people perished in hundreds of thousands; the saddest page in the history of Victoria's reign was written, and the remedies which O'Connell suggested are to this hour neglected. Surely this was an experience worthy of the consideration of thoughtful and honourable men. Hitherto the House seemed scarcely to have considered the subject at all, and he lamented the want of interest in the question the House had shown. His hon. and gallant Friend the junior Member for Cork County (Colonel Colthurst), in one of the most touching speeches he had heard in that House, gave an account of what within a few days he personally had seen of the distress in Skull and other parts of his own county. There were not 10 hon. Members who condescended to listen to that statement. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), in a singularly lucid and well-considered speech, gave the results of his experience as an Irish proprietor, and his reflections as an Irish Member, to an audience of three Members. When the House was full it seemed only to care for personal controversy and half-jocular banter. The news of the Liverpool election seemed the other night to excite hon. Gentlemen opposite to a spirit of the most tremendous exhilaration, in which the slightest joke created bursts of laughter. It was very sad that the tale of Irish distress, which was awakening sympathy all round the world, should, when related with simple earnestness by the Representatives of the Irish people, be told to empty Benches, or disregarded in the excitement of some trumpery borough election. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) had been, as he always was, most brilliant, and his sallies had aroused the enthusiasm of the House. If most excellent chaff would supply the place of wheat, then the hon. and learned Gentleman 321 would be a benefactor to his people. But when roars of merriment were being excited in that House he was thinking of the poor people starving at home. He would ask leave to lay before the House some of the facts of the case; and, first, as to the statistics of the potato crop. For the three years 1874–6, the total produce of the Irish potato crop was 11,219,274 tons; for the three following years, 1877–9, it was only 5,397,455 tons, the deficiency amounting to 5,821,819 tons. Sixty shillings per ton was a fair average value, and at this rate the loss for the last three years amounted to £17,465,457, a sum greater than a year's valuation of all the agricultural land in Ireland. But this was not all. In 1859 there were 2,637,500 acres of cereals; in 1879 there were only 1,761,800, showing a decrease of nearly 33 per cent for the 20 years. Even in the number of milch cows there had been a falling off during the same period of 250,000. To summarize, there had been a total falling off in the value of Irish crops amounting to over £10,000,000 sterling as between the years 1878 and 1879. That meant a falling off of 30 per cent of the total valuation of agricultural land. Another indication was supplied by the Returns furnished by the Registrar General of the bank deposits. In 1876 they amounted to £69,906,030; in 1879 they were only £66,260,000, showing a falling off of no less than £3,646,030. They might also trace the same results in the details of Irish life. And first as to Poor Law relief. Nothing was more characteristic of Irish life than the disinclination of the people to go into the poorhouse. They would often rather die than enter the workhouse. Nevertheless, they found that in the last week of 1879 there was the enormous multitude of 98,151 persons in Ireland accepting such relief, being a vaster population than that of some sovereign States. But, of course, the greatest and saddest results are those outside the workhouses. Take the borough of Mallow. The week before last there were 450 families, or more than 2,000 men, women, and children, in a state of destitution. In the City of Cork, facing his own doors, he had seen troops of silent, sad, able-bodied men, with the look of hunger in their faces, standing drearily under the drenching rain, and responding to inquiries with 322 the melancholy answer—"We have nothing to eat, and we have nothing to do." His hon. and gallant Friend the junior Member for Cork County had told them that a few days ago he found in East and West Skull 600 families, representing 3,000 individuals, on the verge of starvation, without food, without money, without credit, and without work. In Mill Street 900 families, representing 4,500 persons, were on the relief books. In Drumcollegher, the Correspondent ofThe Cork Heraldreports—That no words can give any idea of the destitution here. Respectable householders who a short time since relieved distress, are now paupers in turn, and the cry everywhere is hunger! hunger! hunger!But even that was nothing to the destitution in the West. Take the account of the parish of Carnagh, in Tipperary, from the able Correspondent ofThe Freeman's Journal:—With a couple of dozen exceptions, the whole teeming populations, 1,814 families, numbering some 5,000 souls, are on the high road to death by starvation. Hunger overtakes one-third of them or more already. The local relief committee, presided over by a Protestant gentleman of much local usefulness and popularity, Mr. Hazel, and re-inforced by the Protestant rector, as well as by the Catholic priests, have made house-to-house collections, according to which, of 36 families in the townland of Loughconiere there are 21 at this moment wanting food, 25 families out of the 57 in Kilsallagh, 23 families of 28 in Kusheen and Drenagh, 20 families out of 35 in Alnabrine, 27 families out of 29 in Bonroughard, and so on through the miserable bead-roll. This is but the beginning. The remainder are living upon their seed potatoes. Every day some family is eating their last meal of them. Hardly anybody any longer enjoyed their meals a day, even of rotten dwarf potatoes. Two meals a day are now the average allowance. Numbers that I have met squat in their hideous cabins around a morsel of live turf all day long in order not to awaken the pangs of hunger by active exercise, and think themselves happy if the Bohan-a-tighe has been able to beg or borrow a few pounds of Indian meal that they may not go supperless to bed. And of the patience, the endurance, the self-sacrifice of those wretched mothers who stumble over miles of sharp-pointed rocks with their bare feet to implore that miserable meal for their whining children, who carry loads of turf or dripping seaweed on their backs for 10 or 15 miles, like beasts of burden, who alone in those little doomed households seem to have heart or hope left in them.Unhappily, there were some whom all the power of the Queen's Majesty and all the wealth of the country could not save. He would conclude by imploring the Government to deal with this great 323 subject in a bold and statesmanlike spirit. As to what they had promised, he, for one, fully concurred in everything, believing it to be most excellent; but he believed it to be all inadequate. He warned the Government that they did not realize the greatness of the distress, and that the danger was greater than they imagined; and he respectfully pointed out that, having undertaken to govern a country of which their knowledge must necessarily be more or less imperfect, they would incur a terrible responsibility if they declined to take the advice of the Constitutional Representatives of the Irish people, who spoke of what they knew when they said that a great calamity was approaching; that the danger was greater and vaster than was supposed; and if it were not boldly met the consequences would be terrible indeed. By all means let the Government propose to give out-door relief if it was grievously wanted; it should not be delayed one day. By all means let them endeavour to promote, as far as possible, reproductive works. They had done something in that direction let them continue to do so. He had endeavoured to help them, and he believed that on his recommendation some extensive public works were in progress. But when the time for husbandry had passed the real difficulty commenced; and he suggested that the Government should be prepared with great public works, such as the reclamation of land and arterial drainage, which were works that Sir Robert Peel said nothing but Imperial resources could accomplish. The fishery question was also well worthy of attention, for it would be most desirable to supplement the bad harvest of the land by the rich harvest of the sea. In his own county, all along the coast there were great public works, both affording employment and conferring great benefit on the community. Let the Government take up the question of great public works in a truly statesmanlike spirit, and thus possibly they might avert the great danger threatening Ireland, and prevent another dark and dreary page being written in the history of Queen Victoria's reign.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that two distinct subjects which ought to have been kept separate had been confused one with the 324 other in the course of the debate—namely, the question of the immediate distress and the question of land tenure—and he was of opinion that it would be more convenient to discuss the latter question on some future occasion. With regard to the first question, he was not inclined to join in so strong a measure as a Vote of Censure upon the Government, a step which the evidence before the House hardly justified, as it had not yet been shown that the arrangements proposed by the Government were inadequate or had failed, or that they had neglected their duty up to the present. With regard to the future, however, the responsibility rested with the Government; and he, for one, would not be willing to relieve them of it. He thought the Papers showed that in some respects already the arrangements of the Government had not been productive of the results anticipated. He found, for instance, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, writing to the Treasury on January 10, and referring to a previous letter, dated November 22, stated that the arrangements made then had not been sufficient to meet the emergencies of the case. Upon the showing of the Government themselves, therefore, six weeks had elapsed during which practically nothing had been done. They had yet to know what would be the result of the arrangements made on January 10; and, as no opinion could at present be formed as to the result, he should refrain from supporting the Amendment before the House. He desired to point out to the House that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Friday disclosed a much more serious state of things than they had up till then any idea of, for he said that the Registrar General's Report upon the harvest showed that there was a deficiency for the whole of Ireland of no less than one-third, or £10,000,000. But this was not the worst of the case, because the distress had practically fallen on about one-third of the area of Ireland, so that the loss of that sum had been incurred by but a small part of the country. Therefore, enormous as those losses were, so must their pressure be the greater, confined, as they were, within a certain specified area. He presumed also that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this estimate did not take into account 325 the loss consequent upon the failure of the peat harvest, nor that due to the want of work in England and Scotland. About 30,000 labourers from the West and South of Ireland made their way every year into the two countries, returning to Ireland at the end of the season with from £8 to £10 earned; but this year, in consequence of the lateness and badness of the harvest, they had carried nothing back to their homes, a circumstance to which the fact was, in great measure, due that the present distress had fallen so heavily on the small cottier class. In this way a sum of about £250,000 had been kept out of the pockets of the poorer classes of the country. It was certain, then, that from an early date in the autumn the tenants in the West of Ireland must have been fully aware of their condition, and must have known that they could not get through the year without assistance from the workhouse, and that such assistance would be absolutely refused, if they did not give up possession of their land. While the organs of public opinion in England were telling the people of this country so late as a month ago that there was no distress in Ireland, and that if any did exist it was much exaggerated, the Papers now showed that the Government were likewise in total ignorance of the state of Ireland until the 28th of October, when they received information from the Local Government Board. He would now ask the House to consider with him the state of the Irish Poor Law. In it there was a statutory prohibition refusing out-door relief to any holder of land of the extent of a quarter of an acre. This rule he considered a very harsh and cruel one in times of great distress, and it should be borne in mind that the Local Government Board in Dublin had no power to issue orders dispensing with its application. The English law on the subject was much more favourable to the class for whom these laws were intended, because the Local Government Board could at any moment dispense with any regulation as to out-door relief. As late as the 14th November the Government had determined to maintain this prohibition. On that date the Chief Secretary for Ireland, writing to the Secretary to the Treasury, said the Lord Lieutenant considered that gratuitous distribution to the able-bodied popu- 326 lation would be productive of serious injuries. In consequence of this opinion, a Circular was issued to the Guardians, calling upon them to be prepared for an extra pressure, and they were to have their wards "thoroughly cleansed and whitewashed!" Even, then, so late as the 14th of November, the people of Ireland were informed that there would be no relaxation of the law, and that they would be driven into the workhouses for relief. Since then the House had been informed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that before the meeting of Parliament the Government had determined to relax the restriction. But why was that intention not indicated at an earlier date? It would have given some measure of relief and assurance to the public mind that the Government were aware, in reality, of the extent of the evil, and knew well what were the remedies best adapted for meeting it. It appeared to him that at a very early period in the distress the Government ought to have relieved the minds of the people of Ireland by informing them that out-door relief would be dispensed where it was found to be necessary; for, whatever might be the merit of the prohibition in ordinary times, there could be no doubt that it operated with great harshness in a time of emergency such as the present, and those poor people who were severely visited by the distress which prevailed ought, he thought, to be enabled to receive relief without giving up their land and homes. Looking at the position of those tenants from another point of view, he wished to point out that, under one of the clauses of the Irish Land Act, the non-payment of rent constituted an absolute bar to compensation on ejectment which, in ordinary times, they would be entitled to, and that that too, which might be a very wise provision in a general way, served to bear very heavily during a period of scarcity, when it was almost impossible for the tenant to pay his rent. The position in which the tenant was thus placed appeared to him to be a most serious one. On the one hand, he could not obtain relief without entering the workhouse; on the other hand, if to save himself from starvation he did not pay rent, he was liable to ejectment without compensation. The position was one which he could not help thinking might, to a great extent, 327 have led to the agitation which commenced in the early part of the autumn. The Government could, in his opinion, have done a great deal to alleviate the state of alarm and terror which then existed. It was, he maintained, somewhat discreditable to the officials in Dublin that they were not able to anticipate at the time the probable extent of the impending crisis. But even in the absence of information from the Local Government Board in Ireland the Government might have acted on general information, and might have foreseen that famine was about to spread over a large portion of that country. In England there was a very bad harvest, but the Government seemed to be alive to the state of things here as early as September; for the Prime Minister, speaking at Aylesbury on the 15th of that month, described at length the unfortunate circumstances of the country, and he made an appeal to the landlords present and throughout the country generally to the effect that, looking to the very serious state of the harvest, it was absolutely essential that rents should be reduced. His Lordship's words were these—I say that I believe the landlords of England are prepared to do their duty on this occasion; hut what I "want to impress upon those who are present and those who are not present in this hall is, that it is of vital importance that they should thoroughly comprehend the state of things.He went on to say that a 10 per cent reduction might, in some cases, be a very agreeable Christmas-box if it came in time, but that he knew of many cases in which such a reduction would be utterly insufficient to meet the circumstances. Now, he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) should like to know why some action of that kind had not been taken with respect to Ireland, seeing that the Earl of Beaconsfield's remarks applied only to Ireland? He could not but think that if in September the Lord Lieutenant or some responsible Minister of the Crown had used language of a similar kind with regard to Ireland to that which the noble Earl (the Earl of Beaconsfield) had employed in reference to England, it would have been a great relief to the minds of many of the smaller tenants in the "West and South of Ireland, and might have prevented a great deal of the agitation that had taken place. The Irish people 328 might also have been re-assured in a great measure if something had been said on the question of land tenure. He had last Session moved a Resolution on that subject, which pledged the Government and the House, in the strongest language, to legislate without delay in such a manner as to afford a considerable number of tenants in Ireland the opportunity of becoming the owners of their holdings by purchase, in cases where those estates, were sold in the Landed Estates Court. That Resolution was passed as early as the month of May; but nothing was done by the Government during the remainder of the Session, and during the Recess nearly every Minister who had spoken had taken the opportunity of discouraging any idea that it would be acted upon. The noble Earl (the Earl of Beaconsfield), in the speech at Aylesbury, denounced a peasant proprietary, and enlarged upon his theory of the three profits and the absolute necessity for there being three classes to divide betweeen them the three profits. The noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) at Chichester, the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) at Hertford, and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty at "Westminster, had all condemned the whole scheme of peasant proprietorship, the last-named saying he would never support it, as he believed it to be only a sham. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had opened his mouth on more than one occasion, and had expressed his disapproval of it. Therefore, it was only natural that the people of Ireland should come to the conclusion that they had nothing to expect from the Government on the question of land tenure. He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) judged that the Government did not intend to propose any measure on the subject during the Session. If he were right in that opinion, he gave Notice that he would take an early opportunity of bringing the subject before the House. He might, however, remark that the Chief Secretary for Ireland was entirely mistaken in supposing, as he said on Friday last, that the scheme of peasant proprietorship was put forward as a remedy for the existing distress. Nobody had ever propounded so foolish a doctrine. All that had been advocated in that direction was that, if property in Ireland were more distributed, and there 329 were a larger number of small owner I ships, there would be greater stability, greater incentives to industry would be held out, and that in future the people would be in a better position to encounter a period of famine. He wished, in the next place, to say a few words on what had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) on Friday night. His hon. and learned Friend had given the House some very interesting details of a property, inhabited by a class of very small tenants, of whom the hon. Baronet the senior Member for Dublin (Sir Arthur Guinness) was the landlord. His hon. and learned Friend spoke of the very generous conduct of the landlord to those tenants, and asked whether it could be believed that they would be better off as peasant proprietors than as living under such a landlord. Well, if all Irish landlords were of the character of the hon. Baronet in question, he thought they would hear very little of discontent in Ireland; but, unfortunately, they could not conclude that that was so. If they were to judge by the evidence given before the Committee of two years ago, there were many Irish landlords of a totally different character, and among them were those smaller proprietors who had purchased their estates in the Landed Estates Court. Judge Flanagan, who was at the head of that Court, gave evidence to the effect that those landlords were among the most exacting to be found in the country, and between that class and such landlords as his hon. and learned Friend had spoken of there was every variety, and many of them, so far as Ireland was concerned, were conspicuous by their absence. He was himself well acquainted with the class of tenants to which his hon. and learned Friend had alluded, having lived among them in some of the wildest parts of Mayo; and he could say that they were not a sample of the whole tenantry of Ireland. They were a numerous, but they were also an exceptional class; they were not, he admitted, the class among whom ownership would spread most readily or easily; and he remembered that in the Committee his hon. and learned Friend was in favour of giving such tenants perpetuity grants as an alternative for any scheme for making them peasant proprietors, and carried a proposition to that effect. He wished to 330 take that, the earliest opportunity he had had of speaking since the Recess, of saying he had no sympathy with those who advocated the expropriation of landlords. No proposition of that kind, or to that extent, had come before the Committee two years ago. Still less could he sympathize with those who made a boast that by their agitation they had so reduced the value of property as to make easier the carrying out of a scheme of peasant proprietary. With such a view he could nave no sympathy. He thought it a dishonest one, and one not likely to further the object in behalf of which it was put forward. They could only proceed in a desirable direction by a full recognition of the rights of property; and he, for one, had always advocated that full recognition. As he had said, he could not sympathize with the views expressed in favour either of the expropriation of landlords or of the compulsory reduction of rents. He felt that if Her Majesty's Government were determined not to propose a measure on the subject of land tenure in Ireland this Session, he should have great difficulty in forcing them to do so. In his action during the sitting of the Committee two years ago, and in proposing and carrying the Resolution of last year, he had brought the horse to water, but he could not make it drink. If the Government declined to take further action in the matter he did not see how they could be forced to do so. He might, however, be allowed to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that, as he could not make them bring in a Bill upon the subject of the Land Laws of Ireland, an inquiry into the distress existing in Ireland and its cause, and how it could best be averted in future, might with advantage be separated from the inquiry into agricultural depression in England. The Royal Commissioners had hardly as yet commenced their operations. They had appointed Assistant Commissioners, who were instituting inquiries; but they had hardly as yet met themselves for the transaction of business. When they did they would certainly have as much on their hands as they could get through without undertaking the case of Ireland. The Irish case was totally different, and he trusted Her Majesty's Government would consider his suggestion that a separate Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into it. If his re- 331 quest were granted, the Commission could inquire whether the Resolution passed last Session by the House of Commons could be carried out. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had asked who was the Cabinet Minister responsible for Irish Business, and the First Lord of the Admiralty had replied that the whole Cabinet were responsible. That, however, could not well be. What was everyone's business was nobody's business, and they remembered that in former days the Home Secretary was the Minister charged with responsibility for Irish Business. As, however, the present Home Secretary never took part in Irish debates, he supposed they might assume that he was not now the responsible Minister of those affairs. He hoped they would hear before the debate closed from some Member of the Government who was the special Minister that in the present Cabinet was so responsible.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
wished to state his reasons for opposing the Amendment. An hon. Member had complained that Ireland was made the battle-field of Party. But who had made it the battle-field of Party but the agitators who disturbed it? One great cause of distress in Ireland was the want of capital there. There was an enormous amount of land which capital would make beaming with prosperity; but capital was a sensitive thing, it wanted peace and tranquillity, the security of life and property, and these things could not be obtained in Ireland so long as agitation prevailed. The consequence was, no one would invest money in that country. He did not wish to be misunderstood. He did not say that some of the agitators had not honourable objects in view; that they had not before them the good of the country; but he maintained that history showed, they were grievously mistaken. The Resolution was somewhat incoherent, and in some parts it was not intelligible. He could, not vote for it. It declared that the Government had failed to take adequate steps for meeting the distress; but he could not concur in this view when he saw the Papers which had been laid before the House. There might, no doubt, be a difference of opinion as to the action of the Government; but they must allow to every Government a certain margin. The Government acted under its responsi- 332 bility to Parliament, and unless they had the information which the Government had they must not condemn it unheard. He believed the Government had done the best it could in the past, and had taken every measure to meet the distress which prudently could be taken in the circumstances by prudent and viligant men. So far from there having been any apathy on their part in the matter, they had stretched a point and actually transgressed the law in order that the sufferers might be taken care of, having to ask Parliament to pass a Bill of Indemnity. What was the use, he would remind hon. Members, of harrowing the feelings of the House with the sufferings of the people? What they ought to do was to suggest a remedy. The Resolution dealt with the tenure of land. Small tenancies, he held, should come naturally, and not as the result of legislation. A man might accumulate money to the amount of millions; was there any reason why he should not increase his holding of land? The misfortune was that those who talked most about the Land Laws of England, especially the Laws of Entail and Settlement, had betrayed their ignorance of the subject. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and the right hon. Member for Birmingham had never spoken upon them without showing, generally, a practical ignorance which might be corrected in the chamber of a conveyancer or the office of a solicitor. He was far from saying that the Land Laws of Ireland might not be susceptible of improvement; but still that must be done with caution, for they were based on the same fundamental principles as the law of landlord and tenant in England and all civilized countries. That was to say, the land was let to the tenant under contract to cultivate it and to pay rent, and, as a rule, there was fixity of tenure. Nothing so monstrous as wholesale eviction could practically occur. The landlord could not now, as formerly, get the tenant to make improvements and then turn him out, if he would not pay higher rent. The eviction of improving tenants was rendered difficult, if not impossible, by the obligation to pay the value of their improvements. In that respect the law gave a better remedy to the tenant in Ireland than to the tenant in England. Land laws must be based on the same principles in all civilized countries, and they must be consonant 333 with the laws on which all society depended. If the tenant was not to pay the rent which he was able to pay, the principle would be found capable of general application, and if he was yet to continue to hold his land the debtor would repudiate his obligations, and society would be overturned. He hoped the people of Ireland would see before it was too late the danger to which they were exposed in ignoring the principle of contract between man and man, and would recognize the maintenance of that principle as essential to their individual and collective prosperity.
§ MR. SYNAN
said, that his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Sir George Bowyer) said that if a man could pay his rent and did not he was guilty of an offence against society, and he agreed with him; but what if a man was not able to pay, and then was put out of his farm? In that case his ejection might be a great wrong. In this case "your 'if' is a great peacemaker." His hon. and learned Friend had, no doubt, had good reason for taking the views he did; and he voted for the Government on every question, whether Irish or otherwise, and seemed to have abandoned Home Rule for reasons best known to himself. The difficulty the Irish Members were in was that they were opposed not only by the Government, but by the front Opposition Bench, and the hon. and learned Member, who was equal to a bench himself. The Opposition, were, however, suffering under two misapprehensions. First, they misunderstood the Amendment itself, and, secondly, its object. The Amendment did not say that the Government did not take steps to prevent the famine. It did no such thing; but what it said was that the Government, although they had timely information and warning, had not taken adequate steps to meet promptly and efficaciously the severe distress existing and increasing in Ireland. What it alleged against the Government was culpablelaches,after notice had been given them from time to time. When did the Irish Local Government Board know the state of distress which existed in Ireland? It was not famine yet; but it might lead to famine in 1881 or 1882, through the inaction and inactivity of the Government. Why, Her Majesty's Ministers had wasted time, and he defied any Member on the Treasury Bench to get up and say 334 that they had done all that could possibly be done. On the 5th of September the Local Government Board of Ireland knew that the rates in several Unions in Ireland were 4s.5d.in the pound, and that the paupers receiving out-door relief had increased to 7,515, or ll.2 per cent of the pauper population of the country. It was not until the 28th of October, however, that they took any step, and all they did then was to inform the Government that the potato crop, the staple food-crop of the people, was not more than one-half its ordinary quantity—an estimate which had since proved excessive. The Government then had before them Dr. Hancock's statistics,*'and knew what would be the result of that communication. The consequence was, wages were not forthcoming, and food and fuel ran out. The next step taken was on the 14th of November, when the Irish Government told the English Government that the landlords could do nothing, as they were not getting their rents; and what was the action of the English Government upon that? The answer was given that Parliament alone could act. In other words, they were not alive to the necessities of the case. What was the next step taken? On the 22nd of November the Irish Board of Works gave, through their Secretary, the terms on which loans would be made to the landlords. How long did it take after an application before the first instalment could be received? Four, five, six, or even eight weeks. On the 10th of January the Irish Government complained that the landlords would not take any loans under the Circular of the 22nd of November. On the 12th of January the Treasury resolved to issue a new Circular offering more favourable terms under which loans were to be made. It was true that £200,000 had been applied for under the terms of the new Circular; but the time between the 22nd of November and the 12th of January was lost. If the people in the distressed districts had been employed during that time, their wages would have enabled them to save seed for this year's sowing, and there would have been no need to bring in a Bill to supply them with seed. But the Government were waiting to see what private charity would do. Two funds were started—the Duchess of Marlborough's Fund and 335 the Mansion House Fund—and between both about £60,000 had been collected and £30,000 distributed. Was it possible that a Government like that of England was waiting to see what private charity would do, and was allowing the begging-box to be sent to Australia and America to save the great and wealthy English Treasury? No doubt they had been spending money in wars, and he was surprised they did not send the begging-box to South Africa to see how much of the £6,000,000 they could get there. The first bad effect of the inaction of the Government, therefore, was that the people remained for two months unemployed, and were obliged to live on seed that was necessary for future crops. It was, therefore, inactivity, not crime, that was charged against the Government. The next thing alleged in the Amendment was that in the Speech from the Throne, which disclosed the policy of the Government, there was no measure recommended for the prevention of future famines in Ireland. No proposal was made to avert future famines, and he was surprised to find that neither of the front Benches had a permanent remedy to apply. It was the duty of the Government in a case like this, when the distress at present felt might so extend that in six months it might reach the dimensions of a famine, to say what measures they were prepared to take by way of permanent remedy. He could understand it if the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that as this was the seventh Session, and they might dissolve in a month or two, no important measure could be introduced. But what the right hon. Gentleman said was that the question of a permanent remedy was beside the question before the House, which was how the present distress was to be relieved. Did the Government wish to provoke the Irish Party by their inaction, and, if not, why did they not propose to legislate on the question in a permanent manner? The truth was, they were there for electioneering purposes, and not for legislating, and that was the only construction that could be placed upon their conduct. The whole question ought to have been dealt with long since. In one century Spenser, in another Temple, had told of old Irish famines, and yet in our times famines had occurred with unprecedented fre- 336 quency and severity. Whether the report was true or false, it was said that there had been three deaths from famine at Parsonstown in King's County, another in county Cork, and another in Mayo. He could not vouch for the facts; but they had been asserted in the public journals. In any case, the miserable condition of the people could not be denied; and he asked whether the House was satisfied that the Government had done its duty? It would be necessary to go to the root of the matter, otherwise Belief Bills and Seed Potato Bills would be utterly useless. Looking at the unhappy facts of the case, he could not help thinking the proposals of the Government thoroughly inadequate; and they would only tend, as did the proposals at the time of the last famine, to demoralize the Irish people. It was not politic to employ men as suggested by the Government proposal upon public works during the spring, when they should be engaged upon agricultural pursuits. It was proposed by the Government to limit the obtaining of loans to February 28, which would have the very effect which should be prevented. Money was to be lent to landlords of whom it was well known that very few were willing to encumber their estates further by borrowing, and the scheme for the construction of great public works was in another way equally objectionable. He should be surprised if that plan received the assent of the House, though the uncertain sound given forth from the front Opposition Benches made it difficult for him to know what to expect. The Government, who had opposed the disestablishment of the Irish Church, had even proposed to lay its hands upon the funds so realized, instead of upon the Imperial Treasury, to relieve the present distress; but he (Mr. Synan) would not allow the Government to throw unproductive works on that fund if he could help it. The proposal of the Government would not either, he hoped, be accepted by the Opposition Benches, and he called upon the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition to state his opinion on the subject. In the case of the Lancashire Cotton Famine the money was given out of the Treasury, and why should the Irish people be dealt with in a different manner? He trusted the Irish Members would prevent the Government from laying their hands upon the Sur- 337 plus Fund, which was already appropriated to other purposes, and which, moreover, was not equal to provide for a great emergency like the present. In France and in Austria the distress of the peasantry was met by grants from the Imperial Treasury, and he now appealed to the Government to adopt the same course towards the people of Ireland. It was not alone at the famine they had to look, but at the policy of centuries, that had made these calamities chronic, and the remedy must not be through temporary shifts, such as were contained in the Bill on the Table of the House, which but—Skin and film the ulcerous place,Whilst rank corruption mining all within,Infects unseen.
§ MR. O'CLERY
said, he must earnestly support the Vote of Censure on the Government for its inaction in face of the prevailing distress in Ireland, which was greatly to be deplored. Distress and famine were chronic in Ireland under English rule. If there never had been a precedent for the present distress the inaction would be criminal in itself; but having regard to the terrible disaster of 1846, 1847, and 1848, their inaction, possibly in the future leading to consequences as grave as in that period, was criminal in the extreme. It was a warning which came home to them with particular interest, for then, as now, precautions were to be taken; but time was frittered away, and nothing was done. "With an Irish Parliament in power things would have been ordered differently; but the alien Administration of the day had no interest in saving the lives of the Irish people. Irish interests, whenever they conflicted with English interests, were disregarded. The repeal of the Corn Laws, generally looked upon as a beneficent measure, really struck a great blow at Irish prosperity, depreciating, as it did, the agricultural produce, of which her wealth was almost entirely composed. It might have been thought that the Whigs would at that time have brought before Parliament a Bill to produce a result which the Houses of Parliament and the country desired; but they did nothing of the kind—they simply passed an Act relating to vagrancy, which drove the Irish people to England, the steamboat companies making charges for passage which were al- 338 most prohibitory. He (Mr. O'Clery) would state fearlessly the history of that time and what it cost Ireland. The potato blight, which led to what was known as the Famine, commenced in 1845; and during the six years which followed, according to Government statistics, 1,029,552 of the people died on the soil of Ireland of famine and pestilence. There emigrated to America in that period 1,180,449 people, and of these 17 per cent—200,668—died within 12 months after leaving Ireland from diseases directly traceable to the famine, so that there was a total slaughter of 1,230,220 of the Irish race. In a word, one person out of every seven of the entire population of the Island died from that cause alone. This was a lesson for every English Government, no matter whether it were Whig or Tory, to take to heart. If a famine such as that of 1846–7 in Ireland had occurred in England, would there not have been a great outcry if the Government had not taken steps to relieve it? In that time there was potato blight in many countries of Europe; but it was only in Ireland people died in consequence. In Belgium and in Portugal the ports were closed against the exportations of goods, and no one was allowed to starve. Why? Because the Belgian and Portuguese Governments were legislating for their own people. It was unfortunate that the exigencies of a great Empire had to be considered rather than the wants of a starving people. What excuse had the Government for not raising money during the Recess in order to avert the miseries that had fallen upon Irish men and Irish women; for had not the British Government raised millions without the consent of Parliament for other purposes? It was useless to talk of preserving the integrity of the Empire when the Government showed itself so indifferent to the necessities of one part of it. The recent action of the French and Prussian Governments in averting distress from their people put the English Government to shame. In 1846, Sir Robert Peel pursued the same course that was now followed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He made "inquiries" and took precautions, and his Whig successor, Lord John Russell, in 1847, also made "inquiries;" but, as they found now, they allowed the people to die. They instituted measures to pro- 339 tect life; but those measures were gallows and gibbets for the people. It was not without deep pain he found himself, as an Irish Representative, pleading before that Parliament for the lives of his fellow-countrymen. It seemed as if there was nothing for an Irish Representative to do but to entreat the Government from year to year to permit Irish people to live. Eighty years ago England usurped the government of Ireland, and since then Ireland had suffered more through the operation of laws framed in that House than any country in Europe by the most devastating war. Famine was almost chronic in a land which exported more food than would support double her population. The population now was little more than it was at the beginning of the century; they had sustained a loss of human life by famine already unparalleled in the world's history. And why? Because they had been robbed of the control of their resources as a nation. The beef, the mutton, and the bacon were allowed to leave the ports of Ireland instead of being retained within its borders. Some months ago, at a great meeting in Tipperary, he stated his solemn conviction that Ireland was in danger—that her people would soon be face to face with famine. Public men of all shades of opinion had pronounced on the gravity of the impending crisis. The hierarchy of Ireland had solemnly urged the necessity of prompt and vigorous action. Prom end to end of the country came warnings to the authorities. What was done? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had told the House that night that he had caused inquiries to be made into the state of the different districts, and that he was in a position to send orders to Ireland; but it appeared to him that the British Government were determined to allow them to drain the cup of misery to the dregs as long as life would last. It was an insult to the Irish people in such circumstances, and an attempt to degrade and humiliate and pauperize them, to send round hacks and place begging boxes in the streets to ask for alms for the starving Irish. What a mockery of people in their agony! What a crime against a race virtually entering the valley of the shadow of death! It seemed there was no end to those inquiries; the Government and the authorities in Dublin Castle were to be kept informed from 340 week to week. Was it merely to see how long the Celts could remain in the land before it could be said of them again that they were gone with a vengeance? That was the course of alien rule over a country. It would be the same with England, herself, if she were subjected to some Continental Power whose Government would appropriate her resources and disregard the lives of her people. But he should probably be told that a grant of public money could not be made without the consent of Parliament. His answer was that two years ago £4,000,000 sterling were raised on the faith of the Government for the purchase of the Suez Canal Shares. The Government saw no difficulty in finding money then. Were the lives of a people of more importance than a stock-jobbing transaction of that kind? But they could have obtained the sanction of Parliament had they desired it. There was ample notice of the danger before the close of last Session; and even if there had not been at that time, there was sufficient reason for the convocation of Parliament in October or November. In 1847, Lord George Bentinck proposed that £20,000,000 should be spent in making railways in Ireland. That would have made her, as it were, a nation again. Successive Governments had never been slow to pass measures for the protection of life in Ireland; but they invariably took the shape of measures of coercion and for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. But when the lives of the people were at stake they, forsooth, saw no reason "to depart from the ordinary procedure." Now, let them not pauperize or demoralize the people. Let them devote the greater portion of this money to be voted to giving the small tenants and small holders employment on their own farms. Let them be secured the seed for next year's crop; let them set to work to improve by wages paid regularly their wretched cabins, unfit for human tenements. Let that be done, and the people would be saved; but if it was not done, the responsibility attaching to the Government in face of past disasters would be awful, and their inaction infamous to all time.
§ MR. GRAY,
having been chairman of the principal committee in Ireland for the relief of the present distress—the Dublin Mansion House Committee, which he called the principal committee 341 in the sense of its having been intrusted with more subscriptions than any other and of its being more representative, wished to make a few observations. Some doubt having been thrown upon the universality of the distress, he thought it right to say that, in his opinion, no exaggeration had been used with regard to the character of the distress now prevalent in Ireland. His impression, from the debates during the last two nights, was that Englishmen scarcely realized the character of that distress; that they did not realize it at all until the letter of the Duchess of Marlborough appeared some weeks ago. He was bound to say that that letter deserved the deepest gratitude from all classes in Ireland; and he could certainly add, as one having some knowledge of the subject, that he was convinced that the belief of nearly all Irishmen, and certainly of those conversant with the subject, was that her Grace had only one object in view when she initiated the charitable fund, and that she acted upon a charitable motive. He was not going to say there had not been mistakes in its distribution. Perhaps there had been mistakes in the distribution of that fund, as there had been in the distribution of other funds; but he believed that the initiation of the fund was good, and that it was honestly and impartially administered. Now, as to the amount of distress in Ireland. The Dublin Mansion House Fund was instituted five weeks ago. It had not been really more than four weeks in active operation. It was now in connection with 500 committees, centred in all parts of Ireland. It was a mistake to say that the distress was confined to the South and West of Ireland. It was spread over all the country. It did not approach the distress of 1847, nor did he say that it was universal; but it was general in the sense of being spread over the entire country, and but for the application of private charitable funds there would already have been hundreds of deaths from starvation. The Dublin Mansion House Committee had received abundant testimony from representative men of all political and religious creeds, not that the peasantry were about to die of starvation, not that if the Government did not take prompt steps they would die, but that they were dying, and that many were living on 342 one meal a-day, and they could no longer get credit for that. Take the committee of which he had most knowledge. They had received about £50,000, and had spent about £24,000 exclusively in the purchase of food; and in the reports which had been received from the local committees they had the information that the food had been exclusively Indian meal, and that they gave one meal of it to each family per diem. Such was the position of Ireland at that time. The question was not one as to whether power should be given to Local Boards to borrow money, or as to whether power should be given to landlords who had not received their rents. Her Majesty's Government did not seem to realize the danger that was upon them; and while they were deliberating these questions, or the question as to whether landlords would be able to raise the interest upon loans, the people were actually starving. He did not want unnecessarily to occupy the attention of the House, nor did he want to make any attack upon the Government for their lack of exertion. He believed their action had been too late. He believed that, notwithstanding what the Government had done, there would be cases of starvation by thousands within the next two months, if the people were not supplied with labour from public works or out-door relief. Her Majesty's Government seemed to think this was a matter for future arrangement, and that two or three months hence they might meet the emergency, and they did not seem to recognize the fact that were it not for the application of funds from private sources the people would have been starved while they were thinking what ought to be done. He would only add that the responsibility rested henceforward upon the shoulders of Her Majesty's Government, and desired to impress upon them the necessity of prompt action. They were about to place a Bill before Parliament authorizing Boards of Guardians to give out-door relief. That was something. But would the Boards of Guardians avail themselves of this authority. In 1847 they did not do so. Were Her Majesty's Government about to take proper steps to compel them to do so in the event of their not performing their duty in the present case? He acknowledged that the last appointment to the Local Go- 343 vernment Board was an admirable one; but it was well known that the Board was still very weak, and that a vacancy existed thereon. Were Her Majesty's Government about to fill it with a competent man? These were not attacks upon the policy of Her Majesty's Government. They were simply questions of what they were about to do from the point of obvious duty. It was well known that in the Famine of 1846–8 the worst time came after the failure of the potato crop, when the lands remained, un-cropped during the succeeding year. What were Her Majesty's Government going to do to meet that emergency in the present instance? They knew very well that the lands in the South-West of Ireland would be uncropped next year, and that the farmers were eating their seed potatoes. Did not Her Majesty's Government know that within six weeks they must decide and take action upon that? After that time it would be too late. He wished to impress upon Her Majesty's Government that they had been warned last year, and that they had treated the warning with contempt, and they now had the fact to meet that the people were actually dying. Her Majesty's Government had taken steps which he (Mr. Gray), as an individual, believed to be too late. Were they going to take any measures for stocking the land for the next year? He cared not whether the money came from the Church Fund or the Consolidated Fund; but let them take it from somewhere in order to save the lives of the people. He told the House, as chairman of a committee which had necessarily more knowledge of the subject than any other body, perhaps, even of the Government itself, that their information was that the people were starving. He told them that they would have starved before but for the charitable organization started without their assistance. He appealed to Her Majesty's Government to state whether they were going to let the lives of the people of Ireland depend upon chance contributions from Australia or America? £30,000 had already been received from Australia, while but £5,000 or £6,000 had been contributed by all England. Were Her Majesty's Government about to secure that the Boards of Guardians who had, on a former occasion, neglected their duty, should be 344 compelled to perform it in the present instance, and that the lands should be stocked for the coming year? They had but six weeks in which to do that work. Were they going to do it; and, if so, in what manner was it to be done?
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Although I have already addressed the House upon the subject of the Address to Her Majesty, I am most anxious to say a few words also for the sake of giving some explanation of the vote I intend to give, and to make one or two observations upon some remarks which have been made by hon. Members in the course of this debate. I am very far indeed from disparaging the importance of the issue raised by the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw), and I wish to take this opportunity of renewing my expression of regret to him that I thought it my duty to discuss with him the title to address the House when I rose in the usual manner after the Seconder of the Address. But, if I did so, it was not in the slightest degree with the idea of underrating the importance of the subject which he felt it his duty to bring before the notice of the House, or of disparaging his right to move his Amendment. Admitting, as I do, the great practical importance of the subject, I cannot help thinking that the subject has been raised somewhat too soon—too soon, at all events, in its present shape. It was certainly necessary, and, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, it was necessary that the question of the depression in Ireland should be discussed at the earliest possible moment; and this was shown by the Government having given Notice of the introduction of a Bill which will raise the whole question. We are now asked to pass a Vote of Censure upon the Government for having taken inadequate measures for the relief of Irish distress. I do not feel I am able to give an opinion upon the question of as to whether the measures which the Government have taken are or are not adequate. The Government have admitted that they have taken upon themselves a great responsibility, both by what they have done and by what they have omitted to do. They acknowledge their responsibility, and it is the duty of the House of Commons to make them feel that responsibility, and to call them to account for it. It is not the province of the 345 House of Commons to shape measures; I that is the province of the Government. The most important duty of the House of Commons is to watch the proceedings of the Government; to watch, from time to time, the results of those proceedings; and when they have facts before them which enable them to form a dispassionate judgment, to give their opinion as to the manner in which Government may have discharged their responsibility and as to the adequacy of their measures. Sir, there are no means in the Papers presented to us of ascertaining how far their estimate of the state of affairs prevailing in Ireland is correct or otherwise, or how far their anticipations as to the probable conditions of affairs during the winter will be altered or have been realized or exceeded. The last Report of the Local Government Board is dated at the end of October; but the Government must be in possession, I imagine, of very much later information from the Local Government Boards and Boards of Guardians showing what is the actual state of the country up to Christmas, or even a later date. Until that information is before us, how is it possible for us to say whether the measures taken by Her Majesty's Government for the relief of the distress in Ireland are adequate or not? I am, therefore, unable to say that, in my opinion, the Representatives of the Irish constituencies have altogether made out their case. I imagined that when the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw) placed on the Paper a Notice of Motion of Censure on Her Majesty's Government for the inadequacy of their measures, he would have been prepared to lay before the House facts and figures which would have been sufficient of themselves to show that their preparations had manifestly failed and were inadequate to the emergency. I do not find, either in the speech of the Mover of the Motion, or of any hon. Member, that the statement as to the universality of serious distress is supported by any conclusive proofs which would justify the House, at so early a period, in passing a Vote of Censure upon the Government. I have heard this evening a statement of much more detail, and I think of a much more grave character, and which is, perhaps, the most important statement made in the course of this debate, that which has just been made by the 346 hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray). The right hon. Gentleman has, as we know, very exceptional opportunities for making himself acquainted with the real state of the case; and the description which he has given of the circumstances present to his knowledge in Ireland are, in my opinion, much more grave than anything which we have had laid before us hitherto. But I think the right hon. Gentleman has spoken with becoming moderation, and I did not understand him actually to pledge himself to the statement that the measures taken by Her Majesty's Government up to the present time had broken down, or that there had been any destitution actually amounting to starvation in the country. Sir, I have, during the course of this debate, been surprised at the aspect of the case presented to us by Members of Irish constituencies, for it appears to me that the reports of the relief committees have from time to time shown that a very much more acute crisis existed than has been described by hon. Members in this House. I think it quite impossible for me, and for the House, and I should be sorry to say, at the present time, that the measures of the Government have been adequate, especially after the speech of the hon. Member for Tipperary. At the same time, I feel it equally impossible to say that any proof has been laid before us that those measures have been absolutely inadequate. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) has also laid before the House, in a very interesting speech, the picture of a very sad state of things as existing on the West coast of Ireland. In that picture I am inclined to think that there is not the slightest exaggeration. I believe that, in ordinary years, the condition of a very large portion of the population in that part of Ireland is one which is very little removed from destitution. I remember very well that in one of the last years during which I held office in Ireland a state of things existed on the West coast and in the Islands which was extremely similar to the condition of affairs pointed out by the hon. Member this evening. On that occasion, a few benevolent persons to whom the facts of the case became known proceeded to raise a relief fund for the purpose of keeping alive the people of those districts. I do not understand, however, 347 the hon. Member for Galway to say that the measures which have been taken, or which are about to be taken, coupled with the exertions of the relief committees, would be inadequate to meet the distress existing in the districts referred to. But what he did point out was that measures were required of a more permanent character to regulate the position of affairs. I entirely agree with the hon. Member, and I am certain that the House will be disposed to go with him, if he can point out any measures that will be of a permanent character, tending to improve the condition of the people. At the same time, I cannot help agreeing with the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W.E. Forster) that we must not look too confidently for any improvement by legislation in such a state of things as has been described. Legislation cannot effect a change in the social condition of people who are content to exist, and who are also content to multiply in circumstances which at the best of times affords but a bare subsistence, and which in a bad year necessarily lead to destitution. We cannot expect that, without raising the social standard of life in districts such as those which have been alluded to, any permanent improvement can take place. I am ready to believe that hon. Members are right in saying that emigration on a large scale is not the remedy which is required in the present state of Ireland, and that Ireland ought to be able to support its present population. That may be true; but if so, it must also be true that the population of Ireland is not properly distributed. The population of the districts described by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) is, under the circumstances in which it exists, too great to be maintained on the soil. If the hon. Member can propose any measure for the permanent improvement of the inhabitants of that part of Ireland, it will, I am sure, be received by hon. Members on both sides of the House with the utmost willingness to give it the most favourable consideration. I think, perhaps, I may claim that this side of the House has a great willingness to listen to any proposal which the hon. Member may have to make for the permanent improvement of the condition of the people in this part of Ireland. As I have said before, I think it is extremely de- 348 sirable that the Government, if they have any later information than we as yet possess as to the state of Ireland, should as soon as possible lay it upon the Table of the House, and that they should from time to time present to us the various Reports received from the Local Government Board, which must show the progress of the distress, and the measures which have been taken for its relief. When the time comes, and when it is conclusively proved, as I hope it may never be proved, that their measures have broken down, then, in my opinion, and certainly not now, will be the time for the Government to be called upon to answer to their responsibility for the inadequacy of the measures which they may have taken. I cannot say that the measures taken up to the present have been open to censure. They have been tried and found successful on former occasions. It is admitted that the distress is not universal; and to have adopted measures of a wider scope and of a more heroic character might, undoubtedly, have caused a panic and led to a very considerable demoralization of the people. The measures taken, so far as they have gone, whether sufficient or otherwise I know not, appear to have been measures that were, in the first instance, calculated to mitigate distress by affording employment; and if that, unfortunately, failed to save the people by out-door relief from the danger of absolute starvation, the only additional suggestion which I have heard from Irish Members is that loans should be offered by Government to the occupiers of land. I have no doubt that if that proposal were put into definite shape, and a practical scheme were laid before the House, it would be very readily entertained. I must, however, at the same time, say that the form in which I have heard it suggested does not appear to me to be one of a very practical character. In the first place, no one would deny that the State or anyone who lends money ought to have security. It may be very much to be regretted that the occupier has not a greater and more fixed interest than he possesses in his occupation, or a greater security of tenure; but we hear every day on all sides that the occupier has no security to give for the advances proposed to be made to him. In these circumstances, I cannot 349 see how it could be a wise policy to lend money to occupiers without, as it would appear, any security. There are two more conclusive reasons against this. What security would there be for money advanced in this way being applied for the object for which it is intended? We are informed, and I have no doubt truly, that a great number of small occupiers, and indeed of large occupiers, are in an extremely embarrassed position. They owe money to their landlords for rent, and they owe money to their tradesmen as well as to persons from whom they have borrowed money. It is not possible that the Board of Works or the Government could exercise a minute supervision over the manner in which these loans were expended. And is it not but too probable that if the money were advanced permanently they would be impelled to use it for pressing necessities, that a very large portion would go to the landlords in the shape of rent, and another to the tradesmen for debt; and, therefore, that only a small portion would go in the required direction—namely, the employment of labour? Sir, I shall not at this time of night make any observations on that portion of the Amendment which refers to the duty of the House to legislate upon land tenure. It is assumed, and I should say without sufficient proof, that all the evils which afflict Ireland are directly traceable to the existing system of land tenure. It cannot be said of those on this side of the House, whether we have failed or whether we have succeeded, that we are indifferent to the question of land tenure. We have admitted that a remedy was required, and we have endeavoured to deal with it. Whether our remedy has been successful is a subject upon which there may, of course, be a difference of opinion. At the same time, I am very far from admitting that there are no evils which afflict Ireland at present that are connected with the system of land tenure; but I say further that I entirely demur to the assumption that has also been made that the Land Act has failed in its operation. I expressed an opinion in this House one or two years ago that the time was approaching, if it had not already arrived, when it would be desirable to have some inquiry into the operation and effect of the Act. I am still more strongly of that opinion now; 350 and I think that now that we are inquiring into the condition of agriculture in England, it is desirable that the position of agriculture in Ireland, and of the occupiers, as well as the effect of the Land Act, should be inquired into; and I am not disposed to question the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), that a subject so important should not be made a mere branch of a larger inquiry, but should be intrusted to a separate Commission. Sir, I feel that the House having been addressed by so many hon. Members more competent from practical knowledge to deal with this question than myself, I owe an apology for having occupied the time of the House in making these observations upon the subject raised by the Amendment. But I do wish before I conclude to make one or two remarks upon another question, which does not appear to be absolutely relevant to the question in debate, but which I cannot avoid. I refer to the observations made on a former occasion upon what I thought to be the irrelevant character of the speech of the Seconder of the Address to Her Majesty. I do not think it necessary to enter into any detail or answer to the remarks he made on the conduct of myself, or the Liberal Party generally, in relation to the question of Home Rule. I thought that I said that that was a question not referred to in the Queen's Speech, and that his observations on the subject were absolutely irrelevant, and might be passed over. But I was somewhat astonished when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in paying the usual compliments to the Mover and Seconder of the Address, said that he thought an extremely pertinent question had been asked by the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. J. P. Corry), and that the House would be glad to know what was the position of the Liberal Party and of myself with regard to Home Rule, and whether it was to be considered an open question in the same sense as a great many others. I shall have something to say later on as to the expression "an open question;" but, in the first place, before I come to the merits of the question, I should like to make a short examination of the antecedents of those Gentlemen who bring this charge, and impute to us that we have now made Home Rule 351 an open question with the Liberal Party. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) has already referred to the circumstance of the election of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman). It is well that we should examine into that case a little more minutely. The hon. and gallant Member for Sligo was elected, as the whole House is aware, on a distinct pledge as a Home Ruler. If there be any doubt as to this, the House will, perhaps, allow me to read a passage from his address. On December 29, 1876, the hon. and gallant Gentleman addressed his constituents, and said—I think that the experience of each Session shows more and more that the pressure of Business prevents the Imperial Parliament from giving proper attention to the wants of Ireland, and I believe that the original principles of Home Government, as advocated by myself on former occasions, must eventually force themselves upon the House of Commons.Now, this is a distinct Home Rule declaration. The House will observe that it is rather a mild statement of Home Rule; whether it was made under pressure I do not know. I will now read but one short extract from the printed address of the candidate, which will leave no doubt as to the thoroughness of his Home Rule sentiments. He said—I raised the cry of Home Rule at a time when no other man in Ireland had raised it. In Longford and in Dublin I fought for it. Although well beaten in my own county of Longford, I was not deterred, but went up to Dublin expecting defeat, but nevertheless determined to raise the cry of Home Rule on the hustings. The Secretary for the Home Rule League was talking to mo, and he said only for those election battles the League would not be in its present position to-day. I am, as I was then, a determined Home Ruler. I think it is a question which must recommend itself to the common sense of every true Irishman. It is a question which has been often threshed out and explained, and I need not go into details. But I simply ask what can be more common-sense-like than that a nation should demand to manage its own affairs as a man manages the affairs of his own household? Home Rule involves every other point in the programme, as if we had Home Rule everything else would follow. But as we have it not, we must go in for as much as we can get for the good of Ireland from the Imperial Parliament.There could be no mistake as to these sentiments. A resolution was passed at the meeting of the Home Rule League in Dublin, on January 5, 1877. It was moved by the Rev. Joseph Galbraith, seconded by Mr. Dawson, and it was resolved— 352That, remembering the part taken by Mr. King-Harman in the very origin of the Home Rule movement, his participation in the earliest struggles of that cause, and the signal services rendered by him as one of the secretaries of the National Conference, we desire to express our great satisfaction at his selection as candidate by the large and influential meeting of the electors of Sligo; and that in perfect reliance on his proved and disinterested devotion to the Homo Rule cause, and the interests of his country generally, we look forward to his return for that county as an essential service to Ireland.The hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he entered the House of Commons, did not shrink from the pledges which he had given; on the contrary, he took the earliest opportunity of fulfilling those pledges. On the 24th of April, 1877, the hon. and gallant Member seconded a Motion of which a great deal has been heard—namely, that which was moved by the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw), demanding a Select Committee to inquire into and report upon the demand of the Irish people for the restoration of the Irish Parliament. In seconding that Motion he took the opportunity of distinctly defining his position with regard to Home Rule. He said—There were many Irishmen of considerable intelligence and influence who would limit their demand by saying 'Give us a local commission for Ireland who can legislate for us on such subjects as Railway and Gas Bills;' but he did not acquiesce in that limitation—far from it. If, however, the Committee, after a full and fair investigation of the subject, decided that Home Rule to that extent only should be granted, he asked that that might be granted first, and then they could discuss the other points afterwards."—[3Hansard,cexxxiii. 1752.]The hon. and gallant Member, therefore, seconded that very Motion which, in a slightly modified and milder form, my noble Friend Lord Ramsay promised to vote for the other day at Liverpool. On account of that promise, I am informed that it is suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis), and the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), that I ought to have repudiated his candidature, and that I ought not to have wished for his success. We are given to understand that those two Gentlemen—the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman) and my noble Friend Lord Ramsay—have done a very objectionable and very dreadful thing—that they have promised to vote for an Irish. 353 Parliament, and for that reason have cut themselves off from all sympathy with right-minded Members of Parliament. Let us see now how a very high authority the other day defined the nature of this offence—"Home Rule," we are told, "means, I think, disintegration of the Empire; and whoever votes for it, on whatever side he sits, is false to his Queen and his country." Gentlemen, whether hon. Members or not, who have been guilty of tampering with an offence so described are, no doubt, looked upon with suspicion. But how has the reprobation of the Government been marked? The speech I have just referred to was made, I think, on April 24th, 1877; and on October the 5th, 1878, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman) was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the county of Roscommon, I believe by the very nobleman who gave the description of Home Rule which I have just quoted. Sir, this question has been referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt); but I have not observed that anyone has had the courage to attempt a reply to the allegation which has been made, except my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), who, with his usual courage, came forward and said—"Yes; it is quite true that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was appointed Lieutenant of his county. It is quite true that this is a great social position; and when the hon. and gallant Gentleman was appointed to that office, we did not think much about his political opinions. He was appointed because he had £40,000 a-year, and was held in universal respect in the county." We now know that £40,000 a-year and universal respect in the county are to condone falseness to the Queen and to the country. Sir, I do not know—I have not taken the trouble to inquire—what may be the future prospects in this respect of my noble friend Lord Ramsay. I do not know whether his income may justify such an appointment in the opinion of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, and how far it may be prejudiced by his adopting Home Rule principles. But let us see whether this is merely a social position? What are the duties of the Lord Lieutenant of a county? He recommends the appointment of county magis- 354 trates; he recommends for commissions in the Militia; and he appoints Deputy Lieutenants, which, as hon. Members know, are offices of considerable political influence. Everyone is aware that the appointment of Lord Lieutenant of a county is pre-eminently political. It is not made without reference to social grounds; but it is pre-eminently on political grounds that this office is bestowed. Any one of us can call to mind instances on both sides of politics of men socially most fitted for the position having been passed over in favour of somebody with stronger political claims. But my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin says that it is a social appointment, and that the case of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo was quite different from the political bargain entered into by my noble friend (Lord Ramsay) at the election at Liverpool. I should like to know from the Secretary to the Treasury—of course, I have no knowledge of the fact—whether the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo receives those Circulars issued on pressing occasions by the Treasury; or whether his political allegiance has been entirely discarded on account of his Home Rule tendencies? We know that it is the custom, on the occasion of a Member taking his seat during the sitting of Parliament, that he should be introduced by two of his Friends. I have taken the trouble to ascertain who performed that office for the hon. and gallant Member; and I find he was introduced by the hon. Member for the Southern Division of the West Riding, and either by the noble Lord the Member for Donegal (the Marquess of Hamilton), or by his noble Brother the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Claud Hamilton). If I am not mistaken, the father of these two noble Lords occupied at the time the position of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and I believe both these noble Lords generally share the political opinions of their relative. I am surprised, therefore, that, considering the reprobation with which Home Rule opinions are regarded on the opposite side of the House, the son of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland should have been selected to introduce the hon. and gallant Member. I should like to ask a question on that subject of the Secretary to the Treasury. I should like to ask it of a very steady supporter of the 355 Government opposite, who has given them his support to-night. I should not be surprised if the hon. and learned Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer) also accepted the Circular. I might ask the same question with regard to the junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. Hamond), who, like the hon. and learned Member for Wexford, is described in this small and, I believe, accurate volume, which gives a short account of the principles of hon. Members, as "in favour of a system called Home Rule for Ireland." Such, then, is the description of these two hon. Gentlemen. I have been looking over the list of candidates for the next General Election, and I have not yet discovered who is the Conservative candidate that is going to eject the junior Member who avows these opinions. Again, although I do not see him in his place, I should be glad to know—and the House would be glad to know—what are the exact relations of the noble Lord the Member for County Down (Viscount Castlereagh) with Home Rule? This work does not contain so explicit an account of his political opinions; but I am aware that the Home Rule Association some time ago made a declaration that they had had some communication with the noble Lord, and that they were entirely satisfied. It might be satisfactory, therefore, to learn what are the precise opinions of the noble Lord, although I do not for a moment profess to know what those opinions are. At the same time, it seems to me that after the declaration of the Prime Minister in "another place," and after those details which I have inflicted upon the House, that it is not from us, but from the Government, that some explanations are due. For myself, I maintain that I have done nothing of which I am, or ought to be, ashamed; and I leave it to the Government to explain whether it is right to appoint to a position of very high honour—whether political or social—a gentleman holding those opinions with which you so entirely disagree? But I have no doubt, however, in my own mind, that both the Government and the Party on this side have been right in not repudiating a common political allegiance and fellowship with gentlemen holding these opinions. I will now address myself to the question put to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 356 as to whether Irish Home Rule is to be an open question with the Liberal Party? I should like to know a little more precisely what the right hon. Gentleman means by "an open question." I have heard of open questions of great importance in the Cabinet. Questions of the greatest importance at critical periods of our history have been regarded as open questions in the Cabinet, and the term is one which is perfectly well understood. The term is very often applied by constituencies to their candidates, and certain tests have been imposed; but I never heard before of tests being imposed by a Government, or by the Leaders of a Party, upon Members desirous of supporting them, and I want to know on what foundation this practice rests which the Government seeks to introduce? I only know of one test that can be applied to Members of a political Party, and that seems to be a general agreement, and a general disposition, to act under a common Leader; and I have never heard until now, when some Party advantage may be obtained from it, of questions being open in relation to a Party. I will frankly say that if Lord Ramsay had declared himself to be decidedly a supporter of Home Rule, I should not have written to him the letter which I did. I make that declaration with perfect sincerity, and, at the same time, with very great pain; with sincerity, because, in my opinion, there are questions of such great importance that about them there ought to be no doubt and no hesitation whatever; with pain, because if there is one thing I desire more ardently than another, it is to see the time when Members from Irish constituencies shall come to this Parliament and take part in our debates upon the grounds of political, and not of national, opinion. But I am afraid it is not likely to hasten the arrival of such a time if an English Member is to be placed under a sort of political excommunication for supporting the views which are honestly held, and ardently desired, by the great body of the Irish Members. I say that the question of Home Rule is one of such vital importance that about it there ought to be no doubt whatever. But Lord Ramsay did not pledge himself to support Home Rule—he pledged himself to vote for an inquiry into the nature of the Irish demand. To every- 357 thing which I have said upon the subject I entirely adhere. I adhere to it, inasmuch as I am opposed to an inquiry—not because it is mischievous in itself, but because I think it is calculated to give rise to false impressions in Ireland, and to lead the Irish people to suppose that candidates and constituencies are willing to grant their demands, but who, in reality, are not disposed to do anything of the kind. I opposed that inquiry, and I never advised any candidate over whom I had any influence to give a pledge to vote for it. Still, I cannot help saying that this is not a difference on a vital question of principle. It is a difference only as to the manner in which a certainbonâ fidedemand of the Irish people should be met. The Conservative Party, and we on this side of the House, have not been wrong in repudiating those who, contrary to our opinion, are advised to take this pledge. In what I have said to-night I have not, in the slightest degree, condemned the conduct hitherto pursued by Her Majesty's Government. But what I do most strongly condemn is what I cannot but call the hypocrisy that seeks to fasten on an opponent the imputation of discreditable conduct for that which is perfectly innocent in itself, and that which has also been practised by themselves.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, that the debate had brought the real extent of the distress now prevailing in Ireland into a clear light, and that no one, after listening to it or perusing the Papers, could doubt but that the Government were fully acquainted with the nature and extent of the emergency with which they had to deal. There had at first been a tendency in some quarters to exaggerate, and in others to minimize, the distress; but there was no doubt the truth had been pretty fairly ascertained. The voluntary agencies had already been sufficiently referred to; and he thought that all would admit that the Duchess of Marlborough's Fund and the Dublin Mansion House Fund had both done good work. The first point that seemed to him to call for remark was that the measures taken by the Government had not been seriously found fault with in any quarter. No one who had read the Papers could doubt that Her Majesty's Government had proceeded with the anxious desire 358 neither to interfere too soon nor too late, but to be guided by prudence and circumspection. It had been suggested by the hon. Member for Limerick that the first Circular issued by the Government in November, 1879, which was tentative, had not worked at all. But that was not the case; because, in response to that Circular, applications for loans to the extent of £128,000 were asked for, and had not been refused. When the Government came to the conclusion that it was desirable to go beyond that first Circular, they did not hesitate to do so; and now the result was that a sum of very little short of £400,000 had been applied for. Notwithstanding what had been stated, there was no single case of death reported in which the cause could be authentically shown to have been famine or starvation. It was worthy of remark that none of the Irish workhouses were now filled—as they certainly would have been had the state of starvation and poverty been so great as had been represented. At the present moment, however, some of the workhouses were very full; but there was room in every one of them. He was happy to state that the prospect of a fuel famine had, in the opinion of persons of experience, already passed off; and there were actually Unions that had declined to avail themselves of the permission to give outdoor relief in fuel. He thought that Government had shown that they had dealt in this crisis with vigour and necessary caution. These were circumstances which should not be lost sight of for a moment. They should not render the House forgetful of the actual distress that existed in Ireland; but, at the same time, should put them on their guard against exaggerated statements. Another circumstance which should be borne in mind, and which showed that the Government had given their most anxious consideration to the situation of affairs in Ireland for some time, was the intimation made by the First Lord of the Admiralty that they had carefully considered the necessity of providing seed where it was required. Hon. Members opposite who represented Irish constituencies had, it appeared to him, mixed up the two questions of what should be done to relieve the immediate distress, and what could be done to prevent permanently the recurrence of a 359 similar state of things. The latter was a gigantic question; and if they were going then to discuss it they would never get to the end of the debate. It had been stated that, under a peasant proprietary system, much of this distress might have been obviated; but looking at the position of those who were now suffering most acutely—it appeared that they were the tenantry in occupation of small farms; that they had not to pay instalments to the Government towards the purchase of their holdings; and that they had not, in fact, paid any rent to their landlords during the past year or so—it was difficult to see that calling them peasant proprietors, instead of tenants, would improve their position. Another suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw) was that out-door relief might be given. He (the Attorney General for Ireland) thought that that question had been disposed of already by the ample information supplied to the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated the opinion of the Government upon that subject; and the Bill now before Parliament showed, moreover, how liberally the Government were disposed to behave with regard to this question of out-door relief. The hon. Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghue) suggested that instead of giving advances to landlords they should be made to tenants. He could understand that advances might be given to a tenant who was a substantial man; but how could you make an advance to a tenant whose tenure or circumstances did not warrant it? Neither the Government nor anyone else would be warranted in making advances in such circumstances. It was obvious that that important and difficult question of the distress in Ireland was not a Party question. He was sure that hon. Members on both sides were equally anxious to arrive at the adoption of some measures which would cope with the distress, and enable Ireland to pass through the present crisis with as little suffering as possible. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had spoken with the greatest moderation and fairness with reference to the Motion then before the House, and also as to the attitude of the Government, of course reserving to himself the complete right to question their actions hereafter if he should see reason to object to it. 360 He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had likewise paid a tribute to the benevolence and kindly feeling shown by the landlords, who were themselves in great difficulty, in assisting their tenants through the difficult crisis. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), in alluding several times to the agitation, mentioned some tendencies or effects of which he disapproved; but he also expressed no censure whatever as to the mode in which the agitation had been carried on. In fact, he suggested that the landlord should be obliged to pay compensation for disturbance to tenants who did not pay rent, and who might be evicted for non-payment. Really, the landlord, who was not to get any rent, and who was not to evict, would be in a very unfortunate position. Well, what the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) said as to the distress did not call for any observations from him; but the noble Lord was anxious to explain something which had been referred to in the course of the debate, and he adopted the very familiar artifice of diverting attention from his own proceedings by making a vigorous attack on what he alleged to be the proceedings of others. That was an old fallacy, and one known well as an attempt to throw dust in other people's eyes. What was the analogy between the way in which the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo was treated by his Party, and the way in which the noble Lord opposite and his eminent Colleagues treated Lord Ramsay? When his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sligo was a candidate for Sligo he would like to know if any Member of the Ministry wrote letters, which were published in the newspapers, advising the Sligo people to return him? Did the Prime Minister say a single word, or make a single suggestion, that he should be elected? And at an earlier time than that, when there was a contest for the City of Dublin, where there was an immense Conservative vote, and his hon. and gallant Friend was started as a Home Rule candidate, the great majority of the Conservative Party held aloof, and allowed him to be beaten by thousands. The Conservative Leaders withheld their support, and not a single official wrote a letter in the Press on his behalf. What was the suggestion, then, which could be made, when at Dublin he was allowed to be beaten without a 361 single sign on the part of the Conservative Leaders, and when at Sligo he was returned without a single action on their part? The single charge that remained was, that he, a leading man in his county—one of the most active of its magistrates, one of the most vigorous and capable men in all county affairs—was not passed by when the Lieutenancy was vacant; and it was attempted to be urged that this was analogous to the proceedings of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich and of the Leader of the Opposition with reference to Lord Ramsay's candidature in Liverpool the other day. Surely that was rank nonsense? When Lord Ramsay was candidate for Liverpool, recommended by such distinguished Gentlemen, he was credited by the fullest official sanction of the Leaders of the Party opposite. The noble Lord had now criticised the acts of the Government; but he had spoken here somewhat differently from the way in which he wrote to Liverpool. He said this—that it was a rash and wrong thing to create false impressions and illusions in Ireland. He said he did not differ from Lord Ramsay on any vital point or question of principle. Was not Home Rule, then, a question of principle? Was that not calculated to produce false impressions and illusions?
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I do not say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is far from the sense; but I wish to point out that he does not quote my words accurately.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, he was not saying what the noble Lord said in his letters, but what he said in the House not half an hour ago. He took the words down at the time they were uttered. The noble Lord said distinctly that he did not think the promise to inquire into Home Rule involved any vital question of principle. It must, therefore, go forth from the front Opposition Bench, that a candidate might say that he would or would not inquire into the necessity of Home Rule without there being any vital principle at stake. But what did the noble Lord say in the debate on Home Rule in the year 1874? He said—That in honour and honesty the Imperial Parliament…could only look at the question from an Imperial point of view; and that they were convinced that…they could never give 362 their assent to the proposal of the hon. and Member for Limerick."—[3Hansard,ccxx. 771.]He now asked whether any hon. Member thought that when the Irish people—a quick and impulsive people—read, or had read to them, the statements of the noble Lord, they would believe that he still entertained the opinions he proclaimed as his in 1874? When they now heard the explanation of the noble Lord as to what he regarded as not being a vital question of principle, they would find it hard to understand what was the attitude of the noble Lord in reference to Home Rule. One of the noble Lord's most ardent supporters, who used to sit directly behind him, but who had lately moved down lower below the Gangway, in the very same debate, said—That every look, every word, ought to he carefully watched; for the slightest symptom of acquiescence with the Motion would he used as a pretext for perpetuating in Ireland what he must be permitted to call a gross and mischievous delusion."—[Ibid.925.]Now, it would be far more material if the noble Lord, instead of making vague statements and charges against others, had answered the question which was put to him—namely, What did the noble Lord think of Home Rule, and what attitude did he assume in reference to it? Did he consider it a gross and mischievous delusion which was the opinion of his followers in 1874; or was he only advanced so far as to consider that it was a difference, but not on a vital question of principle? It would be more satisfactory, when next the noble Lord came to deal with such a question, if he would make up his mind with a little more precision, and be prepared to state his views to the House and country more in detail, and in such a manner as to remove all ground for misconception.
§ MR. GABBETTmoved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gabbett.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, this was now the third night of the debate on the Address, and he would put it to the House whether it was not desirable to endeavour to bring the discussion to a close? They had been discussing at great length, but not 363 at all at too great length, the important questions that had been raised with regard to the state of Ireland; and if hon. Gentlemen would only consider that immediately following the Address they would proceed with a measure which touched the very heart of the question, and that there were other measures also affecting the question which were about to be brought forward, they would see that they would have ample opportunities for discussing all the questions that they desired to discuss, and for bringing forward all the practical suggestions which, no doubt, they desired to offer. He would, therefore, press upon hon. Members, although the Government did not wish at all to curtail the discussion on the part of Irish Members on that important question of Irish distress, they would be taking the best course really in the interest of their own country if they would allow the debate upon this stage of the Address to be concluded, and if they would allow the Government to take an early day for the discussion of the practical measures which the Government had to introduce.
§ MR. SHAW
regretted very much that he could not, on the present occasion, concur with the right hon. Gentleman. There had been developed an amount of difference of opinion on this question that did not at all appear at the beginning. The Irish Members had been informed that they had not made out any case whatever. Now, it happened that he held in his hand letters which he had that day received, and one of them was a letter referring to a district in the north of his own county, in which he was told, on very good authority, that 700 human beings, or over 100 families, were trying to live on 2s.a-week; and if that was not starvation he did not know what was. In the south of the same county a case was brought before his attention by a friend the other day, showing that there were hundreds of families there who were trying to live on a similarly small and miserable sum. Before he left home, Mr. Connor, of Manch, wrote, asking him if he understood the position in which the out-door relief question was; and whether, if the Board of Guardians passed a resolution to give out-door relief, the Local Government Board would allow it? He replied in the affirmative, and the Guar- 364 dians passed a resolution and sent it up to Dublin. The result was, that a prompt and peremptory refusal to grant this out-door relief was sent down. Now, he wanted to know from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, did that right hon. Gentleman realize the real state of the case? He did not believe he did. He did not believe the Government realized the importance and the seriousness of the crisis into which Ireland was hurrying. He had looked over the Bill of the Government, and he did not think that their proposals were in any way adequate for the future. On the contrary, he believed they were grossly inadequate, and would not at all meet the necessities of the case. He should be very glad, indeed, if he could now sit down; but the Home Rulers had received an amount of attention in that House, and in the country of late, that was enough to make modest men blush and feel quite overwhelmed. However, they did not feel at all uneasy under the criticisms which had been made upon them. It seemed as if the Parties were competing with each other as to which of them should not touch the Home Rulers; but the real fact of the case was, that the Home Rulers had not at all made up their minds as to which of the Parties they should touch. He was very much disposed not to enlist under the banner of the noble Lord. He had a very great amount of sympathy for the Party opposite, and for their great Leader; and he thought that they were a great deal more teachable and more workable than the Party on his own side of the House. There were not such a number of philosophers among them. History showed that. They swore at Catholic Emancipation, and passed it; they swore against the repeal of the Corn Laws, and repealed them; they swore against Household Suffrage, and they established it; and he had not the slightest doubt that if the Home Rulers gave them the slightest encouragement they would act similarly towards it, and there would be 50 Conservative Home Rule candidates at the next General Election. He had a great admiration for the noble Lord, whose speech that night had increased that admiration—there was so much consistency and sincerity in it. But he had a fear that the noble Lord was too innocent entirely to load a political Party. The noble Lord 365 should have seen that all the talk from the other side about Home Rule and Home Rulers was the merest electioneering clap-trap; but the country had thought out the whole question, and when a General Election came there would not be the slightest doubt about it. The noble Lord wished the time would come when the Irish Members would join naturally with the English Parties. He joined with the noble Lord heartily in that aspiration; he would do anything to hasten the coming of that time: but that time could not come until the evils which were now existing in Ireland were remedied. The Irish Party did not come there to court Party alliances. They did not care for Party alliances; they came there to appeal to the House of Commons, and to the English people, to redress their grievances, and it would be impossible for them to fall into any Party combinations until those grievances were redressed; in fact, it was idle to think that they should do so. He hoped sincerely that there would be no effort to wrangle over this question of adjournment. There were several English Gentlemen, as well as several Irish Members, who had intended to speak, but had not yet been able to do so.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the hon. Member for Cavan having seconded the Motion for the adjournment of the debate was not now entitled to speak.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
wished to support the view of the hon. Member for Cork, that they should be permitted to adjourn the debate for the purpose of giving other English and Irish Members an opportunity of speaking. It had been admitted on both sides of the House that the Irish question at the present moment was one of supreme importance, and that it transcended any other question mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. Until they had put a finish to the Irish question, they could not give a complete answer to Her Majesty's Speech. He would like to appeal to some Member of the Government to let them know what amount of money had been advanced in answer to applications for loans; for he remembered that in ordinary times, under existing Acts of Parliament, people endeavoured to borrow money, and owing to the apathy and negligence 366 of the Local Government Board, and of Boards generally in Ireland, they had not been able to get it. He thought the necessity of continuing the debate would be generally recognized. A good deal had been said that night on the subject of an inquiry into Home Rule. Personally, he had never been in favour of presenting their demand to English candidates in that form. He had always been in favour of asking English candidates whether they would vote for Home Rule? and had decided his own support in accordance with the answer to that question. It was evident now that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition had proceeded so far in his political education in regard to Ireland that he did not consider anyone who would vote for an Inquiry differed from him on a vital principle. The time might come when the noble Lord might not consider that voting for Home Rule was a question of vital principle either. He could only join the hon. Member for Cork in commending the noble Lord's sincerity; but the more sincere the noble Lord was, the more determined he (Mr. O'Connor Power) was to resist the Imperial policy which the noble Lord seemed to have borrowed from the other side of the House.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
would have been very happy to have seen Home Rule altogether excluded from that discussion, for he thought the only thing that ought to occupy their minds was what was overhanging the people of Ireland. That was not mere distress nor mere disease. It was death by the thousand, if measures different from those now promised by the Government were not taken. The only ray of hope that he had observed in the debate was the speech they had heard from the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon). He was sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was a man of equally sympathetic nature, was not in the House to listen to that speech, for the right hon. Gentleman would have learned a lesson from it that would have guided him to a proper solution of the difficulty. What was the position of this matter? He would put it very briefly, and he asked the attention of the Government. The Irish Government had refused to adopt the system of reproductive works. They insisted, in the first instance, that all relief should come by employment from 367 the landlords. They were obliged to abandon that, and at the last moment they were obliged to adopt the worst, the most demoralizing, and the most wasteful system of spending public money that could be devised, and that was on repairing the roads. The Government had admitted that that delay in the adoption of the system of reproductive works rendered necessary another thing, which they had repudiated in the first instance, and that was out-door relief as the entire solution of that question. They were now come to this—that it was too late to make a proper use of reproductive works, and everything must be done by out-door relief, and that outdoor relief was demanded by the Government from the impoverished landlords and tenantry of Ireland. He protested against that. Were they going to allow the people of Ireland to starve, dependent upon money which could not come from the pockets of those impoverished persons? Gentlemen who came down last year and wanted to give £100,000 to the inhabitants of the Rho-dope Mountains, were now appealing to the nations of the world for charity for the Irish people. It was only within the last two days that they had concluded a series of experiments to inquire into the cause of the bursting of a gun last year; and he dared say in that series of experiments, which ended in the discovery that it was some blunder that burst the gun, they had expended an amount of money which would go far to relieve many an impoverished family in Ireland. He appealed to the Government to come forward honestly and generously—to come forward in the noble spirit which shone forth in the words of the hon. Member for Preston—and not to meet the emergency only with the miserable proposals which they had laid on the Table, and which could only end in the murder of the Irish people. If they stuck to that Bill, it would not be a charge of neglect only that would lie at their doors, after all the warnings they bad had. Let them go freely and generously to the rescue of Ireland. This was an unfortunate opportunity, but it was a great one. Let them save the people now from famine, not by any miserable concatenation of failures such as they had in the present Bill, but let them save them generously, and they would lay the foundation of something like what they would all wish to see— 368 namely, a better feeling between the people of the two countries.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, it was perfectly impossible for the debate on that stage of the Address to conclude that night. In the first place, it was quite evident that the Government were not yet thoroughly aware of the extent of the misery with which they had to grapple. It was quite plain that they did not realize the fearful destiny that was hanging over the Irish people. Their relief projects, as presented down to the present, were worthless. They were an insult to common sense and humanity. There must be further ventilation of the question. Every effort permitted by the Constitution of the House must be exhausted in order to force the discussion upon the Government, and to force them to take proper measures for the salvation of the lives of the Irish people. But there was also a bye-question, which was in itself sufficiently important to prevent the debate being concluded that night. They, the Colleagues and Friends of the illustrious Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), had listened while the Government repeated the charges which had been spread against them. It was enough for him to say that they were thoroughly resolved to meet those charges, and, if necessary, to extort from the Government the opportunity of convincing them of their inaccuracy. They had attacked the hon. Member for Meath in the broad daylight, but in his absence. They had filled the columns of their Press with their attacks upon him; and he assured them this debate would not be allowed to close until there had been full opportunity taken for exposing the statements that had been made against the hon. Member for Meath, and against his Colleagues. In fact, they had a sort of claim to treat with the Government as rival potentates upon this matter. The Government had lifted them into the position of the Leaders of all the Opposition against them. To use the eloquent expression of a Member of the Government on an electioneering tour in Liverpool, it was "Parnell and his Clique" who led the revolution, who dominated the Liberals, who compelled the Whigs to oppose the Government. Well, he could assure the Government that as they had chosen to honour "Parnell and his Clique" with their special attention, that their special attention would be specially returned. But, as he said 369 before, that was a bye-question. The great question was the salvation of the lives of the people. They were not satisfied in any way; they were not satisfied that the Government realized the task before them; and it was necessary to infuse a little more light than at present illuminated the Government on that matter.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
appealed to hon. Members opposite not to oppose the adjournment of the debate. He asked them to remember the speech which had been made by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray), who was Chairman of the Mansion House Fund, and who told them—[Interruption.]How dare the hon. Member [Loud cries of"Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is bound to address himself to the Chair, and not to individual Members.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
I rise to a point of Order. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Galway County (Mr. Mitchell Henry) will receive the sympathy of the House when the facts are stated. An hon. Member opposite used a violent expression in a very extraordinary manner; and he so conducted himself as to attract the attention of my hon. Friend, who naturally made a remark upon it. I confess it is difficult to describe the conduct of the hon. Member opposite in Parliamentary language. I admit I am in a difficulty in that matter; but I say this—that if conduct like that should be again perpetrated, I appeal to you, Sir, that you will subject the interrupter to your censure.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY,
resuming, said, he was most anxious that nothing irritating should occur. He was sorry the hon. Member interrupted him in a matter of great importance. No one could have heard the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray), made on his responsibility as Chairman of the Mansion House Committee, without being convinced of the gravity of the crisis. But if the House did not think that sufficient facts had been brought before the House, further facts would be adduced to-morrow; and, therefore, they must persist in the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
hoped that the Government would yield on this question. The constituents of many hon. 370 Members felt very strongly on this subject of Irish distress, but many Members had not yet had an opportunity of addressing the House. Some of those hon. Members, feeling that this was a matter which primarily interested the Irish Members, did not like to interfere when they arose to address the House; hut the English Members should not let the debate close without an opportunity of expressing themselves.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he was unwilling to interpose in this discussion; but he thought this was a matter which could best be decided between the Government and the Irish Members. On the whole, he urged, however, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should assent to the adjournment of the debate.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he thought there could be no doubt they must agree to the adjournment of the debate; but the House must observe that if they adjourned the debate now, they could not go on with it to-morrow. It would become an Order of the Day, and Notices of Motion would necessarily take precedence, unless private Members gave way. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) had a Notice, and he did not know, but he hoped he would be willing to give way and allow the debate to proceed; if not, of course, the debate could not be resumed till Thursday. It was very far from the wish of the Government to stop the discussion upon the condition of Ireland. In assenting to the adjournment of the debate, he must appeal to hon. Members who had Notices on the Paper to-morrow to give way, and allow the debate to proceed.
§ Question put, andagreed to.
§ Debatefurther adjournedtillTomorrow.