§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [11th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he was sorry to be obliged to state that he found it to be his duty to move the adjournment of the debate. He thought that no one in the House or any Member of the Government would be surprised at his taking that step, when they reflected upon the course which Her Majesty's Government had pursued with regard to the Bill. It was only on Friday last that the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Frederick Cavendish), in moving the second reading of the Bill, stated that the subjects to be discussed at the present time in reference to Irish distress were comparatively few in number. They might now look forward to a good harvest; and, therefore, it would be only necessary to provide for a comparatively short period. The noble Lord added that the main object of the present Bill was to provide funds for carrying out the Relief of Distress Act, which was passed last Session. In those observations of the noble Lord he (Mr. Chaplin) entirely concurred, and if that was the sole object of the Bill he should be most anxious to assist its progress; but he must point out to the House that the whole situation was changed in consequence of a statement which had been made a night or two before by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and the Bill was no longer a measure the chief object of which was the relief of distress; it was, in fact, neither more nor less than a new Irish Land Act of 1870, and one which embodied all the worst and most vicious features of that Act; and not only that, but which exaggerated and extended those features in a degree which could never have been anticipated even from the action of the present Administration. He was referring to the new clause 211 proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, which had been distributed to Members only that morning, and which he was practically asking the House to read a second time that evening after only six hours' notice. His (Mr. Chaplin's) objections to that clause were of a twofold character. He objected to the manner in which the clause bad been introduced, and he objected still more to the nature of the clause now that it had been introduced. He was tempted to ask why the clause was not introduced into the Bill in the first instance? Was it part of a deliberate and settled policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government, or was it not? If it was, why was it not originally incorporated in the Bill? If it was not so, then he thought they were entitled to ask what had occurred since Friday last, when the noble Lord spoke in those terms which he had quoted, to bring about this change in the policy of the Government? He himself was quite unable to judge from the previous utterances of the Government whether this was part of their original intentions or not.
I rise to Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, if the hon. Gentleman is in Order in discussing the principles of the Bill on a Motion for the adjournment of the debate?
The Bill before the House is one for the relief of distress in Ireland. The hon. Member on that question has moved an adjournment of the debate, and he is in Order in taking the course he has now taken.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he must ask the permission of the House to make one or two quotations from previous speeches delivered from the Treasury Bench with regard to this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland said, on the 20th of May last—It had been asked why the subject had not been mentioned in the Queen's Speech; but he might observe…that it was not usual to make mention in the gracious Speech from the Throne of any measures which it was not intended to bring forward in the Session which that Speech opened, and the Government would have been departing from the practical manner in which legislation ought to be, and generally was, conducted in that House if Her Majesty were advised to hint at measures with which it wa3 not intended to proceed.Would not that lead anyone to suppose that this clause, which, in his (Mr. Chaplin's) judgment, was in reality a 212 new Irish Land Act, was one of those measures with which the Government did not intend to proceed? He did not know how the right hon. Gentleman would reconcile it with the following sentence, in which he said—The Land Question was not only one which was most important, but one with which its very importance made it exceedingly difficult to deal in a comprehensive manner. To have brought in a 10 minutes' Irish Land Bill would, in his opinion, have been a most unwise course to adopt. The hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) said they might bring forward an interim Bill for the suspension of payment of rent. [Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: No; suspension of eviction.] He thought that was almost the same thing. He was quite prepared to listen to any arguments which the hon. Member by whom such a Bill was brought in might advance. He had no desire to prejudge the question; but would any hon. Member on either side of the House suppose that it would not bring in its discussion, if brought forward by the Government, every branch of the Land Question?"—[3 Hansard, cclii. 155–6-7.]No; and he supposed if the right hon. Member had given Notice to introduce a Bill to transfer the property of the landlords of Ireland bodily to the tenants he would not in the least prejudge the question, and would have told the hon. Member that he was ready to listen to any arguments that he might advance. That was exactly his case. The Government had, as he contended, introduced such a Bill, and it was absolutely necessary that every branch of this important question should be discussed. It was impossible, however, for the House of Commons at six hours' notice to discuss properly a subject of such tremendous importance.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
rose to a point of Order. He understood the hon. Gentleman to state that there ought to be an adjournment, because he (Mr. W. E. Forster) had given Notice of his intention to propose a clause in Committee. The hon. Member said time ought to be given for the discussion of that clause. He rose in Order to ask whether, inasmuch as the clause was not in the Bill at present, and as only Notice had been given that it would be brought forward in Committee, it was in Order to discuss that clause on the second reading of the Bill?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, public Notice having been given on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to introduce a clause of that character, and such a 213 clause having appeared on the Paper, it might be considered sufficient ground for moving the adjournment of the debate, with the view, no doubt, of making reference to the clause.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I beg your pardon, Sir. I do not think you understood the question I asked. The question I wanted to ask was, whether it would be in Order now, on a Motion for the adjournment of the debate, to discuss a clause of which Notice had been given for Committee, and which is not yet in the Bill?
§ MR. SPEAKER
As a general rule, on the second reading of a Bill, it is not regular to discuss clauses in detail; but if any clause in a Bill raises a vital principle it can be discussed on the second reading.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
proceeded to observe that the whole of the difficulty had arisen from the extraordinary and unprecedented manner in which the Government had acted. Only a few days ago they introduced the Employers' Liabilities Bill, which did not in the least represent their real intentions; but they had to take that Bill back and to introduce it in another form. Now there was another instance of vacillation on the part of the Government. Some days ago they introduced a measure relating to the distress in Ireland; and now they sprang upon the House of Commons, after a few hours' Notice, a clause involving the vital principle of the Bill. Yet the Government complained of hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House because they refused at once to proceed to discuss a question of such grave importance. He would give the right hon. Gentleman another reason why it was not desirable that the House should come to a decision on this question as soon as possible. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) also said on the same day—It was one of those questions on which the Government ought not merely to have the knowledge of general principles, but the knowledge of details, and of the actual condition of the country they had to deal with, so as not to make mistakes. Mistakes even of details might throw the whole matter into confusion and do a great deal more harm than good."—[3 Hansard, cclii. 157–8.]He contended that the Government had not got that full knowledge of details as to the actual condition of the country 214 which would justify them in touching this question, because if they had, where was the object of the special Commission of which they had heard that night? He thought he had given, out of the right hon. Gentleman's own mouth, an additional reason why this measure ought not to be hurried on. With respect to the nature of the clause, it seemed to him, from a cursory inspection of it, that it was mere sheer and simple confiscation; and, excepting as to the limit of time, he did not see in what respect it differed from the Bill of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), which the Government had announced their intention of opposing. If the condition of the tenantry in Ireland were at all that which had been described to them, he should be prepared to go almost any length with the right hon. Gentleman in giving thorn relief in their distress. But it must be at the expense of the State. The Government must not ask him to join in their cheap generosity, by which they were going to relieve the distress of one class in Ireland by transferring to them the property of another class. He would vote with the Government if they thought it right that the whole of the Irish Church Fund and more than the whole Surplus should be devoted to the relief of distress, provided they could make out a case of justice and necessity; but he would not go with them a single step in the direction contemplated by the proposed clause. It was neither wise, nor just, nor fair to ask the landlords of Ireland alone to bear the whole of this burden. The Government might have learnt something from the present condition of Ireland, which he believed was in a very great measure the result of past Liberal legislation. He did not know whether this clause, which had been proposed to-night, was to be a specimen of the policy announced by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ ME. CHAPLIN
said, he would make the right hon. Gentleman a present of that. The right hon. Gentleman was quite welcome to all the good it was likely to do him. He did not know whether they were to consider the clause as a specimen of the policy advocated by a Member of the present Cabinet, the Chancellor of the Duchy 215 of Lancaster, in one of the numerous speeches he delivered during the Recess, when he insisted that Ireland must be dealt with with more desperate determination. He (Mr. Chaplin) thought at that time, having regard to the condition of Ireland and the state of the people, that this was a most unwise and dangerous, not to say a criminal explanation of policy. [Cries of "Order!"and "Withdraw!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member has applied an expression of that kind to a Member of this House he is clearly out of Order.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that he should withdraw the expression instantly if the House was under the impression that he used it. What he said was, "Not to say criminal" ["Oh, oh!"]; but he withdrew the expression at once. He could scarcely find Parliamentary expressions to convey the feelings with which he read that statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He thought it most foolish, most unwise, and probably one of the most dangerous statements which a person in the right hon. Gentleman's position could have made. Were they to consider this clause as merely a prelude to one of those drastic measures to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? He thought they were entitled to an explicit assurance from the Government on that point. What was the state of Ireland at this moment? Again he would quote the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who, speaking at Birmingham on the 24th of January last, said—In the West of Ireland, in the Province of Connaught, you find there is something like a general social revolt. Rents are refused to be paid even by tenants who could pay them, and this course is recommended and encouraged by a multitude of persons.The right hon. Gentleman went on to say—The revolt is really against the proprietors: but it is also against the tenants. If a tenant pays rent he comes under the condemnation of his brother tenants; and if a tenant be evicted and a farm vacant, and some other farmer enters upon the occupation of that farm, his peace and even his life are in danger.That was a description of the condition of Ireland after 10 years' experience of Liberal legislation. It was because he felt that they were about to be asked to 216 enter upon a similar course of legislation, with similar disastrous results, and at only six hours' notice, that he most sincerely trusted a majority of hon. Members on both sides would support the Amendment he should conclude by moving—namely, that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
Mr. Speaker, there is a question of difficulty, upon which I should be glad to be enlightened by you, in perfectly clear terms, with a view of practically settling the question which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Chaplin) seeks to raise. The hon. Gentleman moves an adjournment of the debate, and his reason for making that Motion is, that he has had only six hours' Notice of a certain clause. [Mr. CHAPLIN: I said it had been distributed only that time.] The hon. Gentleman said many times over—though, perhaps, he is not aware of it—that of this clause only six hours' Notice had been given. Upon that the hon. Member moves the adjournment of the debate; but what I am in some doubt about is whether, if we should adjourn the debate and then proceed on a future day to consider the second reading of the Bill, we shall be in Order in debating the clause as if it were part of the Bill. If I am to understand that when we proceed to the second reading we may debate, as part of the subject-matter of the second reading, the question of the clause which my right hon. Friend intends to propose in Committee, then I can understand it; but upon that, as a point of procedure, I should be thankful to be enlightened by your authority.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It seems to me that a most unusual course has been taken with regard to this clause. Before the Bill has been read a second time public Notice is given of the intention to move a new clause, and the clause itself is printed in the Votes and Proceedings of the House. It appears to me that, that having been done, it is impossible the debate on the second reading of the Bill can be carried out properly without reference to the clause. I quite admit that the usual course in debating the second reading of a Bill is not to refer to the 217 clauses; but in this case, Notice having been given of such an important new clause the House will be prevented from discussing the Bill properly, unless some reference is made to it.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
thought it might be convenient to the House if he said a few words. For reasons which he was ready at the proper time to explain, he thought it right to propose that clause in the Bill, which would be the most convenient place, and he gave Notice of it as soon as he came to that conclusion, believing it would be for the convenience of hon. Members. He supposed at the time—but now found he was mistaken—that the debate would be confined to the Bill before the House, because the second reading, which was asked for, could only be the second reading of the Bill; therefore, the vote for or against the second reading would only be for what was in the Bill. Now, however, he was informed that the Speaker thought it would be impossible to prevent the debate extending to the clause; and, as the clause was not really before them, no vote could be taken upon it; and, therefore, he thought that what the Speaker said must happen would subject them to the inconvenience of debating matters on which they could not vote. That being the case, though he thought it a public inconvenience, he rose for the purpose of saying that, under the circumstances, he should not persevere with the clause in question, but should embody the substance of it in a separate Bill, which he would ask the House to pass at a later day.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that in consequence of the statement and action of the Chief Secretary for Ireland he would withdraw his Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he confessed that he did not see how they could discuss the question of the relief of distress in Ireland within the narrow limits now proposed to be assigned to it by the Bill now before the House. In the judgment of all those who had lived longest in Ireland, and had most carefully considered the condition of the people of that country, it always had been apparent that the main cause of periodical 218 famines there was the condition of Irish land tenure. It would, therefore, be a matter of practical impossibility for the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, by the adoption of the course which he had now announced—namely, the withdrawal of the clause, Notice of which the right hon. Gentleman had given a day or two ago, to limit the discussion of the question within the very narrow limits he proposed. It would be his (Mr. Parnell's) duty to move certain clauses which would put the question of this distress in Ireland upon its proper footing before the country. They had too long been told that distress in Ireland proceeded from the laziness and want of thrift of the Irish people. They had been too long in the habit of appearing before the nations of the world as beggars for charity; and there were many people—in fact, the majority of the people of Ireland—who now thought that the time had come when this practice should cease, and that they should have the opportunity of living in their own country, and of obtaining prosperity from the natural riches and resources of the country—an opportunity which the laws of England had denied them for so long a period. What was wanted by the Irish people was not so much that they should be relieved from the necessities produced by famine out of Imperial funds as that they should be put in a position to manage their own business by an Irish Parliament, instead of being subject, as was the case under the last Parliament, to alien legislation. What was the Bill of the present Government? It was a Bill which simply sought to carry ought the policy of the Predecessors of the present Government—a policy which consigned 250,000 people to death by starvation. What were the steps taken by the late Government? The House would recollect that distress in Ireland had been predicted by those best acquainted with the circumstances of the country, and publicly predicted during the last 12 months. It was in the May of 1879 that public attention first came to be directed to the probability—the extreme probability—that the wet season would produce suffering in many of the Western portions of Ireland. These complaints were made publicly, and how were they answered by the late Government? He found that 219 up to January the only answer given by the Government to the pressing needs of the country was the arrest of Mr. Michael Davitt and others upon the trumped-up charge of sedition—a charge which in the ordinary course of law the Government should have prosecuted; but in this instance they shrank from doing so. It was not until the middle of November, 1879, that the Treasury on the application of the Lord Lieutenant, authorized the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland to lend money to owners of land, or, in other words, it was not until the middle of November that the Government took the first step to stave off the distress, which was then in full swing. They issued a Circular under date of 22nd November, and on the 12th of January, 1880, there was a fresh Notice amending the former one, and offering loans on still more favourable conditions. These loans were offered to landlords and to sanitary authorities for the execution of works of employment, and also for the purpose of executing works which sanitary authorities could execute under the Acts authorizing their existence. It was now found by the Report just issued by the Dublin Mansion House Committee, the chief charitable association in Ireland, that the net result of all the exertions of the late and of the present Governments had been the employment of 15,000 people on works of relief out of 500,000 who were in want. And at what expenditure was this infinitesimal result arrived at? The Act of last Session authorized a loan out of the Irish Church Fund of £750,000. The whole of that loan had been drawn out—nay, more, it had been largely exceeded, so that the present Government were obliged to come to Parliament for fresh powers, by which they sought by the Bill under notice to make an additional advance of £750,000, notwithstanding that the whole of the loan authorized by the Act of last Session had been largely exceeded. It was found that up to the present the result was that employment had only been found for 15,000 out of 500,000 persons who were in want. Such a fact alone was sufficient to condemn the Bill now before the House; and if they really wanted to relieve distress in Ireland they must go further than the limit of the Bill proposed. The chief 220 provisions of the present measure were (1), the advance by the Irish Church Temporalities Commissioners of another £750,000 for the purposes of loans to the owners of land in Ireland; (2), power was given to the Commissioners of Public Works, with the consent of the Treasury, to make loans to railway and other public Companies having borrowing powers, upon the security of baronial guarantees given by extraordinary presentment sessions; and (3), a small grant was to be given of £30,000 for fishery piers. With regard to the proposal of doubling the grant to the owners of land in Ireland, he failed to find the slightest justification for such a course as regarded the ostensible purpose of the Bill—the relief of distress in Ireland. He failed to see on what grounds the Government now came to ask Parliament for a fresh application of £750,000 for such a useless undertaking. If the Government had shown that the application of the money already spent was of any advantage, or that any appreciable portion of it had reached those who were really in distress, he could then have understood their contention; or if they had been able to show that any proportion of the money which they now asked from Parliament was likely to reach the really destitute, he could understand their application; but as the Government had not professed that this money was to be used for the relief of distress, or that a very small and almost appreciable portion of it was likely to be applied for that purpose, he thought the House would not be doing its duty if it sanctioned the diversion of money for such an object. By the latest information—they had not, however, received very late information on the subject from the Chief Secretary for Ireland—it appeared that about £250,000 had been issued to owners of land in Ireland. How much of that sum had probably reached the persons who were in distress? They could not assume that out of £250,000 issued in that way more than two-thirds or one-half had actually been expended, because it was obvious that the expenditure of a sum of money for that purpose must take a considerable time. But assuming that two-thirds of £250,000, which was a very liberal estimate, had been actually expended by the landlords 221 who had received it, how much of those two-thirds had probably reached the hands of the people who were in want of bread? Works of improvement, which were easily undertaken by owners of land in Ireland, required a considerable expenditure in skilled labour and material. Iron, timber, Portland cement, lime, drainage tiles, and so forth, had to be purchased; masons, carpenters, slaters, and other skilled mechanics had to be employed, and paid high wages. It would not, therefore, be an unreasonable assumption to state that of £ 180,000 expended by the landlords, not more than half, or £90,000, had as yet been expended in wages for unskilled labour. Of the £90,000 it would be a very liberal assumption to say that, up to the present time, only one-half had been applied to the relief of the people who were in actual distress. These relief works were scattered all over the country. The noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Frederick Cavendish) had stated that of the numerous applications made by landlords in the scheduled districts only 63 had been refused. They might, then, fairly assume, from information which he (Mr. Parnell) had received from those who had a knowledge of the facts, that the works set on foot were not, so far, at any rate, as the majority of them were concerned, in localities where distressed persons could obtain employment. Therefore, he was fully justified in reducing the sum to one-half—namely to £45,000. There was another objection to the principle of granting money to owners of land apart entirely from the useless-ness of the application, so far as the relief of actual distress was concerned. Landowners in many eases used the money lent to them as a leverage to obtain the payment of rents from then-tenants. It was worked in this way—the tenants who could not pay rent were, he had heard, informed that unless they paid it no works of improvement would be executed on their farms; and those tenants who did pay were favoured in comparison with those who could not pay, and if the latter were employed they were told that they would have to give back in the shape of rent the money they received for their labour.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he should like to have an authentic instance of this brought under his notice.
said, he was speaking generally of scheduled districts, and he could not then give particular instances. It was obvious that one of the chief designs of the late Government was not to relieve the distressed, but to relieve landlords who could not obtain their rents with the same celerity as formerly they could. He had no doubt that the leverage had been used and would be used again to a considerable extent. A further objection to the proposal of Her Majesty's Government was, that this sum of £750,000 was to be taken out of the Irish Church Fund. That application he considered to be in direct contradiction of the statute, as that fund was the only one which was available for many purposes in Ireland. It was exceedingly hard that the Government should seize upon that fund to provide against the consequences of an occurrence which was the result of the neglect of Parliament in years past. They might fairly ask, what was the necessity for such an appropriation of the fund? The security for the repayment of the sum to be advanced was unimpeachable. All former loans for the improvement of Irish land had been duly repaid; and why, therefore, should not this loan be advanced by the Imperial Exchequer, and the Irish Church Fund be left for purposes which might obtain the sanction of the majority of the Irish constituencies? Then, again, the Church Commissioners had no capital—they had only an annual income, and in order to make advances were obliged to borrow—sometimes from the Savings' Banks. In this case he understood they would have to borrow from the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt. The money was to be borrowed at 3½per cent, and was to be lent to the landowners at 1 percent, so that there would be an annual loss to the fund of 2½ per cent, and that for a period of 37 years would amount to £250,000. If they agreed to take the money from the Imperial Exchequer, would it not be a fair and generous thing at least to lend the money at the same rate as it was proposed that it should be borrowed? He believed the calculated surplus of the Irish Church Fund was only about £4,000,000 at the present time, and the proposed charge of £1,500,000 would reduce it to £2,500,000. It was, therefore, obvious that the utility of the fund, 223 in any future emergency, was very much impaired. It appeared to him that the ultimate loss to the fund would be avoided by the course he suggested; and he had reason to believe that the matter was so important that if a concession were made on that point, the opposition to the Government proposals would, he believed, be very much diminished. The next provision of the Bill was one by which power was given to the Commissioners of Public Works, with the consent of the Treasury, to make loans to Railway Companies and other Companies in having borrowing powers on the security of baronial guarantees obtained at extraordinary presentment sessions. That clause might shortly be described as the railway clause of the Bill; and he could not imagine how the Chief Secretary for Ireland could have been induced to pitchfork, so to speak, these clauses into the Bill if he had given the subject proper consideration. Under the present law, Railway Companies, before coming to Parliament for their Bills, were entitled to apply to baronial sessions for a guarantee. Up to 1874 the presentment of baronial sessions and the fiat of a Grand Jury were the only conditions requisite for the purpose of obtaining a guarantee; but in 1874 the House of Commons, in order to prevent the misuse of the grants, and to provide certain local checks and guarantees against jobbery, adopted a Standing Order by which the consent of as many local bodies as possible should be obtained before the Railway Companies could get a guarantee, and in addition to the baronial presentment, it became necessary that the consent of a Board of Guardians should be obtained before the guarantee could be granted. Thus they had, first of all, the check provided by the necessary consent of the Board of Guardians; secondly, the presentment of the baronial sessions of the associated cesspayers; third, the Grand Jury finding; and fourth, the power possessed by the rate and cesspayers to traverse the presentment before a Judge at Assizes. Thus there were four distinct cheeks provided by the Legislature in order to prevent abuse; and, although they had been found insufficient for their purpose, yet the clauses of the right hon. Gentleman proposed to sweep away those checks at one blow, and to introduce a variety of other changes by the proposed clauses. 224 The Lord Lieutenant could call an extraordinary presentment sessions, and then a Railway Company which had previously failed in obtaining its baronial guarantee, which had gone before Parliament and obtained its Acts, and had been granted powers on condition that the whole of its capital should be subscribed, and one-half of it paid up, could now come forward and obtain a baronial guarantee without any check or hindrance from the extraordinary baronial presentment sessions convened by the Lord Lieutenant, and without having to fulfil any of the conditions provided by the Legislature as to capital. In other words, the Company, which had been unable to obtain its presentment before, and which had been unable to obtain a 6d. of capital or even its expense, could come forward and levy black mail by casting itself on the unprotected ratepayers, and obtain a guarantee for its own advantage and benefit. Before he left the Railway Companies he wanted to point out that the power which was to be granted by the Legislature might act in a very unexpected manner, and in a way not at all intended by the promoters of the Bill. There was nothing in the clauses as they at present stood to prevent any of the great Railway Companies in Ireland, such as the Great Southern and Western, the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford Railway, the Midland, Great Northern, and others, with plenty of means for obtaining capital for the prosecution of any work which was likely to pay—there was nothing to prevent them from enlarging their resources by obtaining baronial guarantee under the provisions of the Bill for the maintaining a branch line which could not possibly pay directly, but which might be of indirect value to the line, and which might act as a feeder to traffic on the main line, but be a work which, at present, and for all time hereafter, would necessarily be a burden on the ratepayers. With respect to the interest on the capital raised in the construction of the works, there were many branch lines which could be made which would be very useful to the main line, and which would probably pay indirectly, but which would never pay back directly any portion of the capital used in their construction; and there was nothing in the clause to prevent Companies such as those he had described from obtaining 225 guarantees from the baronial sessions in the summary manner provided for. Then, again, the provisions with regard to public Companies was one of a very extraordinary character. Everything which he had said in regard to the Rail-way Companies applied to the public Companies; and any bubble Company sprung up in London, Australia, or anywhere else, provided they could obtain an Act of Parliament giving them borrowing powers, without the subscription of a farthing of capital, could go to Ireland and obtain a baronial guarantee and carry on works at the expense of the starving ratepayers of Ireland. He now came to the consideration of the question whether the clauses were likely to carry out at all the objects for which they were introduced. They had been told that there were railways in Ireland running directly through the distressed districts, which, if works in connection with them were commenced, would give employment to the people by the erection of the earthworks necessary. He asked the House to consider whether the clauses proposed would be effectual in the carrying out of the object. His own belief, based upon local opinion and information, was that the money should be lent for such purposes as cheaply as to the landlords. He had made some inquiries with respect to a railway which was projected in the county of Donegal, with reference to which a Memorial was presented to the Chief Secretary for Ireland some short time since. He had written to a respected parish priest who had been instrumental in bringing the Memorial forward, and who had given a great deal of time and attention to the relief of distress in his district—it would not be necessary to mention his name. He had written to that gentleman and asked him whether the cesspayers in his locality would consent to be taxed for the purpose of the erection of the railway. In reply he had received a letter which answered the question in the negative after making inquiries. He had also written another letter stating that those in his district were unanimously of opinion that Section 4 of the Bill, making a baronial guarantee a necessity, in order to obtain a Government loan, would prove futile. What they wanted was to have the Board of Guardians substituted for the baronial sessions. That change was warranted 226 by the nature and objects of the Bill, which was ostensibly a measure to relieve distress. He thought he had said enough about those clauses to show that they opened floodgates to abuse, of which none could at present see the extent, without even remedying the chief misfortunes of the country, and, that under the plea of remedying distress in Ireland, the Government offered a prospect to jobbery which it was impossible to calculate with any certainty, and that the Government did not meet—as far as their calculations could be understood, they did not meet—the wants in question, and that the railways which were projected, and the making of which would relieve the present distress in Ireland, would not be able to obtain the loans under the proposed Bill. It was probable that parts of the Bill, as it now stood, would be hurtful rather than beneficial. He thought, at all events, that they should limit the extent of the clauses very carefully, and that the Companies should be named in a Schedule to which it was proposed to advance loans under the Bill now before the House. The Irish Members would then be able to see what they were asked to do, and would not be compelled to take extraordinary measures to find out what they were asked to agree to. He then came to the small provision for fishery piers. So far from the clauses in the Bill which referred to the fishery piers being an advantage to the fisheries, they were the reverse, as most of them were to be started on parts of the coast where they were not likely to be completed. The grants were also saddled with such conditions as it was not at all probable would be carried out, for in one part of the clause it was proposed that in any place where it was proposed to construct a new pier or harbour, the barony of that district must make a presentment to the effect, and undertaking to bear one-fourth of the excess of expenditure which must be incurred in carrying out such work. According to that, the barony must blindly bind itself to pay for the blunders of the Board of Works. For instance, if the Board of Works estimated that the erection of a pier or harbour would cost £6,000, and it was found that the cost was £12,000, the barony would have to contribute one-fourth before a single stone was laid of the proposed work; it would 227 have to guarantee in all cases one-fourth of the excess expenditure. That was a proposition which he felt sure very few of them would feel inclined to accede to. There were a number of other objections to the details of the Bill which would, however, be best used in Committee; and, therefore, he proposed to pass them. Finally, the Canadian and Liverpool Fund granted £15,000 towards the fishery piers, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland only proposed to grant double that amount, namely—£30,000. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to carry out his avowed intention he would have to grant at least £45,000. The amount mentioned was altogether illusory, because Ireland had received nothing for a number of years from Parliament towards the erection of the fishery piers, Since the Union Scotland had received over £1,000,000 in grants in aid of fisheries, while during the last six years Ireland had received nothing at all; while he was informed that if the miserable pittance of £30,000, which had been mentioned, was granted, nothing more would be given for the next five years; in fact, the Chief Secretary for Ireland had set his bait with the little sprat of £30,000 in order to catch the magnificent mackerel of £750,000. For his own part, he (Mr. Parnell) felt disposed to leave the money in the hands of the Treasury. He did not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill; but it seemed to him that it would be the duty of the Irish Members to try every possible way to amend it in Committee. At present it was practically a sham Bill. It did not fulfil the object it had in view—namely, the relief of distress in Ireland. It did not touch it. If they voted the money asked for, neither the £750,000 nor the £450,000 would reach the people for the next six months, which was when they wanted it most. He thought the Chief Secretary for Ireland had really underestimated the magnitude of the distress. He thought there would be a good harvest. He was sure he (Mr. Parnell) hoped there would be a good harvest; but not one good harvest, nor two good harvests, would remove the pressure in Ireland. The potato crop was, he was glad to say, doing very well, and it appeared to be one of the best that had been in Ireland for many years; but, at the same time, he must say the real suffering was due not so much to the 228 failure of the potato crop in the past as to other causes. The distressed districts were generally those in the West of Ireland, where there were a large number of small holdings—little strips of land—and the tenants of those places were more in the position of labourers than that of farmers. There were about 150,000 of these holdings. Those men had been in the habit of going to England and Scotland and working for the farmers there in times of distress; but, owing to the state of manufacture in England, the urban populations of England had been driven to the country, and had taken the employment which used to be taken up by the Irish tenants. The consequence of that was that those men had scraped up every farthing of money to go to England in search of work, and when they got there they were utterly unable to obtain it. It was a great mistake to suppose that the poorer classes lived now, as they did before the Famine, entirely on potatoes. They lived far more upon Indian meal, which it required money to buy, as it required money also to pay their rents; and even if they had a good harvest the landlords might step in and seize the crops for the rent. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman would not prevent that. He did not agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) that the Irish Members could throw their responsibility upon the Government. The constituencies of Ireland had made the greatest sacrifices to return them; and if they threw their responsibility on the Government the constituencies would be deeply and bitterly disappointed. Therefore it would be their duty on that and any future stage of the Bill to point out its utter unsuitableness for its ostensible purpose, and to show the Government how they could meet the distress, which was still of great intensity. He proposed, when the Bill reached the Committee, to ask the House to assign the £750,000, which was intended by the Bill to go to the owners of land, instead of that to assign it to Boards of Guardians in Ireland, thus enabling them to lend money directly to occupiers willing to improve their land. He felt convinced that in no other way could they have the slightest hope of rescuing 500,000 of the Irish peasantry from the last stage of pauperism. In no other way could they check pauperism and emigration, which in time 229 would sweep away every young man, woman, and child in the country. He believed if the Chief Secretary for Ireland would go down along Mayo and the other parts of the Western Coast of Ireland his heart would be almost broken down with what he would see there. He must not take too much time to consider the subject; and unless he did something in that Bill for the purpose of freeing the people from pauperism and from the necessity for emigration, both must go on, and he would not have any opportunity until next Session. While he was considering the question the people would be gone; it was impossible to stop it, if the Government deliberately refused to provide the people of Ireland with employment. They were deliberately encouraging outrage and revolution if the Government of the Queen showed itself insensible to the sufferings of multitudes. It lost its title to a responsible Government; and they could not blame the ignorance of the people of the West of Ireland if they should attempt to do for themselves that which the Government refused to do for them. For his own part, he should take every opportunity of showing the Government in the present crisis the urgent necessity of doing something more than they had been doing, and for attempting, at any rate, to put a stop to the terrible scenes of suffering and privation which at present existed.
§ MR. SHAW
said, he did not consider the Bill perfect; but if they went to a division he would vote for it in the hope of rendering it more perfect in Committee. They were not now looking at an impending famine, but were taking up the threads of the relief proposed by the late Government. He could not help thinking that the noble Lord who moved the second reading of the measure (Lord Frederick Cavendish) had rather underestimated the gravity of the impending crisis, for there was no doubt, as his hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) had said, it would take more than one good harvest—indeed, it would take two or three good harvests, to do anything like restoring a state of prosperity to Ireland. He, therefore, thought that the Government should take the ample power to enable them to make proper provision to meet the circumstances that might arise. In Ireland they generally got their quantum of rain, but sometimes the rain came at 230 the wrong time; and if the rain came late in the summer or in the autumn, it would be very disastrous indeed for the crops, which at present were looking very well. He thought it was quite a mistake to speak of the £750,000 proposed to be granted out of the Irish Church Fund as being given entirely to the landlords. The landlords did not get it put into their pockets, but only used it. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Parnell) implied that when the landlords got the money they would not employ it in improvements; but in his (Mr. Shaw's) own county he knew that Sir George Colthurst carried on extensive drainage works, and Lord Kenmare also carried on extensive drainage works. Others had done the same, and he believed that the landlords looked in what they were now doing entirely to the welfare of the people. As to this £750,000, he thought that it would be put to a good use. He felt the greatest anxiety as to the Irish Church Fund, which was year after year growing less and less, and would, he supposed, eventually dwindle down to nothing at all, in which case the prospect of applying it to some great national purpose would be defeated. He thought himself that if the Government looked carefully into the money that had been applied and issued, they would find that the £750,000 originally granted would be quite enough for anything that had been done up to the present. The money so far had not been equally distributed. He knew that in those parts of his own county where the people were in want of employment the money had not been applied for in large quantities. What was lacking was a central power to lay hold of the money, and see that it was applied in a way conducive to the interests of the country. One fault which he found with the money was that it was not quickly distributed. No sensible person could at all suspect that the money was not applied to the best interests of the country. He believed that under the Bill if people did not apply for loans by the 31st of August they could not apply at all. If that was the ease, he thought that the time ought to be extended. Where money was wanted it ought to be given; and he did not say that the Government would not spend money where it was greatly wanted. It appeared to him that it would be wiser if the Govern- 231 merit took power to distribute another £750,000, looking to what might occur in the immediate future. He also thought it would he well to associate another Gentleman with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to act as trustees of this money. He was quite sure that there were many hon. Gentlemen in Ireland who would give their time and take the trouble freely and willingly in order to see that the money was properly applied. If this was done, there would be no suspicion in the mind of anyone that the funds were thrown away. He fully agreed in the suggestion that had been thrown out by the hon. Gentleman opposite, which was similar to that which he moved during the last Session—namely, that money should also be given to the tenant farmers for draining and improving their land. He urged this point upon the Government, and also brought it before the House; but he was sorry to say that the then Government would not look at it for a moment. He pressed the matter upon the present Government, as he was convinced it would do great deal of good. It would have given the working class and the farmers a feeling that something was being done for them. It would have given them some sense of independence, and it would have been very easy to carry it out. Boards of Guardians could have supplied the machinery for collecting it, and they would have guaranteed the security of the money, so that there would have been no possible loss to the fund. A good many people in Ireland were feeling that this Government was doing something for the tenant farmers. Although this money did not go into the landlord's pocket, but went through his pocket, there was still a suspicion in the minds of a good many that the landlord would get a good deal for himself. As to having the £750,000 out of the Public Exchequer, he should be glad to get double as much out of the Public Exchequer if he could; but he was afraid there was not much chance of that. He must say that, looking at the whole question, he thought the manner in which the late Government had acted in this matter had been most niggardly—they refused to lay any part of the burden on Imperial funds. That, he believed, had a very injurious effect in Ireland. They could only secure the goodwill of the people of Ireland by treating them generously as 232 well as fairly. He felt there was great cause to complain of the want of generosity towards Ireland. They might depend upon it that they could only get the goodwill of the people by treating them generously as well as fairly. They had a great deal of cause to complain of want of generosity on the part of the English Government towards Ireland. The industries of the country were crippled. Their property seemed to be wasting away, and he did not see much probability of improvement if the present management of Irish affairs continued. A wise thing to do would be to place £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 in the hands of a small commission of Irish gentlemen to lend, in order to foster industry in the country. They could not possibly have a people satisfied and contented if they saw no means of earning a reasonable livelihood without emigrating to America. He had not the slightest doubt that it would be a wise thing for the Government in some way to give more freedom and elasticity to the power of borrowing money on public works in Ireland. He also thought that sufficient precautions were not included in the present Bill. In many Acts that he was acquainted with in which guarantees were asked for railways every precaution was taken; and if such precautions were not put into this Bill with regard to railways, that could not be put into force at all, because it was supposed by this Bill that the Railway Companies had get their Acts. For instance, power of appointing arbitrators and various other powers were always given; and if this Bill went into Committee he thought it would be very-wise to insert similar provisions. A shilling rate for railways—one-half to be paid by landlords and the other by the tenant—would absolutely raise the value of the land and be a great benefit to the tenant. If they looked at the expenditure of public money in Ireland, they must be struck with the immense inequality between that country and England. In Ireland there was hardly anything occurring in the way of out trade. Now, it was the duty of Government to look to this part of their duty, and to make the Irish feel that the Government now in Office were different to the late Government, and that they intended to bring about a very different state of things in that country. He believed Government were anxious to do their best.
233 But if they attempted to deal with it by means of measures which were not real and thorough they would find themselves greatly mistaken. As to the Bill, he hoped the House would get into Committee upon it as soon as possible, and endeavour to amend it. In that case, he had no doubt the Chief Secretary for Ireland would give his earnest attention to any suggestion that might proceed from Irish Gentlemen.
§ MR. J. N. RICHARDSON
said, that there was no one more anxious than he was that the tenantry of Ireland should be assisted by the Government to purchase their holdings when those holdings were in the market, and the subject was one which would, he hoped, engage the attention of the Government. He would not oppose the Bill, and was extremely pleased to hear that, as he now apprehended, the Motion for its rejection had only been made in order to have a discussion upon the measure. The objections, as he understood, to the Bill were: first, that "the more" was taken from the Irish Church Fund; secondly, that too great facilities were given to lend money to landlords; and, thirdly, that the money was not going with sufficient speed into the hands of the people who required it. For his own part, he saw no objection to dealing with the Irish Church Fund for the purpose; indeed, he thought it could not be put to a use that was less of Party character and more of a national one than that of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, although he was aware that there were thousands of persons by whom such a proposal would be opposed. As to money being lent to the landlords, he would merely observe that he did not sit in that House as the nominee of the landlords, while, at the same time, he had some difficulty in seeing to whom else it was to be lent in the districts where distress prevailed, inasmuch as they were, in all probability, the only persons who could give the necessary security for its repayment. He wished, however, that the Government might be able to see its way to lending money direct to the tenant farmers; and he was sure that and other matters would receive the best attention of the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, the announcement of whose appointment to his present Office he had hailed with unalloyed pleasure, and who, 234 he hoped, when he went over to that country in the autumn, would not forget to pay a visit to the North.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, the avowed object of the Bill was to prevent distress; but, if there should be further distress, consequent upon failures of that year's crops, neither the last Bill, nor this Bill, would be adequate to deal with it. If there should be another failure of crops, he hoped the present Government would not follow the example of their Predecessors in postponing its consideration, but would summon Parliament to deliberation upon it. But, as far as they were then concerned, they had only to deal with the distress until the harvest was reached. He asked, therefore, whether the provisions of the Bill were adequately sufficient to meet the distress during the next three or four months; would the money be spent usefully; and, was the machinery of supply a proper one? His opinion was that the provisions of the Bill calling for another £750,000 from the Irish Church Fund were not well and economically calculated to meet the distress for the next few months. These clauses had been on the Statute Book for a considerable time, and before they were on the Statute Book the Executive Government had obtained certain powers, and yet it was on charitable donations all over the world that the Irish people had to depend. The former Act, of which this Bill was a continuation, did not effectually relieve distress. Out of the £750,000 then voted, only £180,000 had found its way out of the Treasury into the pockets of the landlords, and of the latter sum, not more than a third or a fourth had actually reached the pockets of the people who were intended to be employed when the £750,000 was voted. Further than that, he had seen distressed districts that were scheduled where the people were on the point of dying, in which no money was asked for by the landlords. He thought the system which had been followed was useless. It was often the case that in one parish, where, perhaps, there was no landlord, people were starving; while, in an adjoining parish, works were going on, not, indeed, useless works, but works which employed persons who were not in dire distress, and were carried on simply for the improvement of the property on which they laboured. It seemed 235 to him, therefore, that the system which they were called on to continue had failed in its main object of relieving distress, and that where the people were threatened with poverty and starvation such legislation was not adequate to save them from such a calamity. What, then, was the true direction of legislation? The right hon. Gentleman had discovered it at the eleventh hour. It was to save the small holders of land, during the trying time that had come upon them, from eviction, and to enable them to use the little money they had earned to find food, and not to turn them completely into paupers. He (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) was afraid it was almost too late to do so now. If, three or four years ago, they had a firm hold given them on their tenancies, he believed that, even in that short space of time, the spirit of industry would have been so roused that they would have had better hearts to meet distress; and, if it were done at once, it would do more to nerve them against what was to come than anything else that could be done, or had been done hitherto. It was not necessary to point out the connection between this and the relief of distress, for the Government had seen it, and had remembered it in this Bill. If the people were obliged to hoard their money to pay their rent they would be starved, no matter what amount of money was given to the landlords. If there was any security that the money handed to the landlord at so low a rate of interest would not be made the machinery of exacting from the occupiers of the land a higher rate of interest, he should not quarrel with the low rate of interest; but he complained that the landlord got money at 1 per cent, and would be able to charge the tenant 5 per cent, if he chose, on the outlay of the money on the land. The only way to meet this was to give the tenant a fair tenure of his land, and protection against the undue raising of his rent. They did not know how far the sum now called for was wanted; they did not know the nature of the improvements sought to be effected; and they could not say with anything like accuracy what had gone to this or that scheduled Union. The evidence had not been printed, and until it was printed there were no clear facts to judge from. In the end the burden of this distress would fall on the 236 ratepayers of Ireland. The true remedy, and the only one which the Government had left to them at that moment, was to grant out of the Imperial Treasury a sum to relieve the ratepayers of Ireland of the heavy rates they would have to pay to meet the distress. He again said that this distress would not have arisen if there had been proper land tenure in Ireland; and it was because all demands of such tenure had been refused that this burden would fall on the ratepayers. He, therefore, had a just claim to come to the House to get some assistance from Imperial taxation. If there had been a fair land tenure the men on whom the distress had fallen would have something laid by against a rainy day, and would not be in the miserable position in which they were; and if then they had had one or two bad seasons, they would not have been worse than the occupiers in other countries, where the Land Laws were better, and who had been able to lay by something. He believed, therefore, the Bill would do very little good in the direction in which it was addressed—the relief of distress. He believed the landlords might make the power obtained under the Bill an instrument of extortion. The clause which referred to railways must be very narrow indeed in its operation. He understood it would not apply to the relaying of rails, but only to Railway Companies which had works authorized but not constructed. Before they legislated at all in this direction, he thought they were entitled to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the names of the railways which could make use of the powers of the Bill. Again, unless a railway really ran through the heart of a distressed district, it would not do much to relieve the distress; for if the people had to go miles to their work they would prefer to go on out-door relief, and he should think they would be quite right. A further question would arise whether the money so spent would be economically spent. They had not to consider whether landlord or tenant would be benefited by improvements, or whether railways would be made, but whether the people who wanted bread or fuel would get it. He did not look with much approval on the railway clause, and he should expect to see laid on the Table a list of the railways to which it would be applicable. He thought the 237 people of Ireland had a strong claim for a grant from the Imperial Treasury in aid of the distress. They had received grants from Canada and from the Government of the United States, and he believed from the free Federal Chambers of several of those States. He wanted to know whether this Imperial Parliament, having on its shoulders the responsibility for the state of things now existing in Ireland, was going to refuse that at the present time? If anything was wanted to show that the Government saw that responsibility, it was that during the last few days they had signified their intention of proposing to restrain the unjust power of the landlord of evicting his tenants, and of treating the provision as a measure of relieving distress in Ireland.
§ MR. FINDLATER
suggested that, instead of raising frivolous objections as to the utility or inutility of the Bill, and attributing laches to the late Government in regard to measures for relieving the distress in Ireland, hon. Members would do better service to the country by reserving their thoughts for Committee, and endeavouring there to make the best they could of the measure.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. FINDLATER,
proceeding with his remarks, strongly urged that this was not the occasion for lengthened debate on points of detail, or on matters which were practically beyond the range of the Bill, and that further discussion should be reserved for Committee; that, at any rate, Members should confine themselves as much as possible to suggesting Amendments to which in Committee effect might be given. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had shown a sincere desire to forward the interests of the Irish people; and he would, no doubt, give any such suggestions his best consideration. With regard to objections which had been taken as to what was called subsidizing the landlords, he thought that some of them might be obviated by inserting in the Bill provisions which would insure that the money advanced should be spent within a reasonable time and in a proper way. It might also be possible by some provisions in the Bill to accelerate the action of the 238 Board of Works and the Treasury in regard to advances of money; but those were matters which could best be considered in Committee. In any case, care ought to be taken to give relief as far as possible in the form of employment, so as to avoid the demoralizing consequences of eleemosynary aid. He regretted that the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) did not agree to the second reading of the Bill, to which, for his own part, in the absence of any better scheme, he (Mr. Findlater) should give his most earnest support.
§ MR. LEA
said, that, representing one of the counties which had suffered most, he must say that he did not regard the Bill as a very practical measure, or one which would be completely effectual for the relief of distress in Ireland, which, indeed, could not be completely accomplished by any system of relief that could be devised. That might have been done by the late Government if the proper measures had been taken for that purpose six months ago; but the present Bill could only be looked to as a means of affording relief by giving the people the opportunity of earning wages. He was of opinion that if anything effectual was to be done to prevent distress in the future, it would be necessary to reform the existing wretched system of county government, which was antiquated and altogether useless for any practical purpose; and he hoped that some measure dealing with that subject would be introduced next Session. With regard to handing over all the money to the landlords, a course to which exception had been taken by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), he (Mr. Lea) was himself of opinion that it would be better if half of it were handed over to the tenants, and any provision to that effect would receive his cordial support. He represented a county in which there was hardly a railway at all, and distress existed chiefly in that part of the county which was furthest away from railways. What greater benefit could be given to his county, and to other counties in a similar condition as to railways, than a promotion of the railway system? He did not see, therefore, why powers in that respect should not be given to the Boards of Guardians as well as to baronial sessions—the former being the more representative of the two bodies. 239 He recommended also that larger advances should be made towards building and improving piers in connection with the Irish fisheries. They must look to the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench to take care that the people did not starve.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that he had put down a Notice of Opposition to the Bill in order to secure a full discussion of the measure, and because it was as worthless a measure as could be expected from a right hon. Gentleman who knew nothing of Ireland. It had been said that the present Chief Secretary had conferred an honour upon Ireland by becoming Chief Secretary. He was disposed to join issue on that matter, because he thought a Gentleman by getting a high position did not pay a compliment to anyone. As to the qualifications of the right hon. Gentleman, they had in the last Government a Chief Secretary for Ireland whom it was the custom of Irish Members to ridicule. The only difference that he saw between those two right hon. Gentlemen was that the former Chief Secretary had Tory views and stuck to them; the present Chief Secretary spoke very kind words sometimes; but, as far as the present Bill went, he did not propose anything better for Ireland than the late Government. The right hon. Gentleman called this measure a Bill for the relief of distress in Ireland. But he (Mr. Biggar) was disposed to amend the title, and call this a Bill for the relief of the distress of landlords in Ireland, because landlords would get a very much larger amount under the provisions of this Bill than other people in Ireland. One grievous proposal was that this money was to come out of the Church Fund. In his opinion, the Irish Church Surplus should be kept for some better purpose than putting money into the pockets of the landlords. It would be difficult, under the provisions of this Bill, to insure a proper distribution of the money to be given to the landlords among the people who were in distress; and in any case none of it would reach the hands of the small tenant farmers on the mountain sides, by whom the distress was the most severely felt. The 3rd and 4th clauses were drawn in a very loose manner, and they gave authority to a very irresponsible body, because it allowed the presentment ses- 240 sions to borrow money and to pledge the rates, without any guarantee that any relief would reach the distressed poor. Railways and other works were to be undertaken; but what guarantee had the ratepayers that such works once begun would be carried through? Instead of reading the Bill a second time, it should be sent back to the Government for them to produce something more reasonable. The Bill would not relieve the distress at all, and it would be no use. In his opinion, it would be no grievance to the Irish people if this measure was put back; and he advised the Government to withdraw it, with instructions that they should prepare one more calculated to effect the purpose desired.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
thought that in some of the remarks which had been made they were hardly doing sufficient justice to the last Parliament or to themselves. Last Session all were agreed that the distress should be relieved efficiently so far as was practicable, and they wanted to have a Bill for the purpose passed as soon as possible. With regard to the discussion which had taken place, he wished to mention a few points, because it seemed to him that justice had hardly been done to the late Government with respect to the loans made to landlords. He had looked through the debates that had taken place in February and March; and he found that, although the subject was then touched upon, there had been no' earnest opposition to advances of money to landlords for the employment of unskilled labour in the improvement of their land. The great anxiety was that immediate steps should be taken to relieve the distress in Ireland by employing the people; and perhaps they might not have been sufficiently careful as to the way in which the relief should reach the people. There was, in fact, no substantial objection raised to the money being lent to landlords; though there was a general desire, and one hon. Member certainly did press on the Government, to take care that the improvements effected by means of the money advanced should not be made by the landlords the ground for unduly increasing the rents of their tenants. The late Government had in November last issued a Notice that money would 241 be advanced to landlords for drainage and other improvement works, that being considered the best way of meeting the distress. The Government, however, were disappointed to find that the terms on which this money-was offered did not attract the landlords; and on the 12th of January following another and a more liberal notice was issued, offering money without any interest for the first two years and at 1 per cent afterwards. No one objected to that when the House met in February, and the result was that a large sum was applied for. The second notice had, perhaps, succeeded too well; and now complaint was made that the amount borrowed by the landlords, £1,250,000, was too large. But who was responsible for that? The question was not one of Party; and as everyone in the last Parliament was responsible for the offer, Her Majesty's present Government had felt themselves bound to provide funds with which to carry out the offer made by the late Government, sanctioned by the last Parliament, such offer being also one which the landowners were perfectly entitled to accept, regarding it purely from the point of view of their own interests. It was all very well to say that the landowners, as compared with tenants, should not be allowed to make profit out of the offer of the Government; and, as far as he knew, there was no wish on the part of the Government that any such profit should be made. But he also saw no reason why a scheme which seemed just should not be carried fully into effect, though it had been brought before Parliament and carried by a previous Administration, with, of course, different views on questions of general politics. There had been no concealment about the matter. It had been openly and fully discussed, and when it was under discussion it was described by several of the Irish Members as an admirable measure. The statute then passed confirmed the offer of the 12th January, and all loans made under it; and was it not the duty of the present Government to see that the engagements so made to the landlords were kept, and that the money promised to them should be forthcoming? That was the explanation he had to give for the 1st clause of that Bill.
§ MR. PARNELL
I am asking what amount of loans was sanctioned up to 242 the time the late Government wont out of Office?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
The amount must be practically the same as now, because all the applications had to be made before a certain date—namely, the 29th February. It was to meet the demands of those who thus applied for loans that this large sum was now required. The present Government when they came into power found that about £1,'250,000 had been applied for. It would not be just or right for them to attempt, under the pretence of not sanctioning loans, to keep down the amount. But not only had the amount he had stated been applied for, but it had been actually sanctioned before the present Government came in to Office; and all that remained for them was to keep faith with those whose applications had thus been made and sanctioned. The matter was practically one of contract entered into by the late Parliament with the landlords; and he thought hon. Gentlemen would feel that contract must be honestly kept. Passing on to what the present Government had introduced into the Bill for the purpose of affording additional relief of distress, he (Mr. Law) might perhaps be permitted to say that it had been pressed upon them from different quarters that one of the best means of relieving the distress would be to assist in some way the construction of earthworks for railways. It appeared to some of those with whom he acted that there was a good deal in that suggestion. In some parts of Ireland—in Donegal, for example—there were two or three railways for which Acts had been already obtained; but the promoters could not get money from the Treasury without some security beyond that of the railways themselves. There was the West Donegal Railway, running northwards from Donegal to meet the Derry lines at Stranalar; and there was the competing railway running from Donegal eastwards to catch the Great Northern system at Helleck. Both these railways passed through poor districts, which were incapable of raising money in the ordinary way; and the landlords were not in a position to come forward and give the collateral security which the Government required. In addition to these, another railway was, he believed, to be constructed in the county of Clare. It 243 seemed probable that, in such cases, a large amount of relief might very advantageously be given by thus supplying to unskilled labour; and his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster), after communication with the Treasury, had succeeded in getting the matter so arranged that the collateral guarantee necessary to induce the Treasury to lend money might be in the form of a baronial guarantee. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) said that a baronial guarantee might be oppressive, and did not appear to regard presentment sessions favourably. But presentment sessions were, after all, the only existing bodies which could be said in any sense to represent the localities; and they must first work with such machinery as existed, however imperfect, though he hoped they would not very much longer suffer under the misfortune of not having representative bodies for county administration. It had been said that the presentment sessions might be imposed upon. Well, no doubt that was possible; but certainly, so far as he knew, in the North of Ireland at any rate, they were not at all likely to be imposed upon; and he felt tolerably confident that the farmers, who formed a large proportion of the baronial sessions, were not likely to undertake any guarantee which was not likely to benefit themselves. There was, again, no danger whatever of the sessions giving guarantee for the purpose of bolstering up, as had been said, insolvent Companies. These provisions of the Bill would facilitate the opening up of parts of the country which now much needed proper means of transit; they would give great relief, and might, perhaps, do much to prevent a recurrence of distress and famine in future days. The baronial guarantee would only amount to one-fourth of the whole cost of the works to be carried out; and, therefore, he did not see that any great burden could fall upon the baronies. With respect to the fishery piers, the hon. Member for the City of Cork did not, he understood, object to that portion of the Bill; and he would find, on referring to the Piers and Harbours Act of 1846, that no additional burden would be imposed upon any locality. He thought the House would see that the Government had only endeavoured to keep faith with the landowners with whom engagements had 244 been made by the late Government and Parliament; and he hoped they would be aided by hon. Members in their effort to have the Bill passed as soon as possible. He could assure them that the Government were most anxious to make the Bill as good a measure as possible for the purposes for which it was designed.
§ MR. DALY
said, if he had understood the facts of the matter right, he gathered from the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Law) that the late Government allowed the landlords to borrow £750,000 for the construction of certain works, and the present Bill seemed to be introduced to meet the liabilities incurred by the late Government. To that he did not object. He considered that, although the present measure was a necessary one to carry out the promises made under the Act of 1880, yet neither of the two measures effected the immediate relief of distress, which was the professed object of the Government, inasmuch as the money granted would not reach the pockets of the persons employed within a period of three months. The first and most important question was the necessity of the immediate relief for the distress in Ireland; and he did not think that the means proposed by the Bill were adequate for that purpose. He failed to gather from the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken that any provision had been made for the completion of the works which had been referred to. That was a most indefensible omission, made alike by the late and by the present Government. In connection with the amount of money applied for, too, he did not understand from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there was any provision for preventing the landowners whose estates were improved raising their rents without assigning any good cause for doing so. He objected to the application of the Church Fund for the purposes of that Act. There would be a loss of 2¼ per cent per annum on what was borrowed, and that in Ireland ought to be looked upon as a national calamity. That fund was intended for purely Irish purposes; and he thought the distress in Ireland was a subject of national interest, and ought to have been met out of national resources. He 245 observed, too, that the Budget lately introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed a great regard for British industry and commerce, but that the interests of Ireland had received little attention. A sum of £230,000 annually, representing a capital sum of £7,000,000, had been granted to the English consumer in remission of taxation; but all that had been done for Ireland had been the grant of £30,000 for Irish fisheries. There could be no doubt that around the coasts of Ireland there was untold wealth for the people, which only needed the necessary stimulus—which only needed development—to make it one of the great industries of the country. As regarded the application of money to railways and other Companies having borrowing powers, he was cognizant enough of the constitution of baronial sessions to know that there would be great opportunities of inflicting injustice on the ratepayers, who would have ultimately to pay the interest on the loans. There were many other objections to the Bill, which was essentially defective in many respects, and miserably inadequate.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, that before making the few remarks on the Bill which he desired to offer to the House, he wished to suggest to hon. Members how exceedingly unsatisfactory this discussion upon the second reading of the Bill had been, and must necessarily be; and he could not help thinking that it would have been better, if before bringing in the measure on his own responsibility, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who acknowledged that he was not well acquainted with Irish subjects, and that he would require some time to learn the lessons which would be necessary to enable him to govern the country properly, had invited a conference of the Irish Members with himself, or if not with the whole of the Irish Members, with a certain number of them who might easily have been selected, and who could have consulted with him in a business-like spirit with reference to the Bill. Unless some such principle as this was adopted in regard to Ireland, it would be impossible to avoid these discussions whenever a measure relating to that country was brought before the House of Commons; and he was sure that the Irish Members 246 would gladly have co-operated with the Government. If it had been a Scotch question he did not think that the Government would have proposed its measures without first ascertaining the needs and wishes of the Scotch people through their Representatives; and why were the Irish Members, who were as desirous of doing right to their country as the Scotch Members were to theirs, not consulted on a matter of this kind? With regard to the observations of the Attorney General for Ireland, he did not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had conveyed an altogether right impression to the House as to what took place on the subject last Session. His (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) hon. Friend the Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) had objected to the loans to landlords at a very low rate of interest. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) himself thought that those loans might be of greater service if granted to a limited extent only. The extent of the loans which Parliament then sanctioned was £750,000; and it was never contemplated that the loans to the landlords should be doubled. But the Board of Works was altogether undermanned, and when it was found that few loans were applied for, they were ready to undertake any application whatever. No inquiry was made in regard to the persons who applied for loans, and that was the reason why between February and the time the present Government came into Office there was found to be an enormous increase in the application for funds, some of which, if inquiry had been made, would never have been granted, and which Parliament was not obliged to sanction. He hoped that discretion would be exercised, and that no grants would be made until after a searching inquiry, except in instances where the Government was already pledged. The Bill was called a Bill for the Belief of Distress, and it was exactly in the measure of relief afforded that the Bill earned its title. The money was proposed to be advanced in three ways. The first advance was to be made from the Irish Church Surplus; and he, for one, did not object to the application of the Church Surplus Fund to the object provided it was employed in a proper way. He objected, however, altogether to the way in which at present it was proposed to be done. The additional sum of £500,000 was to be advanced to the land- 247 lords of Ireland for the improvement of their estates, believing that in improving their estates they would give labour to the poor. Now, he objected to the Church Surplus Fund being applied in that way. If the Government wanted to lend more money to the landlords, he had not the smallest objection to their doing so out of the Treasury funds. With regard to the second mode of advance—namely, that to the presentment sessions, which was to be made out of the Treasury funds, he objected to it on the ground that it would throw a great weight on the ratepayers for 15 years. What, therefore, he should propose was that, instead of the Government taking the loans to be given to the landlords out of the Church Surplus Fund, they should take it out of the Treasury, and that they should advance money out of the Church Surplus to the presentment sessions, reconstituting those sessions and giving them a more representative character, and then the money might be applied in a very useful way to the various localities. But in any ease he hoped the Government would not trust to the Board of Works or to the Local Government Board. He made that observation, because he regretted to say that the Chief Secretary seemed to be likely to fall into the error which had cramped the energies of his Predecessors in Office, of inclining too much to the advice of old officials in Dublin. The way in which the Local Government Board in Ireland managed its business was a crying evil and a gigantic shame. He complained that in certain districts works had been rejected, on the Report of the Poor Law Inspectors, which had been sanctioned by the presentment sessions, and also complained of a system of government which could allow of such proceedings. If the Irish people wore not allowed to manage their own local affairs their Representatives in Parliament ought at least to have some voice in matters of this kind. If the government of Ireland were to be still carried on by the system of reticence and secrecy which had so long prevailed, he should do all he could to make the English people acquainted with the reality of the evils under which Ireland laboured. There was also a third mode of advance, which consisted of the free gift of £30,000 by the Treasury for the construction of fishery harbours and piers. 248 He had no objection to this; but he pointed out that this grant was merely an anticipation of the contribution for the purpose which was authorized by Parliament for those useful works on the coast. He highly approved of the course taken by the Government in appointing a small Committee to adjudicate upon the claims which had been sent in by various localities for harbours; and he wished that the Government would extend the system to other branches of relief instead of leaving the work to Boards of Guardians and other kindred bodies.
§ MR. NELSON
said, his appearance in that honourable Parliament, the decisions of which influenced more or less the opinions of the whole civilized world, was, he humbly submitted, a speech in itself. He believed he represented public opinion in Ireland, and he had been sent there by one of the counties of that Island to express their opinion, and he trusted he would have grace from God to express the mind of Ireland in the minority. What he would say to an open-air meeting he would say in that House. It was a remarkable thing that a man like himself, whose previous groove of action was so removed from active politics, should have been called upon without opposition to come to that House to express the opinion, at any rate, of one suffering county of Ireland. However important to that Kingdom—called by a figure of speech "United"—might be the decision by which they might be led, there was not much evidence, from the empty appearance of many of the benches, that the Parliament of Britain was interested in the condition of Ireland. The Representatives of Ireland appeared constantly in the House as suppliants, and fond Parliament must be of suppliants, when she compelled them thus to appear for centuries, and year after year. Ireland would not always thus present herself. He was not sure that in the history of nations any people had by the attitude of supplication either maintained its liberty or recovered its independence. The British Parliament compelled the Representatives of Ireland to appear as suppliants. He would, however, warn right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that they were walkingperignesSuppositos cineri doloso.The people of Ireland believed that, by the blessing of Heaven, the resources of 249 its minerals, and the production of its soil would, with the industry of its inhabitants, be sufficient to keep the country in independence and in affluence if a wall of brass 80 cubits high were drawn around the Island. But they asked as suppliants, in the meantime, for what they believed belonged to them. Instead of assuming the grandiloquence of ignorance, and stepping into the terra incognito of statesmanship, he would simply say that the Bill declared two things—namely, that there was distress in Ireland, and that the Government were willing to do something to relieve it. Would to God the second declaration were as true as the first! Instead of bolstering up this foundling—for it was no Bill of the present Government, but one which had been discovered among the spolia optima of the late Administration—without confusing themselves with it, the Government ought at once to set aside a sum—take it from where they would—for the relief of the existing distress. Thirteen months ago he ventured to say that that distress would be deplorable, and deplorable it had been. In other lands God at times pleased that there should be scarcity of food; but in Ireland poverty and scarcity of food were the normal conditions. He did not think himself justified in arguing as to the eternal purposes of the Ruler of the Universe. It was better to deal solely with what was within our horizon, and to admit at once that much might be done by man himself. Many parts of Ireland were not permitted to produce its fulness, and the people were not permitted to extract from the soil the fruits of the industry they were ready to bestow upon it; and he hoped that when the House was called upon to consider the present unsatisfactory relations existing between the landlords and tenants of Ireland, they would approach the question with a sincere desire to do justice, and he besought the House to decide that night without further delay to relieve the grievous distress of the people of that wretched country.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
trusted that they might be allowed to come to a decision that evening. He thought the time had come when he, as having charge of the Bill, should say what he had to say on the subjects touched upon in the debate. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Nelson) and himself were likely to agree upon the 250 action of the Government, though he did not know why they should differ. He was very glad that the suffering men of Mayo had got so eloquent a Representative to tell to the House their feelings, their wants, their sufferings, and even what they might consider their wrongs, as the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He felt that the hon. Member had a right to ask the Government what they had done, during their short period of Office, for the mitigation of Irish distress, and how they had attempted to meet it. This was the middle of June; and when the present Government took Office in the beginning of May, they found, as they had expected, a severe battle raging between distress and relief. That distress, immediate and intense, had been caused mainly by the failure of the crops in Ireland, and, to some extent, by their failure in England also, as causing a less demand for Irish agricultural labour; while, in a much less degree, it had been increased by the competition for labour between the manufacturing and the agricultural districts. Now, he did not wish it to be supposed that, although that distress might be described as the act of God, he would not say that man could do nothing to alleviate it. He thought it was a disgrace to them, and a disgrace to all the Members of both Houses of Parliament—and he did not acquit Irish Members of their share—that they had allowed the state of Ireland to be such that, to apply an eloquent expression used in a former debate, there were only two or three crops between the small cottier tenant in Ireland and destitution and misery. Up to the beginning of May the distress had been met mainly by charitable contributions from all parts of the world, for which he heartily thanked their fellow-subjects in Australia and Canada and their kinsmen in America. He thought it was the right hon. the Lord Mayor of Dublin (Mr. Gray), in a speech full of good suggestions, who stated what he (Mr. Forster) could hardly agree with, that charitable organizations had done what the Government ought to have done. It was said that a far better mode of relief would be by means of relief works; and who could, doubt that the most careful exercise of charity, either by Poor Law officials or benevolent committees, must always 251 be accompanied by some amount of demoralization and some imposition? The very nature of such a form of relief must bring some evil with. it. But he knew from some little study of benevolent action, although some hon. Gentlemen might not agree with him, that when those tremendous calamaties came upon them they could scarcely meet them by public labour works alone. There must be charitable relief accompanying them, and for this reason—that the people upon whom the distress most severely fell were those who had not any able-bodied man in their family, and who, therefore, could not work, so that public works afforded them no help. After the date he had mentioned—the beginning of May—when he entered upon Office, the charitable funds were not altogether expended—hetrusted they were not yet altogether expended—but they were diminishing, and they must continue to diminish. He thus found coming upon him a very formidable responsibility; and without inquiring to what extent the distress was due to the sins of omission or commission of the people themselves, a Government was bound to keep its people from the absolute and final results of destitution. The Lord Mayor of Dublin doubted whether he (Mr. Forster) was aware of the responsibility he had undertaken. He was painfully aware of it. He warned his Predecessor before the Dissolution of Parliament that this would happen. When the very honourable post of Chief Secretary for Ireland was offered to him—and he might say that it was the Office which of all others he would rather have had in any Ministry—he knew well enough that the first thing he would have to deal with would be the state of distress during the two or three months between the diminution of these funds and the harvest. Accordingly he set to work at once to do what he thought the only thing to be done. He only stated what he had endeavoured to do, and what he had been supported by the officials in doing. They had kept the closest possible watch over the distressed districts, especially those worst off; and as the charitable relief must cease, or apparently be largely diminished, they thought that the official relief should step in. Orders were sent to the Inspectors to keep constantly looking through those Unions, and to insist upon 252 out-door relief where it was necessary; for they knew very well that in some places where it was most wanted—the hon. Member for Mayo could point to two or three—the ratepayers themselves were greatly distressed, because few men of property were living among them; and, therefore, the order to give relief was accompanied with the lending of money to enable the relief to be given. That was the line they were taking, and he really thought they were succeeding. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) said he (Mr. Forster) must not be content with sitting in the Office reading the Reports. Well, what more would the hon. Member do if he were in his place than read the Reports, bring all the knowledge he could to bear upon them, get all the information he could from other sources, checking them, and wherever he thought there was danger calling the attention of the Local Government Board to the danger? In fact, he really could not charge his conscience with not having done as much as he could. The hon. Member for Galway spoke about young Inspectors. A young man was not necessarily bad for such a business because he was a man of 24. This young Inspector was the son of Mr. Robinson, Vice President of the Local Government Board—though that did not necessarily qualify him for the post—and an old friend who had helped him in the Famine years, Mr. Tuke, who had gone lately through Donegal and Mayo, who travelled with him for some days, gave a very good account of the young man, and said it would be difficult to find a better Inspector.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
explained, that what he had said was that the Inspector in question had disallowed more works than any other Inspector in Ireland; that at least two-thirds of the refusals of the Local Government Board in the counties of Galway and Mayo were due to him.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
doubted very much whether his hon. Friend had all the details before him, or if the statistics would bear out that statement. Certainly, the hon. Member did seem to give an impression that the Local Government Board Inspectors were not to be trusted. All he could say, if confidence could not be placed in them, then confidence must very much disappear altogether. Well, 253 the Reports that he got were more hopeful. One day he might find a Union getting worse—he got one or two bad Reports to-day and yesterday—but, generally speaking, he found them more hopeful. The works, about which so much had been said, were giving much more employment, and many hundreds and thousands of persons were coming over to England, where there was hope of getting work. He believed there was some truth in what was said by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), that many of those who came in the spring were disappointed; but a good many now were successful. The chief business they had to do was to tide over the next two or three months. His hon. Friend who had just sat down (Mr. Nelson) had been rather struck by the difference between the two sides of the House. His hon. Friend's experience of the House was short; but when he had been there a few years he would find that they were not so utterly neglectful of the public good as he supposed, and that there was more agreement in passing practical measures between the two opposite sides of the House and the two Front Benches than sometimes appeared. The late Government had left their successors two or three useful measures. The first was the alteration in the Poor Law, which enabled out-door relief to be given. He (Mr. Forster) was very much obliged to them for it; and his only doubt, looking to the past, was whether it should not have been done earlier. The result had been that occupiers of above a quarter of an acre could now receive Poor Law relief without losing their holdings. There were 37 Unions in which the necessary Orders were now in force, and, according to a Return at the end of last month—he had a later, but had mislaid it—there were 117,000 persons receiving relief in or out of the workhouses. That looked a large number; but it did not come up to the English standard. In England, at this moment, there was just under 3 per cent of the population receiving relief; in Ireland the number was about 2.1, so that, in spite of everything, the weight upon the rates was not so great in Ireland as in England. The next measure carried by the late Government was the Seed Act, which had really done immense good. He wished to take that oppor- 254 tunity of thanking the late Government for it, and also his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Galway (Major Nolan), who had much to do with it. He would not say that there had not been some recklessness in the use of that Act; but without it they should have been in the most imminent danger next year. The large sum of £600,000 had been lent under it. He came now to those debateable matters under the Relief Act. He would take the baronial presentment sessions first, because it was only for the loans under these that he was personally responsible. His Predecessor did not sanction any baronial presentment loans, which came up only just before he left Office, and he naturally left them to his successor. The first thing he had to do was to look over the applications, and in almost every case he found work going on under the landlords and sanitary authorities. The hon. Member for Galway complained of the mode in which these baronial sessions were dealt with. What they did was this—they sent down two sets of Inspectors, Inspectors of the Board of Works, and Inspectors of the Local Government Board, to see that the works were useful and that employment was given. Both those conditions were necessary. Unless work was useful it was little better than gratuitous relief, and the very object of lending the money at 1 per cent was to give employment. Although they thought they ought undoubtedly to sanction all the loans on which the two Inspectors were agreed, it did not follow that they should not sanction any where the Inspectors disagreed. Up to June 5, £185,000 were applied for under the baronial sessions, and of that £113,000 had been sanctioned. By a Return which he hoped would be in possession of the House within a day or two, the amount issued before the 31st of May was £32,000, and he believed a great deal more was issued by this time. Hon. Members would find that these works were giving considerable employment even now. The hon. Member for Galway had said that 1 per cent was a delusion. He (Mr. Forster) knew his hon. Friend was never likely to be in a position to require to borrow money; but if he had to borrow money, he would not think it a delusion at all if he were to get it at 1 per cent; and if he was kindly told 255 that he might pay back the principal, not in large instalments, but in small sums from year to year, he would think it still better. They issued orders that they should have weekly Returns of the number of persons at work. He would not dwell on the loans to the sanitary authorities. It would appear that but a small proportion of them had been sanctioned. He now came to the loans to the landlords; for these the present Government were certainly pledged, but not responsible. The applications were made before the present Government came into Office. The terms on which these loans were asked were embodied in the letter which practically formed part of the Bill passed at the beginning of this year. They were in reality these—that if the landlords would find security they would get the loans. When he came into Office they were limited to £1,200,000. The 17th section of the Act only provided £750,000 for the payment of the obligations; but what did the late Government do? They entered into larger obligations than the £750,000 would meet; and, therefore, the present Government found themselves in this position—they must either ask the House for more money, or break faith with those who applied for loans. That was the real fact of the matter. The House must not suppose that this £1,500,000 was all given to the landlords. The Government were taking the very utmost sum that would be wanted. He did not think it would be all wanted. It was easy to be wise after the event. If the late Government were now in their place, they would, no doubt, be sorry that they had not made more conditions. But there was one condition, that if before the 31st of July a second instalment of the loan had not been issued the remainder would be lent at 3½ per cent. The landlords, therefore, knew what their position was, and the condition to which he referred would, no doubt, increase the employment between this and the 31st of July, because they would be anxious to come in for the loan at 1 per cent. He thought it was a pity they had not tied the landlords down more to time; but the present Government, he repeated, were not responsible for the condition. They took the condition and had to fulfil it. But, after all, it was doing a great deal more good than the House 256 supposed. Up to the 31st of May the amount issued to the landlords was £240,000. The sum had been very much increased since. The last week of which he had an account £20,000 was issued; and that sum, he thought, would represent the employment of 35,000 to 40,000 men. He did not wish to exaggerate the importance of this Bill. It was not on the works, public or private, he relied for getting over the difficulties between this and harvest. It was upon outdoor relief he relied: though he also looked for considerable help in employment. He trusted the House would pass this Bill, especially the clause relating to the £750,000—not because it was a good bargain, or because it was the best that could be made, but because it was a bargain, and must be fulfilled. If by chance the House should refuse to fulfil its bargain, the result might be confusion, the stopping of works, a great increase of distress, and an addition to the numbers that would have to be relieved. It must be remembered that it was not merely one Government taking up the acts of another, but it was one Parliament taking up the acts of a previous Parliament, and in the last Parliament there was no division against loans to the landlords, or against the interest to be charged for them. He did not agree that there was no security to the tenants, as he thought the Amendment of the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Synan) would have a very considerable effect in preventing landlords charging for the improvements a higher rate of interest than they paid. In the existing condition of things, he looked round to see if anything else could be done. It was too late to change the lines of action already taken. It was too late to adopt loans to tenants instead of loans to landlords. He saw there were two things which might do good. There were the fishery piers. Of course, an Irish Secretary was anxious to do what he could for Ireland; but it was the duty of the Treasury to guard the public purse. He succeeded in obtaining this grant of £30,000, and hon. Members who thought it ought to be £60,000 might leave that for the Committee. What was wanted was the Bill to make it possible to do something at once. There was the possibility of another bad autumn and winter, and it was necessary to develop 257 industry on the West Coast, so as to give some alternative employment to the cultivation of the wretched holdings. To do this it was necessary to take advantage of the Canadian grant. As to the faulty constitution of the baronial sessions, no doubt there were a good many things in Ireland that needed to be changed or reformed; but for small practical measures they must make use of the existing machinery, until the machinery could be improved. He believed county government in Ireland was very bad; but they had to deal with desolate and wild districts which were, however, capable of immediate development and improvement, and must use the agency ready to their hand. He thought he had made out a case for, at any rate, getting the Bill into Committee, where the Government would gladly hear any suggestion which might be offered. If they could meet the wishes of hon. Members, they would gladly do so; but he must confess that he did not think they could now enter on a new line of action. An hon. Member had spoken of the possibility of another bad harvest and winter; he could only say if that was to be so he should wish himself anywhere but in the position he held. All he could say at present was that it was impossible for any hon. Member from Ireland, even if he had just come from the suffering people of Mayo, to be more convinced than he was that if there came another bad winter and a bad harvest the Government would have to take some very strong and summary measures to prevent absolute destitution, if not starvation, and he believed his Colleagues shared that opinion with him.
§ MR. BLAKE
said, that he agreed with the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) that the sum of £30,000 proposed by the Government for the improvement of harbours in Ireland would be wholly inadequate, there being some 40 or 50 that required it, and that that sum, even when supplemented by the Canadian grant, would not meet the wants of more than a dozen of them. The Bill only allowed £30,000 for harbour piers; and the most that could be expended on any harbour was £3,000. He contended that more money should have been devoted by the Government to improving harbours, because nothing could pay better than the expenditure upon them. He would suggest that the 6th clause of 258 the Bill should be struck out; otherwise, as regarded the fisheries in Ireland, the Bill would not be worth the paper on which it was printed. He could confirm what had been said as to the Irish officials; for his belief, after a long experience, was that the right hon. Gentleman would find them trustworthy, intelligent, and most anxious to promote the interests of the country.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, that when a similar Bill was introduced by the late Government he confined himself to the plain statement of the fact that it seemed to him queer that when £750,000 was voted to the Irish landlords at a time when they were not receiving their rents, that the ratepayers should be asked to tax themselves for the relief of the people. Although his statement was ridiculed at the time, many people had since said that there "was very much in what Pat O'Brien said." But the proposition of the present Government was precisely the same as that made by the late Government; and every objection which he had urged against the proposal of the late Government applied with equal force to the present Bill. He considered that the proposition of the Government was incomplete, and did not meet the necessities of the case. The proposition was one which no Irishman with the feelings of an Irishman would support in the House if he thought he could get anything better. [Laughter.] He could understand the laugh; but he thought hon. Gentlemen ought not to sneer at the distress under which Ireland was suffering. What was the proposition of the Government? It was to give £750,000 to the landlords of Ireland, and that was not the way to meet the distress. He was ready to join in the opposition to the Bill; and, notwithstanding what might be written in the Irish papers next Saturday, he should continue to do his duty in the position he held as the Representative of the humblest man in Ireland as well as the richest. He was a humble Irish landlord, and the question was whether there was great distress in Ireland, and would the Bill meet that distress? He should support the measure of the right hon. Gentleman, for it seemed to him to afford relief to Irish landlords by giving them loans, although it would do little to meet the present distress.
§ MR. WARTON,
who rose amid considerable interruption, said, that in that debate 14 hon. Members had spoken, 13 of whom were Irish, and the other was the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. It was rather hard, therefore, that Irish Members should call out "Agreed" and "Divide," when not a single English Member had yet had an opportunity of speaking on that question. They heard often of "justice to Ireland." Surely they should occasionally, once in a way, have a little justice to England, and allow English Members to say a few words, especially as they had been taunted with their indifference to that subject. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had suggested that the right hon. Gentleman ought to have called a conference of the Irish Members on that measure; but, looking at the diversity of opinion which appeared to prevail among those hon. Members, some of whom regarded the Bill as absolutely worthless, he doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman would have gained great advantage by adopting that suggestion. He was anxious to know how far they were to be treated to those mutual interchanges of compliments between the third Party and the Chief Secretary, of which they had already witnessed so many. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster) must, he (Mr. Warton) thought, be almost tired—nay, sick—of those compliments, because they had been paid to him for a purpose—namely, so to work upon his generous nature as to squeeze from him even more than he might be disposed to give. That was nothing more nor less—except as to the amount—than the Bill of the late Government, which was strongly supported by those Irish Members who were now crying out against it, because they knew that they would get justice for Ireland from the Conservative Government, but they hoped to get something more than justice from the present Government. They had seen an hon. Member from Ireland rise and make a suggestion. Perhaps, he said, it would be a good thing if they took away from the Irish tenants the opportunity of paying their rent. Then the House would be told that that was a matter worthy of consideration. If, again, a suggestion was made that money should be lent to the tenants, instead of 260 the landlord, they would be told that that also was worthy of consideration. The Government took 11 days to make up their minds whether they would consent to the principle of the monstrous Bill of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power). He had marked the action of the Government, not in order to say what was unfriendly, but to see whether they would be firm in resisting those monstrous claims, and not support, tacitly or openly, an Irish agitation to get the property of the landlords, and, if so, he would support them. There was no excuse for the Government. They were not driven by necessity. They had a large majority, and the Irish Members were not able to turn the scale against them. He did not object to the kind expressions of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, or to his velvet glove; but he wanted to know whether an iron hand was under that glove when Irish Members threatened them with outrage and revolution in Ireland. The Government had given way on important matters. He hoped they were not going to make concessions which ought never to be granted. He wanted to know whether the sacred rights of property were to be maintained or not. If they were, the Government would have the support of the Opposition against agitators in Ireland. The most practical question for Ireland at the present moment was, were rents to be paid or not? The disposition of a great many Irish people was against paying rents, and those who were able were advised not to pay. He knew an instance of this disposition, and warned the Government against the danger of losing the confidence and sympathy of those who respected the rights of property, which danger they might incur if they went in for a policy of confiscation for the sake of getting a few votes from Irish Members.
§ MR. BYRNE
said, if the Bill were really what it proposed to be, no Irish Member would incur the responsibility of voting against it; but a virtue was claimed for it which it did not really possess. It was a bad Bill—it was bastard legislation. The Bill gave scarcely any relief to Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant had not proved his case. On the contrary, he had proved his case very much against himself, for 261 in effect the right hon. Gentleman said—"We have taken up the Business of the late Government, and we feel hound to carry it on as we find it." It was a had Bill, because it proposed to take money out of the Irish Church Fund instead of the Imperial Exchequer. If the money only went to the relief of Irish distress, he (Mr. Byrne) would not object to the amount being even £2,000,000; but the truth was that a considerable proportion of the grant would go to pay the debt contracted by the late Government. The Government were the trustees of the Irish Church Surplus Fund; and money for the relief of distress in Ireland should not come out of that fund, but out of the Imperial Exchequer. The Irish people would expect a rigid account of the Irish Church Surplus Fund, to which they claimed to be entitled.
§ MR. GILL
said, that for some time past he had been aware that the Mansion House Relief Committee were not in a position as regarded the funds to attend properly to their duties. Quite recently he had been in communication with gentlemen who were some of the best informed of its Members; and they had informed him that, no doubt, the distress was increasing rather than diminishing at the present, and that numerous small farmers were requiring relief, their means being exhausted—which had never been more than scanty—who had not required relief earlier. Taking that into account, he would earnestly impress upon Her Majesty's Government to do something for the country. The relief works did not, in fact, contribute to the alleviation of the distress; and, therefore, he thought that, considering the amount of distress which would probably exist before harvest, they ought to grant a sum of money to the Relief Committees which were at present in existence. In the districts in which the distress was, there were numerous sub-committees, and reports as to the real state of the distress reached the authorities. The real way to alleviate the distress, he was convinced, was to grant them money. He thought it could easily be done without great loss to the Treasury or any other Department. In fact, it would not entail so much loss as would the Bill which was now before them, At a moderate computation, by 262 lending the money at 1 instead of 3 per cent, there would be a loss to the Church Fund of £350,000. He would suggest that £200,000 or £250,000 might be given at once, instead of lending it to landlords. Two per cent might be charged for the money lent to the landlords instead of one per cent, and that would almost produce the amount which the expenditure he had suggested would require. He did not not see why money lent to landlords on that occasion should be advanced at the small rate of one per cent. He trusted that the great amount of distress which did at present exist would soon disappear, but hoped the Government would take into consideration the course he had suggested. He must add that there could be no doubt that there was a considerable substratum of politics which entered into that question, and that was one reason why the Government had not been more active in the matter. He hoped that inaction would not be attended with the terrible responsibility which would attach if there were deaths from famine in Ireland. He hoped that the present Government, by the course it was now taking, would not bring that terrible responsibility upon them. Such a responsibility had attached to the Government of 1847 on account of the inaction of the then Government and Prime Minister, and he trusted that nothing like that would occur now. He impressed upon them the necessity of doing something immediately; if not, there would certainly be numerous deaths before harvest, and, moreover, the people would not have sufficient strength to reap their corn and dig their potatoes on account of the state of weakness and sickness to which they would be reduced, which was the inevitable consequence of the destitution from which they were at present suffering. The reason he underrated the relief works was because he believed they would do little good to the districts. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said a short time ago that there could be no doubt the relief works would not relieve everyone, but only the able-bodied men who could take advantage of them. He was afraid that before long they would be painfully aware of the truthfulness of that statement. In 1847 a gentleman had nar- 263 rated to him some circumstances of the famine of that time. That gentleman was engaged as an engineer on the relief works, whose could be relied on; and he had assured him that he found of a morning, as he went to the works, groups of wretched beings huddled together by the hedges and in the ditches, with the famine fever glaring in their eyes; and he had made a calculation as to how many he should be likely to find alive when he returned from his work. He assured the Government that if active relief measures were not taken something like that would certainly be likely to happen; and he was sure that that was a state of circumstances which Her Majesty's Government did not wish to see brought about.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant whether he proposed to take the Committee on the Bill to-morrow (Friday)? There was not, he thought, sufficient opportunity afforded for preparing Amendments to the Bill; and although the Irish Members had done all they could to arrange about Amendments, there had not been sufficient time to bring them forward, and they had, therefore, made small progress in that direction. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman really wished to get into Committee, they could then move to report Progress, with the understanding that some days, or perhaps a week, later the matter could come up for further consideration. He trusted that the postponement would take place—say, until next week, in order that they might have the opportunity of drawing up Amendments that would be satisfactory.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that he was sorry the hon. Member had stated that the Amendments were not ready. The Bill had been before the House some time, and both the Bill and the clauses were very short; and he thought that ample time had been allowed for the consideration of Amendments. Considering the feeling on the part of Irish Members, perhaps he ought not to go further than the present stage of the Bill. It was not for him to press the Bill forward unduly; but he must state that, considering the anxiety which he had that the Bill should be passed as 264 quickly as possible, he trusted that they would allow them to get into Committee on it, and to make some real progress with it to-morrow.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow, at Two of the clock.