§ Lords Amendments considered.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, as he felt it was most important that this Bill should pass, he should be very sorry to intervene in the discussion for any time, and so delay the passing of this measure. He assured the House that he should 871 not have made any remark if he had not felt it to be his duty to do so; but he confessed that since the Bill had been introduced he had had reason to fear that the distress and danger of famine in Ireland was greater than had been supposed. The House would probably recollect that when the Bill was brought in, he had stated that he thought that the Government had done all that was necessary and could be expected to be done to ward off the famine, and he did not wish at that moment to retract that statement, nor did he, in any of the remarks which he was about to make, wish to blame the Government; he only desired to point out to the House that the danger of great and terrible distress in Ireland, particularly in the West of Ireland, and the prospect of real famine next year was greater than he had supposed, and as he thought hon. Members generally had supposed, when the Bill was brought in. If the House would allow him, he would give his reasons for that view. He was speaking upon the information only which he had received from one or two persons, but who were deserving of credit. He happened to have had something to do with the Famine of 1846–7, and a friend of his, who had been very efficient in relieving distress at that time, had gone over to Donegal. He had not gone over there with any prepossession at all; but, certainly, the letters received from him spoke of most tremendous and alarming distress. What he heard was, that in the county of Donegal—and the matter was all the worse, because it applied to only about one half the county—there were more than 70,000 people now saved from starvation by the relief which they obtained from the Duchess of Marlborough's and the Lord Mayor's Funds. That distress must press most heavily, unless there were ample provision made for its further relief, and it must also continue until the following September and October. His friend feared that throughout the West of Ireland the distress was as bad as in Donegal. On that point, however, he hoped he would find himself mistaken, and that Donegal was, owing to peculiar circumstances, worse than other districts. There existed, however, great distress in other parts—namely, in the islands off the West Coast, which were in a terrible state, as also some districts in Kerry and Galway, and alto- 872 gether, he felt they were in face of a much greater danger than they had expected. He hoped the Government would not think he made these observations in a hostile spirit; he would be sorry to say anything which might have the effect of checking the charitable funds; he was glad that there had been subscriptions in England, and by the English-speaking races in the Colonies and in America, But no Government could rely upon charity alone to keep the people alive; it was not exactly the business of charity to do that; it was the business of the State, either through local funds or from Imperial funds, to keep the people from positive famine. He wanted to impress upon the Government that they had to contemplate a dangerous state of things. Supposing that the funds from charitable sources should fall off, if the Government were not ready at once to afford help from the Unions, there might arise a most terrible calamity. He pointed out that in his view there could be no danger so great as real famine and actual death from starvation, which had occurred in many cases in Ireland. It was, however, possible that Her Majesty's Government might be more aware of the danger than they were supposed to be; but he would, nevertheless, suggest that there ought to be sent down from Dublin one or two of the ablest men that could be found, to discover what the Guardians in the districts to which he had referred were doing, and what was actually being done to reduce the distress there existing; to try to get as much more done as possible; and if it were found that the Unions had not the power to deal with the distress, then, he thought, it was their duty to step forward, and that the famine must be met by the Central Government. He had been told that in those Unions where there was the greatest distress, the rates were no higher than they had been last year, and that in one particular Union they amounted to 1s. 8d. in the pound last year, and stood at that amount now. There were no more people in the workhouse, and there were very few more than last year in receipt of out-door relief; but, until the present Bill was passed, he was aware there was no power to force the Unions to act. It was with some reluctance that he had made this statement, because he felt that at that particular moment it might be sup- 873 posed to be made from Party motives. But he knew too much of Irish famine to regard it for one moment in the light of a Party question. His object was to help the Government in a matter which he could not but consider to be one of great danger.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, as that was the last opportunity which he should have of seconding what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, he begged, in the most solemn manner, to say that the Government had given no evidence that they were alive to the magnitude of the disaster which was at that moment hanging over Ireland. He had, two days ago, received a letter from a parish priest in his own district, which naturally might be supposed to be not the most distressed district in the country, stating that there were 600 families applying for relief, and that he had nothing to give them. What was it, he asked, in the way of relief to a starving population of that kind to receive amounts of £50, £150, and £200 from the charitable funds of the two associations which had been formed in Ireland? One of those associations, the charity inaugurated by the Duchess of Marlborough, had spent £30,000 of the funds sent from this country in providing seed potatoes. He maintained that such was not the object for which those funds had been subscribed. They had been given to keep the people alive—to prevent their perishing from hunger. The purchase of seed potatoes was a worthy, desirable, and necessary thing; but the administrators of the fund were replying now, when they were asked to give food, that they had spent their money in seed potatoes. The outlay of £30,000 out of £80,000 was, in his opinion, an enormous disproportion, looking at what was absolutely necessary for the present and what would be necessary for the future. There were two districts in Connemara, in which the people had literally nothing to eat, and nothing wherewith to clothe themselves, and the consequence of this mode of distributing the charity had been that the people, who were generally very saving of their seed potatoes and seeds of all kinds, had been led to consume the whole of their stock. Again, that distribution of charity which required nothing to be done in return was demoralizing to the whole of the district, 874 and aggravated, to an enormous extent, the dangers, of the situation. It was useless to protest against the action of the Government. They were not alive to what was passing in Ireland; and if he were to say that they were indifferent to the situation, and left it to the mere chance of what might turn up, he thought he should be doing no more than correctly describing the position. There was another point in connection with those seed potatoes to which he would refer. The kind which was generally grown in Ireland, and which formed a great portion of the food of the people, ripened in the month of August; but the particular kind which had been chosen for distribution was the so-called "Champion" potato, which was late in ripening, and that fact could not but prolong the distress for another month at least. Again, the suggestion which he had made, that some manure should also be given, had, on several occasions, been scoffed at by the Government. But the point had been subsequently raised and insisted upon most particularly by the Agricultural Society of Ireland; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland must be very well aware of the necessity of supplying manure. What was the use, he asked, of going to the expense of purchasing potatoes of a high class, the cost of which had been run up immensely by the demand made for them, and then giving the people nothing wherewith to fertilize the land on which they would be sown? How could a crop be expected next year to be yielded by an exhausted soil? All he had proposed was, that, seeing the Government had allowed £5 to be expended in providing seeds sufficient for particular cases, the Boards of Guardians who administered that fund should be allowed to use a few shillings of the £5 in providing manure. That suggestion, which, he believed, would have appealed to the common sense of anybody who knew anything about agriculture, had been simply pooh-poohed and scoffed at by the Government; but it would rise against them like a spectre, which they would have difficulty in allaying. He well knew what impended over Ireland. It was not merely present famine, but pestilence, which would afterwards sweep off great numbers of the population, growing weaker and weaker from having 875 nothing to eat, except that provided in scanty quantities by the means supplied from charitable organizations. He cared not whether the Government of the country were despotic, or whether it were called Liberal or Conservative; its duty was to keep alive the subjects of the Queen. [Laughter.] He regretted to see smiles on the countenances of some hon. Members who were ever ready to laugh when the question was raised of the destruction of the Irish people by famine. ["No, no!"] He repeated that many of the observations which he had made on former occasions, and on that evening, upon the subject of Irish distress, had been met with nothing else but smiles and scoffs from hon. Members opposite. In conclusion, he entered his protest against the manner in which the subject of distress in Ireland had been dealt with, and declared that that Parliament would hereafter be included in the list of those which had never risen, or cared to rise, to the danger hanging over a portion of Her Majesty's Kingdom.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, that the matter which had been pressed upon the attention of the Government that evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford was one of the greatest consequence to Ireland. The whole matter would probably slip out of the minds of some hon. Members to a great extent in a few days, and it was, therefore, of the greatest importance that, just before Parliament broke up, a Gentleman of the position and experience of the right hon. Member for Bradford should have drawn attention to the distress existing in a portion of the country. Now, the Bill before the Committee was very peculiar in this way. It had actually come into operation, and they were, to some extent, able to judge of its effects before it had been passed by Parliament. The Bill provided three ways of meeting the distress—one was that of out-door relief; but he pointed out that in that respect the Bill was really doing nothing, because, as the right hon. Gentleman had shown, there had been no increase in the amount of out-door relief afforded last year. The second point in the Bill was that money should be lent to the baronial sessions to carry on works for the employment of the people. But he had received several letters to say that the baronial sessions had proved, in a 876 great many cases, to be a complete failure. Very little work was passed by thorn, and that which had been passed had been described by one correspondent as "but a drop in a lake." That portion of the Government scheme was, therefore, at that moment, also a failure. The third means for meeting the distress which the Bill provided was the lending of money to landlords. With regard to that, he believed in some districts a certain amount of good was being done; but it was nothing like the amount necessary to relieve the distress existing in the districts where the principle was being applied; while in other districts, nothing at all was being done in that way. The Prime Minister had, in his Address to the country, taken his stand, in a great measure, upon the Bill, and he, therefore, thought the Government were bound to see that some good came from the measure. It had been shown that the provisions of the Act which were really in operation had done very little good up to the present, and were likely to do little good in the future. He thought it would do good to Ireland if the Government would undertake such large works as railways, with a guarantee of 3 per cent. That, he believed, would provide a large amount of labour, as had been the case in his own county. On the whole, he believed that, under the Bill, very little would be done to save the Irish people. He acknowledged that a great deal had been effected by private charity, and felt that everyone coming from the West of Ireland must be grateful to the people of England, America, and Australia for their contributions in aid of the people; but seeing that the Government had made a point of the Bill in their electioneering Addresses, they were bound to admit that the good which had been done was not enough.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, that the Government had, in the course which they were pursuing, put relief from public works out of the question. Had they properly organized a system of public works they would have done their duty and saved the people; but he feared they must come to the conclusion that the works had been very badly organized, and could not, in consequence, be expected to relieve the distress. He urged upon the Government that they must come to extraordinary 877 out-door relief as the almost only measure which could deal with the existing distress—almost the only measure outside relief from private sources. Outdoor relief was the only chance, and a very heavy burden it would prove to be, inasmuch at it would reduce the people to want long after the distress had passed away. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford had justly said that the Government ought to see that the local authorities did their duty, and that that matter rested entirely upon the Government. What was the scheme supposed to be in operation with regard to out-door relief? The Government had authorized the Boards of Guardians to give out-door relief. They had also given power to the Board of Works to lend to them money for that purpose, re-payable in 10 years, at 3 per cent interest. But if they attempted in any district where want really existed to compel the local authorites to expend large sums of money immediately, who was to be responsible for the money? Undoubtedly, they would bring about poverty where it was not now felt, and perpetuate want and famine in the land. The Government plan was to authorize the giving of out-door relief, and to order it, and then to hold out some hope to the local authorities when it was spent. They would tell them they had spent so many thousand pounds, and that they would be allowed to borrow so much money. That was not the right way to deal with the matter. They should go to the local authorities, honestly, in the first instance, and say—"You are in want; we will enable you to borrow in such a way as will save the people and save the ratepayers." But the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had procrastinated in this matter as he always did, and if he, in consequence, drove them to spare the ratepayer at the expense of the poor man, on his head would be the result of his policy. He saw upon the Front Bench opposite another right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies, who had been over to Ireland, and who he believed that many regretted did not hold the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland. Had that been so, it was believed a plan of relief would have been organized and carried out which would not have robbed the country, which would have been productive, and which would not, as had been the case 878 with the baronial sessions, have proved barren. He thought the Chief Secretary for Ireland should take care of the question of out-door relief. Let him approach the local authorities, and assure them that they would be allowed to borrow money on easy terms and in such a way as would not impoverish the ratepayers, and then the scheme of out-door relief would be of some use. It that was not done, it would prove as great a failure as the baronial sessions.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy), had brought charges against the Government; but if he had referred to the Act of Parliament, he would have seen that Her Majesty's Government were precluded from doing other than they had done by the terms of the Act.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, he had referred to what the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said and done during the Recess.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that that was still more indefinite. He thought it would be more pertinent to the discussion to refer to the 4th clause of the Act, in which powers were given to the Local Government Board to borrow money. It was obvious that that Board would not suggest to the Boards of Guardians that they should borrow money for purposes which they would be able to carry into effect without any additional charge on the rates. Whenever satisfactory reasons had been shown by the Boards of Guardians, permission had been given to them to raise the money required. If the hon. and learned Member would take steps to find out what had been done, he would learn that that was so. He was a little astonished to find that the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), should have referred to the question of supplying manure. He would remind him, that that question had been carefully considered, when the Bill was before the House, and that it had not been considered advisable to include that provision in the draft of the Bill introduced by his (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) hon. and gallant Colleague; nor had it been subsequently added. The hon. Member for Galway had also charged Her Majesty's Government with a want of care and sympathy. He would say, in reply to that charge, that the Government had adopted measures which, in their opinion, were adequate, and which 879 they believed had proved so. They had availed themselves of the earliest opportunity of obtaining from Parliament a ratification of what they had clone, and up to that time they had taken the whole of the responsibility. These measures had been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) in, what he thought, an unfair manner. Although these measures had received cordial support from both sides during the discussions, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that they had failed in their object, for he said it was proved that a considerable number of persons would have died had it not been for the action of private charity. The right hon. Gentleman quoted an authority, which he readily admitted was a valuable one, and one that deserved attention. He was glad to say that he had indirectly placed himself in communication with that authority, and he had been able to obtain an investigation on the spot with reference to that to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. He was surprised to hear him say—although he should not have been surprised had it come from a Member sitting in another part of the House—that the rates in the Unions were low and the workhouses empty, in a tone which he thought was calculated to cast a reflection on Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman did not wish to misrepresent what he had stated. He had no wish to cast any reflection on the Government; but only stated that he thought it an alarming state of things, that 70,000 people were kept alive in one county by charitable funds, at the same time that the rates were not increased, and that if those funds were to cease the Government and country would find themselves face to face with a position of great peril.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that the Government had already done all they had power to do. They had accorded to the Boards of Guardians permission to grant out-door relief, according to the terms of the Bill, and further powers had been placed in the hands of the local authorities—those very authorities who had been constantly, in season and out of season, urging the Government to grant assistance, and who were the persons to whom to apply in cases of need. The workhouses were not full, 880 according to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford; but he thought his figures were incorrect. No doubt, they were not full; but out-door relief had been granted in very many instances, so that distress was alleviated in another form. The right hon. Gentleman further said, that the Guardians had the power to grant out-door relief, and yet thousands were dependent for support on private charitable funds, and he considered that a reproach to Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he must again ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowther) not to misrepresent what he had stated. He wished particularly that his remarks should not go forth in the form of a reproach upon the Government. He had not reproached the Government, but had simply stated that the position appeared a dangerous one.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he was glad the right hon. Gentleman did not attach any blame to Her Majesty's Government. But the position being characterized as dangerous, appeared to cast somewhat of a slur on the Government; and, further, they had been charged, in the course of the debate by some speakers, with having failed in their duty, with being dilatory, and with showing a want of care and sympathy with the people of Ireland in the crisis. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman had said that if the charitable organizations should fail in funds, there would probably be a good deal of starvation. He must remind the right hon. Gentleman of the fact, that those who administered the charity and those who were able to obtain powers to borrow from the Government were, in the majority of cases, the same people. The local agents of these charitable organizations were, to a very considerable extent, the members of the Boards of Guardians; and, therefore, if there were such a thing as the stopping of the charitable funds, the members of the Boards of Guardians would be the first persons to be aware of the fact. Should such a circumstance arise, it would only be necessary for them to apply to the Local Government Board in order to obtain powers of borrowing money by a loan to be levied on the rates. If the Boards of Guardians were unable to avail themselves of those powers, he need hardly say that the powers of the Local Government Board itself would be 881 speedily exercised. He had dwelt upon that subject somewhat because an explanation of the position was, he thought, required, and because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had urged that the Government should keep these circumstances well in view. He thought that all present would agree that nothing should be done by the Government to take out of the hands of the Boards of Guardians the responsibility which naturally devolved on them in the present crisis. The Government had been charged upon various occasions with centralizing tendencies, and not recognizing local self-government in Ireland. He had frequently ventured to deny that, for the Government had made it one of their first rules in this matter that they would not interfere with the natural responsibility of the Boards of Guardians, so long as they proved equal to the discharge of their duty. Any other course he (Mr. J. Lowther) considered would be very dangerous and unwise.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that the tone of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was not one calculated to re-assure the House with regard to the anxiety which so many felt upon the matter. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) must have noticed the frank tone in which his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) had spoken, and how he carefully abstained from making any charge whatever against the Government in connection with the relief. He had also carefully avoided making the matter a controversial one; but only wished to raise a warning voice, having received certain information from a distressed district. He had, no doubt, considered it his duty to mention the facts he had stated to the House, and to call attention to the matter. He desired to disclaim altogether any charge upon the Government. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Lowther) had failed to apprehend the point of the remarks of his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster). That right hon. Gentleman had pointed to the lowness of the rates and the empty state of the workhouses, and said that, with the exception of the action taken by the Charitable Funds Committees, no action seemed to have been taken in any way in order to raise funds, or any portion of a fund. The fact of destitution was admitted; but the 882 Guardians seemed to rely exclusively on the charitable funds; and the question to consider was, whether it was right to rely exclusively on such funds? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland stated that the same persons that had the administration of the charities were members of the Boards of Guardians, and that, therefore, in all districts the same men were acting in a two-fold capacity. For his own part, he considered that rather a misfortune than otherwise.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that he had stated, not that all the agents of the charitable funds were acting in a twofold capacity, but only a portion of them.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that if the representatives of the farmers were on these Boards of Guardians, it would be a matter for regret, for the fact of the funds which at present were at their disposal coming to an end would in no way induce them necessarily to assist in their capacities as members of the Boards of Guardians. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland said that the powers under the Act of Parliament were compulsory, and that the Guardians would be bound to provide relief in certain cases. That might be; but he would beg to remind them that time would very likely be lost, for it was impossible that the relief works could be instituted to supplement the charitable funds at a moment's notice. He thought it would give much greater satisfaction, considering the liability that attached to the Government to relieve in the most distressed districts, that they should be prepared to grant relief in addition to that of the charitable funds, and supplementary to it. That was what his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) had, he believed, pointed out in his argument. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, instead of thanking him for his assistance in dealing with the emergency, endeavoured to make this discussion a somewhat personal one, and had charged his right hon. Friend with attaching blame to the Government. He trusted, now that Parliament was dispersing, that the Government would deal with that matter in a better spirit than that which had been shown that night by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had not had the advan- 883 tage of hearing the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster). He must say that everyone felt that, interested as the right hon. Gentleman had been in former times, as well as at the present, in the question of the relief of Irish distress, and anxious, as he was, to bring forward a subject of this nature in a spirit well worthy of his position, he would be almost the last to make a Party question of it. He had, no doubt, called attention to what he had considered to be a matter of serious importance. As far as he understood the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, they were something to this effect—that he had received information which led him to conclude that in certain parts of Ireland there was a great deal of distress co-existent with a low state of the rates and empty workhouses, and that, inasmuch as the Guardians did not appear to have made any great exertions in those districts, the people were kept from starvation by private charity. And further, that he considered that a dangerous state of affairs, because, if the resources of private charity came to an end, there was no security against starvation coming upon these people. He understood, also, that the right hon. Gentleman had said, that, if the Government were not careful, they would find themselves face to face with a serious emergency. Altogether, apart from any question of personal or Party attacks, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would wish to remind them that the statement assumed that the Government should be responsible for the Guardians doing their duty. What, he thought ought to be especially aimed at was, that facilities should be given to the Guardians in order that they might do their duty, and not that the whole of the responsibility of administering outdoor relief and obtaining works should be taken out of their hands. It would, he considered, be the greatest misfortune that could befall them during the distress, if the Government were to assume the whole of the responsibility. For, in the first place, the Guardians were now able to act in the useful capacity of agents for the distribution of the charitable funds; and, in the second place, as they were on the spot, they were aware of what was required more than anyone could be who was at a distance. He would beg to remind them that the law had 884 placed upon the Guardians the duty of making provision for any distress which might arise, and they ought to be held responsible for performing those functions. In such circumstances as at present, it was their duty to do their utmost to relieve the distress, and, owing to the pressure of circumstances, the Government were willing to come forward and assist them. That was what had been done hitherto, and what would be done in future, and he hoped and believed that the Local Government Board in Ireland would keep a proper watch upon what was transpiring, and that the Boards of Guardians would perform the duty which devolved upon them. He would not have it supposed for a moment that the Boards of Guardians were to be relieved of their responsibility.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he was sorry to say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, like that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, was, by some unfortunate habitude of the Treasury Bench, a complete evasion of the complaint of the Irish Members. The Government rung the changes on these two points—that the responsibility of administering relief should not be taken out of the hands of the Boards of Guardians, and that they were acting in the capacity of local agents for the private charitable funds, and were, therefore, well acquainted with the needs of the district. Both the right hon. Gentlemen evaded the question at issue with regard to the powers of the Boards of Guardians. Would the Government say that the Guardians were fully armed with the powers necessary to obtain the loans which might be required? The Boards of Guardians were in the extremity of uncertainty with regard to any funds they might require; and when any hon. Gentleman rose in that House to make inquiries respecting them, they were only met by long and involved explanations. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he was reminded of a certain definition of metaphysics. "What is metaphysics? One man saying to another man what the other man doesn't understand, and the first man doesn't understand himself." It seemed to him, with regard to a large portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that it was abso- 885 lutely impossible to say what he was talking about. He had listened with the greatest attention, and he ventured to express the opinion that there was not a single Irish Member who was able to follow the statements of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he believed he was unable to follow them himself. Whole statements were brought forward bristling with the most astounding inaccuracies. For instance, it was said that the Boards of Guardians were identical with the relief committees; but anyone who understood the subject knew that the relief committees were the clergy and priests, and no priests were on the Boards of Guardians. And, farther, it was well known that Boards of Guardians were liable to pressure from the landlords and the justices of the peace. Both the latter were selfishly interested in preventing any increase in the rates. Hon. Members on the Government side had told them that recourse could be had to the baronial presentment sessions; but he contended that these relief measures were practically of no use whatever, in consequence of the discouragement given to them by the Government. Of course, they could be treated with indifference; they could be treated with indifference approaching to insolence when they had opposite to them a Government with such a majority, a Government, as the Leader of the Home Rule Party said, who would go to the country with a lie in its right hand. The Irish Members were the victims of a system of a systematic misrepresentation, and of a majority that voted blindly. They were told that it was absurd to talk of the distress bordering on starvation, and whole districts in the extremity of misery; and they were presented with a series of statements of the kind they had heard that night. He never could regard this matter and consider the action of the Government without the utmost indignation; but he begged to say that he felt sure that the future would not be always like the present, and that starvation, need, misery, and wretchedness would, unless he was much mistaken, bring their own rewards, and that Providence would place in their hands the means of exacting a just and complete retribution. He felt bound to protest against the reception which the remarks falling from Irish Members 886 invariably met with from the Opposition Benches. He hoped the expressions he had used would show the indignation which was felt on account of the action of Her Majesty's Government, and he felt sure that the hon. Members, his Irish Colleagues, would bear him out in those expressions. He was sorry that the Ministers and the Supporters of the Party of Lord Beaconsfield had placed such an ornament in the position of Chief Secretary for Ireland, whose characteristic was a monumental incapacity. The government of Ireland, from the hands in which it was placed, appeared to be now a mere farce. He would say nothing with regard to individuals standing in a private character, but only of that admirable humorous personage whose striking incapacity was but too well proven, who regarded the gravest of questions like a horse boy at the corner of a stable yard, with a wisp of straw in his mouth, did a passer by. That would be a correct picture of their present Chief Secretary for Ireland.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that he thought that the hon. Member was making use of language which was not customary towards other hon. Members of the House.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that he was under the impression that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not informed himself upon the grave questions raised by the present state of Ireland, from the manner in which he had discussed the Business before the House; but, as he had said before, all arguments, statements of fact, and indignation, were utterly thrown away upon Her Majesty's Government. They were told that there was no distress in Ireland, and he presumed that it would be contrary to the Rules of the House that he should characterize those statements by the name which they deserved. A stipendiary magistrate in Tipperary had sent in a report, showing the distress existing amongst the families in his district. The attention of the Government was called to it, and they could not deny the statement; but, in spite of that, they came forward, evening after evening, and assured the House that there was no distress calling for urgent measures on the part of Her Majesty's Government. The present Bill only gave facilities of which the Government were taking no advantage. 887 In their opinion, the presentment sessions had been stopped and hampered by the action of the Government; they knew also that the action of the Boards of Guardians had been stopped and hindered by the uncertainty in which the Government had loft them in respect to the matter of loans. Yet the Government made statements to the House to the effect that the Boards of Guardians could relieve the distress existing. The Boards of Guardians were practically the same bodies which had already displayed an ignorance which filled them with grave doubt of their ability to deal with the distress. The Government did not seem to take any interest in the state of affairs in Ireland. It was impossible for the Irish Members to bring any pressure to bear upon the Government, because so long as the Government retained the confidence of the English constituencies, they did not care at all for the opinion of the Irish people.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that after what had fallen from some of the hon. Members opposite, and especially the hon. Member for Dungarvan, he could not fail to express his hope that the experience dearly bought during the Irish Famine of 1847 and 1848 would not be lost sight of. He was, indeed, confident that that experience had not been wasted upon Her Majesty's Ministers. He had never opposed any measure which appeared to him reasonable for the relief of Irish distress. He rejoiced at the manifestations of benevolence which the various subscriptions for Irish relief afforded, and especially that the benevolence of Her Majesty was so admirably exemplified in Ireland by the exertions of the Duchess of Marlborough. Some hon. Members opposite appeared jealous of the manner in which these proofs of benevolence had been collected and were being applied; but such kindness as that of Her Majesty and of the Duchess of Marlborough would so find its way to the heart of Ireland as no jealousy could prevent. But, after all, this was eleemosynary assistance, and could only be considered as supplemental to the provision against famine out of the rates, and, perhaps, out of the public Revenue, which the Irish people had a right to expect. The question now before the House was the order in which these resources ought to be applied, and they must be chiefly applied through the 888 Poor Law organization—through the Guardians. In his opinion, these eleemosynary funds ought to be first expended before recourse was had to extraordinary demands upon the ratepayers or upon the public Revenue. He (Mr. Newdegate) remembered now millions had been wasted upon public works in the disastrous years 1847–8–9, and yet thousands perished, and 2,500,000 of the Irish people were forced to emigrate. He (Mr. Newdegate) admitted to the Irish Members opposite that their constituents had been injured—agricultural Ireland had been, and was, injured by the commercial policy of this country. In 1846, he had been deputed to wait upon the late Mr. O'Connell to ascertain the course he intended to adopt with respect to the commercial proposals then submitted to Parliament. Mr. O'Connell kept him waiting nearly three weeks for his answer, and then threw the whole of his influence, and the Irish votes he could command in that House, in favour of the then new commercial policy. Who, then, was responsible for the forced emigration of 2,500,000 of Her Majesty's Irish subjects? Clearly not the side of the House from which he then spoke, who opposed the commercial policy of 1846. He (Mr. Newdegate) did not see what other course Her Majesty's Government could pursue, in prudence, with respect to Irish distress, than that which they had adopted, by relying first upon the discretion of the Boards of Guardians, and upon their own discretion, which seemed to dictate that the eleemosynary assistance, which benevolence had supplied, should be first expended before heavy drafts were made upon the rates or upon the public Revenue. If this were not done, the relief funds which benevolence had provided might be lost or wasted, and not improbably the resources from the rates and public Revenue might also be wasted. The hon. Member for Dungarvan, in his speech, had made an admission which, to his (Mr. Newdegate's) mind, afforded a clue to the opposition of the relief measures now before the House, which might otherwise seem unaccountable. The hon. Member for Dungarvan objected to the employment of the Guardians in the distribution of these relief funds, because the Irish priests were not generally members of the Boards of Guardians. It was idle 889 to expect that the Irish priests would be employed as the sole or the principal distributors of these relief funds. The Irish priesthood sought to arrogate to themselves the exclusive function of distributing relief. That was a pretension which could never be admitted. He (Mr. Newdegate) did not see what other course Her Majesty's Ministers could in prudence adopt for the relief of this Irish distress than that which they were pursuing.
§ MR. FINIGAN
said, that he regretted that the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) should have raised the theological suspicions of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. In the opinion of the hon. Member, whom he believed to be most thoroughly honest, there was always something mystical in Irish politics. He begged to assure the hon. Member for North Warwickshire that they, in common with him, were very anxious that the priests of Ireland should be kept out of all positions such as Boards of Guardians. They wished, as much as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire did, that the Irish people should be kept free from any of the machinery of ecclesiasticism. He must point out that in this exceptional time in Ireland there was a very extraordinary distress throughout the whole country, and he considered that the Government ought to inform the Boards of Guardians how far they ought to be assisted with loans when private charity should cease. It had already been pointed out in various newspapers throughout England, that the time was now come when it was thought advisable that the private charity should cease, and he should be very glad indeed if his country were not dependent upon private charity. At the same time, he must recognize the painful fact that Ireland was dependent upon the aid which it received from Government, and from the benevolent people of this country and of the whole world. He must also express his opinion that the benevolence of individuals did not take the onus from the Government of informing Irish Boards of Guardians that when eleemosynary aid should cease, the Government would stop in and give aid. It was to his mind a very sorry thing that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland should publicly state that the Government in Ireland 890 was watching how matters were going with regard to the distress, while the Government was not prepared to assure the Boards of Guardians as to some definite financial policy when private assistance should cease. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland could not justify the dilatory conduct of the Government by alleging that it had not been forewarned. So early as last Easter the Government was warned of what was impending, and it was only by the force of public opinion that, at the end of last year, the Government was compelled to take some action, and they brought in this very indifferent Bill. At the last moment they had come down, intending to defeat the action which both sides of that House had taken with regard to this measure. It had been laid down and accepted by that House that whatever aid the Government should give to Irish landlords and tenants, it should not, at all events, give an undue advantage to the landlord over his tenant. But, in looking at the Lords' Amendments, he found that one of the Amendments proposed by the noble Lords enabled a landlord to improve his property at the expense of his tenant. After having received the money by which he could improve his property at the expense of the Irish nation and the Empire generally, he was to be at liberty to throw the expense upon his tenants. He protested against that principle, because it was unjust and unfair to the tenant; for it placed him in the hands of his landlord, and formed a very serious and a very dangerous instrument. He hoped that the Government would, before the Bill was passed, offer some just and reasonable solution of this difficulty. He looked to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to prevent the Bill passing that House in a form which would make it not a Bill for the relief of distress, but a Bill enabling landlords to improve their holdings at the expense of the country generally and of the tenants in particular.
§ First two Amendments agreed to.
§ Next Amendment, in page 5, line 38, to leave out the last paragraph of Clause 9, read a second time.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, that he begged to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment." 891 This was an Amendment brought in by an hon. Member below the Gangway after consultation with the Law Adviser of the Crown. It seemed to him to be a very moderate Amendment, and it was agreed to by the Government, but had now been struck out by the Lords. The sum of £750,000 was placed in the hands of the landlords at a very low rate of interest, and with that provision he had no intention to quarrel. But it was necessary to prevent a landlord, who had obtained money at a low rate of interest from the State, raising the rent of his tenants on account of improvements effected by the money obtained from the State. Accordingly, the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County (Mr. Law) had proposed the Amendment in question. When a landlord had raised money in this way, and had afterwards evicted his tenants, the Amendment provided that he should not be allowed to charge the money so obtained against his tenant, and thus make him lose his claim for improvements. The only object of the Amendment was to prevent the money being used as an engine in certain cases to evict a tenant without compensation. No doubt, very few landlords would take that course; but it was necessary to protect the tenant in all cases. As the House of Lords had disagreed with the Amendment, he thought that that House should disagree with their Amendment. There was plenty of time to set the Bill up again, and, at the same time, to pass it during the present Session.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth disagree with The Lords in the said Amendment."—(Major Nolan.)
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that he rose for the purpose of supporting the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan). He thought that this was an alteration to which the attention of the Government should be closely directed. When the matter came on for discussion in Committee of the Bill, the hon. Member for Limerick County (Mr. Synan) proposed an Amendment; and, it being doubted whether his Amendment would cover the case, another was prepared by the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County (Mr. Law). After some conference with the Attorney General for 892 Ireland, the next day the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County proposed a Proviso which was inserted in the Bill, but which the Lords had now struck out. That proposal by the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County was distinctly assented to by the Attorney General for Ireland. The justice and reason of the matter were so manifest that he (Mr. Courtney) did not understand on what ground the provision had been eliminated from the measure. He had no wish to go unnecessarily into the matter; but it was clear that the money was provided by the State, and lent at a low rate of interest to the landlord for the purpose of improvements; but the whole cost of the interest of those improvements was thrown on the tenant. Thus the whole burden of the advances was thrown on the tenant, and the landlord was simply an intermediary between the State and the tenant. The Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County, assented to by the Attorney General for Ireland, protected a tenant in case of eviction under the 11th and 4th sections of the Landlord and Tenant Act. The justice of the Amendment was so obvious that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland assented to it immediately. As it had now been struck out for some reason or other, he thought it devolved upon Her Majesty's Government to show what objection they had to its being re-introduced.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that the hon. Member had scarcely given the House a fair description of what occurred with regard to this Amendment. The hon. Member for Limerick County (Mr. Synan) proposed an Amendment which had been adopted and which still stood in the Bill, with the object of preventing a higher rate of interest being charged, in cases where the money had been advanced at a low rate of interest. The right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County (Mr. Law) then moved an Amendment which was not on the Paper, though it had formed the subject of a conversation with his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland. The attention of his right hon. and learned Friend was suddenly called to the matter, and he did not have any opportunity of studying it closely, and he informed the right hon. and learned 893 Member that he did not see any harm in it, as he understood that it was only an amplification of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Limerick County. When the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County proposed the Amendment, he (Mr. J. Lowther) confessed, at the time, that he did not like the words, and suggested that it should be disposed of on Report. The Amendment was, however, pressed; and, the House being in a hurry to get the Bill through Committee, it was adopted without discussion; and when the Bill came on upon Report, the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County was not in his place; and he (Mr. J. Lowther) again stated that he saw serious objections to the Amendment. It appeared to him that the Amendment was, in fact, a breach of faith towards those who had already obtained loans; and he saw very great difficulties in the way of its adoption. He, thereupon, intimated to the right hon. and learned Member proposing the Amendment that before the Bill obtained the Royal Assent, he should like to consider the question with him, and make some alterations. In the result, the Lords had now rejected that Amendment; and it seemed to him that the objections to it were very serious. A notice was issued by the Board of Works some time ago stating the terms upon which loans could be applied for. They were advertised to be granted in accordance with the provisions of the Land Improvement Act. Various landowners had applied for a large sum of money on the faith of the terms so offered, and he had no hesitation in saying that, in a great number of cases, if they had had any idea that an application for a loan would place them in the position in which that Amendment would place them, the number of the loans applied for would have been very seriously diminished. The Amendment established the presumption that the improvement made was that of the tenant. It was already provided by the Bill, that a landlord should not charge a tenant a greater rate for the improvements than he himself paid; and he did not think that the full scope of the Amendment was realized by the House. The Bill provided that the tenant should not pay an increase of rent exceeding the yearly rent-charge payable for the loan; that was to say, that the land- 894 owner was to be prevented from charging the tenant a greater rent for the improvements made than the rate of interest he himself paid. This was only a measure for the relief of distress in Ireland, and it adopted the principle of the Land Improvement Act, whether good or bad, with regard to these loans.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, that he thought the right hon. Gentleman was forgetting that at the end of 35 years the tenant would have paid back capital and interest.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that the Bill followed the principles of the Land Improvement Act. The tenant was only to pay an increased rent during the time that the improvement would last, and then only such an increase as would meet the rate of interest for the advance, together with the annual proportion of re-payment of principal by way of sinking fund. That was the general principle on which he maintained that these loans were granted. The tenant, during every year that he held his farm, obtained his fair share of the benefit derivable from the improvements. While the landlord was not to charge his tenant any more than he himself paid in respect of the improvements, he received an equivalent in the shape of permanent improvement to his land. The Amendment had been adopted without due consideration, and he thought that, as he had expressed doubts at the time it was adopted, and still more so on Report, he could not be considered as having in any way failed to guard the Government against the slightest charge of breach of faith in assenting to its unanimous rejection in "another place," and that, considering the very serious objections which he felt to it, he must resist the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he thought they were debating the matter at a great disadvantage in the absence of the Attorney General for Ireland and the right hon. and learned Member for Londonderry County (Mr. Law). He did not think it probable that those two right hon. and learned Gentlemen would agree with the interpretation of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman was right in his interpetation of the previous words, there would be no great difficulty in the matter. In ignorance, however, of the legal interpretation, he could not help thinking that he 895 was wrong. If the words covered all cases, or anything like the majority of cases, in which improvements were made by money borrowed by the landlords, he did not think they need debate the matter farther; but he imagined they would cover but few cases, and that the majority would be covered by the words, "or otherwise." He believed the number of cases in which awards had been made by the Commissioners of Public Works was very small. No doubt, what happened under the present working of the loans to landlords was, that money was borrowed by the landlords generally at 3½ per cent interest, and the increase of rent charged to the tenant amounted to 5 per cent. That he believed to be the general working of the law, and it meant that the landlord received 1½ per cent for the risk and trouble he had undertaken, an amount which he considered to be fair. Now, however, in order to afford employment for the people, they had, as it were, to tempt work, and they got the landlord to employ people, and effect improvements by means of loans at 1 per cent, for which he would charge 5 per cent—which made a profit to him of 4 per cent. That, in his opinion, was too much. He did not mean to say that it was a sufficient reason for delaying a Bill so necessary to be passed as that before the House; but he thought it would be an advantage, if the measure could be turned out a fair one as between landlord and tenant. A compromise had been suggested by a noble Lord, in "another place," which appeared to him not to be unreasonable—namely—That if the increase of rent be above 2½ per cent, then it should be within the meaning of the 4th section of the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act.He did not imagine that in the present case a compromise would be acceptable to both sides; but he could not help thinking that the words, "above 2½ per cent should be paid by such tenants," should be inserted, and that, he thought, would meet the difficulty of the case.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I cannot help thinking that we should get into difficulty with the Bill were we to take the step recommended. This matter was decided without very much discussion in the House. It was done very quickly, and seems to have gone up to the other House, and to have been very carefully considered and 896 altered; and certainly, as far as I can see, the alterations made by the Lords were made on grounds which, as stated by my right hon. Friend near me, are strong; and considerable objection to these words existed. The objection, to my mind, which is open to consideration, is that it would be ex post facto legislation, if, after landlords had been induced, in order to effect a great object, to come forward and charge themselves with the re-payment of certain loans, then the terms on which those loans were made should be materially altered by this clause, which could not have been in contemplation by the persons who came forward to borrow the money. Again, it is not the tenants who make the improvements, it is the landlord who borrows the money from the Commissioners of Public Works at the rate of interest of £3 8s. 6d. per cent, which is not considered as a rate of interest only, but as interest and sinking fund. I think that the objection I have mentioned must be a great objection, and that it would be unfair to those who have come forward and taken the risk of charging themselves with the working of the loans, to hear afterwards that the effect of their coming forward was to raise a claim against themselves on the part of the tenants. The landlord may find it impossible to get any return for the money so laid out, and which is laid out not directly for benefiting the land, but for the purpose of giving employment to labour in time of distress. I think, when a landlord has had an opportunity of coming forward to borrow money on easy terms for these purposes, the value of which he may never afterwards see, it is rather hard that it should be held that the improvement was an improvement by the tenant, and that the tenant should have the advantage as against the landlord.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, with the indulgence of the House, he wished to point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's argument of ex post facto applied to the whole of the Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 19; Noes 62: Majority 43.—(Div. List, No. 42.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ The two following Amendments agreed to.897
§ The next Amendment, in page 10, line 8, disagreed to, and a Consequential Amendment made to the Bill.
§ Subsequent Amendment agreed to.