HL Deb 31 July 1846 vol 88 cc229-43

rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, respecting employment of the people of Ireland. He said, that when he had given notice of his Motion at a time when the late Government were in power, he did so without intending to imply any distrust in their good intentions towards Ireland; and if he did so without distrust towards them, he need hardly say that he brought it forward with still loss distrust towards his own Friends who at the present moment formed Her Majesty's Government. But he thought that with respect to Irish matters in general, they were all too liable to be carried away with political questions, so as to lose sight of the physical condition of the people. The subject he was about to bring forward involved no political considerations, and he was entitled to ask for the attention of all their Lordships upon it: it concerned the well-being of the Irish people, without religious or political considerations. The physical well-being of that people had undoubtedly frequently occupied the attention of Parliament; but it had been rather the object of its investigation than of direct legislation: there could he no stronger proof of this than the inquiry conducted by the noble Earl (Earl Devon), the inquiries that proceeded it, and the number of blue-books that had been published on the state of Ireland: but their legislation on this subject, apart from political questions, had been very limited indeed. Now, at the present time, without wishing to speak the language of an alarmist, he must say that the condition of the Irish people was such as to call upon their Lordships and the Government to take immediate steps in providing for the exigencies that might arise. He need not refer to the distress of the country during the present Session, which had unfortunately become mixed up with the Corn Bill; but he must state that the pressure of that distress had been altogether without example; and that if it had not been for the prompt and energetic measures taken by the Government and the Legislature to provide the people with a supply of food—he referred particularly to the district in which he resided—would have been pregnant with social evils. This he took for granted: the universality of that distress might be denied; but the severity of its pressure in particular districts must be admitted by all. The state in which the late Government found Ireland with respect to its supply of food was most alarming; where the majority of a people existed on the lowest kind of food, if that failed they must be left destitute of any; in November last that calamity occurred, and the deficiency had to be supplied by the Government, which was called on to administer the most difficult functions that could be cast upon any men in the world. But the efforts it had made to introduce Indian wheat as a cheap article of food had been successful; they had proved the protection of that country; it was admitted by all classes that but for the efforts of the Government, property would not have been safe, and society could not have been kept together. But for a Government to interfere with the supply of food was an undertaking of the most awful responsibility, unless it was done with discretion; if they disturbed the ordinary markets so as to exclude more grain than their own measure brought into it, the effect was not to improve the condition of the country, but to make it worse. By the ability of the gentlemen employed in the Commissariat, that difficult problem had been solved; the interposition of the Government had been effectual with the least possible disturbance of the actual state of the markets. Steps had also been taken to give increased employment to the poor; the first four Acts passed this Session by the Imperial Legislature were Acts for promoting public works, presentments of grand juries, and the construction of piers and harbours; but these measures had not been so successful as the Government wished, and as Parliament and the people of Ireland had a right to expect. He mentioned this for the purpose of asking their Lordships to lend their aid in amending the system and in improving the law, unless they wished to encounter similar failures in future years. Without wishing to use the language of alarm, he told his noble Friends opposite—and he made the statement publicly in order that it might be contradicted if it were an exaggeration—that the prospects of the present year were infinitely more alarming than were those of the year past, and that precautionary measures were much more necessary now than they were then. The extent of land under cultivation this year, he believed to be less than that of last year; and even if the crops came to full maturity, they were not likely to be so heavy as the crops of 1845. The disease in the potato, whether arising from atmospheric causes, or existing in the root itself, had exhibited itself much earlier than it did last year; it was also more widely diffused, having made its appearance in parts of the country that last year were free from its effects. Even the hopes entertained that potatoes raised from seed might be free from a disease supposed to be caused by an infection connected with the decay of the tubers, had failed; and there was now reason to apprehend a failure of the plant itself as an article of food. Such a failure would be the worst event of the kind that had ever happened in Ireland—no antecedent calamity of a similar nature could be compared to it. He was well acquainted with that of 1822, during which the late Archbishop of Tuam so nobly distinguished himself; and he was a party in the distribution of the generous bounty of England, by which upwards of 300,000l. was placed in the hands of the committee for the relief of the people; but, pressing as the necessity then was—which was proved by the sympathy it elicited—the calamity was as nothing compared with that from which the people had just escaped. He did not believe their Lordships or the public generally were aware of the extent of the efforts, local or general, made for the relief of the people during the present year. It would be found that independently of private efforts, the amount of which did not appear by the returns before the House, a sum of 800,000l. had been expended in alleviation of the distress. Not that that sum was lost to the public, if loss it could be termed, when it had been the means of preserving the lives of Her Majesty's subjects; but that amount had been advanced mainly upon the security of the land of Ireland; and could there be a greater proof of the intensity of distress than when the landowners came forward and charged the land of Ireland with a debt of at least 300,000l.? Private exertions had also been very great; in the county of Clare, one of the great proprietors—one of that class so often at tacked, an absentee—gave 6,000l. in one subscription. He alluded to Colonel Wyndham. In the county of Kilkenny Lord Kenmare gave 3,000l., which was followed by 2,000l. from a private country gentleman. He believed the private contributions to the district committees from individuals amounted to upwards of 100,000l., without what was expended in employment of labour that would never appear in any returns. But beyond this, there was the employment which each individual landowner had afforded upon his own estate, the value of which did not appear, and never would appear. The distribution of the funds so obtained had been most judicious; they had been administered with the utmost wisdom. Men of greater zeal and higher capacity he had never met than the gentlemen who had been employed upon this duty; and it was curious to observe how the experience of men of sense and integrity enabled them, in a new position, to realize all the benefits of their former experience. But although these funds had been administered as wisely as the law machinery at the disposal of the Government allowed, he entirely denied they had been economically or quickly administered for the relief of distress. First, as to delay. The root and centre of the system for the employment of labour in Ireland was the Board of Public Works, the origin and powers of which he would briefly state, as he had the honour of being charged with the Bill for its establishment during the Government of the late Lord Grey. Previously to that Bill there were eleven existing Boards for the purpose of promoting public works in various modes, all of which it was deemed expedient to abolish, and appoint a general one, which should discharge all the functions of the others. The original proposition was to appoint five Commissioners, and there was thereby effected a saving of money to the extent of one-half on expenses; yet economy was but of little consequence as compared with efficiency. The Bill passed, but during its progress some apprehensions, on the part of Government with respect to patronage led to a voluntary reduction in the number of Commissioners from five to three. It was, however, understood that the reduction was an experiment to see if three Commissioners would prove sufficient. That Bill had been in operation now for a number of years, and he should be able to show it had given satisfaction, although not in the proportion that the Legislature had a right to expect. It had not been satisfactory, because year after year Parliament had imposed upon the Board the prosecution of every remedial measure which the exigencies of Ireland rendered necessary. In fact, the reputation of the Commissioners, and the confidence reposed in them by the public, had induced the Legislature and the Government to cast upon the Board greater burdens in the way of duty than it was possible for them to bear; and these burdens had led to the evils of which he complained. The Commissioners had to attend to all public works—roads, harbours, buildings, the new colleges, drainage, lunatic asylums, the collection of bad debts, wide streets, and many other matters of equal importance; and he asked the House whether it was physically possible that all these duties could be adequately performed by three individuals, however capable and industrious they might be? To a certain extent, therefore, the Board must be pronounced a failure. And how had it acted upon the late occasion when the duty was confided to it of finding employment? In the county of Clare an application was made by Lord Kenmare and himself to put them in the way of giving productive employment to the people about them; and their Lordships would scarcely credit him when he stated that up to the present time they had not been able to obtain the preliminary survey so as to enable them to take a single step. He did not mention this fact as a reproach to the Board, but as one of the strongest proofs he could give of its inadequacy to effect the work with which it was entrusted. It was not necessary for him to enlarge upon the necessity of promoting public works in Ireland; in every Parliamentary inquiry as to the state of Ireland, the question as to the employment of the people had come prominently forward; and he could refer to the Reports of successive Committees and Commissions in support of his views. That of 1819 was into the disease and fever which prevailed at that period in Ireland; the remedy suggested, was employment, which it was recommended should be given on public works. In 1822 there was a Committee upon Mr. Telford's great work, the establishment of the Holyhead line of road. This Committee only touched upon the subject collaterally; but they pointed out incidentally the waste of the then system of carrying on public works in Ireland, and recommended a better plan. In 1823 there was a Committee upon the employment of the poor, which recommended public works. In 1829 another Committee was appointed, not in relation to public works, but an Economical Committee, consisting mainly of English Members. They considered the expediency and the possibility of reducing the expenditure in Ireland; but so far from deciding the question in the way of reducing expenditure, they said they thought public works demanded Parliamentary aid and countenance, as calculated to give additional stimulus to industry, to increase the demand for labour, and to give greater facilities for improvements. This Committee recapitulated the whole of the recommendations of all the former Committees; and said that whilst union was maintained between the two countries, the Treasury ought to be as available for Irish as for Scotch purposes. The system which he now recommended for Ireland had been adopted in Scotland, and the result had been the advancement of that country by more than 100 years. What he asked was, that wisdom and good sense should be directed to the administration of the system, so that the country should be protected from waste, that the means of applying their own great resources should be given to the people of Ireland. As to the mode of carrying out public works, there could not be a greater contrast than between the grand jury system and that of the Board of Public Works. Take an example. The money which had been expended in his own locality upon roads and other works under the grand jury system, amounted to 1,200,000l.; it was expended under contracts with the farmers of the district; the farmers who took a contract employed their own labourers and horses, so that not one farthing went into the general labour market of the county; the expenditure became a matter of account between them, and it was not an object to improve the condition of the people. On the other hand, by the system of the Board of Public Works, all their men were regularly paid on the Saturday night the amount they had earned in the week: the actual labourer received the wages. The effect upon the condition of the people was most extraordinary: in the one case the condition of the labourer was improved by the real reward which he received fur his industry; in the other it told in exaggeration of the rent which the farmer received, rather than in general improvement. The latest authoritative expression of opinion upon this subject was the Report of the Commissioners presided over by his noble Friend (the Earl of Devon), in which employment by means of public works was strongly recommended. That Commission also reported their opinion, that the operation of the system by which public works were promoted, gave encouragement to the outlay of private capital, stimulated industry, and promoted the prosperity of the whole surrounding districts, wherever lines of communication or other improvements were carried out. It was a most fanciful mistake that the advance of British capital to Irish labour was a loss. Looking at the whole expenditure under the Board of Public Works, there was an actual gain derived from the prosecution of the works. It had been stated in evidence that some parts of Galway had greatly profited from the opening of new communications. In one district, where no revenue was obtained prior to 1822, the revenue from 1822 to 1828 rose to 6,000l. It was stated on the authority of Mr. Williams that in seven years 160,000l. had been expended in Connaught, and that the increase of the annual revenue derived from the custom and excise had been equal to the whole of that expense. Mr. Griffiths had expended in the county of Cork 60,000l. in seven years on improvements; a revenue of 50,000l. a year was thence derived in customs and other departments. A Bill now before Parliament contemplated an advance of a million sterling for the improvement of Ireland. But, even more than money, what they wanted was assistance and superintendence; it was that which a Board of Public Works ought to give, but which unfortunately at this moment they were not able to give. His remarks had been confined to the inefficiency of the Board of Public Works; but they were not meant to imply any reflection on the parties at the head of it. But that was not all. Ireland had the finest soil in the world, a good climate, a people who, under favourable circumstances, were an industrious people. What they required was assistance to improve themselves, assistance to improve their agricultual education; and he said to that House, "Help us to improve ourselves, not only as you are doing by establishing schools, by improving our agriculture, and draining our soil, but make the normal schools which you propose to establish schools of industry as well as of morals and letters—schools for agricultural instruction, to teach the people the way they ought to till the land." The Leasing Bill, now before Parliament, contained a compulsory power for the rotation of crops; no one was to take advantage of that measure unless he had a rotation of crops. What the proprietors in Ireland wanted now was therefore this, the means of profiting by such encouragements to improvement. In conclusion, he begged to repeat that he imputed no blame to the Board of Public Works in Ireland, but he did impute blame to the Legislature for imposing upon that body labours which the Commissioners had not the means of performing. The expenditure of public money, instead of being a benefit, might become productive of evil, if proper means were not taken to control its application, and to make its expenditure effective for the purpose. The noble Lord concluded by moving the following Address:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, expressing the Readiness with which, during the present as well as in preceding Sessions, this House has concurred in the Enactment of various Measures intended and calculated to improve the Condition of Her Majesty's Subjects in Ireland, to reduce the Pressure of Distress, and to develop the great natural Resources of that important Part of Her Majesty's Dominions: That the Promotion and Extension of Public Works have been the Subject of repeated Recommendation, both of Parliamentary Committees and Royal Commissions: That an Act was passed in the year 1831, for the declared Purpose of promoting Works of public Utility, on a permanent System, under the control of Commissioners appointed by the Crown: That since the passing of that Act various public Duties, of the most important and responsible Nature, have been cast upon the Commissioners so appointed, and that at the present Moment they are charged with Functions infinitely more extended than were contemplated at the Period of their Appointment, and greater than it is possible for them satisfactorily to discharge: That their Functions have been increased by Measures which have passed during the present Session, and seem likely to be still further augmented by Measures now in progress: That the benevolent Intentions of Her Majesty, and the just Expectation of the Legislature, will be defeated, unless there be provided in Ireland a competent Authority to give Effect to the Laws which have passed, and which may hereafter pass on this subject: That Her Majesty may therefore be graciously pleased to direct such Steps to be taken, or Measures to be laid before Parliament, as shall provide for the more efficient Performance of these important Duties, as well as in all other Ways to direct and stimulate the Industry, and to promote the Improvement of the Labouring Classes in Ireland.


had listened with the greatest pleasure and satisfaction to the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Monteagle). Though Her Majesty's Government would not, he trusted, be thought indifferent to the topics which had been touched upon, should he not enter on their consideration, he could, on the other hand, anticipate nothing hurtful from the statement which the noble Lord had made. If he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) did not state with particularity the intentions of Her Majesty's Government for the future, he hoped neither his noble Friend nor the House would suppose that they were not aware of the importance of making up their minds on the subject. He could assure his noble Friend, that feeling as he did the utmost confidence in the accuracy of the facts which he had stated, and which he had the means of informing himself of better than he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had: and agreeing in the sentiments he had expressed, he thought he should yet consult his duty and the interests of the country better if he abstained from stating at that moment—even if they were perfectly ripe and mature, which he did not pretend they were—the designs of Government for carrying into effect many of the suggestions which the noble Lord had made, and which (or at least measures relative to the same subjects) had for some time been under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. At the same time, he was prepared to state that he fully acquiesced with his noble Friend in reference to the source of the imperfections to which he had referred in administering relief to the people of Ireland during the late famine. He considered that the machinery of the Board of Works was quite inadequate to the duties with which they were entrusted; and he thought it no reproach to the late Government, that, having to meet an emergency of an extraordinary character, they could not at once supply the additional machinery which was necessary to meet the increased demands, and which it ought to be remembered were growing from day to day in magnitude and importance. He assured his noble Friend, however, that Her Majesty's Government had for the last week, and would, for some time to come, have under their daily consideration the means of giving a greater efficiency to that Board, and multiplying the means which could be brought to operate upon the welfare of Ireland, and adding, if possible, to the security that the sums advanced should be applied to the objects intended to be promoted. He would to God he could differ with the noble Lord as to the probability of a recurrence of that great and alarming evil which it had pleased Providence to inflict upon many of the countries of Europe, and which, from peculiar circumstances well known to their Lordships had fallen with peculiar and aggravated weight upon Ireland. Such a prospect before them, added, no doubt, to the duty which was at all times incumbent on the Government of this country to promote the general condition and improvement of the people. The Government would endeavour to discharge their duty in this respect with efficiency, both with regard to the matters to which his noble Friend had adverted, and also the other duties which arose from the general necessities felt in administering to the wants of a poor country. The noble Lord had truly stated, that large sums had from time to time been advanced for the improvement of Ireland; and he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) could corroborate his statement that, although some of the sums had been made in the form of donations and grants, yet, with respect to the larger sums which had from time to time been expended for the improvement of Ireland, they had been no loss to the Government, but had yielded a good return. He trusted that the present Government would be able to provide additional means of employment to the people in the same way, taking care, of course, at the same time, to secure the finances of this country from the danger of ultimate loss. He repeated that he thought the machinery existing in Ireland for the administration of relief during the recent distress had been found inadequate; but in saying this, he meant to attach no blame either to Her Majesty's Government or the officers in their employment. He believed that the greatest zeal had been shown by both; and that, in an especial manner, important services had been rendered by Sir John Burgoyne and Serjeant Howley; he thought it, indeed, exceedingly fortunate that the Board of Works had been under the direction for the last ten years of the former gentleman, for whose services the country could not be too grateful. He begged to add also, that the proceedings of that Board had been attended with this striking and peculiar advantage—that they had been administered without the slightest taint of personal or party interest; and he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) amid all the discontent which might arise in particular quarters from not seeing their plans carried into effect, had never heard any imputation of the slightest partiality, or improper motives, urged against them by any party. This afforded a pleasing security that, if Government did their duty, as he hoped they would, in the selection of proper persons to administer their measures, even in Ireland, which, heretofore, had rather a bad reputation in those matters, it could be done without danger of charges of jobbing or of acting from interested motives being brought against public functionaries. He hoped his noble Friend would not expect him to say more on the present occasion. He thought that the House, and the public, and the Government were obliged to him for the statement he had made; he invited his future attention to the subject; he knew that no Government was the worse for being watched in their operations; and he only claimed from him what he was sure he would give, namely, a candid consideration of the measures which the Government would submit to Parliament; but he hoped that under all the circumstances, at that late period of the Session, and considering the very recent formation of the Government, he would not persevere in putting the question to the vote, which might have the appearance of implying a doubt as to the sufficiency of the measures which the Government would submit hereafter to the consideration of Parliament. In the course of a few days a full and authentic statement would be submitted to the other House of Parliament, not only of the money which had been expended, but of the mode in which it had been expended, which would furnish a complete and satisfactory means of judging of the past proceedings, as well as afford some indication of the measures to be adopted in future.


, who was very imperfectly heard, wished to say a few words on a subject with which it had fallen to his lot, within the last twelve months, to have a great deal to do. He was sure there could be no difference of opinion upon the general principles which the noble Lord had laid down. There could be but one opinion as to the importance of advancing and executing the public works, with a view of giving employment to the people of Ireland; and the noble Lord had referred to documents which showed beyond a doubt that the expenditure of money for that purpose by the Imperial Parliament had not been thrown away, but had, on the contrary, produced a great and valuable return. Assuming, then, that on this part of the subject there could be no difference of opinion—assuming that the present Government would apply themselves diligently and effectively to carry out this great object into successful operation, he would take the liberty of pointing out some difficulties—he might call them obstructions—which appeared to impede the beneficial operation of the measures which had hitherto been adopted by the Legislature on this subject. A matter which he regarded as of still greater importance than public works was the employment of the people in the improvement of the soil, and in increasing the protective powers of the country. The Government, following out the recommendations of successive Committees and Commissions, had introduced a variety of measures to facilitate the improvement of the country. One of these was the Act of Parliament to which his noble Friend had first adverted, namely, the Public Works Act. The Government and Legislature of that day had been so fully aware of the importance of employing the people in the class of works to which he alluded, that they introduced a special clause into the Act for that very purpose. The advantages to proprietors of drainage and other improvements of that kind were strongly dwelt upon; but the terms imposed were found to be too rigid. It was required that the repayment of the loans should be limited to three years, and that the interest should not be loss than 5 per cent. As might be supposed, the clause containing such provisions remained a dead letter; and he believed that the only landed proprietor in Ireland who took advantage of it was his noble Friend the present Lord Lieutenant of that country, who commenced a work of considerable importance, not merely to himself, but to the country. Various other Acts had been passed since then, all containing different provisions; some providing for the repayment of the interest in one way, and others in a different manner. The amended Drainage Act of the present Session was one of the best of these; but he should complain of the manner in which the discretion allowed under the Act had been exercised by the late Government. There was a discretion as to the rate of interest and the period of time to be allowed for repayment of the loans to be advanced under the Act; but, notwithstanding the anxiety to afford employment to the people during the present period of scarcity, proprietors were not able to comply with the terms required of them, except in one or two cases. During the month of March last, immediately after the passing of this Act, he had himself a good deal of communication with the people; and he knew, of his own knowledge, that applications to the Government for loans at 3½ per cent were refused; the answer returned, being, that the money could not be given to them or to any one else at less than 5 per cent. That, certainly, had the effect of producing an impression that the Government were not disposed to promote the working of the Act. It was a great mistake to suppose that operations of improvement of waste lands were operations for the benefit of individuals only: in fact, there could not be a greater mistake. The effect was to bring into cultivation, and render available for the food of man, hundreds of acres not now available for any useful purpose; and numbers of persons, who must otherwise be mendicants, were thereby enabled to procure an honest livelihood by cultivating such reclaimed lands. To say, therefore, that no good was derived to the public from the cultivation of waste lands seemed to him a perfect absurdity. He hoped the Government would turn their attention practically to the point of establishing some system by which individuals might see in what manner they were to avail themselves of the existing Acts of Parliament with respect to this subject. Not wishing to go into details, as he had the power of doing, to show the good effects of cultivating waste lands, he might say that a certain society in Ireland had gone on for years reclaiming waste lands without deriving any benefit to their own funds; but they had now 2,000 persons earning their subsistence from those lands; and all this had been effected within nine years, and not one of those persons had ever had relief under the Poor Law. This showed that though such improvements might be no benefit to the owners of the land, they were still most beneficial to the public. The first step in this direction which he would venture to counsel the Government to take, would be to have all these Acts looked into together, with a view to see how they bore upon one another. There were many clashing and contradictory enactments in them; and it would be most desirable to have some means found to simplify the law as it stood under those various enactments. He was happy to state that the appointments which had been lately made to office in Ireland had acquired the confidence of the people of Ireland; and he had a conviction that the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary for Ireland, would address himself to the task of improving this part of the law manfully, and would apply himself to understand the subject, and give Ireland the benefit of his talents, which they all know were unquestionably sufficient to do that subject justice. He might mention one instance to show the nature of the legislation which had been adopted with reference to the improvement of land. There was an Act passed some time ago for enabling parties to charge entailed estates for the purpose of draining; but the Act of last year rendered necessary the consent of all the occupying tenants, before the land could be drained. He know a case showing the effect of this. It was an estate on which there were 300 or 400 tenants, one-half of whom could not write their names, and yet they were all to be visited and have explained to them, that they must sign papers for the purpose of having the drainage. This was a serious obstacle to the working of the measure, and the clause had scared away many persons who were desirous of taking advantage of the statute. The great object of every one, at the present moment, must be to employ as many persons as possible in Ireland as cultivators of the soil, from which, ultimately, their subsistence must be drawn. The delay arising from the operation of the existing Improvement Acts was a public evil, which he was sure the Government would not fail to deal with. He had that confidence in the noble Marquess opposite, that he was sure the Government would apply themselves to remedy the evil without delay.


expressed his satisfaction in what had fallen from the noble Earl near him (the Earl of Devon). All that the noble Earl had said showed the importance of giving employment, not in connexion with the Poor Law, but so as to enable the poor to support themselves. He could bear his testimony to the great efficiency of the officers who conducted the Board of Works. From his experience, which had been extensive, he could say they had given great satisfaction to all parties. He looked forward to an improved state of agriculture as the means of giving employment to the labouring class in Ireland all through the year.


begged to press upon the Government the necessity of caution in dealing with Ireland in its present state, which he believed was unexampled in the history of the world. It was in the transition state of leaving a lower description of food, and taking to a higher description. That was a most arduous state of things. After what had been said, he should not insist upon the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned.