HL Deb 02 March 1847 vol 90 cc665-76

rose to present the petition of which he had given notice from the Grand Jury of the county of Wicklow, praying that their Lordships would take some measures to stimulate the employment of labour in Ireland, and the encouragement of the construction of railways in that country. The noble Earl said, he would not enter upon any long discussion of the subject to which the petition related. He would take that opportunity of addressing a few words to their Lordships upon the state in which Ireland appeared to him to stand as regarded the measures of relief adopted by Government; and he would entreat of them to consider whether or not they seemed fully adequate for the crisis when viewed in relation to the circumstances he would endeavour to lay before them. The whole rental of Ireland was said to be about 13,000,000l. The loss consequent on the failure of the potato crop was taken at 16,000,000l.; but he believed that was an under-estimate of the real amount. When the House came to consider the actual loss of farming and agricultural stock in connexion with that failure, and when they came to reflect on the destruction of cattle, horses, pigs, and poultry (which were of much more importance in Ireland than they were in this country), they would perhaps hold him justified in thinking it could not possibly be less than 24,000,000l. sterling. Now the whole rental of England was assumed to be somewhere about 85,000,000l. Would their Lordships then just think for one moment on the effect which the destruction of between 90,000,000l. and 100,000,000l. of agricultural and farming stock must necessarily produce in this country. That was the point of view in which their Lordships and the country ought to regard this question, and it was that very view which English gentlemen were not disposed to take. They thought the evil had been exaggerated. Their opinion seemed to be that the danger of the crisis had been exaggerated; that it was only temporary, and would soon and entirely pass away. A plan had been suggested, and brought forward in the other House of Parliament, the merits of which he would not pretend to discuss; but he was strongly of opinion that the Legislature was called on to take some steps to remedy an evil which was of the greatest moment in Ireland, namely, the want of steady and continuous employment. He would refer their Lordships to the second report of the Railway Commissioners of Ireland on this point, who, in speaking of the general condition of the people, declared it to be their conviction, that the great cause of the poverty of the country was "the want of continuous employment." Now he certainly did not think the institution of railway works would have been an effectual substitute for the works which had been going on in Ireland for the last six months: but he did believe they might not be improperly substituted when those works had been brought to a close. Much calumny and obloquy had been heaped most undeservedly on the system of public works, by persons who had not duly considered their ultimate effects. The great benefit they had effected consisted in the fact that they had employed the people during a period of great distress, and had relieved us from the necessity (to which we should have been otherwise exposed) of affording gratuitous relief to between 500,000 and 600,000 persons. Now that this system was about to pass away, it would be well to consider what would be the best substitute for it, and to take some steps to make Ireland a better machine for the employment and development of capital. Considered in a material point of view, every country was but a machine to effect those objects for those who inhabited it; and that was the most perfectly constituted which carried them out to the largest extent. It was true that in this country many works of great importance, which were frequently looked upon as public works, had in truth been constructed by individuals and by private bodies; but if they looked to the Continent, they would see that great public works were undertaken by the Governments of the respective countries. They were told that Ireland should be left to herself for the execution of such public works, and that in time English capital would flow into Ireland to foster and stimulate it; but their Lordships might depend on it, that if they waited for that day, and if they refused to stir till English capital flowed into Ireland, they would first see the ruin of the latter country. England had done and was doing much in the way of charity towards Ireland. She had done quite as much, and perhaps more, than they could have expected; but he feared that she had not roused herself sufficiently to the necessity which existed for doing more than she had done for the permanent improvement of Ireland. In the way of direct improvement for the country at large, they heard of nothing more being done by Parliament than a loan of 1,500,000l. He did not wish to undervalue that loan, but neither did he think it was at all desirable to overlook it. And he feared a disposition existed in and out of the House to do so. Every Irish landlord was looking, they were told, for his portion of the loan. He did not think it was exceedingly likely; but if the assertion were true, had any noble Lord calculated how much this loan of 1,500,000l. would be per acre on the whole area of Ireland? Why, it would be just about 19d. an acre. That individuals would derive benefit from the loan—that the lucky men in the lottery would be enabled to improve their estates, he had not the smallest doubt; but then these advantages would be enjoyed by individuals merely, and would not be extended to the country at large. Now, that was the object to which they should look; and as far as the operations under the loan were concerned, he was strongly of opinion that those who would derive most benefit from it, were precisely the persons who stood least in need of it. A man in bad circumstances would not venture on borrowing any money under the loan. [The Marquess of LANSDOWNE: Why not?] He was about coming to that question, and to show why he made the statement. The mortgages, rent charges, and incumbrances on the landed property of Ireland, were calculated at no less than 70l. per cent on the land of the whole country. To avoid any exaggeration, he would take it at 60l. per cent on the land, and proceed to consider how an embarrassed landlord would be affected by the loan. He would take the case of an individual possessing 20,000 acres of land, producing a rental of 10,000l. a year, on which there were charges to the amount of 6,000l., which would leave him a clear rent of 4,000l. Now he would ask any noble Lord at all acquainted with agricultural affairs—and there were many then present—whether it would make much impression on his property of 20,000 acres, if this individual were to borrow less than 10,000l. of the loan? He knew any less sum would make very little impression on the condition of such an estate. If, then, the landlord were to borrow 10,000l., he immediately became subject to a charge or annual payment—whether interest or sinking fund he did not care—of 650l. a year. He wished to know if any prudent man, with an income of 4,000l. clear from 20,000 acres, would for the purpose of improving his land, borrow 10,000l., which subjected him to such a payment? To justify him in doing so, the improvement to be derived from the loan should be immediate; but, under the circumstances, it could only be prospective. Surely no prudent man would borrow under such circumstances. He believed the Irish landlords much more prudent than the press of this country would allow; and in making that remark he wished to say a few words as to charges which had been generally made against that body. One heard it said everywhere, what had the Irish landlords ever proposed for Ireland? What had that Gentleman, who was the great type of Ireland, ever proposed? He would put in a plea for Irish gentlemen, in reply to those observations. He would answer and say, that the Irish Gentlemen had proposed the best thing which had been suggested for Ireland during the last six months. They had proposed the substitution of a system of reproductive for unproductive works; and fortunate would it have been for them and for us, if the form of the Bill under which the public works were carried on, would have admitted of the suggestion. In fact, so far from having suggested nothing, the Irish Gentlemen were really the only persons who had suggested anything available. They had also suggested the introduction of railways. There might be objections, to be sure, to such a system—there might be much jobbing—there certainly would be some jobbing—where such an immense body of men, in fact an army in everything but discipline, as was observed by a noble Friend of his, were engaged; but there were also unquestionable advantages from it, and, whatever the merits of the plan, the Irish Gentlemen had suggested it. He thought, too, the Irigh resident gentlemen had been actuated by high views in suggesting that public works should be carried out on a large scale. That would be the proper spirit in which to conduct them, for they might rely on it that a small scale was not up to the mark of this great exigency. They also heard it said, that the advances to be made to Ireland would not be repaid. That was not the opinion of the Board of Works—that was not the opinion of those best acquainted with the country. There was really a great deal of injustice abroad on this subject. What was the statement made by the Commissioners of Public Works in their report in 1837, in reference to the loans made under 57th Geo. III. some years before. Speaking of these loans they said, "that repayment is made with great regularity, and had failed only in a few cases." The amount of the loan to which this report referred, as well as he could recollect, was about 500,000l. or 600,000l.; and the few cases of non-payment showed the advantages of the loan. Indeed, there could be no question, as he conceived, with respect to the benefits of advances, and he would adduce a few facts on the subject. He had been told that since the construction of roads in the county of Galway, the customs duties had been increased to an amount he was afraid to mention. Again, in the western part of Mayo, there was a place called Blacksod Bay, which was one of the finest harbours in the world; but some years back it was scarcely known. A grant was made for the construction of a fishing pier. Previous to its erection there was no trade whatever at the village or the bay, nor did it contain a single store or private dwelling. In the first year the pier gave sufficient encouragement to a merchant to come and settle there; and though he had difficulty in getting a cargo for some time, there was now a regular export of 600 tons of grain from the port, and nine large stores and several private houses in a place which so lately as 1837 contained neither. These advances were peculiarly suited to the condition of Ireland, and she stood in need of such aid. There never was a greater mistake than to cry up Ireland as the richest country in the world. That was an error which had been promulgated by a little Irish vanity, and credited by a great deal of English credulity. Their Lordships might depend on it, that there was no land in Ireland at all equal to the good rich lands of England. He had that on the best authority—on the authority of an eminent geologist who had travelled through Ireland, the Dean of Westminster, [Lord BROUGHAM: Oh, he only looked below the surface.] He would venture to say that "the Golden Vale of Tipperary," of which they all had heard, was not more fertile than the vales of most of the rivers of England, and was not as fertile as many of them. But the question was not the richness of some particular tract of a single county, but the average value of the whole surface of Ireland. He had travelled in Ireland—in the south of Ireland, as his noble Friend behind him inquired—and he would venture to say, looking at it on the broad, that there was no comparison in point of richness of soil between Ireland and this country. Let them mark how much of her surface was covered with mountains and water, and, even in fertile spots, incumbered with rocks and stones. [The Marquess of CLANRICARDE: What did they do in England, when there were rocks and stones there too?] They never had been there. As a geologist he affirmed that, and would be prepared to dispute the matter with the noble Lord. The rocks were never scattered over the surface of this country, as they were in Ireland. That was a certain fact. England, the richest country in the world, had to deal with a member of her empire which was by no means rich. Would she, then, leave it neglected and uncared for, or would she, by the development of public works, endeavour at least to raise it in a certain degree up to the level of the more favoured parts of the empire? His opinion was, that they should take the latter course. The mode in which they should do so, it was not for him to point out; but he was perfectly satisfied, that if they thought they could get over this present difficulty by a charity of 8,000,000l. or 9,000,000l., large as that sum sounded, they would only have a prolongation of those scenes of desolation and distress from which the country would never revive.


begged to say, in reply to some observations of the noble Lord which seemed to apply to him, that he never objected to advances properly made, but that he certainly did object to the wholesale nature of the present measures.


said, the observations of the noble Lord who had just spoken, made it necessary for him to say a few words in reply. In the first place, when the noble Earl declared that 1,500,000l. was altogether inadequate to work any great improvement in the state of the country, he (Earl Grey) admitted if they were only to look to that single measure, it would be decidedly inadequate to meet all the exigencies of the case; but though he thought it an extremely important measure, and likely to have a very beneficial effect in enabling landed proprietors to improve their estates, particularly by promoting drainage, which was most likely, as he thought, to answer in Ireland, still there were other and more important measures for the improvement of that country; and if he were to say to which of them he looked most in connexion with that object, he should certainly mention that which would be prepared by his noble Friend on the Woolsack for facilitating the sale of encumbered estates. In the very case of a man with 10,000l., of which 6,000l. was encumbered (quoted by the noble Earl), according to this Bill it was plain that by selling a portion of his estates, to clear off that sum, he could obtain an accession of real income, and be enabled to improve the remainder of his property, as well as relieve himself of all charges upon it. Besides that, land would then be brought into the market, which the owner of capital might buy up with a view to improvement. And though the noble Earl said Ireland was so poor, he (Earl Grey) believed there was a vast amount of capital in that country, of which people were not aware, and which only required to be called out by the exercise of some such measure. He, therefore, looked to it with more hope than to advances of money. The noble Lord had pointed out the great advantages which had arisen, in some instances, from public works having been undertaken in Ireland. He (Earl Grey) had never heard it doubted that much benefit resulted from those measures; but when the noble Lord alluded to them, he scarcely was aware that the Acts by which money had been advanced for such works were still in existence, and that it was intended to improve and simplify them by the measures of Government this Session. The public works as to the improvement of the Shannon Navigation, under one of these Acts, were now in progress, and likely to be attended with the most beneficial effects. But he could not help thinking, that one very dangerous fallacy ran through the whole of his noble Friend's speech. It was that Ireland was to look to England and to the English Government for assistance, instead of relying on itself. He did not believe there was any more dangerous delusion than that a country should trust to the assistance of Government as its sole means of progress. To what did this country owe its wealth? To persevering industry, to the gradual accumulation of small saving, and to the continual application of capital from generation to generation, not by governments, but by private individuals, for the promotion of various works of permanent improvement. He was inclined to dispute the opinion so confidently laid down by his noble Friend, that Ireland was a far less fertile country than this; and he should be prepared to establish that such was not the case, from the most trustworthy accounts and the highest authorities. He had not himself had the advantage of visiting Ireland, except for a very short time, and he had not gone through the country in the manner in which his noble Friend stated he had done. He regretted exceedingly to hear that his noble Friend had not read Professor Kane's work. He earnestly entreated him to read that Professor's treatise On the Industrial Resources of Ireland, in which that gentleman proved how great they were, and how much might be accomplished by improvements. His noble Friend was, he thought, mistaken in supposing that no part of this country had been covered with rocks. He could point out Northumberland, in England, and a vast extent of country in Scotland, which had been cleared of vast blocks of rock. It was by the untiring industry of the inhabitants of this country and of Scotland—by the application of the capital derived from their own savings, that the wealth of Great Britain had been created; and it was by similar means only that Ireland could hope to raise herself. No doubt England should be prepared to give Ireland a helping hand; but the utmost that could be done by this country was as nothing compared to what must be done by the Irish proprietors, and by the working classes, if they expected the country to be ever raised from its present lamentable condition. He must say, therefore, he heard with great regret the tone of utter dependence on England which pervaded his noble Friend's speech. If England did not exist, did his noble Friend mean to say that Ireland could not raise herself to wealth? It was a libel on human nature to say so. Ireland wanted nothing but regular industry well applied, economy and perseverance, to become—in proportion to her extent—as rich a country as England. He did trust that her inhabitants would, at the present time, look, as their main reliance, not for the assistance of England, but to their own exertions.


was ready to concur in much that had fallen from his noble Friend (Earl Grey), if applied to ordinary times and to ordinary circumstances. No one was more ready than himself to assert and to inculcate the doctrines of labour, industry, and self-reliance, as indispensable in Ireland. But the present time, and the present calamity, were exceptions to all ordinary rules. His noble Friend who presented the petition now before the House, so far from exaggerating, had greatly understated his case. The loss by the potato blight in Ireland had been estimated by competent judges at 16,000,000l. The rateable value of property in Ireland was somewhat above 13,000,000l. The rated property of England and Wales was, in 1841, 85,000,000l.; and at the present time probably approached 100,000,000l. Supposing a loss sustained in this country of the food of the people, to the extent of 100,000,000l. or 110,000,000l., would it not be a mere delusion to believe that this deficiency could be met by the ordinary labour and frugality of the people, or by the ordinary assistance of local rates? The State, as in 1795 and 1800, must and ought to interfere. Even in ordinary times cases were known to exist in which great national works were admitted to require national aid, if their usefulness were unquestioned, and if they could not be constructed otherwise. Parliament had acted, and had acted wisely, on this principle. He would take Scotland as an example. How much had been effected by the Commission for Highland Roads and Bridges? Public grants had been made, not to supersede, but to stimulate and to guide private efforts. Nor had these works been sanctioned to meet any temporary calamity, but as forming part of a permanent system. And what was the result? Why, the late Mr. Telford had given it as his opinion before a Select Committee, that the parliamentary grants for the Highlands had been the means of advancing those districts more than a century in improvement. Therefore, he could refer both to the reason of the case, and to actual experiment, in support of his noble Friend's (Earl Fitzwilliam's) proposal. But, he would again ask, would not Parliament have been called on to interfere if a loss of agricultural produce had been sustained equal to one year and a half's rated rental? Most assuredly it would. He regretted that his noble Friend (Earl Grey) had so pointedly named the English Parliament, and the English Treasury, as the authorities to which Ireland had to look for relief. Those were dangerous words to hear used. It was not to the English, but to the Imperial Parliament, to which the appeal was made. In that Parliament Ireland had her full right to consideration, as an integral part of the empire. It was not from the English Treasury that Ireland sought for aid; it was from the Imperial Treasury, to which the taxation of Ireland largely contributed. On that Parliament, and on that Treasury, the Irish had as unquestionable claims as any who trode the soil or breathed the air of England. In one respect, indeed, he most willingly admitted, that the people of England, in their individual capacities, had been appealed to; and most nobly, most generously, had they answered the call. The appeal was made to their never-failing sympathy for distress, and to their ready spirit of self-sacrifice in relieving it. This, too, had been done under circumstances the most discouraging. All that could have been done, he would not say by malignity, but by perverse ingenuity, systematically applied, to damp and check the innate humanity of the people of England, had been tried, but had been tried in vain. But the divine flame of Christian charity was not to be so extinguished. All the cold-blooded writing, all the cruel scorn, all the falsehoods which had been employed for this one bad object—first, denying, then, underrating, and then affecting to consider the calamity as one to which private charity was inapplicable—the whole of this wicked sophistry had failed in its object; and they had seen a tide of sympathy as well as of wealth flow from Great Britain into Ireland, which he trusted would not be undervalued, and which he was convinced ought never to be forgotten. His noble Friend (Earl Fitzwilliam) had, with his characteristic courage, ventured on a defence of that most unfortunate concern—the Labour-rate Act. He seemed to think that it had been somewhat unfairly depreciated. This he denied. A more miserable failure had never taken place in legislation. But his noble Friend was not very logical in his encomium; for, at the same moment that he praised this measure—condemned as it was by Mr. Labouchere's letter—condemned as it was by the very measures Parliament was discussing—he frankly stated, that the most useful suggestion offered by any party, was that which proceeded from the Irish Gentlemen, who advocated the substitution of productive for unproductive works. But unproductive work was the very essence of the Labour-rate Act. How then could his noble Friend praise the Act itself, and yet praise a recommendation which was its very opposite? He must choose between the one and the other as an object of encomium; he could not, with any accuracy or consistency, endeavour to combine the two. Again, his noble Friend had said, that the evils of the Labour-rate Act had not been foreseen or predicted, and therefore that the Government could not justly be blamed if the measure had failed. In this point, again, he must differ from him, and refer him to the very accurate register of Parliamentary debates,* where he would find that all the now-admitted evils of the Labour-rate Act had been anticipated in that House of Parliament. The consequences of wasting the national resources on unproductive labour, and, above all, the necessary tendency of the measure—the fatal introduction of out-door relief to the able-bodied poor—were there also accurately, though ineffectually, described. But though he differed from his noble Friend in these points, he entirely agreed with him in the main argument, which there had been no attempt made to deny or to answer. They were now employing 600,000 a day in Ireland; they were now expending one million a month. They were called on to abandon the system. Had they provided an adequate substitute? Would a loan of one million and a half to a system of soup-kitchens, provide for the multitude of labourers, and the dependent members of their families? It was equal to no more than six weeks' support, even if brought into immediate operation. But this immediate change could not by possibility be made. It ought to be remembered also, that an expenditure of one million on the waste lands of Ireland had been proposed. Now, if that measure were either withdrawn or defeated in another place, the remedial means of the Government, inadequate as he considered them to be, even if accepted, would fall short of the intentions and estimates of their framers by the amount of the million. That million would consequently require to be applied in some other measure. The House and the public might rely upon it, the proposed measures would not carry Ireland through her struggle, or even support her in her transition state, in passing from one class of remedies to another. The measures recommended in the petition before the House, tended to produce that effect; and he therefore earnestly supported them. Without some such remedy, the Government would of necessity be driven back upon presentment works and the Labour-rate Act. Already he saw notifications * Hansard, Third Series, Vol. lxxxviii. p. 1004. of renewed sessions throughout Ireland. He ventured to predict the continuance of these measures and all their ill consequences, with as full a conviction as when he had addressed their Lordships on the 25th of last August. The event, he felt certain, would justify his prediction.

Petition read, and ordered to lie on the Table.

House adjourned.