HL Deb 04 May 1847 vol 92 cc364-74

, on moving the Order of the Day for the House to go into Committee on this Bill, observed, that their Lordships having permitted the Bill to be read a second time without any explanation of its provisions, he felt that it was but respectful to their Lordships, although he did not anticipate any objection to the measure, to state briefly its general purpose and object. The Bill was founded, he need not tell their Lordships, upon the circumstances which were peculiar to the present state of Ireland; and after the various discussions which had taken place in Parliament upon the subject of the condition of the people and the agricultural industry of that country, he believed there were but few of their Lordships who had not arrived at the opinion and conviction that vast improvements were required to be made in the agricultural management of that country; and that, upon an improved system of cultivation, by an increased application of capital and skill, the future state of prosperity and even safety of Ireland must mainly depend. It was in proportion to the stimulus the Legislature might be able to apply to this improved system, and to these undertakings, by the investment of capital in the cultivation of the land, that they could anticipate effecting any remedy for the pre- sent state of things, or dorm: any collateral benefit from those other measures which their Lordships were now engaged in carrying forward; measures which it was admitted on all hands would require the cordial support of their Lordships, in order to their being rendered effectual to the promotion of the general interests of Ireland. After all the reflection which he had been able to give to this subject—putting aside every prejudice which he did not deny entertaining in favour of that part of the United Kingdom—he was deeply convinced that it was by the agency of the landed proprietors only that the stimulus could be applied for introducing an extended system of agricultural improvement in Ireland. If that improvement was not to be carried into effect by the proprietors of the land, he knew not by what means that improvement could be given to the condition of the population of the country, which was requisite for the purpose of providing for their subsistence. Their Lordships could hardly think that m the present state of agricultural destitution in Ireland any improvements could be introduced by the tenants of the laud; and as little did he suppose that their Lordships thought it would be competent to the Crown itself to undertake, even if authorized by Parliament, a system of improvement to be carried into effect by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, whatever confidence their Lordships might feel in the administration, or however much they might wish to see discharged the duties of applying machinery to drainage, and to the making of improvements of every kind for one great object, and under one authority. The obvious solution, therefore, of the difficulty in which their Lordships were placed was that of giving, under the circumstances of great disadvantage which they at the present time experienced, aid and assistance to the landed proprietors, by which they might have additional motives for exerting themselves in the improvement of their own estates. Their Lordships were well aware, for it had been repeatedly urged in the course of the discussions on this subject, that the proprietors of Ireland were not in a condition, with respect to the possession of capital, to command the means by which they could at once, and at one stroke, in one year, commence a system of improvement. If they were to attempt to do so, it would deprive them of their income, and in case of being in debt would deprive them of the means of paying the interest upon that debt; in short, it would impose upon them duties which none but capitalists could undertake to discharge even in this country. If such would be the state of things even in England generally, their Lordships well knew that it was the case very peculiarly with respect to Ireland. Their Lordships knew that a very large portion of the property in Ireland was very deeply mortgaged, so that it was impossible for persons, deriving nothing but a life income, subject to charges, from property which they only nominally possessed, to devote the sum of money necessary to introduce a change in the whole system of cultivation of the country; to substitute new modes for old; new machinery for that which had been hitherto in use, and so to act upon the industry of the labourers of the country as to effect a total revolution in their habits and social condition. But their Lordships must be convinced that nothing short of this would really improve Ireland, or would give satisfaction and security there, nothing' short of this would prevent Ireland for the future from being what it had unhappily been in the past, a weight and an incubus upon the resources of this country. It would be taking a very narrow view of the subject, if their Lordships were to consider that by passing this Rill they were giving assistance to the Irish proprietors alone. It was not their interest only that they won; considering, but the interest of the whole country; for the whole population would benefit by the application of the money proposed to be advanced, and the repayment of which was secured by the provisions of this Bill. It was in the largest sense for the interest of England itself that their Lordships were legislating, and it was with this view that he now proposed to their Lordships the measure which had been prepared to remedy the evil that so universally prevailed in Ireland. The noble Marquess proceeded to state the nature of the provisions of the Bill, the chief purpose of which was to carry into more complete effect the Bill of last Session, which authorized the advance of the sum of 1,000,000l. By that Act the advances were made to certain descriptions of estates, whereas this Bill extended the benefit of the measure to all kinds of landed estates, care being taken to secure the principal and interest, the 1,000,000l. being in creased to 1,500,000l. It was proposed that for loans so advanced an interest of 6½ per cent should be charged on the pro- perty; and it was hoped that not only the interest but the principal would, within a few years, be repaid. As this measure was intended to be universal, and to apply generally throughout the country, it became desirable that it should be made applicable to the circumstances of a vast variety of individuals; the provisions of the Bill had been therefore so framed that they fitted themselves to the case of almost every description of property in Ireland, and it would be in the power of every proprietor to avail himself of them. The greatest anxiety was felt in Ireland for the passing of this Bill; as a proof of it, abundant applications had been already made for assistance under its provisions. In many parts of Ireland, upon the speed in which that assistance was afforded, would depend the utility of the measure. The noble Marquess read a letter from a clergyman, who stated that he was almost worked off his legs in the discharge of his official duties as chairman of a board of guardians, and that his only hope of effectual aid to the inhabitants of his parish was in the landlords obtaining assistance under this Bill. At present not 5l. a week was paid in wages amongst a population of 4,000. The object of the Government being that these loans should be spread over as wide a surface as possible, it not being expedient to confine the advances to any one spot, a clause was introduced which provided that no person should be allowed to borrow more than 20,000l. The noble Marquess concluded by moving that the Order of the Day be now read.


My Lords, during this Session of Parliament I have contributed my support to various measures which have been proposed by Her Majesty's Government with a view to apply a remedy to the misfortune which has occurred within the last year in Ireland; but I must say, that, of all the measures which have been proposed by Her Majesty's Government, that one which the noble Marquess has just adverted to, and the provisions of which he has now stated to your Lordships, is the one which, I believe, in conjunction with the Bill the second reading of which was proposed by my noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) a few nights ago, best calculated to secure the object Her Majesty's Government are seeking to attain—a Bill which appears to me more calculated than any other measure permanently to lead to the improvement of Ireland, and to relieving it from the effects of that great misfortune by which it has recently been visited. My Lords, I am not at all desirous of throwing any impediment in the way of this Bill; and I am perfectly certain that there are many of Your Lordships much more capable than I am of stating the benefits which this measure is calculated to produce; but I am anxious to propose a clause in the Committee on the Bill, which I think would contribute to its good working, and remove a practice in the social system of Ireland which, in my opinion, has tended greatly to aggravate the misfortunes of that country, if it has not been the principal occasion of them. The practice I refer to is that of making land supply the place of the circulating capital of the country, and pledging the land for the purpose of paying the wages of the labourer. I say, my Lords, that this is one of the causes and one of the greatest aggravations of the existing evils of Ireland; and the consequence is, that the Government has been obliged to come forward to give relief by employing large numbers of the labourers of the country upon public works. Such a practice as this is most injurious; for those men who require the services of the labourers let them land; and, instead of paying them wages as labourers, they oblige the individuals who take the land to work out the rent. The consequence is, that the labourer, who is wholly dependent for his subsistence upon the produce of his land, finds that his labour is mortgaged for the rent, and at the same time, being without assistance, when his strength fails him he has no resource, and is compelled to resort to the Government works. And what becomes of his employer, the farmer or the small gentleman who employs him, under this system of making land the circulating medium of the country and the wages of labour? When difficulties occur, and his capital fails, and his labourers are incapable of work, he has no resource; he is not in the habit of laying by capital—he has none—and he can employ no labour. Thus distress, when it comes, affects everybody, and the Government is compelled to employ the labourers of the country, and to give them food. Under these circumstances, my Lords, it appears to me that you cannot apply an effectual remedy to the evils of Ireland, unless you enforce the necessity of paying the wages of the labourer in the current coin of the realm; and in the Committee on the Bill I shall propose a clause requiring that all bargains for the wages of labour shall be made in the current coin of the realm, and that the payment of wages shall be enforced in the same, and that the labourer shall have a claim for the payment of his wages in the current coin of the realm, notwithstanding any bargain with his employer to the contrary. I will lay this clause upon your Lordships' Table, and I will move it either in the Committee or on the bringing up of the report.


said, he might perhaps be permitted to observe, in reply to the noble Duke who had favoured them with his suggestions on this Bill, that he entirely agreed with him in the principle of his clause; but at the same time he thought it would be better to defer the consideration of the clause until the bringing up of the report. He had no opportunity of seeing the Amendment suggested until the last half hour; and he would not therefore refer farther to it for the present, except to observe that while he agreed in the principle involved in it, he could not feel very sanguine as to the practicability of enforcing it in practice.


said, he entirely agreed with the noble Duke that the Bill before their Lordships, and the other Bill which had been presented by his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack, were, as far as they went, most valuable measures for the improvement of Ireland. His noble Friends near him might, therefore, be assured that he intended to give no opposition to the Bill, and that his object would be rather to improve and extend the Bill than the contrary. He heard with great satisfaction the view taken by his noble Friend who moved the Committee on the Bill of the exigencies of the country, as there was no one more able to appreciate them than his noble Friend. But he would remind their Lordships that they should bear in view the fact, that they were called upon to contemplate in one year a great revolution in the state of Ireland. He agreed with his noble Friend that this Bill was a step in the right direction; but he could not consider it as one going to any decisive length. At a time when the Government proposed that the landed property of Ireland should be obliged, without assistance from any other quarter, to support the labour of the country, he could not think that the advances for the improvement of landed property in that country ought to be limited to 1,500,000l. He considered that no effectual good would be done unless this country consented to go farther with those advances.


differed from his noble Friend who just sat down, for he thought the measure was an act of great liberality on the part of the Government. He even believed that the Bill would be found more efficient by having the amount to be advanced under it limited, than if it were fixed at an enormous amount in the first instance, as in the latter case the desire to obtain a part of the loans at once was not likely to be so great as it would probably now be. His principal object in rising was to point out to Her Majesty's Ministers what he thought was an unintentional omission in the Bill. The omission to which he alluded was, that the drainage works commenced under Mr. Labouchere's letter were not included under the. Bill; while those commenced under Mr. Trevelyan's letter were included, though the former were commenced by the landlords, with the most benevolent motives, to meet the wishes of the Government and of the country in providing employment for the people; while the latter were attended with advantages which were not comprised under Mr. Labouchere's letter. He should add, that the Bill had his entire concurrence, and that he thought it a highly beneficial measure.


said, he considered the works referred to by the noble Earl included in the Indemnity Bill, which was one of the measures now before their Lordships.


said, he thought the explanation of his noble Friend satisfactory, as he fully concurred with his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Wick-low), that the works to which he had alluded ought to be included under the Bill. He agreed that the Bill was of great public importance; but he begged their Lordships to bear in mind the real extent of the benefit to be conferred under it. In the first place, the entire amount to be advanced under the Bill was to be lent on the highest class of security, that of mortgage on the landed property of the country; and, in the next place, he had to remind them that the expenditure of a million of this amount had already received the sanction of the Legislature, so that the additional advances authorized by this Bill did not exceed 500,000l. He considered the clause proposed by the noble Duke as. of the utmost importance, with a view to the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes in Ireland. He also wished to suggest some Amendments, which he would submit for the consideration of their Lordships when the Bill got into Committee. They should bear in mind that the country was in a state of transition from a potato diet to a cereal diet; and this transition would necessarily require a much greater extent of mill power than was now to be found in Ireland. He thought, therefore, that they could not confer a greater benefit on the farmers than enabling them to procure the advantages of small grist mills. He admitted that Government aid for the erection of large mills might be fairly considered as an interference with commercial enterprise; but he was disposed to regard the erection of small mills in parts of the country where but little or no mill power was now to be found, as not open to the same objection. He would, therefore, take the liberty of proposing the introduction of a clause to the effect that in such parts and districts of Ireland as should be shown to the satisfaction of the Commissioners to be deficient in mill power, such mills as he described might be erected. He would also move that the erection of small stores, subject to the same limitations as in the case of mills, be included, and likewise the erection of farm buildings, as had before been suggested in the House of Commons. He had only, in addition, to call their Lordships' attention to the 16th Clause in the Bill. That clause limited the advances to land which the Commissioners would report as likely to pay six and a half per cent on the amount expended in improvements; but there were, he believed, parts of the country, especially in Connaught, where much land was to be found well suited for reclamation, but which was not likely to yield six and a half per cent in the first instance. He, therefore, objected to this limitation as injurious. He did not bring forward those Amendments in the shape in which they had been brought forward in the House of Commons. He submitted them in an amended form, and in the Committee he would take the liberty of asking their Lordships to agree to them.


agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Monteagle) as to the 16th Clause. He approved also of the noble Lord's Amendment to include farm buildings amongst the objects of the Bill; but he suggested that a proviso should be added to compel the occupier to insure such farm buildings against loss or accident by fire. The object of the Bill was not to give a greater rent to the landlord, but to induce the adoption of an improved condition of agriculture.


would be sorry that the House should agree to any proposal by which, in the money transactions between the landlord and the Government, the whole of the benefit should go to the tenant. The tenant would thereby have every inducement to remain upon the land, which, in Ireland, was not desirable, while the landlord would continue, as at present, to have little or no interest in the condition of his estate. The Bill before the House, good as it was in principle, and just and generous as it was, would in many parts of Ireland be of no use unless a totally different method of tillage were adopted, and the system of small farms abandoned. A rotation of crops, cleaning the land, consuming the straw and turnips on the premises, were essential to good farming, and could only be adopted on proper-sized farms. He did not think their Lordships would derive half the advantage which might be derived from the Bill, unless they accompanied it with some measure that would put an end to the system of pertinacious adherence to the land, and that desire which the Irish people always evinced to hold some portion by way of farm. This could only be done by severe laws against subdivision and subletting, inserting stringent clauses in the lease, and giving effective means to enforce their execution. There ought to be not only some inducement given to the landlords to build farm houses; but there ought to be also some preventive measures adopted to hinder tenants from overloading the land with small tenements. In short, the landlord must have control over his property, and be able to eject a bad tenant and select a good one, all which he did not possess at present before any good could be derived from this Bill or any other measure for assisting in the cultivation of the soil.


suggested that their Lordships should at once go into Committee on the Bill, and discuss the details in due course.

House in Committee.

LORD MONTEAGLE moved some Amendments relating to the inclusion of the erection of farm buildings and corn mills, under the head of "improvements."


called their Lord- ships' attention to the allegations of a petition that had been presented to the House of Commons on the 26th of January last, from a barony in the county Clare. The principal complaint of the petitioners was, that there was not a sufficiency of corn mills in their district, so that they had not means of preparing their corn for bread. He thought that part of the money to be advanced by Government ought to be laid out in the erection of corn mills; and, as to the erection of farm buildings, he thought it was absolutely essential.


believed, that the erection of farm buildings had been originally intended to form part of another measure than that before the House. That other measure (the Reclamation of Waste Lands Bill) had, however, been, as he considered very wisely and properly, dropped by Her Majesty's Government. It would have only raised great expectations which could not have been fulfilled; but he hoped that their Lordships would consent to invest Commissioners under the Crown with increased powers of making advances for the erection of farm buildings as well as other improvements, and also for the erection of corn mills. They should recollect that the potato, which was the standard food of the Irish people, having been destroyed, and it having been found necessary to introduce a new description of food, it had become absolutely necessary that corn mills should be supplied for the preparation of the grain.


supported the Amendments.


said, there were whole districts in Ireland destitute of any milling convenience, although vast power of water was rushing uselessly in every direction, which might be made a source of immense wealth. He must own that he was sorry the Bill had come up from the other House without having had "corn mills" inserted in it; and he would have no objection to the adoption of that portion of the noble Lord's Amendments under certain limitations. He also entertained considerable doubts with regard to the farm buildings. He would not promise to approve altogether of the Amendment of his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) upon that subject; but he thought it might be entertained with certain limitations. He would agree, therefore, to the insertion of "corn mills;" and in bringing up the Report, he would see if it were possible to set such limitations to the terms of the Bill as should enable them to include farm buildings.

First Amendment agreed to.

On the next Amendment,


said, that if the question were one of absolute rejection or adoption, he would divide the House upon it; but as his noble Friend had expressed his intention of taking the matter into consideration before the next stage of the Bill, he did not think it would be well to force a division at present.

Clauses agreed to. Bill passed through Committee,

House adjourned.