§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, that he understood that an arrangement had been come to, in consequence of the absence of several noble Lords, that if the Bill were allowed to be read a second time that night, the discussion on the principle of the Bill would be taken on going into Committee. He wished to know if that were so?
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, that one noble Lord—or, perhaps, one of the noble Lords to whom the noble Lord alluded on the other side of the House—had certainly stated to him that he bad no objection to this Bill being read a second time that evening, upon the understanding that he should have the opportunity, on going into Committee, of making any observations upon it he thought proper; and, if the noble Lord had no objection, he 291 should propose to go into Committee on Tuesday next.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
begged to make a few observations respecting the order of proceedings in their Lordships' House. Of late years, a practice has grown up of allowing important measures to be passed through a second reading, pro formâ as it is called. Now, by abandoning the ancient and better rule of taking an effective discussion on the second reading of a contested Bill, the House is sacrificing a great and important principle. The second reading should not be slurred over. A deliberate discussion at that stage is not more useful than it is convenient. It is most convenient that discussions should take place on second readings—should take place for the purpose of eliciting those opinions which will afterwards be produced in the shape of distinct propositions and amendments in the Committee on the Bill. On these grounds, a protest should be made against reading a second time a Bill like that now brought forward, as a matter of course. Besides which, the adoption of such a proceeding in respect to the poor-law, would be misinterpreted at the other side of the Channel; it would lay their Lordships open to a charge of indifference on a subject exciting the most intense anxiety. Nor was he reconciled to this arrangement from the reason by which it was explained or excused—the absence of certain noble Lords from the service of the House. It might suit their pleasure or their convenience to be absent, but that was no reason why a discussion on the second reading should be omitted.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
thought it unnecessary to debate a matter on which there could not be a difference of opinion. There was not the slightest intention on the part of the Government to slur over this important stage of the Bill. He had protested against the postponement of the discussion as a matter of form, and had stated to the noble Lord in question that he should feel it incumbent on him on this occasion to state the provisions of a Bill of so much importance, and it would be open to any noble Lord to express his opinion upon it, upon which a debate might arise. The only understanding he had come to with the noble Lord to whom allusion had been made, was, that he should not be precluded by his absence on this occasion from stating his opinions with respect to the principle of the measure, on the question of going into Committee. 292 Having said thus much, he would proceed to state, in as succinct a form as possible, the provisions of the Bill of which he was now about to move the second reading. It was a Bill to amend the Acts for the more effectual relief of the poor in Ireland. At the time when—in consequence of the alarming destitution prevailing in Ireland, caused by the prevalence of famine in that country, two or three years ago—it was found necessary to provide for the emergency, so unexpected and so great, and so far exceeding anything which had befallen any other country in Europe—at a time when it was found necessary to provide, or to endeavour to provide, something like an adequate remedy, so far as human foresight and prudence could provide for this state of things, so alarming and so revolting to humanity—at that time, in suggesting the remedy, the Government protested against being made responsible for its perfection as a remedy. None of those who had taken part in these discussions, and who had made various amendments, many of which had been adopted—none of those parties had been sanguine enough to believe that a measure which had been adopted hastily—hastily, because no time could be allowed for its preparation—and unexpectedly, because no one could foresee the extent of the calamity in a country in which there was more than the usual proportion of poor—none of those, he said, believed that a measure for such a purpose could be made, under such circumstances, perfect in all its details. It was in that view that the Bill which he then held in his hand had been submitted to the consideration of Parliament; and he thought he should be best consulting the convenience of their Lordships, and at the same time discharging his duty to them in proposing the second reading of the Bill, if, without entering into general considerations with respect to the measure, further than had already been done, or insisting upon the necessity of an enactment of this description, he at once proceeded to explain to their Lordships what were the main provisions more or less effecting amendment, and creating more or less of difference in the law as it at present stood. Those parts of the Bill to which he should first advert as being the most important, and then most likely to create some difference of opinion with some of their Lordships, were the two first clauses, enacting a maximum rate beyond which no electoral division or union could be called upon to contribute for the 293 maintenance of the poor. The unforeseen extent and repetition of the famine in Ireland from year to year, and the positive augmentation of distress created by the operation of the present law, was such as he might say justly to cause very considerable alarm throughout that part of the united kingdom. Under the then circumstances of Ireland, whatever inducements persons might have for investing capital in Ireland, whether in the way of improvement, or of agricultural enterprise, or simply in the purchase of land, it was clear that an alarm must have been created in their minds, lest, hanging over the property which might become theirs, there might be an amount of charge indefinite in its nature, and which might possibly, although not probably, eventually absorb the greater part of their capital. It became, therefore, a great public object to endeavour to remove that alarm; and no other mode of creating the degree of confidence necessary to be generated, seemed to present itself, than that of enacting by law a maximum rate, beyond which no rates should be levied either on the electoral divisions or the unions in that part of the united kingdom. It was easy to come to that conclusion; but it was much more difficult to determine what the maximum should be, and to what limits the power should be exercised of stopping aid when it had arrived at certain bounds. It had appeared to Her Majesty's Government, and it had met with the pretty general concurrence of the other House of Parliament, that, assenting to the principle of a maximum, 5s. in the pound on the rental in each electoral division, nearly presented the limit beyond which it was desirable that the rating should not be carried. But no one who viewed that as the limit, and who had looked at the accounts which from time to time had been presented as to the state of the unions and of the poor-rates in particular parts of Ireland—no one could fail to see that it would be impossible to provide for the poor in certain electoral divisions, without some assistance beyond that which the sum of 5s. in the pound would afford. It was necessary to provide for the deficiency somewhere in Ireland, and it was supplied by a rate imposed on all the unions thus creating a common interest throughout the country in respect to the support of the poor. No one, again, who had looked attentively at the mode in which the administration of relief had been imperfectly carried on, and the 294 difficulty of distinguishing between real poverty, and what was a fraudulent demand, but must feel it to be of the utmost importance that the greatest number of persons possible, that the ratepayers on the spot and in the neighbourhood, should have an opportunity of keeping down the amount of rate to be so levied. It had, therefore, been found necessary to assign a limit to the further rate, and that limit had been fixed at 2s. in the pound, to be levied on the union in aid of the electoral divisions where the rate of 5s. in the pound should either be actually levied, or where it should diligently have been attempted to be levied. But when he said that the limit had been found in 2s., he did not mean to state it as a matter of opinion that that sum was likely to be called for in all unions. He was not prepared to say that all these rates put together provided an adequate remedy for the misery and poverty prevailing in Ireland; but he indulged a hope that in most cases it would be found to be so. At all events, should circumstances be adverse, and should Ireland, under the dispensation of Providence, be visited with similar disasters to those which had afflicted her for several years past, the rate having been collected from one end of the country to the other, she would be placed in a position different to that which she before occupied, and she would come before the Imperial Parliament of this country with proofs in her hands of the exertions she had made—with proofs of the degree of pressure which those exertions had occasioned, and would present a claim for that consideration which he would not anticipate now, but which could not be forgotten hereafter. At all events, it would be a consolation to us to know that we had alleviated an existing calamity, and that we had put that part of the united kingdom in a position to show the rest of the kingdom and the world at large that she had not been wanting in the exertions she had been called upon to make. Having said this much with reference to the first two clauses, which were the only parts of the Bill as to which he anticipated any difference of opinion on principle, he would pass on to the clause providing for the alteration of claims founded on residence. It was proposed to alter the clause by making the claim on the electoral district in which the parties had been longest usually resident. There was another provision that the cost of relief of 295 the destitute poor not resident in the union for the last three years next preceding, should be charged according to the provisions of a former Act, namely, "An Act for the Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland." The fourth clause provided for the division of accounts difficult to adjust between the unions and electoral divisions, on any alteration of the limits taking place; and it was a provision to which, as he believed it to be equitable and just, there would be no opposition. The fifth and sixth clauses were of considerable importance, and provided for the erection as soon as possible of additional workhouses, in unions proposed to be severed from existing unions, and to afford facilities which did not now exist for investigating the cases of the poor. The seventh clause provided for that "which experience had shown to be extremely necessary to the working of this law, namely, an alteration and modification with respect to boards of guardians. The clause provided that the qualification of persons eligible to become guardians might be altered with the approbation of the commissioners, who might fix a different qualification and a different value in different electoral divisions. With respect to the difficulty of procuring eligible persons to serve in this capacity, the eighth clause provided that in certain cases nonresident proprietors in the adjacent parts of the country, not residing in the union, should be enabled to become guardians, in addition to the resident guardians chosen in the first instance, wherever a deficiency of guardians required such places to be filled. He anticipated no objection to a proposal for thus giving additional efficacy to the law in this respect. The ninth clause provided for the division of electoral divisions for the purpose of electing guardians. To the tenth clause he was aware there might be entertained some objection. It bore upon the liability of rent charges by way of annuity and jointure to deduction on account of poor-rates. These rent charges having been established at a time when a poor-law did not exist in Ireland, and was not even contemplated, it had been deemed just and equitable that they should be compelled to contribute to the rate, instead of leaving the whole burden to be borne by the property to which they were charged. The eleventh clause provided that every person receiving rent in respect of property used for charitable or public purposes, should be liable to be 296 rated to the extent of one-half the poundage of every rate made for the electoral division in which the property may be situated. The twelfth clause provided that a tenant should not deduct from his rent more than one-half of the rates actually paid by him. Another provision, and a most important one, to which he should refer, was one that was framed with a view to encourage the improvement of estates, and the laying out of capital upon them, both by landlords who were already in possession of them, and by capitalists who might hereafter be induced to invest their money in the purchase of them. It was this—that for any improvement that might be effected upon land whereby its value should be enhanced, no additional poor-rate was to be levied for a certain number of years. Whatever improvement might be effected, and to whatever extent, no poor-rate beyond that upon the present value of the estate was to be levied for the next seven years. There was to be no additional poor-rate levied upon the improvements. That provision he considered a most important one for the encouragement of agricultural improvements. There remained little more to be stated regarding the Bill. There was one clause, the eighteenth, of some importance. It provided a more effectual remedy for levying the rates than at present existed. It was most important that the rate should be levied effectually, and this provision was for the purpose of enabling the rate to be recovered by a civil-bill process, by which it would become a judgment of court, affecting the land subject to the rate, but affecting that part only upon which it was due and unpaid. No person could have expressed greater surprise than he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) himself did, when he found by the evidence laid before the Committee, that it was possible at present to pursue the recovery of the poor-rate, not only over the entire estate, but even to the extent of confiscating the land. There remained only two more clauses to which he should refer, and they were not introduced originally by Her Majesty's Government, but upon the representation of independent Members. Those two clauses were for the purpose of enabling districts and unions to tax themselves for the purpose of assisting the emigration of the poor from their localities. It was a power afforded to the poor-law guardians, upon receiving the permission of the Poor Law Commissioners, 297 to levy an additional rate upon their districts, upon the faith of which they could borrow money, either from persons who were willing to lend it, or from the Consolidated Fund Commissioners, with which they could enable persons from those districts to emigrate. He had now arrived at the close of his statement, he had mentioned the various objects and provisions of the Bill, and had briefly stated the reasons by which those provisions were supported. He was not prepared to say that it was a perfect measure which he had the honour of submitting to their Lordships. He was far from saying that no further improvement could be made. So long as the law was in operation, so long as the circumstances of the country were liable to change, it could not be assorted that no further alterations would be needed. It was not five years, not ten years' experience of its working, that would constitute a period sufficient to enlighten either that or the other House of Parliament, so as to enable them to produce a perfect measure. During a long period it would be the duty of both that and the other House to be open to the consideration of the law upon a subject of such deep importance. But it was sufficient for the purpose of the present Bill to say, that it would effect most important practical improvements in the management and the working of the law. Feeling the difficulties that attended that law, their Lordships would be bound to render it, by every means in their power—not easy, because easy it could not be made; not light, because, situated as the country was, it could not be made light; but free from as many difficulties as they could remove from it—free to such extent as human care, legislation, and foresight, could provide against. Trusting that by the care which their Lordships would give to the measure in Committee, it would be thus far perfected, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
I think, my Lords, that you cannot feel any surprise from what I have already stated, that I consider the present question as infinitely too important to be permitted to pass without serious discussion. It is true that but few of your Lordships' House are now present; but, whatever your numbers may be, I feel that accident to be no reason for shrinking from the discussion. I feel it to be my duty to call your attention, and that of the public, to the present Bill; I feel it due likewise to the honour of Parliament, 298 that a measure of such importance as the present should not be allowed to pass silently.
I could have wished that the enactments of the present Bill had permitted the President of the Council to have proceeded regularly, by directing the Clerk to read the paragraph of Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne relating to Ireland; to enter, as read, the report of your Select Committee on the Irish Poor Laws, and thus to have shown, by a regular chain of authority, evidence, and reasoning, that the Bill now presented fulfilled the gracious intentions of our Sovereign, was consistent with the judgment of the Select Committee named by your Lordships, was framed upon the evidence taken, and, above all, that it was a remedy adequate to meet the unexampled exigencies of the present crisis. Unfortunately, the character of the Bill precludes my noble Friend from pursuing this otherwise strictly Parliamentary course. I grieve to think, under any circumstances, that Select Committees of either House should be granted merely as legislative toys for the amusement of Members of Parliament, from which no practical good was to be derived. I have always thought that when subjects of such deep interest as the wants and sufferings of a nation are recommended from the Throne by Her Majesty's responsible advisers as deserving immediate consideration when, in pursuance of such recommendation. Select Committees have been appointed, witnesses of high authority examined, and great labour, time, and expense devoted to the inquiry, some slight attempt at least should be made to realise, in subsequent legislative measures, the gracious intentions of the Crown, the suggestions of the witnesses, and the judgment authoritatively pronounced by the Committee. Unhappily, no such results are attained in the present instance.
I complain of the Bill, and I complain likewise of the speech of the President of the Council, not only for what it contains, but for that which it omits. I complain specially of the speech of my noble Friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne), because in relation to a Bill which is founded exclusively upon the pressing wants of the present time, he has altogether omitted any mention of the existing distress, or any estimate, however vague, of its extent and intensity; and because be has not even made an attempt to prove that the measure now under discussion is adequate to remove 299 that existing distress, or even to mitigate its pressure. I allege, on the contrary, fearlessly, that this measure, even taken in conjunction with the other propositions brought forward during the previous months of the Session by Her Majesty's Government, is utterly inadequate to meet the present exigencies of Ireland. If your Lordships think that, by your past legislation, you have really solved the awful problem submitted to your judgment, you will be deceiving yourselves, and lulling yourselves to rest by most fallacious hopes. Those hopes will rather be in accordance with what you may benevolently desire, than with what you can reasonably believe. If Parliament is prorogued in the course of the next week or fortnight, let not Members return to their own happy and peaceful homes under the delusive impression that Irish distress has been removed by the legislation of the Imperial Parliament. Your measures have scarcely had any tendency towards the performance of that great public duty.
I shall endeavour to follow my noble Friend through his short, but clear and able, statement. With that object I shall proceed to an analysis of the Bill on the table. The first clause to which my noble Friend has referred, was framed with the object of establishing a maximum beyond which the poor-rate of Ireland is not to pass. The object and justification of such a clause, is the encouragement which it is supposed you thereby give to outlay of capital upon land in Ireland, and the consequent increased demand for labour, and augmented production of agricultural wealth. It was intended as a relief to the present race of proprietors, and as an encouragement to those who might hereafter be disposed to purchase Irish estates, by giving to both classes a security against the enhancement of rates beyond a certain fixed standard. I am happy to observe, from my noble Friend's argument, that he at least is not one of those dogmatists who consider that the absolute annihilation of the existing proprietors, and a total change in the ownership of land, is the one thing needful, and the first step to produce any permanent improvement. My noble Friend, it seems, admits that whatever encouragements are given, should be extended impartially to the present as well as to the future possessors of property. My noble Friend considers that it is both useful and just to hold out inducements to the present landowners to lay out their 300 capital in the improvement of their estates, as well as to the new purchasers who may be tempted to invest; but then such inducements, if given at all, should be honestly and sincerely given—they should not be based upon false pretences; we should not bait our traps for capitalists with fraud. Nor, if we attempt to do so, will those capitalists be so easily caught. The principle of a maximum is absolutely worthless, unless we can convince the public that it will be strictly adhered to. If its permanence cannot he relied on, what purchasers will be so rash as to expend their money upon a doubtful contingency? Have you ever tried a maximum rate in England? In all cases I feel desirous of testing this and other propositions by an English standard. Our experience of the poor-laws in Ireland is too short to afford us many Irish precedents. We have no facts from whence to generalise; but, I repeat my question, have you ever tried a maximum rate in England, and with that result? You have done so. You have done so more than once; and more than once it has failed you, and its inexpediency has been proved experimentally. You tried it in your incorporated unions. You established it by statute law; but in the year 1796 you were constrained to pass a new Act, in the preamble of which it was set forth, that—Whereas several Acts of Parliament have been passed by which the amount of poor-rate is limited to a certain sum not exceeding the average amount levied for the support of the poor in the several districts for a number of years;And then followed an enactment that—Such maxims having been found insufficient, it should thereafter be increased 100 per cent.Here we see a maximum established, and here we see its absolute failure. Is not this conclusive evidence that a maximum cannot be relied upon? But this is far from being all. In the year 1812 the maximum, which had been doubled in 1796, was again found to be inadequate for the purposes which it was intended to meet. Parliament felt themselves called upon, not merely to increase, but absolutely to repeal that doubled maximum—rejecting the principle altogether as vicious and impracticable, and permitting the incorporated unions to impose any amount of rate considered necessary for the support of the poor. If such has been the case in England, I should like to know whether the habits of the people of Ireland are so steadfast, and the progress of distress so slow, 301 as to make it improbable that a result like those of 1796 and 1812 would not be produced in Ireland. What capitalist with these facts before him could be induced to place the slightest confidence in the permanence of a maximum in Ireland, if it should now be rashly established?
But the principle on which it is proposed by this Bill to fix a maximum, is indefensible, and I may say absurd, upon other grounds. There was at least some plausibility in the original maximum established in England; it professed to be founded on experience—it was calculated on the average of the rates paid in each district during a specified number of years. The estimate of the future rate was thus made and varied according to the circumstances of each locality, as proved by the past. But we are now called upon to adopt in Ireland a standard purely empirical; a standard made uniform by law, and applied alike all over the country; this, too, in reference to a country where the difference between province and province is extreme to a degree unknown in English experience. It was neither founded upon, nor guided by, any average of past expenditure, nor yet by any estimate of future wants. No reason could be shown, or even suggested, for adopting a maximum of 5s. rather than one of 4s. or of 6s. Again, a maximum, by way of a definite poundage rate, must necessarily imply a uniform valuation to which such poundage applies. Now, the evidence taken before the Valuation Commissioners proves that the valuation in different parts of Ireland varies no less than from 30 to 40 and 50 per cent. Thus a maximum of 5s., though nominally uniform, will, in fact, be 5s. in one instance, and 10s. in another. And here it is necessary to refer to another part of the case. The variation in the condition of the people is even greater than the irregularities of the valuation. In the union of Dunshaughlin, for instance, the property, as compared with the population, stands in a ratio exceeding 100 to 1; whilst in the union of Glenties it is but 7 to 1. Are your Lordships prepared to apply the same maximum to cases so utterly dissimilar? A proposition more untenable, one more absurd, was never submitted to rational men. I presume the blunder is defensible only because it is proposed for Ireland.
But the proposed maximum will turn out, if more closely examined, to be no 5s. maximum at all. The 5s. maximum was practically abandoned during the pro- 302 gress of the Bill through the House of Commons, where very material changes in its enactments were made. It is to me clear that my noble Friend (the President of the Council) has not been made aware of those subsequent enactments. He has reasoned exclusively from the original Bill; he who is all candour and truthfulness would not otherwise have omitted that which is essential to a just consideration of the question. It is not a maximum of 5s. only with which we have to deal; to that maximum must be added a contingent charge of 10 per cent for a union rate, a certain charge of 2½ per cent for a general rate in aid, and to this was also added during the discussions on the Bill in the House of Commons, a heavy and varying charge for the amount of debts upon the several unions, which to that period seemed to have been forgotten or left unprovided for. In the thirty-two distressed unions specified in Mr. Twisleton's last return, the net debts in March, 1849, amounted to no less than 231,171l., being more than double the amount of the expenses for the in maintenance of the poor, and nearly equal to the whole expense of out-relief. The estimated receipt of rates for the same half year does not amount to 200,000l. Attention was necessarily called in the other House to the absence of all provision for these debts. The extent of such omission is exemplified by the following table:—
It was therefore found indispensably necessary that in addition to the 5s. maximum, and to the 12½ per cent rates in aid, provision should be made for the union debts, and it has been made accordingly. A more complete demolition of the original Bill, and a more signal proof of the want of knowledge on the part of those who had framed it, could not have been given. On the other hand, the provision necessarily made for these debts was a demolition equally signal of the principle of the maximum. Had not some provision been made for the debts, one of two fatal consequences must have ensued; the rates being insufficient for the double purpose of the debts and the current expenses, either the 303 poor would have been left without an adequate provision, or the contractors and other creditors of the unions would have been deprived of their security. Take, for example, the case of Messrs. Russell and Co., of Limerick. To that respectable mercantile house certain unions are indebted to the amount of 46,000l. By what right can those gentlemen be deprived of any security which they now possess for the recovery of their claim? Passing from this point to another, the Bill makes a further addition to the possible charges under the clauses for Emigration. Should these provisions come into operation, the maximum will further be considerably increased. Reviewing all these facts, is it possible to expect that capitalists should be induced to purchase or proprietors to improve land upon the faith of this supposed maximum? more especially when, judging by the English precedent, no security can be felt, that a maximum, already shown to be excessive, will not be doubled at some future time. The proposition of a maximum is therefore too monstrous to obtain faith in the minds of the most credulous. The lowest boy in the lowest class of the very worst of the national schools over which my noble Friend (the Lord President) exercises his salutary authority, would prove arithmetically that this proposition for a maximum rate is an absurdity in itself, and, if relied upon by purchasers, will be discovered to be an imposture.
Union. Net, Debt duo March 25, 1849. Ballina 19,032 Ennistimon 12,948 Galway 11,080 Kenmare 25,596 Kilrush 13,068 Roscommon 11,023 Scarriff 14,421 Ennis 11,288
But the principle of maximum is connected in this Bill inseparably with a rate in aid—the two proposals must stand or fall together. In proposing that the rate in aid of 10 per cent shall be enforced at the will and pleasure of the Poor Law Commissioners, your Lordships are called upon to legislate in a manner fatal to the real interests of Ireland. The general rate in aid of 2½ per cent stands condemned by the third report of the Select Committee, which was carried by a large majority, and only passed your Lordships' House by two votes. But, bad as that measure was, the union rate in aid of 10 per cent contained in this Bill is infinitely worse, both as productive of future danger and of present mischief. In the first place, it should be remembered that this union rate in aid is proposed as permanent. In the second place, it was a tax of 10 per cent, not 2½ per cent. Your Lordships should recollect that a tax upon property of 10 per cent was the highest amount of tax on property 304 ever levied in England, and that during the war, when we were contending for our national existence. The principle, too, on which this rate in aid rests is wholly unprecedented in English legislation. Only two cases have been referred to as authorities in which on any of the 14,000 parishes of England a rate in aid has been imposed since the days of Elizabeth. It is preposterous to consider these two cases as precedents, when they are contrary to the otherwise unbroken chain of experience. The case of Worcester applied to a few small parishes in a town, and appeared little more than a friendly contribution among neighbours. The fatal case of Choleshury is evidence the other way. Mr. Gulson observes—The rate in aid did not relieve that parish. It became waste and uncultivated, notwithstanding the rate in aid.If English experience is then to be referred to (and it is our safest guide), we find it to be contrary to the principle of a permanent rate in aid, more especially when the tax is made dependent upon the mere arbitrium of the Poor Law Commissioners. Your Lordships are also called to adopt it in opposition to the evidence of all the most authoritative witnesses examined before your Committee. This difficulty will be greatly enhanced when it is considered that the claim for a rate in aid is made dependent, not upon the amount bonâ fide paid in any electoral division, but on the amount assessed, together with such lesser payment as the commissioners consider just; for—"this will, undoubtedly, operate as a bounty upon non-payment, I think I may defy you practically to work out the proposition. I am satisfied that an attempt to do so will create inextricable difficulty.Such are the words of Mr. Gulson.
Again, it is clear that a union rate in aid cannot come into operation at all within the distressed districts. Electoral divisions separately insolvent cannot become solvent in their collective capacity. This lies beyond even what is termed Parliamentary omnipotence. Connaught, for the greater part, cannot furnish means for paying this 10 per cent rate. But let us proceed farther. Take the union of Glen-tics, for example, where 43,000 people are to be supported upon a rental of 16,000l In that union there is but one single electoral division, that of Fintown, which is capable of paying a rate in aid. The electoral division of Fintown is valued 305 at 425l. only, therefore the 10 per cent rate will produce but 42l The contribution, consequently, of 42l as a union rate would be absurd, if considered in relation to the wants of a population of 43,000. But this miserable contribution of 42l. could only be obtained by the taxation of the immediate lessor in Fintown, and the funds for supplying it must he afforded by his large expenditure of capital upon his estate.
In the union of Donegal, containing 41,371 inhabitants, and valued at 31,637l., I believe that there are but three electoral divisions which are capable of sustaining a rate in aid, these being the property of the Earl of Arran, Mr. Hamilton, and a young and gallant officer, a kinsman of my own (Mr. Leslie). The more prosperous condition of these three districts is attributable solely to the large expenditure made by the proprietors in their improvement. In consequence of such expenditure I am informed that the estate of Mr. Leslie is at the present moment comparatively relieved from distress, consequently there is but little pauperism, and the rates are light. But let the 10 per cent rate in aid be imposed upon Mr. Leslie's estate, and it becomes at once burdened to the same extent with the neighbouring pauperised districts. Thus he would have re-imposed upon his property by Act of Parliament those heavy rates which he has endeavoured to escape from by great labour and a generous expenditure. Nor would this have the effect of providing adequately for the pauperised districts. The rate in aid would, therefore, be at once an absurdity and an injustice. A similar instance will be found in the union of Gal-way. The population of that union amounts to 88,973, the valuation to 100,777l., audit consists of twelve electoral divisions. Of these twelve districts that of Galway alone, which is valued at 44,812l. is capable of paying a union rate of 10 per cent; this rate would produce 4,480l., and no more. But the 88,000 inhabitants of Galway union required, in addition to the rate collected during the last year, an expenditure of no less than 23,993l. It is obvious that the rate in aid of 4,400l., however ruinous to the electoral division, would be wholly inadequate to the wants of the Galway union.
A farther, and a still more conclusive, objection applies to the Bill. The rate in aid is to be exacted, not when the maximum rate of 5s. shall have been collected, 306 but when so much has been levied within that amount as in the judgment of the Poor Law Commissioners shall appear to be sufficient. It is therefore a mere delusion to hold out the maximum rate payable in neighbouring districts as a protection against the imposition of a rate in aid, when the whole depends upon the discretion of the Poor Law Commissioners. The Bill places the property of one man at the discretion of another, that other being a nominee of the Crown, to an extent never before attempted in any civilised country.
On those two grounds, therefore, in a future stage of the Bill, I shall confidently ask the House to omit those two clauses altogether. The maximum rate is a delusion and an absurdity, and the rate in aid an injustice to which I feel assured your Lordships cannot on reflection agree. No such principle has ever, to my knowledge, been previously affirmed. If the House should refuse to negative these clauses, I shall then propose that the duration of the rate in aid should be limited to two years. My noble Friend has said, and has said most truly, that these are the two great principles of the Bill. I admit that they are so. But, if my reasoning has made an impression upon your Lordships' minds—if I have shown that there exists no authority, analogy, or common sense to recommend either the maximum or the rate in aid—I feel assured that these clauses must be rejected. There never was exhibited so large a sacrifice of principle, such an abandonment of all fairness and justice, such a disregard for the equitable rights of property, as are manifested in this part of the Bill."
To proceed farther. It is clear from the evidence that without a reduction in the size of unions, and without the erection of additional workhouses, the poor-law cannot he carried into effect consistently with humanity, with discrimination, or with economy:—From the extreme point of Binghams Town to Ballina is more than 42 English miles. If a pauper has to go twice and return, he has 160 miles to travel," (Bourke.)Such instances operate as a bar to the relief the Act contemplated." (Gulson, 858.)When we found unions so large that a pauper might be required to travel thirty miles to a work house, there could be no hesitation in reducing a distance so prohibitory. In one case it has been stated that a man walked 150 miles before he was ultimately admitted into the house." (Boundary Report, p. 8.)Parties have, on transmission from such distances, sunk under the fatigue and died on the roadside." (Martin, 2,549.)307 On this and much additional evidence to the same effect, the Boundary Commissioners and your Lordships' Committee have united in recommending reduced unions and an increased number of workhouses. Yet the Bill is silent on this subject. The Government is surely bound, in common justice to the country, as the responsible advisers of the Crown, and as the authors of the present Bill, to give effect to this recommendation. It cannot be operative unless the new workhouses are assisted, as the original workhouses were. What had Parliament done when the first poor-law passed in 1838? Parliament had felt it indispensable to give public assistance for this purpose. On what principle could that assistance be now refused? Is Ireland less distressed now than in 1838? Those noble Lords who attended the Select Committee are well aware that there is no exaggeration in the striking statements of Count Strzelecki. He observed—I have had occasion to visit civilised communities under most latitudes and longitudes, including the aboriginal races in North and South America, the South Sea Islands, New Zealand, and Australia; and I have not found anywhere else men subject to misery of such an aggravated character as are the Irish peasantry of the western unions." (8,561.)He compares it to the state of Tuscany in the time of famine, described by Sismondi. If that be so, is it possible that the Government can be contented with a barren enactment, recommending new workhouses, without providing facilities for their creation? If the Government are sincere in their recommendations, they should furnish the means for carrying out the principle practically. If they do not, let me entreat them, at least, to expunge that clause from the Bill, which, without increasing the means of relief, will perplex all poor-law administration, and will set one board of guardians at variance with another, by attempting to render a single workhouse available for two distinct unions. Without a provision for distinct workhouse accommodation, the Bill will be utterly impracticable.
The noble Marquess has touched but slightly upon the 18th Clause of the Bill for the recovery of rates. He did indeed vouchsafe to say, in passing, that there was some novelty in it. I shall endeavour to explain what that novelty is, and to point out its injustice and its danger. When the Poor Law of 1838 was intro- 308 duced, two modes were provided for the recovery of rates. The one, a summons before the petty sessions, and a warrant of distress; the other, a proceeding by civil bill before the assistant barrister. From, the decree of the assistant barrister an appeal lay to the judge of assize, in order to avoid any local bias, and to obtain a higher legal authority. In 1842, my noble Friend (the Earl of St. Germans) introduced an Act for amending the Poor Law. This Bill was in several respects necessary. Under its provisions the owners of all tenements valued at less than 4l. were exempted from rating, and such rates were, for the first time, laid upon the landlord, or immediate lessor. These tenements were more than 500,000 in number, and they included more than half the ratepayers in Ireland. For the recovery of these rates, in addition to the remedies by distress, and by civil bill, a third mode of proceeding was introduced, and guardians were authorised to institute suits and actions in the superior courts in Dublin. This might be necessary where the landlords resided out of the jurisdiction of the local courts. But nothing more was contemplated than to obtain, through the superior courts, the same remedy which under ordinary circumstances the civil-bill decree or the justice's warrant would have afforded. This additional remedy could not, however, be resorted to by any board of guardians without the express sanction of the Poor Law Commissioners, and it was expressly limited to the cases of the 4l. tenement, where the landlord was made previously responsible. It never entered into the mind of my noble Friend, in proposing the Bill, nor, as I believe, into the mind of any one who supported it, that by thus giving a jurisdiction to the superior courts. Parliament was doing more than giving to those superior courts, within their enlarged jurisdiction, the same power which had previously been exercised by the local tribunals. It was not till within the present year, and, I believe, within a very few months, that a most important change has been effected in the law, not made by any distinct or avowed enactment, but as an unexpected incident traceable to a clause passed with another intent. It was discovered that a judgment obtained for poor's rate, in consequence of a suit in the superior courts, became a lien upon the real estate of the defendant. This principle is unknown in the law of England. I should have felt warranted in asking a 309 repeal of this enactment, involving such an unexpected and important consequence; if defensible at all, it ought to have been the result of distinct legislation, adopted after free discussion. The present Bill, so far from remedying this evil and injustice, carries it infinitely farther. Perhaps English gentlemen might be apt to say, although their lands are subject to no such charge, that it is right to make Irish freehold estates subject to be sold for poor's rates; but will such English gentlemen defend the principle that our estates are to be made liable to judgments and sale, not for our own debt, but for the debt of another, and that other very possibly a fraudulent tenant, who, after withholding all payment of rent, absconding from the land, and carrying off all his stock and other effects, leaves the estate subject to an arrear of rate which may be recovered, under this Bill, by a judgment against the landlord, and a sale of his estate. This result is distinctly contained in the enactments now under consideration. The Select Committee of your Lordships' House, of which five Cabinet Ministers were Members recommended that the powers of proceeding in the superior courts should be withdrawn; that rates should be in future recovered at petty sessions, by warrant, or before the assistant barrister by decree, subject to appeal, as I have already explained. The Bill is thus in direct opposition to the report of the Committee. By the Bill, at an expense of 5s., and with scarcely any notice, a decree being obtained in the local court, it may be registered in the superior courts in Dublin; that registration gives to the decree the force of a judgment; and thus no individual is safe from having his landed property subjected to such judgments, not only for his own debt, but also for the debt of a fraudulent and runaway tenant. To complete the injustice, the Bill also proposes to give such judgment priority over any charge or incumbrance, except, indeed, claims duo to the Crown. Is this just or reasonable? The landlord is subjected, the moment such judgment is obtained, to an application for a receiver, or for a sale of his estates. He is also subjected to all the expense of such a proceeding. For the correction of the existing evil, and to prevent its going farther, I shall propose to your Lordships to follow the recommendation of your own Committee, and to allow of no proceedings in the superior courts for the recovery of rates—amending the 310 existing law, however, so as to preclude any fraudulent evasion of rates.
I now proceed to state another objection to this Bill. I strongly object to that clause which, for the first time, subjects jointures and other annuities charged on land to the payment of poor's rates. Why are the owners of this particular description of property to be subjected to this assessment? They are selected because it is known that they are defenceless. The landlord and occupier have more or less of power to control the imposition and the expenditure of rates, but the widow and the annuitant are neither elected guardians, nor are they qualified to serve as such, yet for rates imposed by others they are now made responsible. The clause is indefensible upon another principle. An annuity is frequently granted as the consideration for money lent. Now, let me suppose the case of 10,000l. lent by Mr. Gurney, and secured by an annuity, and 10,000l. lent by Baron Rothschild, and secured by a mortgage; both sums being lent to the same person, and secured on the same estate. On what principle of justice can you defend the imposition of a poor's-rate on Mr. Gurney, when you allow Baron Rothschild to go free? The injustice and the want of generosity are alike manifest. You dare not tax the mortgagee, because he is at liberty to foreclose, or to raise the rate of interest. You do tax the annuitant, because he is in your power, and cannot resist your injustice.
I feel some surprise at the mode in which the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) has disposed of the Emigration Clauses. He has told us that they were introduced by a very respectable Member of Parliament, and formed no part of the Government Bill; they are treated as matters of comparative indifference. Are Her Majesty's Ministers prepared individually, as well as collectively, to justify such an opinion? Can they, with the evidence before them, either state that emigration is unnecessary, or that it is now going on so extensively, so rapidly, and so satisfactorily, that it neither requires aid or guidance? But is this consistent with their own acts? The First Lord of the Treasury had himself proposed, in the Select Committee, that power should be given to impose rates of 2s. 6d. in the pound, or one-eighth of the whole rental of Ireland, for the purposes of emigration. I therefore have at least Lord John Russell's authority for my assertion, that it is neces- 311 sary and expedient to assist emigration from Ireland. Unless, therefore, you undervalue that noble Lord's authority, it is an invention and a calumny on the part of those who describe emigration as a selfish device of the landlord to get rid of a burdensome population. Lord J. Russell would not have appropriated 1,600,000l for a purpose so indefensible. It is true there is a large emigration now in progress;—that emigration will and must increase; but of what elements is it composed? It is the emigration of the most active and industrious classes; it is the emigration of the small capitalists; of those whom you grieve to lose, and whom you would readily make large sacrifices to retain.
Captain Farren says—Those who are principally going are the holders of land." (6,338.) "Those who have means are leaving the country, and therefore the country, to a certain extent, will lose." (6,340.)Colonel Clarke observes—You take away the best qualities of the population." (7,796.) "The best prop of every country is the middle class, who are now quitting Ireland; it is only upon that class that you can depend for the stability of the country; and I look upon every individual taking himself away, and possessing capital and intelligence, as a positive loss; and that in a double degree, because he leaves behind him those who are a dead weight upon the land.Mr. Senior is equally explicit. He observes—Under the existing system of emigration, left to natural causes, precisely the people go whom you would wish to keep, and precisely the people stay whom you wish to go." (1,845.) "Facts have come to my knowledge proving that very large sums of money are taken away by emigrants to the United States. Those that go are generally, in the first place, the most energetic and best part of our population; and, secondly, they are persons whose departure diminishes the remaining capital." (1,854.)Colonel Knox Gore expresses the same opinions:—The emigrants are persons who have capital; they are a loss in both ways; they created capital by their labour, and had sufficient capital remaining to keep them afloat; they had a good deal of means—200l., 100l. 70l.," &c. (2,132.) "The class going are of a better class than the small farmers; they are holders of fifty acres and upwards." (Kincaid, 3,128.) "There will be a large emigration of farmers from Gonnaught this year." (Bourke, 3,194.)Mr. Brett observes, in relation to the county of Mayo—All the industrious classes who have the means of going at all are going; farmers and tradespeople seeing no likelihood of realising a support for themselves and families; they see nothing but ruin and misery around them, and the certainty of spend- 312 ing their capital by remaining idle at home." (4,995.)Such is the emigration for which my noble Friend the Postmaster General took credit some short time since, and which he seemed fearful to discourage. The emigration of such industrious small capitalists who, when they found they could not profitably cultivate land in Ireland, quitted the country, has led to the abandonment of farms, and has produced the existing waste and desolation. To rely upon such emigration is as great an error as it would be, in a case of disease, to rely upon the fatal bleeding of an artery in place of the opening of a vein. It is arterial blood which is now flowing in Ireland. I have ever contended that the emigration which is most required from Ireland is that which would likewise be most beneficial to our colonies. Let that emigration be but assisted, and we shall check an emigration which is morally, socially, and economically injurious. It is an error to suppose that the emigration of capitalists is that which will be most useful in the colonies. I can refer to cases in which it would be as mischievous to the colonies to add to capital without accompanying that capital by labour, as it would be to Ireland to retain its labour, and to lose capital. It is not capital so much as labour which is required in New South Wales; it is rather labour to make colonial capital productive; in the Australian colonies its sheep are slaughtered and boiled down for tallow, for want of hands to shear them. The universal complaint from those colonies is, the insufficiency and high price of labour. If we encourage the emigration of capitalists, we raise the the price of labour, and thus inflict an evil upon the colony which receives the capital, and on Ireland whence the capital is withdrawn. If these observations be true—and they rest upon undeniable evidence—how is it possible to treat this great question lightly? The clauses of the Bill respecting emigration are important as affirming the principle; but they must be strengthened and rendered practical if the Legislature seeks to perform its duties towards Ireland. I shall propose Amendments for that purpose.
In the third report of the Committee on the Poor Laws, which I had the honour of preparing, and which was agreed to by a majority of twelve independent Members of all parties, English as well as Irish, voting against five Cabinet Ministers and the Master of the Buckhounds, there were 313 contained recommendations wholly opposed to the principles of the present Bill. In that report the principle of the rate in aid was unequivocally, and, as it appears to me, incontestably disproved. But, even in the last report of that Committee, a report presented by the Lord Steward, there were many recommendations which I am entitled to call upon the Government to realise. In that report it was stated, as the unanimous opinion of the Committee, that no permanent system for the relief of the poor can he safely and beneficially carried out in Ireland, unless by a recurrence to the principles of the original Poor Law Act of 1838, excluding the present system of outdoor relief. This was practically the principle of the English Poor Law Amendment Act, as originally framed. Such avowedly was the principle of the Irish Bill introduced by the Government of Lord Melbourne. Without a recurrence to that principle, experience had now demonstrated that there was no chance of carrying on the poor-law with any effect in Ireland. Not only was that principle laid down in the last report, to which five Members of the Cabinet agreed, but it was also asserted in the most bold and uncompromising manner by an eminent Statesman in the other House of Parliament—I allude to Sir Robert Peel. He had the manliness and courage to assort that there was neither safety for property, nor for administration of the poor-law, until the necessity for excluding outdoor relief was acknowledged. I seek in vain in the present Bill for any enactment which asserts this great truth. It is excluded from the Government measure. In thus proposing to reform the poor-law, they are trying to perform Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted. From this great error they have been driven to the expedient of proposing to confiscate the property of one district in Ireland, in the vain hope of relieving the pauperism of another. The Bill before us at once deprives industry of its just reward, and Ireland of its only hope.
I shall now allude to the question of the division of unions and of electoral divisions. At an early period of the Session, the President of the Council stated, that although the new boundaries might be carried into effect without the special sanction of Parliament, he yet thought that it was right to obtain a legislative authority for what was proposed. This engagement has not been performed in the Bill under consideration. It is not recognised. It is 314 not even alluded to. Neither is any provision made for the erection of new workhouses, although it is evident that without such arrangements it is impossible to revert to the principles of the first poor-law, or even to administer that law as it exists. An attempt to appropriate one workhouse to two unions is worse than useless. It is mischievous and dangerous. Without new workhouses a limitation of the area of taxation is useless. I know there are many who attach what appears to me an undue importance to this latter measure. They consider it not only as needful, but as the one thing or the only thing needful. In my judgment, however desirable, and even essential, it may be, it cannot be considered, like the talismanic words of open sesame, the means of removing all obstructions. But the advocates of a reduced area of taxation must indeed be easily contented if they are satisfied with the provisions of the present Bill. Even supposing that their just expectations were fulfilled by the Government, must they not perceive that those expectations are counteracted by the proposed rate in aid? We first hope to individualise responsibility, as it is called, and then by the rate in aid we destroy the responsibility of individuals. We thus blow hot and cold, and make our legislation a mockery and a delusion.
In the existing law there are enactments with respect to the duties and to the salaries of auditors. The receipt of the salaries has, I doubt not, been punctually attended to; but the duties appear to have been wholly neglected. Mr. Twisleton admits that a gross misapplication of the public money, and that to a very great extent, took place in November, 1847, in the union of Newcastle; and yet in April, 1849, no remedy had been obtained for the ratepayers (7,110). The reason which he assigns for this is somewhat singular, He says—It was a very heavy case: the amount illegally given was very considerable.In other words, because the injustice was great and undeniable, no relief had been obtained, and no punishment enforced. But he goes farther. He was asked—Within your knowledge have monies of that description ever been refunded?His reply is conclusive—I do not remember a case." (7,120.)I propose a remedy for this unexampled maladministration; and, if your Lordships support me, I shall render the law more strict, and the responsibility of the poor-law inspectors more effective.
315 There are other amendments of detail in which I cannot but anticipate an agreement on all sides. I shall propose clauses to enable the guardians to acquire sites for workhouses upon more equitable terms. I shall also submit to your Lordships the necessity of combining with the ordinary guardians an assistant paid and resident guardian, who shall direct the management of the workhouse, the financial affairs of the union, and the accounts which are in their nature most intricate. I shall propose that where a tenant sublets or subdivides his farm, contrary to covenant, he shall lose his power of deducting from the landlord any portion of the rate. It cannot be held unjust that, if the tenant produces pauperism by his own act, and does so in violation of his engagement, he shall be compelled to pay for the maintenance of that pauperism which he has created. I shall propose clauses, likewise, removing the technical difficulties which impede the trial of poor-law cases, both in proceedings for the recovery of rates and in appeals. I shall propose, likewise, the entire abandonment of legal proceedings in the superior courts. I shall introduce a clause to facilitate emigration. But these are all questions which will be best discussed in Committee. They are all founded on the recommendation contained in the last report from your Select Committee, and were adopted unanimously.
There is one subject more to which I must take leave to call your most serious attention. I challenge this Bill, even combining it with all other Irish measures passed in the Session, as being utterly inadequate to meet the exigencies of Ireland. It makes no attempt to remove any one of the causes of pauperism, and it is insufficient to cope with our present misery. If I had not the evidence of this Session before me, I could not have conceived it possible that a Bill like the present could have been proposed by any Government. I could not have believed that it could have been framed by men bound to have read the papers laid on your table, and the evidence taken before the Committee. On the contrary, it appears to me the work of men utterly ignorant of the extent and the intensity of our suffering. The attempt to hew down rocks with a razor would be as reasonable as an attempt to remove Irish distress with so miserable and feeble an implement as that provided by the present Bill. The people of Ireland have been taught by their real friends to 316 look to the Legislature and to this country for guidance and for justice. But the Bill before us is no less opposed to justice than to common sense. I wish I was enabled to refer to the report of the Poor Law Commissioners for the present year; but that report has been mysteriously delayed. The Commissioners by law were bound to have presented it long since: they have not done so. The last reports from the distressed districts have also been delayed. These Irish returns, like Irish remedial measures, are generally delayed to the period when they become valueless. I am, therefore, driven to reason from the antecedent returns; but as it is notorious that the country has not improved, but the reverse, the inference to which I shall lead your Lordships must be considerably within the mark. I shall refer to the papers for the month of May. The estimate formed by the Poor Law Commissioners for that month, for twenty unions only, amounted to 64,215l The estimated collection of rates in those unions was but 9,090l., showing a deficiency of above 50,000l The vice-guardians from Ennistimon stated, on the 1st of May, that they had only a supply for three days' consumption, and this furnished on their own personal responsibility. On the 7th of May, the same vice-guardians stated, further, that they had not one shilling at their command, and were, therefore, driven to solicit an immediate grant by return of post, to avoid the most fearful consequences. The answer of the Commissioners was simply that they had no funds at their command. The accumulation of debt, and the consequent legal proceedings against the unions, are reported. Executions are at the present moment in the workhouses of Gort, Castlebar, and Tuam.
On the 28th of April, 46,568l is reported as due to the single commercial house of Russell and Co., of Limerick. The consequence of this accumulation of debt is shown to be an increase in the price of all articles supplied. In the union of Newcastle, 1l. 15s. per ton is charged beyond the market price of 8l. 8s., being an excess of 30 per cent above the market price for ready money. The Home Office, on the 10th of May, decide in the teeth of these facts, that the object of the Government advances would be defeated if the debts to the contractors were paid. From Ennis, on the 18th of April, it is reported that the stewards and other union officers are placed on the relief lists from 317 want of funds to pay them their wages, and that contractors make the same demand. The vice-guardians of the Scarriff union apply for assistance, stating that they "had no credit left except for good intentions." Now this appears to me an equally just description of the condition of Her Majesty's Government. "Credit for good intentions" they may be entitled to claim, but it is the only credit which will he given them in Ireland. Credit they cannot claim for their mode of extinguishing the overwhelming distress and consuming poverty of Ireland. On the 11th of May the vice-guardians of Scarriff again report, with some epigrammatic bitterness, that—"everything was satisfactory with them except their bankruptcy, having neither credit nor funds.On the 14th of May it is stated—That the small occupiers of Glenties who are in arrear have nothing whatever, and that many ratepayers are infinitely greater objects of charity than the paupers in the workhouse.On the 26th of May the Poor Law Commissioners admit—That a great mortality has, without doubt, taken place recently in some of the unions.The report of Mr. Achmutie contains some striking evidence of the intensity of the pressure. The sale of the last effects of the very poorest classes appears to have taken place.A donkey sold by distress for 2s.: 200 goats, the last possession of the very poor, were sold at one time. At Swineford (May the 19th) it appears that a widow lady who had been worth 400l. a year had applied for relief—150l. of rates was due from her. In Galway 9,629l. was due in May, a very small portion of which could be collected before harvest; even then, so great was the poverty of the union, independently of the vast tracts of unoccupied grounds, that the collection was expected to fall far short of expectation." "In Gort 3,300l. out of 3,370l. due, is stated to be uncollectable till harvest. The solvent ratepayers are a miserably small minority; numerous occupiers are reduced to a state bordering on pauperism, and much land is lying waste. At Ballina scarce any of the last harvest remains; the whole stock and farm property of nearly all the agricultural ratepayers would not amount to a moderate rate, and unless the position of property changes, so that employment be provided and land brought into cultivation, the prospect of collecting rates will be hopeless.Of 7,694l. due in Castlebar, 5,000l. is un collectable. In many cases the lands of occupiers are waste. In some cases the property seized does not realise the rate. In numerous other cases no property whatever exists to meet the rate. In Ennis a 318 deficiency of 24,800l. will remain after the collection of the rate. Such is the present state of some of the distressed unions. Such had been the operation of the system upon which Government and the Legislature relied. To Your Lordships generally some of the facts I have stated may not, perhaps, appear to have any great force; but to such as are personally acquainted with Ireland, the sale of the donkey of the peasant, or of the goat whose milk supports his children, afford the most conclusive evidence of the suffering and ruin of the entire community, and cannot fail to convey the most emphatic expression of our present distress. With this is concurrent the absolute insolvency of many of the gentry and proprietors on whom you propose to cast new burdens. So miserable being the condition of the tenantry, and such being the working of the poor-law, lands lying waste, production rendered impossible, the collection of rents necessarily ceases. Superadded to this loss of rent, the landowner is subjected to the rates duo primarily from his tenants. He is called upon to make good the deficiencies of a fund to which he had already paid his contribution. He is called upon to meet the destitution arising from causes over which he had no control.
I must refrain at this hour of the evening, and in the present state of the House, to go more at length into the evidence, but there is one farther document to which it is absolutely necessary to refer. We are not left wholly to calculate from the past the future wants of these unfortunate districts. A return has been laid before the Commissioners at its latest sitting, on which Mr. Twisleton founds his calculation for the future. In thirty-two unions, he states the amount of debt, on the 25th of March, to have been 231,000l. The estimated expenses for the current six months, 464,00l making a total of debts and expenses of 695,000l. Mr. Twisleton calculates, more sanguinely than the facts warrant, that 193,000l. will be collected during the half year; but even if this expectation were realised, there would remain a deficiency of more than 500,000l. during the six months. There is no more chance of meeting such deficiency by rates, than there would be of catching white bait by spreading a net over the floor of your Lordships' House. But I have said that Mr. Twisleton was over sanguine. His estimate of six months' collection, in some of the distressed unions, is as follows;— 319
My reply to these calculations is simply that they are impossible. To meet this distress Parliament has liberally voted one grant of 50,000l, and a loan of 110,000l. has also been advanced on the security of the rate in aid. If your Lordships consider that the provision so made is adequate, you blind yourselves to the magnitude of the peril, whilst you apply a magnifying glass to the remedies which the Legislature has provided. My Lords, I lament the course of legislation in which you are involved. I lament the sacrifice of Irish interests, both as respecting the proprietors of land and the poor, which you are making. I fear it must be traced to a want of sufficient information respecting the country whose interests are committed to your charge. I would deprecate the inferences to which it may lead. I lament the realisation of those predictions which were made at the time of the Union by one of the greatest of your statesmen. Lot me remind you of the words of the late Lord Grey, spoken on the 21st of April, 1800. That eminent man observed—
Ballinrobe £5,200 Ballina 6,579 Castlebar 5,000 Castlerea 8,000 Ennistimon 10,000 Kenmare 4,000 Kilrush 8,000 Roscommon 12,000 Athlone 11,600 Ennis 13,000 Cashel 20,000I am far from supposing that British Members will wantonly abuse their powers; but the prosperity of a nation should not be loft at the discretion of any man or any set of men, however just or generous they may be; and it is impossible for Ireland to enjoy that security which her constitution at this time affords her if she is united to England in the manner proposed.I cannot but fear that your measures since 1846 but too strongly prove that Lord Grey was right.
I cannot but fear that agents and public officers, acting under the authority of the Imperial Parliament, show themselves but too apt to deal with the rights of Irish property in a more reckless spirit, and under a less immediate sense of responsibility, than if it were English. I would, however, bid them and their superiors beware lest they suffer themselves to be betrayed into a disregard of that equal protection which they are bound to extend impartially on both sides of the Channel. The present Bill, and the attempt to enact this indefensible rate in aid under the ex- 320 isting circumstances of Ireland, exhibits, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that very recklessness and injustice which had been foretold, and so emphatically denounced, by the late Earl Grey.
Do not, my Lords, think that you can rid yourselves of the present pressure of duty by merely going into Committee on this Bill. Do not fancy that you have provided immediate remedies, or future precautions, against the dangers which surround us. You may, perhaps, conceive that, as the harvest is near at hand, and as there is a general expectation that it may prove productive, the abundance which you anticipate will be a remedy for the unhappy inflictions under which Ireland labours. Do you imagine that a restored productiveness of the potato will render the condition of Ireland either safe or satisfactory? But have you any right to reckon upon that renewed productiveness? I warn you against any such confidence. Nor do my apprehensions rest upon slight authority. I may be allowed to mention the name of one individual who has communicated with me upon this subject—a gentleman well known to many of your Lordships—Mr. Vandeleur Stewart, on whose powers of observation every reliance may be placed. That gentleman has informed me that he has already detected evidence of the progress of disease among the crops in his neighbourhood. If that be so, and if the disease should extend, from what sources are the people of Ireland to expect relief? But, supposing that Mr. Stewart is fortunately in error, is the House to rely upon the potato, combined with such miserable attempts at makeshift legislation as those adopted in the present and in previous Sessions? What is the present condition of Ireland? I appeal to evidence—and to evidence superior to any which has yet been brought before your Select Committees. What is the statement made by your own admirable Lord Lieutenant, in that memorable letter to the Lord Mayor of London, in which be comes forward to give his approval and sanction to that great scheme which had been shadowed forth in the House of Commons by another eminent Statesman, to whom Lord Clarendon, though differing on other questions of policy, has practically paid a willing and generous tribute. In that letter the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland thus expresses himself:—The whole social system of Ireland has been based upon the potato; and the failure of that 321 root has consequently entailed universal distress. Hence so many landed proprietors are now unable to keep down the interest of their mortgages. Tenants can no longer pay their rents, and the peasants, for want of employment, are driven upon the rates, of which the collection becomes daily more difficult. Such a state of things contains within itself no germ of amelioration; it cannot even remain stationary. It must go on from bad to worse, for the means of improvement are altogether wanting, and the national resources are gradually wasting; and even if the potato were to revive—and to that all classes are now clinging with desperate hope—it would only bring back the evils under which the country has been so long labouring.Such is the description of Ireland, given by one of the most accomplished and practical statesmen who, in either part of the empire, has ornamented public life. A statesman who has effected a miracle in Ireland by uniting all parties in one opinion—a statesman who has acquired the confidence, and, I might add, the affections of all classes of the community—a statesman whose only wrong might be said to his having indefinitely postponed the settlement of an important question which, one day or another, must be considered by Parliament—namely, the abolition of the office of Lord Lieutenant. This Lord Clarendon has done by the admirable manner in which he has fulfilled his official duties. We prize the office for his sake. I pray your Lordships to respect his authority, even if you are determined to reject all other.
It has been said that the Government is afraid of England on Irish questions. If so, it is a mistaken timidity. If the Government was felt to be wise, the generosity of England would be unfailing. But, even if this were not the case, a supposition which I only name to reject it, we might appeal to the selfish interests of England. There can he no safety for this country whilst there exist 8,000,000 of starving people on the other side of the Channel, situated within four hours' sail from your shores. In the words of the Quakers' final report—The paupers are merely kept alive in crowded workhouses, or in alarming numbers by outdoor relief—their physical strength weakened—their mental capacity lowered—their moral character degraded. Hopeless themselves, they offer no hope to their country, except in the prospect—abhorrent to human nature and Christian feelings—extinction by death. Many families are now suffering extreme distress, who, three years since, enjoyed the comforts and refinements of life, and administered to the necessities of those around them. Thus we have seen the flood of pauperism widening more and more, engulphing one class after another, rising higher and higher on society, 322 till it threatens to swallow up within its vortex all ranks and all classes.In language equally alarming the excellent Count Strzelecki speaks:—Far from the calamity of Ireland being an ordinary case, it is an extraordinary one—unparalleled, exceptional; it is not a case within the power of local proprietors to cope with. Parliament and the public, in 1840 and 1847, showed that the calamity is an imperial one. The distress of 1848 and 1849, is the consequence of the melancholy events of 1847. As such it ought to be dealt with by Parliament and the public; otherwise the evils will accumulate and become in inveterate sore, and a disgrace to a civilised country. Any measure of immediate relief, which does not include measures for a radical cure, will only postpone the solution of the question, aggravating the evil.Mr. Otway draws a conclusion from these facts as true as it is alaruming. He observes—The united kingdom will not be safe in such;l state; with-such a sore no community can be safe.I also entreat your Lordships to consider well the opinions which have been expressed in another House by that eminent man who was at the head of the last Government. He gave utterance in the House of Commons to words which conveyed hope and consolation to Ireland, as they indicated no narrow or isolated measures, no limited or uncertain relief for one particular type of Irish distress, but contemplated a wise and comprehensive remedy, striking at the root of her afflictions.
These are my witnesses—these are my authorities; from them you will obtain no support for your delusive maximum, or for your oppressive rate in aid. Again, let me entreat you to consider well the collateral evils which Irish misery must inflict upon English property. Let noble Lords read and weigh well the letters of Mr. Rushton to the Home Secretary on the effect produced by the immigration of Irish paupers into Liverpool—396,231—landed at that port in the course of a single year, 116,000 of these are stated to have been paupers, half naked and starving, landed during the winter. The cost of relief necessary to prevent thousands perishing in the streets—the cost also of the pestilence which follows in the train of famine the consequences upon the health and character of the laburing classes of England—the increase of crime—are all dwelt upon by Mr. Rusbton. These unfortunate outcasts understand well the principles of your law, Mr. Rushton continues— 323Few become claimants for parochial relief; for in that case they soon discover that they might be at once sent back to Ireland. They take refuge in the very gaols, and in many cases desire to go to prison. Where this is not the case, the beat down wages by the low rate at which they offer to work.This wretched system must extend still farther. Whilst I am confident that I can appeal to the generosity of England to compel Parliament to adopt sounder and wiser legislation, I can appeal as confidently to your self-interest. I tell the manufacturers that they are losing their nearest market, by the wretchedness of 8,000,000 who might be profitable customers.
I tell the consumers in this country that they are losing their surest and most independent supply of food. All share in this general calamity.
When I consider how few Members have condescended to attend on the second reading of this important Bill, I am bound to justify my present intrusion upon your Lordships' time and attention.
My justification for having detained your Lordships so long is a conviction, that upon the present question depends the very salvation of Ireland—not merely in relation to the cultivation of its broad lands—not merely with regard to the interests of the proprietors—not merely in relation to its economical condition, but in relation to what is superior to all—the moral state of the people. Had there been even fewer of your Lordships present—had I been compelled to stand alone on the present occasion, on this latter ground alone I should still have felt it my duty to express my sentiments as I have done. As the present is the last, so I consider it the very worst, of the series of measures proposed for the adoption of the Legislature.
I now give notice, that in Committee I shall move the omission of the clauses establishing a maximum and a rate in aid, and also the clauses authorising proceedings in the superior courts of law. I shall likewise suggest clauses to encourage emigration, to secure a due audit of accounts, to check subletting, and to provide for the appointment of an assistant resident guardian.
§ On Question, resolved in the Affirmative.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.
§ House adjourned to Monday next.