HL Deb 05 March 1849 vol 103 cc163-5

The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE moved the Second Reading of the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill.


said, he did not mean to oppose the Bill. He feared the necessity was so great that it was impossible they could do otherwise than accede to it. Indeed, he feared it was too late to resist the grant, because the money was actually in the course of being paid away in relief—dum loquimur fagerit. At the same time, he must suggest to his noble Friends in the Government that it was grievous to have these applications made to Parliament for grants of money from time to time, the Irish living, as it were, from hand to mouth, to provide for what he feared was a permanent evil. The present grant was at once too little and too much—too little to do any permanent good, and too much to avoid the infringement of a great principle. There was one thing to which he would fain call their Lordships' consideration, and that was, to think how I they could most avoid accustoming the Irish—or rather, he feared he should now say, how they should most avoid continuing to accustom them—to look for a remedy of this sort at all, in which they were accumstomed to rely upon such loans as these—more or less scanty, more or less precarious—in which they were accustomed to rely upon any one supply for their hard I necessities, other than the natural and wholesome and legitimate supply which their own exertions, through their own industry, ought to furnish, and alone ought to furnish. They might rely upon it that country was in a false position—that people was in an unhappy state—that national polity was in a most diseased condition—in which reliance was systematically placed for any other supplies of the peoples wants than the exercise of the people's industry. It had, unhappily, become the case—he did not mean to blame the Government—he did not mean to blame even the system—he did not impute it to the conduct of the landowners—he did not impute it to the conduct of the peasantry—God forbid that he should impute it to the national character, for which he had the greatest affection and respect: but it had happened from one thing or another—be it from the system—he it from a long abuse of the powers of the law—he it from the tardy rendering of justice by an equality of rights—be it from the conduct of the landowners—be it from the ignorance or the indolence of the peasantry—be it from the system of middlemen—one thing or another had produced that unhappy state of things in the sister kingdom, that they were, less than any other people we know, in the habit of relying upon their own exertions, and, more possessed of the kindred habit which naturally arose in the absence of the other, of looking elsewhere than to their own exertions for a supply of food. How this was to be remedied—whether by carefully adopted improvements in the polity of the country, by giving every facility to labour, by removing all impediments to the traffic in land—at the same time by giving as little encouragement as possible, or rather by giving as little additional stimulus as possible, to that diseased craving for the possession of pieces and patches of land—for he looked upon that as the curse of Ireland, and he knew it was not confined to Ireland, for he was acquainted with a part of the Continent where there was the same inordinate desire for specks of land, which was ruining agriculture, and which would ruin the people too, if they increased in anything like the rapid progress they did in Ireland—whichever of these might be the true remedy, or whether all of them combined, he would not now discuss; but he thought every effort should be made to withdraw them from a desire for the possession of these specks of land; for while that was in the minds of the people, they knew, by sad experience, that one of the results would be a low estimate of competence. Now, the higher the idea the people had of what constituted a competence, the happier that people would be—the more comfortable they would be—the more industrious they would be—and the more productive in the fruits of industry they would be. But if men were to indulge in the feeling that they could keep soul and body together by boiling a few roots, and sprinkling a little salt over them, what they would come to would be this: in the first place, they would live miserably; in the second place, they would live indolently, for they would labour no more than what served to cultivate those roots; in the third place, their numbers would increase, not according to the resources of the country, but according to other rules, to which he would not advert there; and, lastly, they would live in a diseased as well as a degraded state, as long as they had that low estimate of competence in their minds. How these alterations were to be made, though the subject had occupied his mind for long years, he would not then discuss; but be could not avoid expressing his hope that this would be the last application of the sort made to Parliament, and that before a second application became necessary, other and better sources of supply might be pointed out.

After a few words of explanation from the Marquess of LANSDOWNE and the Earl of WICKLOW,

Bill read 2a.

House adjourned till To-morrow.