THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
asked Her Majesty's Government, If they will state the number of baronies that have applied for permission to hold extraordinary presentment sessions up to, or as near as possible to, the present date? The noble Earl said, he should not trouble their Lordships with any lengthened remarks on the subject of his Question, as the matter had lately been considered in that House, and the Government had taken measures for the relief of the distressed districts in Ireland. Those measures had given great satisfaction; and, indeed, there was only one particular question upon which any doubt had been expressed by any Member of their Lordships' House. He thought, however, if the information for which he asked their Lordships were supplied, they would be in a better position to deal with the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill when it came before them.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
wished to make a few remarks before the Question was answered. It was, no doubt, very difficult to devise measures for proper relief, especially in such times as these of great distress and of great disturbance, and the plan of extraordinary presentment sessions was one which threw great responsibilities on the cesspayers. At the Westport sessions the other day a number of resolutions were discussed and adjourned; but one great resolution was forced on the cesspayers—namely, that they should fix the rate for wages. The rate was fixed at 3s.higher than the ordinary price at this season of the year. Coming from Connaught, and being, unfortunately, old enough to remember the experience of the last Famine, he thought it was only right, at any rate, to take steps, even if they amounted to a confiscation of property, to prevent any person from dying of starvation. But it should be borne in mind that the proposed system of relief works was similar to that adopted during the last Irish Famine, and on that occasion many persons did die of actual starvation. The abuse then was incompetence, and a number of Government officials; now it would be that great jobs were perpetrated in the interests of contractors. Good roads were spoiled, and large sums were expended in opening up new roads which were not required. In respect of such works, how could the Government ascertain what was necessary, what works were desirable, and how they should be carried out? The Government were liberally advancing money to landlords at a very low rate of interest; but the carrying on of useless works at the public expense would be raising a mischievous competition against works of utility being carried on by the landlords with those loans. It would be better to pay the people wages for draining and for sowing crops than for such works as many of those undertaken in 1847. He trusted the Government would re-consider the matter, and, if not too late, introduce some modification of the scheme.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
said, that the remarks made by the noble Lord would have been appropriate on the occasion when the noble Lord opposite (Lord Emly) called attention to the relief works, and a discussion ensued on the observations of that noble 906 Lord; but he thought it would be for the convenience of their Lordships if he postponed anything which he might have to say on the topics referred to by the noble Lord (Lord Oranmore and Browne) till the Bill relating to those relief works came up from the other House, which he hoped would be shortly. In the meanwhile, he must say that he did not agree with many of the points to which the noble Lord alluded, or the conclusions arrived at. With regard to the Question of his noble Friend (the Earl of Donoughmore), he regretted that through inadvertence he was not able to give him an answer in the exact terms of the Question he had put down on the Paper; but he hoped the information he should be able to give him would greatly, if not altogether, satisfy the object he had in view. His noble Friend had talked about baronial or extraordinary presentment sessions having been applied for, and these having been ordered; but he might remind him that it did not at all follow, where even extraordinary presentment sessions had been convened and assembled, that in all these cases they should agree that presentments should be made. On the contrary, up till now very few had been held; and in more than one case the sessions declined to present for the sum of money originally proposed. He put in a list of extraordinary presentment sessions ordered to be convened. The number he had counted up was 84; and he believed, though it was impossible to give the exact figure, that something like 20 had been declined by the Irish Government, for reasons which they thought sufficient to induce them not to agree to the applications. He hoped this information might meet the views of his noble Friend; but he would endeavour, before the Bill came under discussion, to find out the exact number of those that had declined.