HL Deb 21 June 1880 vol 253 cc410-2

moved for a Return of the number of unskilled labourers employed during the week ending the 12th of June by landlords or sanitary authorities, or on works undertaken by baronial sessions, in the scheduled districts in Ireland under the Belief of Distress (Ireland) Act, 1880. The noble Earl said the Motion would appear to be of an inquisitorial kind; but the most grossly erroneous statements had been made with regard to landlords in Ireland, not only upon this subject but upon every other. But these wicked and false statements had never before been supported by facts and figures. He alluded particularly to a resolution come to by what he considered a semi-official body—namely, the Dublin Mansion House Belief Committee, which resolution was forwarded to the Chief Secretary for Ireland. It referred to the number of men employed on the relief works started by the late and confirmed by the present Government, and stated that the net result of the borrowing of £1,500,000, out of which £250,000 had been issued, was that 15,000 men only were employed out of a starving population of 358,000. This was a most serious matter, because he frankly admitted that if that statement was true the action of the late Government was entirely mistaken in making advances in the first instance by an Order in Council, and, in the second place, coming to Parliament for authority to make advances. He very much feared that if that were the case it was equally wrong of the present Government to extend such a system of relief. But he believed that the statement was entirely calumnious, as were also certain statements that had been made in the other House of Parliament. He had only just received a telegram from a well-known gentleman in Ireland, who was only doing what many others of his class were doing, to say that he was this week employing 1,200 men, and last week 1,000. These works had been going on since last October, before the Government offered any loans at all. He knew that the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne), and the noble Earl (the Earl of Kenmare), and many others, had been employing workmen by hundreds during the distress. He himself had employed 845 men in Donegal, as well as some on a smaller estate in Leitrim. He had had to borrow the money and go into debt to carry out those works; and in one case, where 241 men were employed, he was assured beforehand that the work could never repay the outlay. Nevertheless, he had felt bound to carry it out, because the place swarmed with people like a beehive or a rabbit warren. It had been alleged in "another place" that although £250,000 had been granted in loans to landlords, little of that money had reached the people actually distressed; but he could say that in his own case, and in the case of other landlords who had been loyally supporting the efforts of the Government to deal with the sad state of affairs, they had been spending the money on works before they could really get the loans from the Board of Works; and he was sorry to see that the Government, having encouraged the landowners to incur these responsibilities, seemed now to be favouring legislation which would subject them to such inconveniences that they would never be able to meet their engagements.

Moved, That there be laid before this House, Return of the number of unskilled labourers employed during the week ending the 12th of June by landlords or sanitary authorities; or on works undertaken by baronial sessions, in the scheduled districts in Ireland under the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Act, 1880.—(The Earl of Leitrim.)


wished to point out that it was impossible at this time of the year to carry on any of these works, as all the able-bodied men were in England. Many drains would remain unfinished until after the harvest; and, therefore, it would be hard to require that payments made after July should bear a higher rate. He bore testimony to the conduct of Irish landlords in their endeavours to relieve the distress, many of them having spent three times the amount they had received from the Board of Works.


said, he was unable to follow the noble Earl in some of the observations which he had addressed to the House. He was not aware what passed at the Dublin Mansion House. It seemed that some statements were made there underrating the amount of work done by landlords in Ireland. He was not aware of what passed in the House of Commons on this subject. It was unusual to refer to the proceedings of the other House, and he felt the inconvenience at that moment of the references of the noble Earl. He was unable to answer the Question as to the higher rate after July; but he was glad to recognize the patriotism and public spirit of many noble Lords and others with regard to the present distress. Many landlords had expended very large sums on improvements in order to meet the distress; and he was sure everybody must appreciate the public spirit with which they were actuated. With regard to the Return asked for, he thought it would be difficult, almost impossible, for the Government to obtain the information referred to in the first part of that Return. How were the Government to obtain a Return from the landlords of the number of people employed by them? With regard to the other part of the Return, he was afraid also he must refuse it. At the present moment there was such a pressure on the Departments in Ireland that there was not any time to spare. The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant had ordered a Return to be prepared of the number of persons employed on the different kinds of relief works, and when that was obtained he thought his noble Friend's Question would be practically answered.


, in withdrawing the Motion, said, his only object in placing it on the Paper was to call attention to the misstatements which had been made. He must be allowed to express his surprise that the noble Earl knew nothing of a semi-official document issued by the Mansion House Committee and forwarded to the Chief Secretary.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.