HL Deb 05 March 1880 vol 251 cc414-23

Amendments reported (according to Order).


My Lords, now that the Bill is on the point of becoming law I hope the noble Duke of opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) will not think me unreasonable if I make some observations as to the manner in which its provisions are to be administered. I regret to say that two hours ago I heard a very alarming report of the intensity of distress in the North-Western part of Ireland from one of those excellent men belonging to the Society of Friends, who, having worked hard in the cause of charity in 1847, has now returned to the scene of his former labours. He says the people there have only been preserved from starvation by the Relief Funds of the Duchess of Marlborough and the Lord Mayor of Dublin; and I fear that all along the Western coast, if great suffering and even starvation is to be averted, there must be no delay in putting to work the machinery provided by this Bill. Mr. Tuke says— The Poor Law is at this moment in abeyance in the West of Ireland, and, judging by that, there is no distress in the West. But there is at this moment in one part 600 or 700 families who are fed from day to day by charitable funds, yet the Poor Law Guardians have not moved a finger, though there are but very few inmates in the workhouses. Take, again, another large Union in which we have been working for some days. It is bounded by the rugged Atlantic coast, and has a population of about 33,000, and the assumed rateable value is £20,000. How many persons do you suppose are receiving out-door relief? Just 143, and yet in that district the greatest distress is existing. My Lords, even a more serious matter is the distribution of seed. Mr. Tuke states that many Unions have refused to exercise the powers given to them to provide seed, and he remarks— The distress will last until a new crop comes in; the most pressing need exists to supply distressed districts with seed. If this is not done, future famine is certain. If properly administered, the provisions of the Bill will reach every nook and cranny of the suffering. The Poor Law Guardians are bound to give out-door relief to the cottiers as well as the labourers where it is required, and if any Board of Guardians neglect their duty, the Government have the power to dismiss them, and to appointvice-Guardians in their place. The responsibility then rests with the Government of adequate relief being given. The liberal facilities given to the landed proprietors and corporations for reproductive employment will, I trust, render any great extension of out-door relief in any but the districts inhabited almost exclusively by cottiers unnecessary. In these districts out-door relief must be given, or the land will remain untilled, and famine will be stereotyped. But here, again, everything depends on the Government. I mentioned to the noble Duke that from various quarters I had been told that the Board of Works had broken down under the heavy pressure of the last two months. The noble Duke will remember that three years ago a Treasury Commission, appointed by the present Government, made a Report that its constitution was unsatisfactory and required improvement. The Government, then, have not been taken unawares; and I trust the noble Duke will be able to inform your Lordships that it has reinforced the Board of Works. Over the three Private Committees in Dublin—those of the Duchess of Marlborough, the Lord Mayor, and The New York Herald—the Government cannot, of course, exercise any direct control. The want of any apportionment of districts between those three Committees has led to grave abuses; the same districts have in some cases managed to get relief from more than one of these funds, and much demoralization has followed. My Lords, the way in which, in my of opinion, the whole organization for the relief of distress might best be worked, both for meeting real distress and preventing abuse, would be to follow the example of 1847, and to appoint some distinguished and experienced man, such as Sir Alfred Power, to direct and control the whole machinery of relief in the distressed districts. Such an officer would, of course, have no direct control over charity purses; but, no doubt, all three Committees would willingly accept his advice and assistance, and he would, of course, have in his hands the threads of the of operations both of the Local Government Board and the Board of Works. This is, of course, a question for the Government to decide upon. I hope they will excuse me for having ventured to make this suggestion to them. My Lords, I do not address you as an alarmist; I do not take the gloomy view of the prospect before us. If it pleases God to give us a good harvest, I am convinced that our troubles will be over. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Lowther) said, the other day, that in every way Ireland had retrograded within the last 10 years, and he sought to connect this with the legislation of the late Government. My Lords, nothing can be more untrue. The loss of £10,286,000 in value of potatoes in three years, £5,000,000 of which loss occurred in 1879, sufficiently accounts for the distress which now prevails. But if you will compare 1868 with 1878, you will see Ireland both morally and materially has made satisfactory and, indeed, remarkable progress—morally, for in 1868 the number of serious crimes was 9,090, while in 1878 they were only 6,959; and materially, for while in 1868 the deposits and cash balances in Irish Joint Stock Banks were £22,164,000, in 1878 they were £31,534,000. We have difficulty enough to deal with, we have agitators preaching undisguised Socialism, and setting against the race and religion of Ireland the feelings of the people of England and Scotland. Is this a time for the Chief Secretary for Ireland to add fuel to the flames of agitation? Sir Erskine May, the highest authority on such subjects, lays down "that to abuse a statute you do not intend to repeal, is contrary to the usages of Parliament," yet the right hon. Gentleman never loses an of opportunity of denouncing the Church and Land Acts; and only the other day at Kendal he called the one "confiscation and spoliation," and the other "confiscation, and the transfer of property from one class of Her Majesty's subjects to another." But he did more; lie said— We now find bands, or armed men, wandering over Ireland in the dark hours of the night, threatening, and not only threatening, but, we regret to say, actually perpetrating outrages on those who are guilty of the heinous offence of complying with the honourable engagements of paying their rent. It often happens, when an Irish landlord returns to Ireland, his first greeting is probably a missive with a death's head for a crest and for a device a pair of cross bones. My Lords, is it fair to the tenants who, in the greater part of Ireland, have under great difficulties discharged faithfully their honourable engagements, thus to malign them on account of crimes committed in a few districts? What would be said of the Governor General of Canada if, on account of crimes committed in Manitoba, he aspersed the character of the Dominion? Is it fair to those who through evil and good report are trying to bind together the hearts of the people of the Three Kingdoms for a Minister of the Crown to utter these calumnies? My Lords, I make these remarks in no Party spirit. I was ready to assist my noble Friend the late Lord Mayo quite as much as my noble Friends the Marquess of Hartington and Lord Carlingford, when they were Chief Secretaries. In these matters, under whatever flag we muster, we are all Members of the same Party of law and order. I entreat Her Majesty's Government not to allow the Member of their body who represents Ireland to generate in some cases and to intensify in others anti-loyal feelings by his reckless rhetoric.


said, that on the Report of Amendments to the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill, he was not prepared for so violent an attack on his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Lowther). Considering that his right hon. Friend was not present to defend himself, and that no Notice had been given of an intention to call in question the conduct of his right hon. Friend, he (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) was not prepared with the documents and papers necessary to answer this attack. The speech which his right hon. Friend had made at Kendal had escaped his notice, and he doubted very much whether, if he had seen it, he would have read it; but be that as it might, he had not seen it. The noble Lord had, in plain terms, accused his right hon. Friend of making a statement which was not true; and maintained that in Ireland rents were paid.


In the greater part of Ireland.


said, he was not aware that his right hon. Friend included the whole of Ireland. Then, again, the noble Lord went on to assert that the state of Ireland was not such as his right hon. Friend had described it—a place where attempts were being made to set class against class, and carry on social agitation throughout the country. But the noble Lord's assertion that Ireland was not so bad as that, was not borne out by the statement at the end of his (Lord Emly's) speech, for the noble Lord himself admitted the existence of a Socialistic agitation, and that armed bands did go about to prevent the payment of rents in some parts of that country. No doubt, it was desirable that there should be combination in the distribution of relief, as it lessened the chances of imposition; but the existence of separate relief Committees in Dublin, competing with each other, was a matter with which the Government could not deal, as the noble Lord had himself partly admitted, and it was unnecessary to enter further into it. The noble Lord had also mentioned the Board of Works; but the staff of the Irish Board of Works had been considerably strengthened, and with the result that, whereas proceedings for obtaining a loan took about six weeks some time ago, they were now completed in three weeks or a month. Moreover, landlords knowing them- selves that their titles to their property were perfectly good, in many instances anticipated the completion of the formalities, and commenced works out of their own money, without waiting for the instalments, knowing that they would get it from the Government; and though he did not mean to say that the Board of Works should not make every effort to supply the money, yet, even if there had been some delay, it would not be injurious, seeing the landlords had advanced the money. Besides, the noble Lord must know that before sums of money could be given by the Government, certain inquiries were necessary. Titles must be inquired into, and local inquiries must be made. As to the lâches of Boards of Guardians, if the noble Lord put him in possession of the information which had been forwarded to him from Ireland, as he had said, only that morning, he would take care that the cases should be inquired into. If a proper remedy could be devised for persons in a starving condition, Her Majesty's Government would be the first to apply it. In the meantime, he would at once communicate with the Irish Government on the subject.


said, that the other night he ventured to make a few remarks, in which he said that it would be very much to be regretted if, while adopting extraordinary measures for the relief of destitution in Ireland, the ordinary resources of the Poor Law were not put into execution. What he had apprehended had actually come to pass. The statements forwarded to his noble Friend (Lord Emly) showed that; and he (the Earl of Kimberley) himself had read a similar account in one of the newspapers. If Boards of Guardians in Ireland held their hands and refrained from giving relief, because there was a good deal of money to be obtained from the Imperial Treasury, that would be a lesson which, once learnt, would not easily be forgotten, and would lead to most mischievous results. If Boards of Guardians in Ireland did not do their duty to the poor, the Government ought immediately to put in force their power of superseding such Boards, and appointing paid Guardians to discharge the functions which they had failed to perform. These Boards ought to remember Mr. Drummond's maxim—"Property has its duties as well as its rights," and one of the first duties of property was to provide for the poor. Where there was such an amount of distress that its relief by means of the Poor Law would practically mean ruin to the ratepayers, no one would hesitate to meet it by extraordinary assistance; but it was of the greatest importance that, in the first instance, the resources of the Poor Law should be made use of to the fullest extent possible. Turning to another point, he could not accede to the doctrine that the speeches of a Member of the Government must only be referred to in the House in which he happened to sit. With regard to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Lowther), anyone who had read them must admit that he had shown a great want of discretion, and that the lack of it in the management of Irish affairs was invariably productive of evil. It was very important that they should not be told that because outrages occurred in one part of Ireland, there were outrages in another part, as in many parts of that country the people were peaceably disposed. On the other hand, there had been, from various causes, disturbances which were very much to be regretted. Still, no such observations as those which had been made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland ought to have been made by any person holding office. Now, there was another habit which that right hon. Gentleman had got into, and that was the denouncing of the Church and Land Acts. Those Acts were of posed, and no doubt conscientiously, by the Party now in power; but they had become part of the law of the land. They were measures which could not possibly be revoked, and he felt that there was no idea on the part of the Government to disturb them. Then, was it wise or prudent to continue attacks against those measures, and by doing which angry feelings were aroused in the minds of the people? Nothing could be more mischievous in Ireland than to talk of unsettling what had been done. He had had a short experience of government in Ireland, and he could say that while in Office as Lord Lieutenant he derived much benefit from the kind assistance of political opponents, and especially from the advice of his noble Friend the late Lord Mayo. Both Parties in the State desired the prosperity of Ireland, and for that a steady and settled system of government was more desirable than anything else; and if he were an Irishman he should give every possible support to the Chief secretary in the difficult duties he had to discharge. That being so, if the present Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant kept more watch over his words, he would not himself regret it hereafter, and it would be for the advantage of Her Majesty's Government, and more satisfactory to the country.


said, that in regard to the measure before the House, no one could complain of the course which had been taken by noble Lords of opposite. An equal desire had been shown on both sides to advance legislation with a view of relieving the distress which unhappily prevailed in Ireland; but when the Government were called upon by noble Lords of opposite to take certain steps, those noble Lords appeared to forget what was the position in which affairs actually stood. It might be true—and he was afraid there were good grounds for saying it was true—that there had not been sufficient activity on the part of the Guardians in Donegal; but until this Bill was in force, the Government had not the power to do what they were called upon to do. The Government had done all in their power to induce the Guardians to act in the matter; but until the Bill was passed, they could take no stronger measures. He quite agreed that the powers of the Poor Law ought to be put in force, and it was extremely desirable that the powers conferred in respect of the Seeds Act should be put into of operation, because once the seeds were in the ground, the minds of the people would be relieved, to some extent, as to the future. If, however, the facts which had been referred to by the noble Lord could be substantiated, the Government would at once see what could be done with regard to them. Another subject had cropped up in connection with this question which had little to do with the measure before the House. He referred to the speech made by his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, which he regretted had been introduced, though he was not the one to complain of one Member of Parliament attacking another, in a fair and reasonable manner, for any speech he might have made out-of-doors. He had no doubt that his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had made a very out-spoken speech, and he should have been glad to have read that speech, in order to see context of the quotations that had been brought before the House. But it should be remembered that a speech such as that delivered by his right hon. Friend, in a part of the country with which he was familiar, and in which he and his family were well known, was not like a speech delivered in Parliament. In a speech delivered in the House of Commons, it was necessary for the speaker to guard himself against surprise; but in such a speech as was made at Kendal, before a general audience, it was only deemed necessary to put before the auditory the strong points and leave out the weak ones—speeches which required much explanation never making much impression on such occasions, the effect of the explanation given being to destroy the efficiency of the strong points. No doubt, his right hon. Friend spoke strongly on that occasion, and said that rents were not paid very well in Ireland at the present time. Well, no doubt, there were many parts of Ireland where the rents did not come in freely; but that was not always because of any dishonesty on the part of tenants, or disinclination to perform their contracts, but because of the cruel and distressing pressure put upon them by men not to discharge their duties. No one could take up a newspaper in the country without seeing in it some allusion to threatening letters and such like menaces, which had been sent to well-disposed tenants. It was only right, therefore, that men on both sides should speak out upon this subject, and show that they were not parties to a Socialistic agitation, which was endeavouring to turn men who would be honest into men who could hardly be distinguished from rogues; while the agitators themselves, taking advantage of the occasion to carry out their designs, yet took care not to put themselves in the responsible position of those whom they advised to follow a particular course. There was allusion made to another point, and that was in respect of certain legislative measures which had been passed. But he could not be deterred from saying that, without attempting to repeal the Land Act of 1870 and the Church Act of 1869, harm resulted from such legislation. They were told that they must leave those Acts where they were; but, while he would admit that it was impossible in the case of those measures to restore what had been taken away, he would say that the principles which were laid down in them had, instead of giving the relief which was foreshadowed, only whetted the appetite of the people for further legislation in the same direction. In that sense, therefore, they spoke; and, while assisting the Executive to carry out the law, they could not be prevented from saying that in the measures which had been passed there were principles laid down that had brought about greater evils than those which those measures were intended to cure. However, he hoped that as regarded the Bill before the House, they would all heartily act together and endeavour to provide means for the relief of that distress which prevailed in Ireland.

Report of Amendments agreed to.

Bill to be read 3a on Monday next.