HL Deb 23 June 1882 vol 271 cc170-9

, in rising to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the social condition of the Provinces of Munster and Connaught, and to report thereon, said, in introducing the matter, it would be scarcely necessary for him to state that he did not intend in any way to interfere with the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government; and, as far as possible, he would abstain from referring to any of the political aspects of the question now before them. There were two Bills in "another place." They would soon arrive in that House, and it would be exceedingly injudicious and irregular on their part, if they were to attempt to anticipate the discussion which they would doubtless receive, or to deal with them, without first having a knowledge of the result of their passage from, the other House, and the condition in which they then left it. There could be no question that the present time was a most opportune moment for doing something that would be advantageous to Ireland, and that, he thought, would be done by the appointment of a Royal Commission such as that which he now suggested to their Lordships. The condition of Ireland itself, and especially the two Provinces mentioned in the Resolution, afforded a fitting opportunity for the working of the Commission, and there could be no doubt that an investigation made on the spot would be attended with the most beneficial results. In the particular position of affairs in Ireland at the present time, beyond all question the minds of the Irish people in the Provinces were prepared for new impressions. Coming at once to the Motion on the Paper, he might inform their Lordships that the reason why he had not embraced the whole of Ireland in it was that that country was not a homogeneous whole, each of the four Provinces having a distinctive character of its own. Therefore, he had selected the two Provinces mentioned—namely, Munster and Connaught—for the reason that those two Provinces had departed less from the habitual practice in the management of our political system than either Ulster or Leinster. That result was due to reasons that were peculiar in themselves to Munster and Connaught. He desired to point out to their Lordships that the Province of Ulster had long enjoyed an exceptional advantage in her trade, and in the peace and tranquillity which had prevailed within her borders. The same also might be said of Leinster. Ulster had also a special advantage, in which she was predominant above all the other Provinces. Owing to the manner in which the colonization of Ulster had been carried out, the colonists had ever since remained in union with each other, and attached to their leaders. Hence there was not in Ulster any strife between the landlords and their tenants. The reason for this was they belonged to the same race. They belonged to the same Christian Church; and, even in those cases where they did differ, they none the less understood each other, and their differences did not give rise to any hostility. This element of prosperity had led to the investment of capital in industrial pursuits within the Province, and hence it might be regarded as one possessing exceptional advantages. When they passed into Leinster, however, they found it did not enjoy the same advantages, for there was a difference of feeling existing. There were fewer of the descendants of the people who settled in the country in the time of Elizabeth and James I.; but, nevertheless, the distribution of the soil among the Lords of the Pale had led to something like the same effect, when not interfered with by polemic and sectarian considerations. In Munster it was entirely different. That Province was, for the most part, inhabited by the descendants of those who had been driven from their original settlements in the other portions of Ireland, and hence there was an angry feeling entertained by them against those who had displaced them. The result was that there was at once a difference of feeling and of sentiment in regard of race. The tenants there held their holdings under an entirely different system. No doubt the system under which these holdings had been once held had been interfered with by the occurrence of foreign wars and the circumstances of the times; but the feeling he had referred to had existed ever since those dreadful wars, though Munster was largely peopled with the soldiers of Elizabeth. Then, again, when they went into Connaught they found once more a different state of things. They found almost unmixed the race that had inhabited the country for generations. They were the descendants of those who formerly inhabited the Province, and their feelings towards their countrymen in Leinster and Ulster was equally acrimonious as those of the people of Munster. They found a difference of race here also between landlord and tenant, and he knew how dangerous it was to mix up these. The Legislature, he thought, ought to try to discover some means of removing the discontent which existed in the South and West of Ireland, and it was most desirable that these differences, whether of country or of caste, should be entirely got rid of. The Irish, difficulty, whether great or small, would have to be faced, or they would have in vain made all the enormous sacrifices they had done during the last 50 years. Undoubtedly, reasons did exist for distinguishing between Ulster and Leinster and Munster and Connaught; but his Motion on this occasion had reference to the two last-named Provinces, and, therefore, it would not be necessary for him to enter into the matter. As to the necessity of a complete and perfect change in many of the ideas now prevalent in Ireland, the present moment seemed to be a fitting opportunity for effecting a change. There was a growing conviction in men's minds that some change should be made in the whole system; that it was their duty, as it was in their power, to make the results of such a change profitable and advantageous to the country. They must warn them, however, against expecting immediate results. They should govern the Irish people in accordance with the sentiments of justice and fairness, and they should also endeavour to understand the people. Did they understand the people, and were they sure they had dealt with them in the way most acceptable to their sentiments, or best calculated to win their faithful obedience? From whatever cause, the question, at all events, would have to be answered in the negative. There might be, he felt convinced, great improvements of various descriptions introduced into the administration of Ireland, and a softening with regard to religious matters; and then they might discover that there were modes of dealing with the body politic which they had not anticipated. Let him recall to their recollections the peculiar character which obtained amongst country population, both in Munster and Connaught. It was known that the farmers in those two Provinces led a very simple existence, that they were largely influenced by tradition, and that there was a power of feeling among them which helped strongly the formation of their character; and it should not be forgotten that remaining, as perhaps they did, at home, they had a world-wide communication, and maintained a close connection with their countrymen scattered all over the world. Those communications frequently gave shape to those impulses, and it should be recollected that they had communications of a nature not only that would lead to peace and contentment in England, but also of a nature that entailed danger to the tranquillity of the Empire. Beyond these facts little was known of the inhabitants of those Provinces of Ireland to which he wished to draw attention. Nothing was more remarkable than the surprise caused, even to the best-informed people in Ireland, by the events of the last six months. For instance, with regard to the question of rent, he was certain the incident of rent was never calculated at the point at which it had now reached; and no one had ever dreamed of the number of farmers who had sought the assistance of the Land Court, and which had greatly exceeded all reasonable computation made beforehand. It would be found, he believed, that there was not so much blame for that condition of things to be attached to the proprietary as some might imagine. Had they succeeded, he would ask, after these many years, in making English rule in Ireland as acceptable as they could desire? They had not. There was some reason for the non-success, and they were bound to seek for it. That something which was required was a general feeling of contentment among the population. They knew there had been great distrust and feeling of insecurity created by the unhappy state of Ireland, and foreign capital had fled, not to return; while the domestic capital, which was sufficient for all the wants of Ireland, was not employed there. There were in Ireland, deposited in banks or embarked in business in this country, millions more of money than was required to give to that country all that was wanted. He would not attempt to forecast the results that might follow an inquiry into the social condition of Munster and Connaught. Possibly emigration might receive a new sanction. As to that question, he might say that something might be devised which should induce Her Majesty's Government to adopt a large scheme which would give relief to an overburdened land, and be productive of benefit—of the utmost benefit—to Ireland, by giving greater scope for the industry of those who remained behind. The Government and the inhabitants of this country were fully aware that difficulties were imminent, and in order to solve the problems with which they were face to face, they ought to have more information supplied to them. The Government had already sent a message of peace to a people especially sensitive to an appeal to their feelings. Let them send now through that country a Royal Commision with a true message of peace, and the best message of peace that could be given to Ireland would be the sending there of a Royal Commission, as he proposed, who, on the spot, should form, their own conclusions, and judge by the feeling of the people of the best mode in which to give them that contentment which all desired. He had not, in this particular instance, considered what was the position of Her Majesty's Government. He trusted that the principle that governed his Resolution would receive the assent of the Government; but, under any circumstances, he should have regarded his own conduct as inexcusable if he had abstained from bringing this matter under the notice of their Lordships. What Ireland wanted was contentment by the appointment of a Commission, who would conduct their investigations on the ground. These could best judge what would afford that contentment greatly desired by all, and beyond that there was one thing the necessity of which he would especially dwell upon, and that was enlisting the feelings of the people on the side of Government, for the question was, whether, after so many years, they had succeeded in making their mode of government as acceptable to the people as they could desire. An equal Church, equal laws, the administration of justice by officers appointed by the Crown, had not produced that effect. They were bound, then, to seek some reason for that fact, under the penalty that, if we found it not, our last condition would be worse than the first. He would now move the Resolution that stood in his name on the Paper.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the social condition of the Provinces of Munster and Connaught.—(The Lord Waveney.)


said, he had listened with great attention to the remarks of his noble Friend (Lord Waveney), who was perfectly entitled to bring before the House a subject with which he was so well acquainted. Their Lordships, he was sure, would agree with him (Lord Carlingford), that though the Motion, at that moment, was confined to a part of Ireland only—for what reasons he could not make out—volumes might be written and volumes spoken about it. He confessed, however, that his noble Friend had treated their Lordships with forbearance and mercy, and he thought that his noble Friend, when he sat down, was entitled to say, as Clive once said of himself, that he was astonished at his own moderation. But, for his own part, he (Lord Carlingford) was not prepared, on the spur of the moment, to discuss the social condition of those two Provinces of Ireland. The practical question for the House and for his noble Friend was, whether anything would be gained as regarded the end he had in view—namely, the improvement of the social condition of Ireland by the appointment of a Royal Commission; and with regard to that point, it struck him (Lord Carlingford) that they did not suffer from want of knowledge. What, he thought, they suffered from, was from the great difficulty of dealing with one of the hardest, the most complex, and the most dangerous political problems that any nation, and especially a nation with a popular Government, had to deal with within its own borders; and he most certainly did not think they suffered from any want of knowledge upon the subject. As for sending that Commission through the length and breadth of Ireland, he could not conceive what its effect would be upon the minds of the people, except it would be to make every man in the country believe that the Government intended to make him and his family comfortable for the rest of their days. They had recently had two inquiries with respect to that most important matter—the agrarian relations of the country—and, however opinions might differ among their Lordships, they were all, in various degrees, responsible for the legislation which had been the result. He differed, he feared, from the majority of their Lordships in looking hopefully to the effects which improved tenure would work in time. He believed it would work infinite good in Ireland, and not for the tenant class alone. But no such legislation would do good until they could restore peace and confidence to that country. That was the immediate task of the Government, a task in which, with the assistance of Parliament, he hoped they would succeed. When they should obtain the happy result of a restoration of peace and confidence in Ireland, he hoped and believed that the legislation of various kinds which had been effected for many years past would bear its fruits; and Parliament, he was sure, would then be prepared to pass further measures for the improvement of the country. He did not know what his noble Friend meant by calling the legislative measures that had been passed for Ireland sacrifices. Did he call the Catholic Emancipation Act a sacrifice, or the other measures passed for the relief of Irish grievances sacrifices? He would ask his noble Friend if, for the object he had in view, he thought anything would be gained by such a roving Commission as he had proposed, even if it were possible—as it was not—for the Government to assent to the Motion?


said, his noble Friend (Lord Waveney) had spoken of his proposal as a message of peace. But Ireland had had many messages of peace from Her Majesty's Government, and they had not been so successful as to encourage them to send another. Her Majesty's Government, by their legislation in 1880, had created a social revolution in Ireland; the ordinary conditions of life in that country had been destroyed, inquiry was superfluous, and all Parliament had to do was to try to re-construct something out of the ruins. When Her Majesty's Government came into Office, they were told, on the highest authority—that of the Prime Minister—that Ireland was in a satisfactory condition. He (Lord Brabourne) was aware that it had been explained that this statement was merely a confidential communication to the Election Committee of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government; but he could not for a moment believe that the right hon. Gentleman had one statement for his Committee and another for the public. Therefore, he would assume it to have been true. What, then, had the Government found? There were three classes in Ireland—the loyal, the disloyal, and those who were wavering between the two. What the legislation of 1880 had done was to strike a ruinous blow at the most loyal part of the population. Then, through the vacillation of Her Majesty's Government, the disloyal had been encouraged, and the tendency of their conduct had been to convert those who were wavering into disloyalty. It was at the class that was most faithful to the Union between the two countries that Her Majesty's Government had struck the blow. Because the landlords of Ireland happened to be the possessors of a kind of property which competition rendered valuable, they had been deprived of that fair competition in open market which every other owner of property enjoyed, and by which alone the real value of their property could be obtained. Moreover, the Government had attempted the impossible plan of making the same property belong to two persons whose interests were, of necessity, conflicting, a plan which could only produce mischief and confusion. They had thrown overboard all the principles of political economy, and had placed the landlords of Ireland in a position which they would have deserved if they were precisely the opposite of what they were. Every principle upon which property had ever been held in England or any other country had been reversed in Ireland, and then it was pointed out that the condition of that country was not exactly what could be desired. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal could not assent to the appointment of the proposed Commission, because he said if the Government were to do so every man in Ireland would believe he was going to be made happy and comfortable for ever. Was not that exactly the line that had been taken by Her Majesty's Government? They had given rise to false hopes; the people were led to expect something they could not possibly obtain. Having done that, Her Majesty's Government were wise now in not consenting to a Commission which might serve to excite similar expectations. When Questions were asked and Motions were made with respect to the social condition of Ireland, he (Lord Brabourne) could not help saying that the state of the country had been made worse by the action of Her Majesty's Government. And yet anyone who objected to the policy of the Government was always told that the case of Ireland was wholly exceptional. Now, he did not believe that any country in the world was ever in so exceptional a position as to justify a complete departure from all principles of sound legislation, of justice, and of honest dealing with every class; and it was because the Government had done that the existing state of things in Ireland was so bad and its future so dark that no light would be thrown upon it until the Government abandoned delusive messages of peace and displayed a determination to uphold the law.


, in reply, said, that the sacrifices he had alluded to were sacrifices in the sense of order. He maintained that a roving Commission, such as he had advocated, although it must, of necessity, be a roving one, yet it need not be vague in the slightest degree, and it would be the means of gaining much knowledge at a time when every particle of information as to Irish affairs was especially valuable. He would not, however, persist in the Motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.