§ MR. PARNELL
Sir, I hold that this question of the failure, or partial failure, of the Arrears Act, in view of the very critical state of the country in Ireland, and the imminence of severe distress, with which the question of arrears is undoubtedly connected, is "a definite matter of urgent public importance." I wish to ask the leave of the House to move its adjournment, in order that I may bring this matter before them, and explain our views for thinking and supposing that the Prime Minister has received erroneous information from the Land Commissioners.
§ MR. ONSLOW
I rise to a point of Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether it is not competent for me, or any other Member, to put a Question to the Prime Minister, or any other Member of Parliament, before the adjournment of the House is moved? I wish to put a Question, which is not on the Paper, to the Prime Minister.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member will look at the Resolution passed by the House in reference to the adjournment of the House, it says, in effect, that that course may be taken after the Questions on the Notice Paper have been disposed of. Now, all the Questions on the Notice Paper having been disposed of, the Motion may be made. Does the hon. Member for the City of Cork propose to ask the leave of the House to make the Motion?
§ And there being many voices for and against—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Having heard negative voices on the matter, I must ask the hon. Member whether there are 40 Members prepared to support the Motion.
§ Whereupon, a large number of Members—not less than 40—rising in their places—
§ MR. PARNELL
Mr. Speaker, I rise to avail myself of the. privilege which has been afforded to me of calling the attention of the House to this question of the failure, or partial failure, of the Arrears Act to fulfil the intentions of the Government, and the objects of those intentions. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has stated that, according to the information he has received from the Land Commissioners, only a comparatively small number of tenants will be shut out by the limitation of time at which the rent in respect of the year 1881 can be satisfied; but I think—in fact, I have every reason to believe—that the Court of the Land Commission is not in a position to know how many tenants are desirous of availing themselves of the provisions and benefits of this valuable Act, simply because they do not come into contact with the estate in arrears of rent until applications have been made to them by the tenants on those estates. Therefore, it follows that although the Land Commissioners may have accurate information with regard to the number of applications which have been made to themselves, and the number of such applications which may probably be granted, yet it is impossible for them to know anything about the vast number, as we think the many thousands, of small tenants in Ireland who, through want of time, or through other causes which I shall explain to the House, have not yet been able to apply under the provisions of this Act, or to satisfy the rent in respect of the year 1881. Now, Sir, after the last day of November it will be impossible for these tenants, either by the 1938 consent of the landlord or without his consent, to satisfy the rent in respect of the year 1881; and hence it will follow that, owing to the insertion in the Bill of an Amendment—against which the Irish Members protested strongly at the time it was introduced—in one of the last stages of the Bill, by this most pernicious and detrimental Amendment, the time in the Bill was limited to the end of this month, during which the tenants should pay a year's rent in respect of the year 1881, and owing to the fact that up to this moment no decision has been given by the Court of the Land Commissioners as to how much a tenant should pay in view of the operation of what is known as "the Hanging Gale Proviso" of the Act, many thousands of the tenants of Ireland are now in this position, that they do not absolutely know how much rent they ought to pay in respect of the year 1881, and there is no machinery provided by which they can lodge a sufficient amount of rent in Court to cover any amount which the Court hereafter may decide should be paid by them. Now, this is one of the points on which, I think, there has been a failure, or partial failure, of the Act. I do not propose to say that the Act has proved a total failure. That may depend very much upon the decision of the Land Commissioners with regard to the operation of the Proviso which is known as "the hanging gale;" but if that Hanging Gale Proviso, the nature of which I will shortly explain to the House, be interpreted against the views of the tenants, it will undoubtedly result in the total failure of the Arrears Act. I trust and hope that an interpretation may be given by the Land Commissioners Court in favour of the tenants; but if it be not so, I say that the Arrears Act of 1882 will be added to the long list of measures which the people of Ireland have received with high hopes from this Parliament, only to find themselves bitterly and disgracefully disappointed. With regard to the Hanging Gale Proviso under the Bill as it was originally drafted, and as it was read a second time in this House, it was necessary for the tenant to satisfy the landlord in respect of the rent payable for the year of the tenancy expiring on the last day of the last gale of 1881. Under the reading of the sub- 1939 section it was perfectly plain that if the tenant paid a half-year's rent on or at any time after the first gale day of 1881, he would be entitled to claim credit in respect of the rent payable for that half year; and if he made application on or after the second gale day, he would be able to claim credit in respect of the whole year's rent. But by the Proviso in the Bill the whole matter has been thrown into confusion, and it is not possible for any tenant in Ireland to know how much rent he ought to pay in respect of 1881, in order to be sure when the time has expired he may not, after he had made his payments, find he has been thrown outside the benefit of the Act. The Proviso was as follows:—That where it appears that, according to the ordinary course of dealing between the landlord and tenant of the holding, the rent of such holding has usually been paid on some day after the day on which it became legally due, the usual day of payment shall be deemed, for the purposes of this sub-section, to be the time at which the rent accrued due.So utterly incomprehensible a section as that has never, I venture to believe, been inserted in an Act of Parliament before. We protested against it, and moved Amendments against it: but it was all of no use—the Bill went through both Houses of Parliament with this Proviso inserted. Up to the present the balance of legal opinion in Ireland is quite divided in regard to the interpretation to be put upon this Proviso. The Court of the Land Commission has not ventured, up to the present moment, to give any authoritative decision with regard to it. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant explained that a few days ago the Court had invited a case to be submitted to it upon this question; but of what use would the submission of such a case be now, unless we can get an extension of the time within which the tenant can make the necessary payment? If the Court of the Land Commission should decide that he has not paid sufficient, the decision of a case taken before the Court in response to the invitation of the Chief Secretary or the Commissioners would be too late to affect the question at all. It should have been given months, or at any rate weeks ago, in order to enable the smaller tenants, who are many of them extremely ignorant of every- 1940 thing, even in numerous cases of the English language, and who live in remote districts, to understand what their legal rights are as to this complicated section. The Commissioners do not appear to have given any definite instructions to their investigators. Many of these gentlemen have given the most contrary decisions as to this matter. Several decisions that have been given by the investigators have had such an effect with regard to this disputed point on large masses of the tenants in the West and North of Ireland, that the tenants have given up making applications under the Arrears Act at all, because they think the decisions given before their eyes in the Court by the investigators must necessarily be the law of the land, and it is no use making their applications. The landlords claim the benefit of the Proviso wherever the rent was usually paid at any time after the gale day; and as no rent is usually paid on the gale day it follows that in every disputed case the landlord claimed the benefit of the Proviso as to the hanging gale. The legal advisers of the tenants, on the other hand, had given it as their opinion that a usual fixed day or date subsequent to the gale day for paying the rents which exists on the estate must exist to entitle the landlord to claim the Proviso in his favour. In the absence of any decisions on the subject the tenants and all concerned are at sea. If the Proviso be interpreted according to the landlord's view, it will follow that the great majority of tenants who have applied to the Court will derive little benefit from their applications. In any case the decisions given by some of the investigators—some of which have been brought before the House—have had such a deterrent effect on the tenants that they have ceased on several estates with which I am acquainted registering their applications to benefit under the Arrears Act. If it were possible for the tenant to make a lodgment of money to pay the amount, he would have to pay in any case with the possibility of having it refunded to him. If he had paid too much the evil would be mitigated. The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant says the Government asked the Land Commissioners to grant such money; but they refused on the ground that they had not sufficient power. The view of 1941 the Government has been carried ont out, and the Land Commissioners are without the necessary powers. The Government refuse to give the Land Commission Court the necessary legal powers that they (the Government) admit the Court ought to possess. The second point of difficulty is the limitation of time. That limitation of time was inserted in the Act contrary to our express wishes and in spite of our protests. We pointed out that it would in all probability diminish enormously the value of the Act; but it was inserted notwithstanding, and the result has been that many thousands of these poor families in Ireland will be utterly unable to obtain the benefit of the Act. The third point of difficulty is the question of costs. I did think the Government would have seen the justice and equity of extending the provision of the Act so as to enable the Court to relieve the tenant of costs where it is proved he is unable to pay. I have here some remarkable statistics as to the number of tenants who have been evicted in Ireland during the years that have elapsed since the Famine of 1879–80, which families are most of them utterly unable to obtain the restoration of their holdings, owing partly in some cases to the fact that they are not able to find a year's rent in respect of 1881, but chiefly to the fact that they are not able to pay the overwhelming costs that have been heaped on them, which in many cases exceeded the amount of rent they obtained remission upon. In 1879 the number of families evicted was 903, or 4,500 individuals. The number in 1880 was 2,110 families, or 10,657 persons. In 1881, 3,415 families, or 17,541 persons; and in the 10 months of this year, ending October, 4,249 families, or 21,225 persons, including 306 families, or rather over 1,500 persons in the month of October. This makes a total for the four years, or since the distress, of 10,677 families, or 53,723 persons evicted; and it must be remembered that the vast majority of these evicted families and persons have not been benefited or protected in the smallest degree by the Land Act of 1881. Seventy-five per cent of these families were evicted before that Act was passed, and the remaining 25 per cent have been evicted since, while the Land Courts were vainly struggling to hear 1942 the cases of the appealing tenants. You must recollect that in almost every case where the tenants have been able to bring their cases for adjudication for the fixing of a fair rent, the Court, more especially where the applicants were small tenants, have given a reduction averaging 30 per cent. Of these families it would be a liberal estimate to say that half had been restored to their homes. If we allow that—which I believe is far beyond the proper estimate—and admit or guess that they will receive the benefit of the Arrears Act, and will get clear back into their homes, we shall be speaking very liberally. You have still the remaining 5,000 families who appeal to you for protection—5,000 families whom you are going to permit to go through the terrible winter that is coming on us in Ireland with no food but Indian meal, the potatoes being all consumed, and with that meal now at 10 guineas per ton, as compared with six guineas per ton last year. These people receive no hope or comfort from the Government. These questions of distress and arrears are most intimately connected. The evicted families, and the others who have not yet been evicted, but over whom the sentence of death is hanging, and who will shortly be evicted—who are being evicted at the present moment, as we have heard, at the rate of 306 per month, are increasing. Every day, every week, every month, this horrible total of evicted families is being added to, and there is no use saying there is any attempt being made to induce them not to pay their rents. If by means of the Arrears Act it was possible to protect them, they would be prevented from going into the workhouse; and the scheme of emigration sanctioned this Session, under that Act, or of emigration which we hope to obtain the adoption of, would have some chance of coming into play, and would prevent the exasperation which must follow the tearing down of roof-trees and the turning on the road side of these poor people, who have been told by the Prime Minister of England that justice is being done to them. We look in vain for justice. The fate of the Irish people who rely on a British Parliament for the redress of their grievances has always been an unhappy one. I had hoped that this Arrears Bill would have been left untampered with; but it has 1943 been trammelled by the insertion of detrimental provisions that have rendered it a partial failure, and may probably bring about its total failure. We protested against the insertion of these provisions; but, owing to the unfortunate influence of "another place," and the landlord party in this House, these three provisions we objected to were inserted, and the result has been as you see.
§ MR. PARNELL
I did not say they were not. I distinctly said I had hoped that this Bill might, at least, have passed without these detrimental alterations, thereby inferring that they had been made in this House. I have not had time to refer to the Journals of the House; but I have no doubt the alterations were made partly owing to a desire on the part of the Government to get the Bill through "another place." It was obvious that the Prime Minister had sufficient force at his disposal to carry the Bill through this House without any risk. The fate, I say, of the Irish people, who depend on this House, and who look with confidence on this House for remedial legislation, has always been an unhappy one. I was in hopes that the unhappy precedents that have been set in this matter would have been reversed, and that we should at least have been able to point to the Arrears Act of 1882 as an Act that was both just and generous to the long-suffering among the people of Ireland. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
said, he wished to say a few words in support of the necessity, if possible, of extending the time for payment of the arrears, or, at any rate, of amending the provision of the Arrears Act with respect to the hanging gale and the subject of distress in Ireland. As the hon. Member for the City of Cork had pointed out, the majority of the people who suffered either by the time of payment expiring, or by the construction of the clause respecting the hanging gale, came from the very poorest districts of Ireland, and were those who were in a state of the greatest poverty, there was every reason to fear that in the coming winter they would be, or they should be, recipients of relief. If a similar thing happened in any district of England, and it was likely 1944 that some hundreds of people would be devoid of food and employment, how would the case stand? The Local Government Board in England had the power, by an Order dated, he believed, 1852, entitled an "Order for Regulating Outdoor Relief," to authorize outdoor relief to be given to the able-bodied in any given Union. More than that, it had the power to require that labour should be given in return for such relief; and it had also the power to discontinue the relief when it thought fit. How did the case stand in Ireland? He had in the last few days vainly endeavoured to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the absolute inoperativeness of the Irish Local Government Board to deal with anything but the ordinary normal distress. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman had a great many other more important matters to attend to; but he believed he had entirely failed to grasp the difference that existed between the Poor Law in the two countries. There was this further difference—that the Local Government Board in Ireland had absolutely no power whatever to give one penny in relief to able-bodied men unless the workhouse be full or infected. His right hon. Friend, in answer to his Question that night, said that the Local Government Board was satisfied with the provision of indoor relief in the workhouse, and until that was exhausted there was no danger of exceptional distress. He appealed to the experience of the years 1879–80, and he did not believe that, with the exception of the South Dublin Union, there was a single workhouse in Ireland, that was full; and yet they knew large numbers of people were receiving outdoor relief under the provisions of the Relief of Distress Act. He endeavoured to obtain the making of that power permanent, but it was not possible to do so, perhaps, at the time; and he did not know now what the Government could do, except boldly to confer upon the Local Government Board the power of issuing and regulating outdoor relief, trusting to Parliament for an indemnity. Whatever question there might be as to the Arrears Act, he did not believe there would be the slightest hesitation on the part of Parliament when it met again in February next to endorse any action that the Government might take. The 1945 illiberal provisions of the Irish Poor Law had an effect on the Local Government Board itself. It had an effect upon the Inspectors, gentlemen of the greatest humanity and intelligence, many of whom he personally knew, for when they went to a place like Tory Island, or to the poorest parts of Sligo, they only estimated the distress in its bearings upon the Poor Law which they administered. They did not look to the actual and narrow limits of the Poor Law, nor to the provision that until the workhouse was full, or infected, could able-bodied men get one penny in relief. He would, therefore, quite irrespective of the suggestions that had been made by other hon. Friends as to amending the Arrears Act, urge upon the Government, before it was too late, that they should take some steps to place the Local Government Board in Ireland in a position to deal effectively with distress should such distress ensue. He would second the Motion for Adjournment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he did not blame the hon. Member for the City of Cork for this interruption to the Business of the House; but, as an English county Member, it was his duty to urge that English Business should be proceeded with. But the present irregularity was incidental to the very nature of the Arrears Act. By it they had reverted to the feudal system, and the State had become the landlord-in-chief over all Ireland. The House could not escape from these interruptions unless it appointed a Standing Committee, whose exclusive duty should be to attend to the operation of the Arrears Act.
§ MR. SEXTON
ventured to say that the sole irregularity on this occasion had been that committed by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate.) For the first occasion, perhaps, in the history of the House, a Motion for the Adjournment of the House was a regular and legal Motion. It had been supported by the requisite quorum under the New Rules, by twice the requisite quorum of hon. Members; and therefore it did not lie in the power of any hon. Member to rise and question the regularity of the proceeding. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: Not for a moment.] This question 1946 of the administration of the Arrears Act was closely, was inextricably, connected with the question of distress, with the question of eviction, and with the question of crime; and he pitied the intelligence of the Gentlemen who put the claims of every-day English business before such an urgent question as that. He would like to consider the question by the light of two telegrams he had received, one of which he had already read to the House, from the parish priest of Columbkille, County Donegal, stating that widespread distress prevailed, that the Government had taken no action, and urging him (Mr. Sexton), for humanity's sake, to press the Government to save the people. The second telegram was from the Rev. Father Cosgrove, who said there was no Indian meal to be had in Sligo at any price, and asked what would the Government do while the people starved? He might be asked what was the connection between this widespread and threatening state of distress, and the question which was now before the House. He said it was quite plain that the persons who were unable to buy this Indian meal, the persons who were threatened with starvation, were in many cases, especially in the West of Ireland, the very persons who were suffering by the operation of the Arrears Act. In seven days more the time would have expired within which any tenant might satisfy his landlord in respect to the Act. The Prime Minister told them that he did not agree with The Freeman's Journal and other Irish papers that the Arrears Act had proved a total failure, and the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the time had not yet come when they were enabled to judge of the extent of the failure of the Act. He asked them to wait until December. He (Mr. Sexton) maintained with confidence that the moment had arrived when they could with perfect accuracy say that the Arrears Act had failed. How long was it since the Act was passed? It was passed some two or three months ago; and although the people of Ireland had for three years been passing through a critical period—a period of distress, a period of hunger, a period in which the earth did not bring forth the amount of rent due to the landlord; although they had this Arrears Act which the Prime Minister described as an act of policy, which being an act of policy should have 1947 been administered in a liberal spirit, they found that the total time allowed to the tenants to satisfy one of the essential conditions of the Act was only two or three months. He asked the House to remember that in the course of the debates on the Arrears Bill in that House the Prime Minister estimated the amount to be paid under the Act out of the public funds at over £2,000,000—he estimated that the Consolidated Fund would be charged that amount. ["No!"] At any rate, the charge upon the Church Fund and the Consolidated Fund together would be £2,000,000.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not intend to be inaccurate; but the case was this. I never gave that as my opinion, nor as the opinion of the Government, as the probable payment that would have to be made under the Act. In a case of the kind where the charge was one of great uncertainty the Government were obliged to take an outside estimate. It was the only course they could pursue in fulfilment of their duty; but I never expected the charge to reach that amount.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the estimate given from the Government side of the House was for that amount, and on the Opposition of the House right hon. Gentlemen whom he now saw present contended that the charge would be considerably in excess of that amount. The next point to consider was as to how many tenants ought the Government to give relief to; and he quoted a speech which he very well remembered—a speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland—who said that the average payment by the State in respect to each tenant would be £7. If they divided that amount into the total of"£2,000,000, which the Government estimated it would be necessary to spend, they would find that the Government estimated that 300,000 tenants, or one-half the total number in Ireland, would need assistance under the Act. When he called attention to the fact that the Government expected to be in a position to pay money to the landlords in respect to one-half of the total number of tenants, he said he was in a position to tell the House whether or not the Arrears Act had been a failure. Unless every tenant in Ireland who went in for the benefit of the Act satisfied his landlord in respect of the rent for the 1948 year 1881, he would be shut out finally and for ever from any benefit under the Act. Let the House bear that in mind, and follow him in a figure or two he proposed to state. He asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant a very few days ago how many tenants had made application for the benefits of the Arrears Act, and in how many of these cases had a favourable report been made, The total number of applications up to within a few days ago was 16,000—the population of one barony—16,000 out of 300,0C0 whom the Government hoped to help; and of the 16,000 in how many cases had favourable reports been made? In 1,200 cases. Upon the very verge of the practical expiration of the Arrears Act they were told that out of the 300,000 tenants whom the Government hoped to help by the Act, 1,200 cases, or one in 25,000, had been favourably reported upon. If that was not a deplorable failure, the meaning of the word "failure" was beyond his estimation. Why had the Act failed? He compared it with another Act which was passed by this House—the Prevention of Crime Act, under which, for the murder of relatives and for malicious injury to themselves, persons were entitled to present applications for compensation. That Act was administered in a very different spirit to the Arrears Act. They had their 3,000 police barracks all over Ireland, and the police in every district went to persons who had claims and informed them of their power to send in claims; and the consequence was that these ubiquitous police had not left a single person entitled to claim without having him well posted as to the nature of his claim and the mode to proceed. Did the Government follow any similar course under the Arrears Act? Did the police or Post Office officials of the Government, did any of the other State servants busy themselves, or were they directed to busy themselves, to inform the tenants in the wild districts of Ireland to take advantage of the Act? Not a single step was taken, and the poor tenants had no information, and were left to the fitful and desultory teaching of the Press. If they considered the state of the people as regarded education in the wild, remote mountainous districts of the West of Ireland, they could easily imagine that it was perfectly absurd to imagine that the great 1949 mass of the people—poor, ignorant, in many cases not knowing even the English tongue—could learn in the space of two or three months what benefit they might have and what course they ought to take to secure benefits under a complicated Statute such as this. Was it to be expected that an Act such as the Arrears Act could operate effectually in two or three months? Such a hope was from the very moment of its conception doomed to failure. What was one of the rules of the Land Commission under this Act? That a tenant who hoped to derive any benefit from this Act was obliged to serve a notice personally upon his landlord or his agent. There were thousands and tens of thousands of tenants in Ireland whose landlords lived within the sound of Big Ben, and who never went to Ireland. And the proposition coolly laid down by the Land Commissioners, and maintained until within 10 days ago, was that the poor tenant who wore straw about his legs instead of an ordinary garment, and brogues on his feet, should go and serve a notice personally on his landlord, a fashionable swell in London, or his agent in Dublin, that he intended to apply for benefit under the Arrears Act. That provision by which the tenant was obliged to serve notice was inserted by the magnates in "another place," and accepted by the Government. Not only had the tenants to serve this notice of intention; but after that, at the end of 10 days, they were pledged to serve a further notice personally upon the landlord or agent. Why, it came to this—that in order to obtain from the State a possible grant amounting to £7, according to the hon. and learned Solicitor General, a tenant might possibly have to make, or have made for him, two journeys from the wilds of Donegal to the heart of London. ["Oh!"] Well, it was quite possible. ["Oh!"] He recognized the groan of the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster). He might be mistaken. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER said, that he had not groaned.] He (Mr. Sexton) apologized to the right hon. Gentleman—it was, perhaps, the hon. Member who sat next to him. To enable a tenant in a remote part of Ireland to personally serve the notices that he intended to apply for the benefits of the Arrears Act, it would be necessary for him, in the usual course, 1950 to make two personal journeys from this remote part to the heart of London or Dublin. The probable cost of these two journeys would be as much as the utmost grant he could obtain from the State. It was a sad thing that remedial measures—devised, he believed, honestly in the hour of a people's distress and hunger, and devised at times when the impulses of human nature were turned by want and desperation to crime—should, by the mode of its administration, be turned into a mockery and a farce. It was only 10 days ago that that rule which absolutely prohibited tenants taking advantage of the Act was relaxed. He wanted to ask the Prime Minister to reconsider his view that the period in which the tenant might satisfy the landlord in respect of the rent should be' extended, considering it had been shown that regulations had been enforced which shut out the great body of the tenants from the Act. The demands of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) were as reasonable as could possibly be made to any Government. The first was that the period within which the tenants might satisfy the landlord in respect of the rent for 1881 should be extended until such time as the Court of the Land Commission should decide how much rent should be paid for that year. His hon. Friend simply asked that the time for payment of the rent for that year should be extended until the tenant knew, by a regular judicial decision, what was the amount of the rent he had to pay. The poor tenants of Ireland, if they managed to scrape together the amount, had a natural obstinate inclination to lodge that rent in one of the legal Courts. The regulation should be vested in the Land Commission itself, and it should be extended until the Land Commission said how much the poor man had to pay for the year. He should like to read extracts from one or two letters, to show the result the present course of uncertainty had produced. It was a marvellous thing that the Land Commission should have allowed two or three months to stand over, although the difficulty about the hanging gale clause was foreseen. All the Members of that Party, and all the strength and energy in them, opposed the introduction of that clause last Session. They knew perfectly well that rent was not 1951 paid in Ireland on any estate on the day on which it was due; and they knew that the landlords of Ireland, with that ingenuity, that unscrupulous disposition which they had always manifested in regard to every act for benefiting the tenants, would claim that whereas the rent was never paid upon the day on which it was actually due, that there was always some day of payment after, and that there was a hanging gale—they knew this claim would be put forward by the landlords. They knew that bewildering uncertainty preventing the tenant from taking any step, or doing anything which would arise in the people's minds all over Ireland; and they foresaw the moment this clause was introduced the wide and universal failure of the Act. Why did the Land Commissioners not give an authoritative decision? Why had they sent men all over Ireland—gentlemen selected by what secret extraordinary course he knew not—from various sections of society and different parts of the Kingdom? He had endeavoured to arrive at some understanding of the principle by which these investigators had been selected. He should have expected that they had had either some training in law, or that they had some knowledge of the relations between landlord and tenant. But what did he find from the reply of the right hon. Gentleman? That officers in the Army and Navy were deemed to be persons peculiarly fitted to inquire into this question of rent between landlord and tenant in Ireland. He was not aware that either the quarter-deck or the barrack-square gave a man any extraordinary ability for the purpose of inquiring into the questions raised under the Arrears Act. The Government sent General Tisdal, an ex-General in Her Majesty's Army, as he was presumed to be extraordinarily qualified to decipher the Chinese puzzle of the Hanging Gale Clause. He went down to Sligo, and a tenant proved that the rent for 1881 was paid, and he produced two receipts. According to common sense one would have expected that the poor fellow had a right to claim that he had satisfied the demands of the landlord for the rent of 1881. The agent stated that on that property it was not the custom to pay the rent for May till the 1st of September; that was five months after it was due. It might be supposed by a reason- 1952 able person that there would not be a hanging gale upon that property, inasmuch as one full gale did not intervene between the gale in respect of which payment was made and the other was due. In other words, suppose a gale fell due in May the tenant did not pay the gale till September. What did the gallant General decide? He decided that there was a five months' hanging gale, a proposition which in itself was a manifest absurdity, because the second gale did not intervene, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly understood constituted the hanging gale. This General Tisdal was one of the corps, the battalion of 90 investigators, who had produced a perfectly paralyzed condition of chaos in the minds of the tenants of Ireland. They had no decision from the Land Court as to what the tenants had to pay, and they were within seven days of the last day on which a tenant could satisfy his landlord in respect of the rent of 1881. They found the Land Commission still declining to give a decision on the question, and they found 90 investigators drawn from the Army and the Navy giving all sorts of decisions. The tenants were left at sixes and sevens, and yet they were told the time could not be extended. He submitted the proposition to reason, and he asked the House was it not reasonable to ask that the Land Commission should first give a decision, and make it clear how much the tenant had to pay for 1881? After that decision had been given, a reasonable time should be allowed to elapse for the tenant to satisfy the demand. The second demand of his hon. Friend was that some provision should be made from the Church Fund for the payment of costs incurred to recover arrears of rent from people unable to pay. A number of tenants all over Ireland, might be able to satisfy the landlord in respect to the rent of 1881; but they could not pay the costs that had been heaped upon them by legal proceedings in the course of the last three years. Why had these costs been heaped upon them? For two reasons. First, because the landlords saw the Government intended to propose a measure of reform, and they proceeded to worry their tenants by law and to evict. The costs had been piled up. The Court of the Land Commission had proved itself hitherto quite unable to meet the demands made upon it. The 1953 total applications made up to the present moment was 90,000; but the Court of the Land Commission had not yet had before it more than one-sixth or one-seventh, of that number. Tenants who had applied to have their rents fixed had waited a full year, and their cases had not been heard, and they were still under the old rack rents. In the past year he was personally aware that many landlords in Ireland had availed themselves of the Land Court, and of its incapacity to meet the cases coming upon it, and had served notices of ejectment upon those poor tenants. The weakness, the incapability of the Land Court to deal with the business daily cast upon it was the reason why, if they had allowed the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) to pursue his policy of test cases, and the Land Court to indicate generally to the landlords and tenants of Ireland what would be the average level of the reduction to be made, they would have had the landlords and the tenants asenting to the moral weight of those decisions; and he was able to say they would have had the process of pacification in Ireland advanced in one year to quite a remarkable extent. But they took their own course. They chose to imagine that all the statesmanship as well as all the knowledge of Ireland in the world existed on the Treasury Bench. They took their own course, and the result had been the stagnation of business in the Land Court. Landlords had said to their tenants if they dared to go into the Land Court they would pursue them for the arrears, and in many cases they had pursued them in the hope of receiving them before any law of reform could be passed. The hon. Member for the City of Cork had pointed out that there was a moral claim upon them to satisfy these costs as well as the rent of 1881. There was another aspect from which the matter might be viewed. The second quarter's rent had become due as well as the rent for 1881. Poor tenants in Ireland now found themselves in this position. They had satisfied the quarter's rent for 1881, and would satisfy it for 1882; but they must satisfy the law costs, which in many thousands of cases had been incurred. The Prime Minister's experience of human nature and knowledge of Ireland though secured at second-hand, were very considerable; and a moment's reflection must teach him that to present a 1954 proposition like that to the mass of the tenants of the West Coast of Ireland was to drive them from their homes. The Prime Minister opened his brief remarks that evening by felicitating the House prematurely, he thought, upon the decline of the number of evictions. Evictions had declined while the landlords were uncertain as to the course the right hon. Gentleman and the Government were to take. While the landlords thought it likely that they might be enabled to extract by reason of the juggling Hanging Gale Clause an additional half-year's rent from the tenants they held their hands; while the landlords thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister might find the law costs for them, and might enable them to arrive at a reasonable method of settlement with the tenancy, they were afraid to exercise the legal powers vested in them. But the right hon. Gentleman had spoken that night in no unmistakable tones—the tenants had nothing more to expect—the Government would not alter the conditions—they would not extend the time. Although the Land Commissioners had refrained from giving the tenants the necessary information in order to let them know their powers and rights, the Government would not make any allowance. They must settle with the landlords on the 30th November, or they could not settle at all. That was what the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman had amounted to; and his words had, he feared, set once more in motion that storm of notices to quit which, in his own words, once before fell like snow flakes on the plains of Ireland. He looked with fear—he looked with horror—on the record. It was not 300, but 3.000 families that they would have evicted before this year ran out, and they might exercise their Prevention of Crime Act—they might sweep the highways of strangers—they might break into the houses of the peasants in the middle of the night—they might flood the docks with criminals, and have them tried by their magistrates and Judges; but he told them no exercise of such statutes, no matter how drastic they might be, no recourse to these powers would restore peace and order to Ireland until they considered the necessities and the claims of the humblest and most abject classes in the land.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, upon the subject of distress in Ireland, he was very hopeful that the distress would not be so great as had been anticipated; but he was very glad to find that his right hon. Friend and Successor had determined to err on the safe side, and had investigated for himself what was likely to be the extent of the distress and the best mode of meeting it. His hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Colthurst) had taken the opportunity of doing what he had done before—namely, to call the attention of the Government to the difference between the Irish Poor Law and the English Poor Law; and he (Mr. W. E. Forster) should like to state to the House his own experience with regard to that question. In Ireland, the Boards of Guardians could not, without breaking the law—whatever might be their opinion as to the impossibility of otherwise relieving distress—grant outdoor relief. This could only be done by order of the Poor Law Board. During the former distress in Ireland the late Government, under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, passed an Act giving power to the Guardians to grant outdoor relief, and the present Government had found it necessary to continue that power. But the House should remember that in the Act passed by the late Government there was a clause indemnifying the Boards of Guardians if they were forced to break the law and grant outdoor relief. He understood his right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) to state that, if necessary, the House would, no doubt, allow a Bill of Indemnity to be passed again, and no doubt it would. He merely made these remarks as he thought they had come to a time when it did not tend to give respect to the law in Ireland that they should have to break the law in order to give outdoor relief. He hoped that there would be such an alteration in the law as, while it would not encourage a system of outdoor relief, still would make it possible that it should be given upon the responsibility of the Government, at their instigation, and with their sanction. He could not leave this subject without stating he understood his right hon. Friend to say that if necessary he would venture to give the order for outdoor relief, although it would be technically breaking the law. At the same time he hoped and believed that the dis- 1956 tress would not be so severe as it had been supposed it would be by some hon. Members. With regard to the other portion of the Amendment, he must leave his right hon. Friend to state the details as to the action of the Commissioners; but he (Mr. W. E. Forster) wished to say that he thought that the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) had rather misconceived the statistics supplied at the time the Arrears Act was introduced. The calculations were not made with a view to giving the number of tenants, but in order that the House might be informed of the maximum amount required. When the hon. Member for Sligo said he thought the right hon. Gentleman meant to provide for 300,000 tenants, he must have been under a misapprehension.
§ MR. SEXTON
The sum required was stated to be £2,000,000, and each tenant was to be allowed on an average £7.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he certainly never expected that 300,000 tenants would come under the Act, and that the amount was very much exaggerated. He was very much in favour of the Arrears Bill being passed, and he never believed it would apply to the larger number of oases. He had found that the payment of the actual amount of arrears was more general than was supposed. Rents were paid in numerous instances in March and April of last year. Then the limitation of £30 brought down the number of applications under the Act very considerably. Then the limitation introduced by the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond), that one year's rent should be paid, tended still further to diminish the number. As he had already stated on a former occasion, there were a great number of cases in which applications would not be made at all, because the tenants were too poor; and he was satisfied that nothing the House could do in the way of extension of time or in payment of costs would enable these poor tenants to pay that one year's rent. He knew that there were cases in the West of Ireland in which nothing would enable the people to go on with their tenancies but paying them money to help them in their miserable and hopeless position. There were some under £10 and some under £5; they could not make a living out of their small hold- 1957 ings; and it was impossible that their I cases could be met by the Arrears Act or by any amendment of it. Detailed answers to detailed objections would, of course, be given by the right hon. Gentleman; but he confessed he was rather slow to believe that the tenants in Ireland who could take advantage and who wished to take advantage of that Act did not know of it. He did not think that was in accordance with the general interest in those matters that was taken by the tenantry. Although the matter of the hanging gale was a very complicated business, he did not imagine that any tenants who could pay the year's rent, and wished to do it, would be prevented by any difficulty of that kind, or, at least, they would be exceedingly few in number.
§ MR. PARNELL,
interposing, said, that what he had wished to show was that a great many tenants who paid their rent last winter were not aware that it could be credited to the rent of 1881.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
did not mean to say that every case could be met; no Bill could be made to meet every case. But he doubted whether there was any sufficient ground for a continuance of exceptional legislation; and unless there was a strong necessity for passing another Arrears Act, he believed it would be no true kindness to the tenants themselves to continue the course of exceptional legislation. Nothing was more for their real interest than to find that there was some finality on the Land Question, and that those who lived by agriculture could go on and get a fair return for their industry. Therefore he could not but think that the Government had done right in declining to make any fresh changes in regard to those Acts.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he was astonished that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), who had supported the Arrears Bill by vote and by speech, should now, when it was found that the Bill had failed to answer its objects, come down to the House and say—"Let the Bill remain as it is." The Prime Minister had calculated that 1958 the number of tenants who were liable I for arrears and who could not pay them without the aid of the Arrears Act would be little short of 200,000, and that the maximum sum that would be required to meet the demands made under the Act would be £2,000,000. What, however, were the real facts? Out of the 200,000 anticipated applicants, only about 16,000 had actually demanded relief within a week of the time when their demands would become no longer possible; while, up to the present moment, only £500,000 sterling, at the outside, would be required to meet the applications of tenants who had already made demands. [An hon. MEMBER: £250,000.] Well, if it was only £250,000 his argument became all the stronger; for he maintained that these figures proved that the Arrears Act was as complete and disastrous a failure as the history of legislation by the House could show. If the Act had thus failed, ought there not to be some attempt immediately made to remedy the failure? In reference to some of the points which had been urged by his hon. Friends, it would not be necessary for him to say much. He would not say anything about the Hanging Gale Clause, nor would he say anything with regard to the question of costs; but there was a point he wished to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary for Ireland. There never was a case which the right hon. Gentleman did not say was an exaggerated one, if it was put forward by the Irish Members. The right hon. Gentleman got up in his place and, taking a rose-coloured view of the situation, said, in vague general language, that the hon. Member's fears were not well founded—vagueness and generalities were all very fine; but they were standing face to face with the shadow of famine, and such language was the most unstatesmanlike and the most cruel that could be used in that House. The facts of the case should be faced, and at the very first moment that a statesman became aware of them. What he wanted to point out to the right hon. Gentleman was that there was an almost unparalleled failure of the staple produce of the people in some parts of the country, and a very considerable failure in other parts; and that, on the other side, there was the fact that the food by which the people 1959 supplied the want of the potato was dearer than it, perhaps, had ever been at this time of the year. Was it not a fact that the high price of Indian corn was almost unparalleled for this season of the year? If the right hon. Gentleman would study the figures of the importations into Ireland, he would find that the imports of Indian meal always showed by their dearness when a famine was approaching. In 1877 about 10,000 tons of maize were imported into Galway; in 1878, when the distress was beginning to appear, the quantity rose to 17,000 tons; and in 1879, when the distress was most severe, it further rose to 19,000 tons. Last year's price of Indian corn was £6 6s. per ton. This year it was £10 10s. per ton—in other words, the tenant's shilling of last year was now only worth 8d., so far as the substitution for their staple food was concerned. Under those circumstances, instead of breaking the law in regard to outdoor relief and then applying to Parliament for an indemnity, the Government ought to adopt the more straightforward course of at once asking the House for the legislation which the occasion demanded. A short Bill of three clauses would settle the whole question of arrears, and would meet the impending distress. He would undertake to say that such a Bill could be passed in three nights, and that even the Conservative Party, if they attended to the advice of their Irish Friends, would not oppose it. Let Her Majesty's Government, then, bring in such a Bill, and if it was rejected in "another place," let the responsibility rest with that "other place," and on those who, in the face of impending famine, did not hesitate to prevent the Irish tenants from reaping the advantage of beneficent legislation.
§ MR. CHARLES RUSSELL
said, he agreed with the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) that the connection of the Arrears Act with the distress in Ireland was rather remote, because there was a large class of small tenants who were not in a position, and would not be in a position, to pay a year's rent, and whose condition would not be permanently benefited by any improvement of the Arrears Act. But he still thought that there was also a large class of tenants not so poor and impoverished, who, if a reason- 1960 able extension of time were granted for the payment of arrears, would be able, with advantage, to avail themselves of the benefit of the Act. It was to the case of such tenants he wished to direct the attention of the House. He quite agreed that exceptional legislation could only be justified by stern necessity; but inasmuch as Parliament had already declared exceptional legislation to be necessary, the question was—howoughtthey to frame that legislation in order to meet the necessities of the case? Parliament had already passed a measure; but had that measure answered the purposes for which it was intended, or had it failed? If it had failed, was it possible to amend it so as to adapt it to present necessities? With that question in view, he would remind the House of the grounds for passing the Arrears Act. These grounds were not merely the interests of the landlord or the tenant class as such; but the interests of the peace of the country, by stopping evictions, and assisting the operation of the Land Act just passed by Parliament. Because, so long as the question of arrears was not dealt with, large classes of tenants would be debarred from using that Act. No class of tenants could apply to the Court while they were saddled with arrears; and they were, practically, at the mercy of their landlords. These being the grounds on which Parliament justified the passing of the Arrears Act—the general good, the interests of peace, and the operation of the Land Act—the question was, had it served its purpose? Unless Parliament saw some reason to alter its view of the situation, no statesman would be justified in refraining from coming to Parliament to effect any necessary alterations if it were shown that such alterations were required to make the Act work. The amount of arrears supposed to exist in Ireland at the passing of the Bill was estimated from £2,000,000 to as high as £4,000,000 or £5,000,000. He would not stop to consider what was meant by those figures being the maximum amount, but would inquire how much had, in fact, been advanced. That sum was only £215,000. The Chief Secretary had informed them that out of 16,845 applications, 1,243 had been favourably reported on, making a total money expenditure of £5,062 3s. 1d.; 42 cases had been unfavourably reported on, and 3,119 were under investigation, 1961 while 6,535 still remained to be dealt with. Now, could any candid person say that that represented anything like a dealing with the enormous question of arrears in Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister stated that in the opinion of the Land Commissioners it was impossible to speak with any accuracy until the month of December; but was there any reasonable expectation that the figures he had mentioned would then be more than slightly increased? If the House were asked to render the Act more efficacious by enlarging the time of its operation, they would rightly expect to be furnished with some reason for the request; and he could give some reasons furnished to him by a gentleman of experience—one of the investigators in the county Mayo. They were contained in a letter, dated the 17th of November last, in which he said—It was mentioned by a solicitor in court today that numbers of tenants would be unable to take advantage of the Arrears Act unless the time was extended. Many do not understand it yet, and some here in the remote parts of Mayo have not even heard of it. Lord Sligo's agent told me that it was only lately that their tenants had made up their minds to try to avail themselves of it, and here they must pay their rent by the sale of cattle, and the fairs at which they sell are many of them held in December. We have had some hard cases to-day. After service of notice to apply for payment of arrears, a landlord renewed execution under an old judgment for rent, and the wretched tenants borrowed a lot of money and paid it. There was only a small balance due to clear the rent of 1881, and the rest of the money which remains in the Sheriff's hands will, of course, go against last year's arrears. Of course, they (the tenants) might have applied to the Court to stay proceedings; but some of these people are very simple.Now, he begged it to be remembered that the Arrears Bill was only passed last year, and that during its passage through that House the Prime Minister had been warned that the time fixed for its operations was too limited, and that he (Mr. C. Russell) and others had made attempts to get the time extended. They knew the difficulties the Prime Minister had to contend with were not confined to that House, nor were they greatest in that House; but they were entitled to point to the fact that the views they were expressing as to the insufficiency of the time allowed were not being expressed for the first time. The grounds upon which this application for an extension of time for the working of the 1962 Act was based were—first, that the tenants had not yet had sufficient time to gather up money for the payment of their rent; and, secondly, that the Arrears Bill had provided a most cumbrous and expensive machinery for carrying out the intentions of the Legislature—a provision which, in his judgment, was a high defect in the Bill. What was that machinery which the tenant had to avail himself of for the purpose of getting the benefit of the Act? There were two questions connected with that point—the first, that of joint application; and the second, that referring to the application of the tenant without the consent of his landlord. There were some landlords to be found who were fair enough to meet their tenants; but there were others who acted to the contrary under this Act, as under the Land Act, and would not come forward to assist their tenants. What was the machinery to be used by a tenant making an application without the consent of his landlord? He had, in the first instance, to give 10 days' notice that he was entitled to apply, and then he had to serve notice of his application on the landlord. Next, the Commissioners sent down notice to both landlord and tenant that the investigator would attend for the purpose of making an investigation. That, however, was only the initial step of the matter, because all the investigator had to do was to see that the preliminary conditions of the Act had been complied with. All these steps, however, meant, more or less, expense. The matter then came before the Land Commission, who made the order for payment; and subsequently, after other action, there was the power of appeal. Could more cumbersome machinery than this have been devised for dealing with the matter in which a great number of persons were interested, most of whom had neither the position, the education, or the means to go through all the necessary technical procedure? But in addition to all these difficulties there was that arising out of the hanging gale, which had been very properly likened to a Chinese puzzle by some hon. Gentlemen opposite. He tried to understand it some months ago, but he had failed, and he did not understand it now. He had, he might say, very honestly tried to master it, but had failed. It might, he thought, fairly be said that the investigators were in the same con- 1963 dition. Mark the result. The investigator might come to the conclusion that the tenant had paid the rent for 1881; but on appeal from the investigator the Land Commission might say—"That is not the right construction;" and so the tenant, having the ruling of the investigator in his favour, was told by the Land Commissioners that that view was wrong. In that manner the poor tenants had the door shut against them. Was it, therefore, unreasonable that when a difficulty of that kind had arisen, as to what was the amount the tenant had to pay for 1881, the time should be extended, so that he might have an opportunity given him for paying the money after a judicial decision had determined what was the amount to be paid? These were some of the obstacles in the way of the tenants enjoying the benefits of the Arrears Act. The resolution and the ability of the Prime Minister were fully able to remove them. Although he had stated that he could do nothing, he (Mr. Russell) hoped if it should turn out that the sanguine anticipations of the Land Commissioners should not be realized, he hoped not in the interest of the landlord or tenant, but in the interest of the general peace of the community, that the Act might be altered so as to enable it to effect its purpose.
§ MR. LEAMY
said, that there was a great difficulty among the tenants in being able to tell whether they were entitled to the benefits of the Land Act, and a large number of applicatioas were daily received by the Mansion House Committees making inquiries to that effect. He charged the Commissioners with having created a great deal of this difficulty with regard to the hanging gale. There was nothing in the Arrears Act which, in his opinion, raised the question at all. The only question raised was whether the rent due upon a certain gale day, the 1st of May or the 1st of November, had been usually paid on some other day? The tenants were quite unable to say whether they had paid sufficient rent under the Arrears Act or not, and would have to wait three weeks until the decision was made. What was to be done in the meantime? The tenant said the landlord demanded the half-year's rent, and if he did not pay he might lose the benefits of the Act, and if he did pay it, it might be thought that ho ought not to have done so. With 1964 regard to the 10 days' notice, that was a simple thing to an intelligent man, but to the poor countrymen in the villages in Ireland it was a greater difficulty. They were told they must send their notices to the office of the landlords' solicitors, and they had the greatest difficulty in finding out where their offices were. Sometimes they got letters from Dublin, sometimes from Paris or elsewhere, telling them to lodge their rents at a certain bank, and that was all many of them knew about their landlords. He believed that if the tenants were allowed but one month extra in which to pay their 1881 rent, a large number would avail themselves of it and pay the rent. Surely no one could object to that. He did not believe the landlords would strongly object to it. Moreover, in the case of harsh landlords, tenants who wished to go into the Arrears Court were threatened with an ejectment notice. That had happened in many cases, and the matter should be considered. If the Government would bring in a Bill containing all the provisions which the hon. Member for the City of Cork suggested, they might extend the time in which the money was to be paid. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had stated that night that when the workhouses were full then outdoor relief would be given—he meant to fill the workhouses first. A more bitter message than that had not been sent over to Ireland. There was nothing that the Irishman dreaded more than going into the workhouse. He would starve on a ditch-side first. They were receiving communications from all parts of Ireland, and from reliable sources; and he told the Government that the distress would be as bad this winter as it was in 1877, and yet there were no preparations being made for it. Did the Chief Secretary for Ireland mean to break the law and assist the people? The distress was great, and they knew more about it than the Government did. Why, then, did not the Government, during the present Session, ask Parliament for some powers? As the lives of a large number of people were at stake, surely a Bill might be brought in.
§ MR. J. N. RICHARDSON
said, he had meant to be a listener to the debate; and having in view the fact that the debate was more or less irregular, though legal, he should make his remarks short. His experience of the working of the 1965 Arrears Act was different to that of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It appeared to him that there was very little interest taken in his county on the question of arrears, for he had not received more than two letters from his constituents upon the matter, while he had received many upon the subject of Court valuers. He believed that that was due either to the fact that the rent was better paid than was expected, or to the fact that the tenants hesitated to take the oath as to inability, knowing that they could pay if they would. He heard with great surprise that the applications under the Arrears Act only amounted to something like £250,000; and he could not account for that fact, except for the reasons given by hon. Gentlemen opposite, by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. C. Russell), and by the fact that there were tenants who demurred to taking the oath. He would have no objection, if Parliament saw its way, to lengthen the time and give another month. He would offer no objection to the proposition, but would vote in its favour; but still, even after another month, from the absence of promptitude which had existed, he could believe there would still be a vein of inertia which would prevent tenants from applying in time. At all events, it was a most important matter for the benefit of those poor people that, before the debate terminated, they should know exactly where they stood, and to know whether any extension of time was going to be made or not. From the Prime Minister's words he gathered there was not; but it was a matter of importance that the tenants' minds should be set at rest. Apparently, expectations had been raised which were not to be realized. He heard with pain and regret a remark fall from the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) to the effect that the Irish people would look in vain to this House or to the Prime Minister for justice to Ireland.
§ MR. J. N. RICHARDSON
said, if that was so, he would not make the remark he was about to make. On the contrary, he had always endeavoured to show that it was to that House and to the Prime Minister that Ireland should look for justice; and he thought the instance of the long Session of 1881, and the arduous labours of the Prime Minis- 1966 ter in that Session for Ireland, was a proof of the truth of that statement.
§ MR. O'KELLY
said, he could not share the view expressed by the hon. Member who had just sat down, because, unfortunately, he represented constituents in Roscommon who had need of the Arrears Act, many of them being sadly in need of its provisions; and it was his duty to urge upon the Government that they should give the people in that county more time, that they might have an opportunity of using the Act which was intended for their benefit. This Act was one of the few measures which Ireland had reason to thank the House for. The people were well disposed towards the Act. They desired to avail themselves of its benefits; and, certainly, in his own county (Roscommon) the poorer people were making very great sacrifices in order to bring themselves within its provisions. They were, unfortunately, suffering from distress owing to the many bad seasons which had afflicted the West of Ireland. The late Chief Secretary for Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), had undertaken to say that there was not so much danger of distress as had been represented from the Benches on which the Irish Members sat. So far from there being little danger of distress, the information which he (Mr. O'Kelly) now brought fresh from Roscommon was to the effect that there never had been, since 1846, a worse outlook for a large mass of poor people in Ireland than there was now. The common opinion of most respectable men in his county, not belonging to any one Party or class, but Conservative landlords, land agents, and business people, was that the failure of the potato crop in Roscommon had not been so bad in any year since 1846 as it was in the present year. This distress was further increased by the fact that many of the poor people were even selling out their little stock of oats in order to make the payment of rent that would bring them the benefits of the Arrears Act. This was increased by the fact that the poor tenants had no stock left. Dear bread and dear potatoes instituted the present famine. The really important point as to whether this Act ought or ought not to be extended as to time turned upon the question—had the poor people of Ireland had a fair chance 1967 of using the Act? Evidence had already been adduced that there were difficulties in the way of utilizing its provisions. So difficult was the procedure made under the rules by the Courts that it was practically only within the last 10 days that the Courts had been open to the people; and it was, he thought, necessary for them to give 10 days' notice to their landlords before they could be brought under the action of the measure at all. Considering these difficulties, he thought the claim might fairly be put forward on behalf of these poor people that the time should be extended; and he submitted that the demand for its further extension was one that had been completely justified by the evidence brought forward by his Colleagues. While he was in Roscommon he attended one of these Courts, and observed how complicated was the nature of the procedure adopted there. He found Major General Tisdal, who was evidently a very respectable and well-meaning man, but seemingly with no knowledge of law, acting as the legal representative of the landlord, and bullying most of the tenants, who were too poor to employ a lawyer, and were perfectly undefended. This man was completely in the hands of the lawyers, and he had to do what the lawyers told him. Under these circumstances, the difficulties of properly utilizing the Act were, of course, great so far as the poor tenants were concerned; and on their behalf, therefore, it seemed to him that a fair case had been made out for an extension of time. With regard to the present distress, the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had said it was probably not so severe as it had been represented; and a similar statement had been made by the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, based, no doubt, on one of the Reports of the Inspectors of the Local Government Board. But it should be remembered that these Inspectors did not come very much in contact with the people; they spent most of their time in the company of the landlords or in the county clubs. They knew very little of what was going on in the country, except when ordered specially to go and inform themselves as to a certain state of facts, and then their examination was very superficial. But, on the other hand, what were the views of the Poor Law Guardians, of the 1968 tradesmen, of the agents, and of the people whose daily life brought them into almost hourly contact with these poor tenants. He held in his hand a resolution passed by the Board of Guardians of Boyle, and among them were the representatives of several of the local landlords. This was not a resolution passed by any mere section of the community, or by the followers of any political Party. It was a resolution passed unanimously to the following effect:—That the Guardians of Boyle Union hereby call the attention of the Local Government Board and of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the serious and grave condition that the affairs in this Union have assumed, and to the starvation impending over thousands of householders in consequence of the total failure of the potato crop among the small farmers, the destruction of the oats crop to a great extent by the recent storm and had weather, to the depreciation of the hay crop, and to the various householders that are without stock, and unless the Government come to their assistance they must die of want.A resolution of that kind was much more valuable than the mere opinion of the right hon. Member for Bradford, who judged simply from a mere general idea. The Government would find that they were making a great mistake unless they faced this difficulty at once, and took measures to meet the danger that now confronted them.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
Sir, no one who has listened to this discussion can deny that it is an interesting result of a novel but very Constitutional process by which the attention of the House has been called to this subject; and whatever hon. Members' own feelings may be as regards this question, they will, at all events, allow that those who take the gloomy and anxious views of the Mover of the Motion are justified in setting an example which, however, I hope will not be followed except on occasions at least as momentous as the present. The fears which have prompted hon. Gentlemen to take this course are not shared to a very great extent by the Government. I have taken down the words of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) who stated, reproducing in substance what had been stated by the hon. Member for the City of Cork, that the Arrears Act has failed, and he then talks as if all were over. But the hon. Member for Sligo and other hon. Members have not, in my opinion, brought to their minds 1969 the fact that the matter is not over, and that so far from there being only seven days in which tenants can take advantage of the Act, and that within a week the failure or success of the measure will be evident, there is still before them a space of more than five weeks. I shall try and show in a single sentence that there is confusion in the mind of the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. O'Kelly) on the subject that does not exist in the mind of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). The hon. Member for Roscommon says that the poor people have had no chance given them of taking advantage of the Act, because they have been obliged to give 10 days' notice of their intention. That is quite true; but the notice has not to be given before the payment of the critical year's rent—the rent of 1881—but before application is made to the Court to come within the benefits of the Act, and that application may be made not only until November 30, but any time before the 31st December. Therefore, it was no argument why the Government should extend a date which has no reference whatever to this 10 days' notice. I do not for a moment say that I am capable of enlightening hon. Members who have spoken on this subject, nor have I detected anything in their arguments to show that they have any inaccuracy in their minds. But, in my opinion, they take too gloomy a view of the position. Their view, at all events, is not the view of the Land Commissioners. As long ago as October 21 the Land Commissioners prophesied that what is now happening would happen. They prophesied that the applications for admission to the benefits of the Act would come in at a very late date indeed, and that they would astonish and raise very great apprehension on the part of a Government anxious to see full advantage taken of the Act. The reason they gave for this remarkable prophecy was that the preparation of joint applications on large estates is a tedious operation, requiring that the tenant shall be seen personally by the agent who fills up the forms, and that most of the principal landlords were deferring communications with their tenants on the subject till the usual time for receiving rents after the November fairs; and they go on to say that 1970 experience abundantly proves that where a last day is fixed for making applications a large portion of the applications will be deferred till the eleventh hour. They draw that deduction from experience of the Land Law Act in Ireland, in which the making of applications as regarded what are called unfair leases was deferred in a great number of cases till the very last day; and under Section 59, which deals with arrears, more Notices were lodged in the last available week than in all the rest of the time during which they could have been lodged. Therefore, this remarkable, prophetic, and anticipatory statement of the Land Commissioners is in itself a source of comfort. Then comes the question whether the generous appeal of the hon. Member for the City of Cork and the hon. Member for Roscommon have been answered, and whether the poor people of Ireland have had a full chance of availing themselves of the Act. I cannot imagine that greater publicity could be given to any measure enacted with the honest intention of benefiting Ireland. On August the 22nd, three days after the passing of the Act, the rules and forms were published; and soon after the publication of the rules, which were first sold for 6d., the Land Commissioners caused leaflets, with copies of the rules upon them, to be circulated through the rural post offices at a charge of ½d. Of that edition of the rules more than 100,000 copies were distributed. In addition to all this the Commissioners, through the agency of the Constabulary, distributed among the clergy of all denominations a pamphlet giving advice to landlords and tenants; and as complaints began to be made of the difficulty of procuring forms, the Land Courts took care always to keep a very large stock at their office, and supplied them promptly and in such large numbers that if they were all used the Government might well hope that the Act would have a very extensive application. The opinion of the Commissioners to which have referred is still unshaken, and they report to me this morning that they understand that upon some large estates the landlords and tenants are now engaged in filling up joint applications. That is a matter for congratulation, because they can be presented till December; or, if the Commissioners choose to extend the time, they can be presented till the end of 1971 April. The general opinion of the Commissioners has, as far as I have had the opportunity of ascertaining, been borne out by the opinion of private persons who are well qualified to judge. Only this morning I got an unsolicited letter from a gentleman with whom I am not acquainted, but who is agent for a wealthy nobleman and for a considerable number of landed proprietors. He says—There seems to be a general idea that because there has been hut a comparatively small claim upon the Treasury under the Arrears Act up to the present time, therefore the number and amount of the applications will be trifling, hut that it is necessary to bear to mind that the bulk of the claims will he made next month. The landlords of this county (Clare) almost invariably join with their tenants in their applications, and comparatively few of the joint applications are sent in as yet.That opinion is likewise shared by the Under Secretary at Dublin Castle, Mr. Hamilton, who, as the result of his conversation with the people of all classes, official and non-official, says he has no doubt that a very large number of applications will be received before the 31st December. He says he does not see the object that tenants would have in applying before the last day fixed, even if they fulfilled the necessary preliminary of having paid a year's rent before the 30th of November. He adds that he has no reason to think the Act will be a failure, and that the cases in which tenants have failed in consequence of a difficulty connected with the gale to fulfil the conditions with which they must comply before obtaining the benefits of the Act are few. He expects, in fact, that the measure will be made use of largely, and that the £250,000 which has been spoken of by some Members will be very greatly exceeded by the amount of money which will eventually have to be paid. I believe the hon. Member for the City of Cork, if he consults the Records of the House, will find that the question of the date for the payment of the year's rent was not very prominently brought forward in the debates in Committee on the Bill. Persons holding Office should not insist too strongly upon their own opinions; and it may be that the amount of money required for carrying out the Arrears Act may fall below the estimate of the Government, though, as has been more than once said to-night, that estimate was 1972 a maximum. If the Act fulfilled the purpose for which it has been passed, a lower expenditure than was at one time anticipated will be more an advantage than a disadvantage. The original belief of the Government was that every tenant who could satisfy the conditions of the Act, conditions which any tenant who can hold his head above water ought to be able to satisfy, would be able to place himself in a position to reap the advantages of the Land Act. That was the belief of the Government when they introduced the measure, and up to this time they have seen no reason to alter their belief. The hon. Member for the City of Cork has discussed at some length the question of the hanging gale, and has criticized the decisions of the Commissioners with respect to it. Well, I am not here to criticize the Land Commission, and I am not here to defend them; but I nevertheless think it right to say that they have acted with great energy and promptitude, and with every desire to make the Act succeed. The hon. Member for the City of Cork said that a decision should have been given weeks or months ago. But they have evidently relied upon giving a decision as a Court of Appeal from the investigators upon this important question. That reliance has, however, been defeated, because no tenant or tenant's solicitor will come forward to dispute the decisions of the investigators. In my own opinion, the clause with regard to the hanging gale is as clear as the sun at noonday; and that, as far as I can gather, is the opinion of the Land Commissioners. It appears to be the opinion of the tenants and their solicitors also, otherwise how does the hon. Member for Cork account for the remarkable fact contained in a letter written by one of the Land Commissioners, in which, after stating that he considers Gallagher's case at an end, he says in cases, where the construction of Sub-section 3 appeared to arise, the attention of the solicitors of tenants was called to the advisability of bringing the cases before the Court for judicial decision; but as yet none have done so, though they have been informed that every facility would be given for the purpose, and though the Commissioners even went so far as to indicate that if the question of costs stood in the way they would be prepared to make some arrangement to obviate the 1973 objection. The hon. Member for Cork thinks that very definite instructions should be given to the investigators. On that point I do not join issue with the hon. Gentleman or otherwise; but the Land Commissioners take a different view. They consider that they are a judicial body, and that the investigators are so likewise, and that the only way in which they can give instructions to the investigators as a Court of First Instance is by judicial decision on a case of appeal. Whether that is or is not the best way of going to work, it is certainly a most defensible and intelligible method; and the curious fact that not a single appeal has been lodged makes me think that landlords, tenants, investigators, Land Commissioners, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland, take exactly the same view of the case. Her Majesty's Government agree thoroughly with the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Richardson) that it is most important that it should be known clearly and thoroughly whether or not the date in the Act is to be kept. The next six or seven days and the next five or six weeks are very critical, and it is most important that the tenants should be assured from what is passing in the House to-night that whatever arrangements the tenants may make to bring them within the scope of the Act should be made within the time. It would be a cruel kindness to offer any hopes which could not be realized. Then the hon. Member for the City of Cork said that large numbers of tenants are excluded from the benefit of the Act—some from inability to pay their rent, and some from inability to pay previous costs. No doubt, with regard to the payment of costs, if it had been originally included in the Act, it would have been very easy to argue in favour of that inclusion. But there is a great difference between the case of arrears and the case of costs, and I think the hon. Member for the City of Cork greatly exaggerates the practical importance of the question. The cases in which costs have been incurred may be divided into four classes. The first was where the landlord has brought an ejectment and evicted the tenant. In such cases the costs incurred are very light, unless they have been increased presumably by the tenant's own act, and, in some cases, by his fault. The actual costs of ejectments in the Civil Bill Court ranged between 10s. 1974 and 30s. in undefended cases. But only where the tenant defended the case, in some instances from natural litigious-ness, in others owing to bad advice, would the costs be so large as to form a real bar to his taking the benefit of the Act.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
I do not. Then comes the cases where the landlord has recovered judgment, but has not brought an ejectment. In such a case the costs would be lass, because the costs of ejectments are a large factor in the matter.
§ MR. SEXTON
remarked that evictions were usually taken in the Superior Courts, where the costs would be greater.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
I have heard that there is a considerable desire manifested, in the case were a landlord has recovered judgment, to induce the tenant to sell his interest in order to satisfy the judgment. In these cases the tenants are far outside the scope of the Act, and money given by legislation for the purpose of restoring them would be a proceeding not contemplated by the Arrears Act, which is a most exceptional benefit to a particular class of distressed persons; and if Parliament were to extend it they would be making a demand which they have no right to make upon the surplus of the Irish Church Fund, which was intended for the benefit of the whole of the people of Ireland, and perhaps also upon the British taxpayer. The hon. Member spoke of evictions, and quoted figures of a most painful and deplorable kind. The evictions this year down to October are 4,249; last year they were 3,415, and the year before 2,110. These figures are very painful; but no more powerful machinery was ever set up to prevent evictions than has been provided by Parliament in the beginning of this Session, in the shape of the Arrears Act, and last Session in the shape of the Land Act. I think that Parliament has done as much as it is called upon to do in order to prevent this very painful process of eviction; and it may be a question whether those eviction Returns are not greater arguments against the hon. Gentleman's belief, the holding of which proceeds from his anxiety for the welfare of Ireland, that a great number of tenants are being left out in the cold. 1975 In August the evictions were 753; in September they had fallen to 349; in October they were 306; and down to the 22nd of this month of November they were only 131—that is to say, hardly more than half the number in any previous month of the year. I cannot help hoping that this is a proof that the Arrears Act has already begun to work in the direction of stopping evictions. I believe I need say no more as to the main contention of the hon. Member for the City of Cork; but so much has been said of the coming distress that if I were wholly silent on the subject, it might give rise to the very serious apprehension that the Government are not alive to the gravity of the situation. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), arguing in favour of the proposals of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, has said that the Irish people are face to face with famine. Now, I cannot admit that the questions of famine and the Arrears Act are as nearly allied as some hon. Members suppose, nor do I believe that famine could be averted by enabling a very few more poor people to meet the mild, the indulgent, and, as some thought, the lax conditions of that measure. But, though I do not see the bearing of one of these questions on the other, none the less do I regard the distress on the West Coast of Ireland as one of the most trying difficulties that has occurred since my official connection with the country. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) has asked what the Government will do while the people starve, and another hon. Member has feared that both the late and the present Chief Secretaries for Ireland take too rose-coloured a view of the situation. But, considering the part played by the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) during a former famine, he cannot be expected to underrate the gravity of the recurrence of such a disaster; while, for my own part, I can assure the hon. Member that I am not very likely to take a rose-coloured view of Irish distress, for when I was a lad almost the first recollections I have were of living in a house where two years' work was done in connection with famine, which was generally believed to be the hardest work ever any man did in the records of English officialism. What has the Government done? They have loft no stone unturned to get in- 1976 formation. Inspectors have been sent all over the country, and with regard to the districts where there was distress they have been sent again and again, and information other than that from Inspectors has also been obtained. Now that the Government is anxious to be informed by a more minute system of channels of information than the Inspectors constitute, in seven counties in Ireland—namely, in Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo, Leitrim, Kerry, Galway, and West Cork, a Circular has been issued to the Resident Magistrates which is to be distributed all over their districts, so that a most minute account shall be given of the prospects of the people in every separate village and district; and every one of these which I have hitherto seen shows that, at any rate, the examination will be most thorough. These Circulars will be answered without any fear of shocking official ears or delicate susceptibilities. Then comes the question of what the Government propose to do. Resolutions have been passed calling upon the Government to advance money for public works. Now, that is not the policy which the Government intend to adopt. The Government consider that the question of public money is one apart from that of relieving distress. They consider that this should not be made an occasion for giving money for public works which would not otherwise be given. The experience of the great Famine has convinced the Government that that is not the most efficient or satisfactory way of relieving distress, and I cannot say that the experience of the last distress has brought forward any consideration which would induce them to alter that opinion. The truth is, that spending money on public works does not insure the relief of the right people, for the sick and the starving stay at home, and men come to labour who do not want the wages, and would have been better employed on their every day work. In the great Famine of which I spoke just now, people gave up all their ordinary rural occupations and trades, till at last they were withdrawn to a dangerous degree from the work of agriculture. This method is also a most extravagant form of relief, as it makes the people far too eager for their share of the profit, and, while it affords no real test of distress whatever, is only a sort of bounty for work done. What can be more striking than the fact that 1977 in the great Famine 3,000,000 of people were supported by public works, and cost in one month more than £1,000,000, and in one week as much as £259,000? The enormous extravagance of that system has induced the Treasury to adopt a plan founded on the principle of the Poor Law, and to give relief in the most direct form of food, to be provided by funds locally raised, and assisted, if necessary, out of the Exchequer. By this kind of relief 3,000,000 of people were fed for six months at a cost of £1,500,000 of public money, a sum which, under the extravagant system of relief by public works, would have fed them for only six weeks.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
The diet could not have been unsatisfactory, for the physical results of that kind of relief were considered better than those of the other system. The Government now have made preparations to give assistance through the Poor Law. They have issued a Circular on November 18 to the Boards of Guardians, giving them all the necessary warnings and information, and the Circular is so plainly worded that the most unlettered persons cannot make a mistake. They have also in preparation another Circular, which will be issued, if necessary, enabling Boards of Guardians, where the rates absolutely fail, to make, applications to the proper authorities, and encouraging them to do so in case of need. I am happy to think that the Government intend to work this system of relief with a degree of supervision and a strength of public money, which will give the most positive assurance that the apprehensions of the hon. Member will not be realized, and that the people will not be allowed to starve. The hon. Member asks whether the Government will shrink from any step that may be necessary; but I venture to say that that will not be the case, and those who have followed the administration of the Irish Government since the beginning of the Session will be able to judge whether they have displayed timidity in the various difficulties they have encountered. The Government have quite determined to rest all title to respect 1978 and toleration on the fact of preserving the people of Ireland from the severest consequences of the threatened distress. The method which they have adopted for that purpose is that which they believe will best effect that object, without at the same time doing anything to demoralize the people or waste the public money.
§ MR. GIBSON
Sir, it is only natural that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland should desire to indicate that he has carefully and fully considered the importance of the matters to which he has referred, and it is only natural and to be expected, that the Government should desire to explain that the Arrears Bill has not failed in the short period it has been law. Whether it is right to describe it as a failure or not, I think few can deny that it has not achieved the exact purpose which it was expected to accomplish. To say the least, it has fallen, I may say, rather flat. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, however, indicates that he has grounds for the hope that it may yet succeed, and bases that hope upon the fact that the Land Commissioners, in addition to their other important duties, have recently adopted the rôle of prophets, and that in the seven days that have yet to elapse before the end of the month there will be such a rush of applications that it may yet succeed. There are five weeks yet before the earlier operations can be examined into. Now, I do not think it is a very profitable inquiry to examine too closely into why it is that the Act should not have accomplished the results expected from it. The hon. Member for the City of Cork has said that one of the reasons may be found in the existence of that curious clause which contains a provision about the hanging gale. I am bound to say that my conscience is absolutely free on that subject, for I pointed out that Sub-section 3 of Clause 1 was open to a variety of complications. I set myself the task of endeavouring to cut the Gordian knot by suggesting that the whole of that sub-section should be omitted, in order that the tenants might have a clear and precise proposition submitted to them as to which, there should be no doubt. That proposal of mine was, however, rejected. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said that, to his mind, its construction is as clear as crystal; but he did not state 1979 what his construction was. When the right hon. Gentleman was pressed by the argument of the hon. Member for the City of Cork that it would have been reasonable for the Land Commissioners to have informed their investigators what was their own view on the subject, the right hon. Gentleman's only answer was that he would not say whether it was right or wrong for the Laud Commission to give an authoritative instruction on the subject, as it was not his function to defend the Commission. Looking at the matter impartially, however, I think the hon. Member for the City of Cork has somewhat exaggerated this as the ground of the failure of the Act. No doubt, there have been difficulties and confusion as to the interpretation of that section, and it may be that that confusion has led to hesitation and uncertainty, the result of which may have been to exclude people from applying to get the benefit of the Act; but I do not think myself it will be found to prevail to a very large extent. Another reason suggested is the limitation of time that has been put into the Act in its progress through this House, and has had some effect in the matter. Then the hon. Member for the City of Cork said that the House of Lords was to blame for some of the hitches of the Act. Well, if this Act has failed, it has not been owing to a solitary syllable introduced into it in the House of Lords. It has been owing to Amendments suggested in this House, and deliberately adopted without a solitary syllable of objection. I say the House of Lords are not in the slightest degree to blame in the matter. They have not contributed to the extent of half a quarter of a syllable to anything of the kind. Indeed, the hon. Member for the City of Cork, too, when pressed on the subject, withdrew the charge. As to the question of the limitation of time, I am disposed to agree with what has been said on that point by the Chief Secretary for Ireland—namely, that the matter passed through this House as a matter not of first-class importance. The Amendment was moved in a few words, and the attention of hon. Members was not directed to the objection now sought to be attached to it. Another matter I desire to notice is this—that, notwithstanding the fact that the charge is so freely used against the Irish landlords, no one who has a true under- 1980 standing of what has occurred in Ireland since the passing of this Act can suggest that the landlords are in the least to blame for the failure—if failure there be—in its administration. It will be found that in the 16,000 applications that have been made up to the last dates, in the vast majority of cases the applications have been joint applications between landlords and tenants. Nay, the right hon. Gentleman himself stated, as a ground for expecting that the Act would not fail, that he had been told that on some of the largest estates in Ireland the landlords were seeking to co-operate with their tenants. So I am entitled to say that the landlords can no more be pointed to as a party to the shortcomings or failure of this Act than the House of Commons itself. In my opinion, the paucity of applications on the part of tenants to get the benefit of the Act will be found, if we want some cause, in the fact that a tenant to get the benefit of the Act has to pay one year's rent down, or show that he has done so. A great many tenants, we know, are heavily in arrear, owing either to poverty or want of method, and are not able to face that great primary condition. If, therefore, there is to be a division of praise and blame, and a calculation of the chances of what has been and what might have been, I should say that the chief grounds of this paucity of applications is to be found in the rejection of the loan plan. The gift plan requires this preliminary paying down of one year's rent, a very difficult condition to comply with in many instances; whereas the loan scheme would have been satisfied by the tenant incurring merely a liability to repay a loan on certain specified easy terms, spread over a number of years. That system a tenant could have understood without the slightest trouble. The evictions, which I am bound to say have not been referred to at any great length in the course of this debate, have been represented, and not unfairly, by the right hon. Gentleman as having been steadily diminishing for months. One thing makes this debate of importance and very great interest to Ireland. In Ireland, on this subject, as upon many others, there are wide, vague, fluctuating, and uncertain hopes; and it is essentially necessary that whatever may be the decision of the Government, it should be expressed in the clearest and most distinct language, and 1981 with the most unfaltering purpose. If this debate should do nothing else than indicate to the tenantry of Ireland that a decision has been arrived at distinctly and clear, then I say it will have accomplished a good deal. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster') points out, one of the most important factors for the pacification and satisfaction of Ireland is knowing finality. Keeping her in a state of suspense, unrealized hope, constant hot water, and vague uncertainty, is to preach to her a life-long period of wretched agitation. To speak with hesitation of the Land Bill and the Arrears Bill is merely to aid in preventing and retarding that prosperity we all desire so much to see. The right hon. Gentleman at the close of his speech spoke in a way which showed that he recognized fully the necessity of observing the symptoms of distress in Ireland. The Arrears Bill was not intended to be a Distress Bill, and no one has put that more clearly before us than the Prime Minister himself. But this does not, in the slightest degree, diminish the responsibilities of the Government. On the contrary, it rather adds to the grave responsibility of watching the progress and bearings of the distress. I was in Ireland myself on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and made all the inquiries I could in reference to the general state of the country and the distress; and, so far as I could gather, there is much real distress in the West of Ireland and Donegal. It may be that the distress will seriously and substantially increase during the winter months; but as yet I do not think we have reason to dread anything that can be designated a famine, and I would fain hope that there is nothing that cannot be satisfactorily grasped by a somewhat liberal and generous administration of the Poor Laws. It must be recognized, and it cannot be too clearly or strongly impressed upon the public mind, that in the extreme West of Ireland and in Donegal, distress is, unfortunately, if I may say it, almost chronic. Every second or third year there is very acute distress. That circumstance, although it ought not in the slightest degree to influence us in slackening vigorous measures, is yet one to be borne largely in mind. I am glad to hear that the Government have issued a Circular desiring information on the subject. Parliament will, I assume, meet 1982 about the usual time next year. ["No, no!" "Later."]
§ MR. GIBSON
I shall be ready to meet earlier, or later, as may suit the Government; but I wish to point out that meantime the responsibility of taking all those steps with regard to the present position of Ireland that may be necessary rests with the Irish Executive; and I am bound to say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman indicates that he is quite alive to the responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman has had his attention specially called to the fact that there is distress in Ireland, and that that distress requires to be closely, anxiously, and vigilantly looked after, and I hope that he may be able to cope with that distress by the existing machinery at his disposal until Parliament again assembles. If the Executive vigorously do their work, Parliament will, I feel confident, when it reassembles, if it should be found necessary to assist in th6 loyal discharge of the painful duties of the Executive, not hesitate to do its share in the work if, unfortunately, it should be found requisite.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, no one had the least doubt of the sympathies of the Chief Secretary for Ireland; and if the question of dealing with the distress were left to him, he should feel certain that his own sympathy and his own intelligence would prompt his action in every case. But he would warn the right hon. Gentleman against trusting too much to subordinate officials of all kinds. He perfectly well remembered the Famine of 1847. At the earlier period, when the Famine was growing, the officials were making favourable reports, and it was not until the newspaper correspondents went down to the distressed districts and drew such a picture of the condition of things there that the mind of the country was satisfied of the existence of distress, and that much good might have been done had measures been taken in time. He, therefore, strongly warned the right hon. Gentleman against paying too much attention to the answers to his Circular, and recommended him to made inquiries from persons in the districts where the distress existed. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of relief by means of public works in times of emergency; but in 1847 the system of public works was found to be not of the least use in the 1983 relief of genuine distress, for the various posts on the works were filled by undeserving persons, who were thus pensioned at the public expense. They might, however, be of advantage provided they were adapted to the needs of the various districts. There was one question to which he would like an answer, and that was, whether the Government were determined to allow outdoor relief in Ireland before the distress had become acute, and before the homes were broken up? Were they prepared to relax the restrictions under which relief could now only be given in case of sickness, and grant relief before the sickness arrived? Then, upon the question of the Arrears Act, he greatly regretted the kind of answer the Government had given that evening. No difficulty had arisen which was not predicted at the time the Bill was before the House. What was good in the Bill was due to the Irish Members; what was defective in it came from sources over which the Irish Members had no control. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the costs connected with ejectment which were thrown upon poor tenants as if they were next to nothing; but in many instances they were extremely heavy and even ruinous, preventing the tenant from being able to take advantage of the Arrears Act, and causing him to lose everything. Several striking cases of this kind had come under his own knowledge. The Chief Secretary had reminded them that the Land Court was a Court of Appeal to which those who were embarrassed by the difficulties of the hanging gale might resort; but it should be noticed that in Ireland they had had a tribunal of first instance, composed of military officers and gentlemen who had had no legal training whatever, and who seemed to be put there in order that they might learn something about the Arrears Act and the rudiments of the law. If the Arrears Act was in any sense a failure, the Government certainly could not say they had been forewarned not merely of of what would be the result, but of the precise points of weakness to which its failure might be traced.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had told them that forms of application for the benefit of the Arrears Act could be sent in up to the 31st of December. He knew that 1984 to be so. [Mr. SYNAN: They could be sent in even later by consent of the Court.] The important point, however, was whether the tenant would be able to pay the year's rent before the 30th of November; and that vital matter the Chief Secretary had skimmed over very lightly. It should be remembered that the weather had been very wet and injurious to farming operations, so that the tenants had not been able to send their produce to market in time to find the money with which to pay their arrears; and that circumstance, he thought, might supply a reason for extending the period for paying the year's rent to the 31st of December. Again, there were many fairs in December, at which the small tenants habitually sold their cattle; and it would, therefore, be a great point to extend the time for payment of their arrears by another month. He knew that a large number of tenants were making every exertion to take advantage of the Act, and he had no doubt that a large number of applications would come in before the end of November; but he believed that 30 or 40 per cent more, and those, too, the most necessitous cases, would come in if the time were prolonged for another month. The Act expired, so far as payments went, next Wednesday; and they now only had that most unfortunate decision of the Government near the last moment. The Chief Secretary for Ireland ought to see that that decision was telegraphed to the most remote parts of Ireland. With regard to the apprehended distress in that country, he did not think there would be famine; but he believed that there would be very considerable distress, and that it would arise mainly from two causes. In the first place, there would be a great want of employment for the people; and, in the next place, the price of potatoes would be high. As compared with last year, the price was at present more than doubled; and, owing to the partial failure of the crops, he believed that in some localities there would be great distress. They must remember, also, if they relied upon the rates to support the poor, that they could not expect to raise them to any very unusual amount without the fear of swamping the small farmers and precluding them from sowing their land. He would like the Government also to change their system of 1985 lending money. By the present method of making advances they could not lend more than £50, and he desired to see that sum very considerably raised, so as to render the expense less in proportion to the amount raised. He was sorry to see that so little hope was held out in the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland; it was one of the worst speeches he had ever heard—indeed, he might almost call it a dangerous speech. It told them in a word that they were to be left to their own resources, much in the same way as the horse who was locked up in the stable was told to feed himself by his resources. His resources were his teeth and his heels, and he only required his liberty to use them; but so long as that liberty was denied him, it was impossible for him to make his own resources available.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, that the importance of the subject amply justified the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. He felt that the Prime Minister's language was wanting in that sympathy he had often before shown to Irish distress, and he was struck with the fact that no allusion was made to the approaching distress, reports of which must have reached him. The Motion was also founded upon the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland; and it was a curious fact that while in England, where famines never happened, provision was made in spite of economic laws for the advance of money from the rates; in Ireland, where famines occurred every two or three years, no such power existed. Heshared with the hon. and gallant Member for the County of Galway (Colonel Nolan) a strong feeling of dissatisfaction at that speech. That speech was the old familiar echo of the policy and the spirit which had always actuated Irish functionaries in Dublin Castle. Nothing else could have induced him to suppose that Irishmen who crossed the Channel to obtain work, in order to take the proceeds home to their families, could not be trusted to spend money in the same way when they had to go 10 or 12 miles for it. If he desired a refutation of such narrow views, he would refer him to the Report of the Society of Friends of what took place at the time of the great Famine. It was strange, indeed, that in Ireland, where it was so much needed, the law did not permit them to efficiently relieve distress. The 1986 right hon. Gentleman said that if necessary they would violate the law; but surely that was a most extraordinary doctrine for the Chief Secretary for Ireland to advocate in that House. Then the right hon. Gentleman admitted that public bodies in various parts of Ireland had already felt it to be their duty to call attention to the distress which was impending. He would refer to a resolution passed by the Swinford Board of Guardians expressing the desire of the people of that district to obtain a loan of public money for the purpose of permanently improving their holdings and farms. That was a desire which ought to receive the sympathy of Her Majesty's Government; and he complained that after Parliament had enabled the Irish Government to assist in the development of Irish resources, there was always some piece of red tape tied round the provisions of the Act of Parliament which prevented them from coming into active operation. He need only refer to the Rule framed by the Treasury in regard to loans for the improvement of farms under the Land Act. That Rule declared that £100 should be the minimum sum lent to tenant farmers, and that it should be lent only to tenants of £20 valuation and upwards. How long did it take the hon. Member for the County of Cork to "peg away" at the Irish Government before he induced them to reduce the amount to £50 and the valuation to £10? The Treasury was therefore responsible for having defeated the intention of Parliament by framing that rule in the first instance. He agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the County of Galway that the limit of £50 was far too high, as the great bulk of the tenant farmers wanted only a little capital to permanently improve their holdings. With respect to the impending distress, he trusted the Chief Secretary would not be content with sending out official Circulars, which was just what his Predecessors had done on former occasions. Resident Magistrates and others to whom these official Circulars were sent had no sympathy with the masses of the people. They would sneer at Irish distress, and it was not till famine was strewing their course with those who had been starved to death that they would recognize the distress. Benevolent emigration would not cure the evil since the wretched 1987 patches of land vacated in this way were at once occupied by others in quite as large numbers. It was by a system of migration and not one of emigration that they could meet the difficulty, and until the Government had grappled with the difficulty, the story of Irish discontent would continue to arise to the shame and humiliation of the Irish people. In reply to the Chief Secretary, he told the right hon. Gentleman that they were ready to fall back upon their own resources if they would give them the control of their own resources. The present Irish Government was a mockery of Irish hopes and aspirations. Various causes had been assigned to explain the fact that only some 16,000 tenant farmers had availed themselves of the Arrears Act. He had received a communication in which there was a statement to the effect that, although only a year's rent was required to be paid before obtaining the benefits of the Act, the agents exacted a half-year's rent in addition before the cases were put into the Court. That occurred in districts where there was no hanging gale; and, of course, the effect of such proceedings was to prevent tenants from getting the benefit which they would otherwise enjoy from the Act. Although they had then the most Liberal Executive the Irish people had seen this century, they were as powerless as ever to control the administration of Irish affairs. He strongly commended the action of his hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork in bringing that matter before the House; and he hoped that he would persist in doing so until ample justice had been done to the impoverished people whose cause they were sent there to represent.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, the hon. Member who had just spoken was quite accurate when he spoke of the unanimity of Irish Members on the question. It was said that the Arrears Act and the Land Act were both humbugs before they were passed. He had ventured to say that that was not the case, and he held that opinion still; but he joined with those who had that night called on the Government to give the Act a further chance. He did so, not because he thought it was a humbug, but that he believed it was in the interests of the Irish tenants and landlords. He thought they had a right to ask the Government to give that extension—he did not care 1988 what time it was, so long as it was sufficient for the purpose. He remembered the terrible scenes in 1847, which were caused by the unfortunate position of the people in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, &c. He asked the earnest attention of the Government to the present distress, and he hoped no miserable consideration about money would stand in the way, considering we spent millions in Egypt, Afghanistan, and Zululand. He was convinced that the hon. Member for Cork was fully justified in bringing that matter under the notice of the House.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, the Prime Minister had observed in this debate a studied silence, which was more creditable to his prudence than his humanity. He supposed that, under the laurels of Tel-el-Kebir, the Government could now afford to treat with disdain the demands of the Irish people. He hoped the result of that obduracy would be to convince the people of Ireland that conciliation at any rate was played out, and they now knew that the moderate Whig was what O'Connell described him. He maintained that the Government had been misinformed by the Local Government Board Inspectors as to the distress that was likely to occur in Ireland. That was notably the case with regard to Tory Island, Donegal. The Rev. Father O'Donnell, the curate in charge, had written to him to say that the Inspector, Mr. Macfarlane, had not made a single inquiry of him, or, indeed, of any person of weight or authority on the Island, nor had he entered the huts of those among whom the distress was existing. Yet on the day of the inspection the heads of two families came to Father O'Donnell requesting to be sent out of the Island to save themselves and families from starvation, and the next day seven more came with a like request. With regard to the Arrears Act, he thought that enough had been said to show that the measure was already a practical failure, and the poorest of the Irish people were exposed to all the horrors of famine, aggravated by the horrors of eviction during the coming winter months, because the Government declined to give it a fair chance to come into operation.
§ MR. LEA
said, he thought that the Reports of the Local Government Inspector were often, and perhaps necessarily, very cursory, and suggested that further steps should be taken to ascer- 1989 tain whether any distress was likely to occur. He was sorry that the Government had not seen their way to extending the time for applications under the Arrears Act two or three months, because lie considered it desirable that legislation like that relating to arrears, when once in force, should be effective; but if they had decided not to do so it was best at once to let the tenants know that there was no chance of a prolongation of the period.
§ MR. BLAKE
said, he concurred with the Chief Secretary for Ireland that some of the labour works in Ireland had been of a useless character; but there were others of a reproductive nature, and he would suggest that the best and most useful means for relieving distress in Ireland was by expending money on harbour works. The Fishery Inspectors had recommended that works should be undertaken at 40 harbours; and if that were done the fishermen on those coasts would be able to exercise their vocations to a much greater extent than at present. Tory Island, to which so much allusion had been made that night, was a very good example of the places which would be benefited by the formation of harbours. The position of the inhabitants, whose chief characteristics were their primitiveness and their virtue, would be greatly improved if new harbours were erected, the one which already existed in the Island being quite inadequate for fishery purposes. He regretted greatly that the annual grant of £5,000 formerly made in aid of local efforts in connection with the erection of harbours had been withdrawn since the sum of £45,000 had been advanced for that purpose; and he had been much surprised at the hesitation of the Secretary to the Treasury to receive a deputation of Irish Members, who had intended waiting upon him in the hope of obtaining a renewal of the annual grant. The renewal of the small grant would lead to a considerably larger amount being contributed by local effort, and much good would be given by the employment thus afforded.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he would ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion. He did not think anything could be added to the great usefulness of the discussion, or to the impression which he hoped had been made upon the Government, by putting the House 1990 to the trouble of dividing. He trusted that the Government would reconsider the question of the relief of the distress, and that they would be able to see their way clear to ask Parliament to vote the power to enable them to give out poor relief in Ireland extensively. They had evidence in the progress of this debate of the existence of serious distress in Ireland; and he trusted that the people would not be left until they were half-starved and enfeebled before relief was granted.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, that this Act was the last of a series of measures which had distinguished the Liberal Party, and especially the Prime Minister, and which had proved a complete fiasco. He would refer to the Church Act of 1861, to the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881, and other measures of the Government, which he pronounced a miserable failure.
§ MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Member that the Question before the House was the Motion for the adjournment of the House, which the hon. Member for Cork asked leave to withdraw. The hon. Member was bound to confine himself to that subject.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he wished merely to observe that the position of affairs in Ireland proved that the remedial measures of the Government had turned out a complete failure.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [The following is the Entry in the Votes.]
§ Mr. Parnell, Member for the City of Cork, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance; but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Speaker called on those Members who supported that Motion to rise in their places, and not less than forty-Members having accordingly risen in their places:—
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn:"—(Mr. Parnell:)—Motion, by leave, withdrawn.