§ £5,000, Supplementary, Relief of Distress (Ireland).
§ (4.21.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
Mr. Courtney, as the Committee will see, the sum which I now ask them to vote is relatively a trifling one, but I think that this will be the most convenient opportunity for me to explain on behalf of the Government our views as to the character of Irish distress, and the methods by which we propose to deal with that distress. I am afraid that in dealing with that subject I shall have to trouble the Committee at length, although I will make my observations as brief as I can. I propose to lay upon the Table of the House Reports which will show the character of the failure of the potato crop in various districts in Ireland; but for the purposes of the present Debate I may take it as a matter of notoriety and of common knowledge, requiring no special proof and not requiring the production of documents, that in a considerable portion—the larger portion—of the western seaboard in Ireland the failure of the potato crop has been a very serious one. The amount of the failure of the crop varies in the different districts in which it has failed from half the average crop to a quarter, or even to less, and of this half or quarter crop a large proportion are immature, when not diseased, and although I will not go the length of saying that they are unfit for human food, they have certainly not the sustaining qualities which the average potato in ordinary years possesses. Now, the question that we have to determine is what amount of distress this admitted failure in the potato crop involves in these districts, and how that distress ought most properly to be met. I think it will fix the idea of the Committee upon the subject if I attempt to lay before them a concrete case which will show how this failure affects the life and mode of existence of an 544 ordinary small occupier in the distressed districts, but of course no single statement will be applicable to all these districts. The following will be a not unfair example of what will happen, in one of the worst parts of these districts. Under ordinary circumstances the occupier's crop of potatoes would supply him in each year with two meals a day from the 15th of August to the l5th of February, and with one meal a day from the 15th of February to the l5th of April, and after that date he has to depend largely upon other food bought upon credit from the local shopkeeper. This year I am told that, instead of having sufficient potatoes for two of his meals per day from the 15th of August to the 15th of February, he will only have them at one of his meals per day to the 15th of December, and that after the 15th of December he will probably have no potatoes at all. The result will be that, instead of being dependent upon other food stuffs bought chiefly upon credit from the 15th of April to the 15th of August only, he will have to depend upon those other supplies for about 17 weeks more, and the House will readily understand that although the local shopkeepers might be prepared to give credit—as is unfortunately the custom in Ireland—from the 15th of April to the l5th of August, they may by no means be prepared to extend that credit from the 15th of December to the 15th of August. It must be recollected that in other large parts of Ireland, as in the north and east, the crops are distinctly good this year, as I am glad to say they are where the crop has not failed, and the occupiers have other crops which they can fall back upon to meet the pinch of distress; but in these poor districts in the West of Ireland the occupier has but a very small margin upon which to economise; in fact, he has, I am afraid, no margin at all. No doubt in many instances it will be found that these small occupiers have a considerable amount of stock upon paper, but that stock is of very poor quality, and if brought to market it would certainly not fill up the gap caused by the failure of the potato crop, while to draw upon it would diminish in future years the power of the man to meet the difficulties of his situation. For example, in some of the poorer districts of Donegal 545 I find, from inquiries I have made, that a number of these sheep, if taken to market, would not realise more than 18s. each, and the better opinion is that they would not fetch more than 15s. each. Thus to say that a man had 10 sheep without giving their market value would convey a very misleading idea of his real position. I do not think that I need labour further the point of the degree and character of the distress caused by the failure of the potato crop. The first consequence of that failure is that there will be no seed for the next year's crop; and the second consequence is the actual want which may be apprehended this year, and for the relief of which we must provide at once. I will deal with these two consequences in their order. It was brought to my knowledge about the middle of August that the failure of the potato crop was so serious that some steps will have to be taken to provide seed for next year. I was acquainted with the difficulties and also the great abuses which attended the administration of the Act of 1880. I at first entertained the idea that it was possible the best plan would be for the Government itself to take advantage of the market, and privately to obtain the requisite amount of seed supply, and then to give it out on such conditions as Parliament thought fit to the localities where it was required. I made considerable investigation into both the amount and quality of the potato crop in England, Scotland, and the North of Ireland; and I believe the potatoes of the North of Ireland are every bit as suitable for the South-West of Ireland as any grown in England or Scotland. I consulted experts upon the subject of seed potatoes, and I thought at one time I saw my way to ordering, in the hope of obtaining subsequent Parliamentary sanction, a sufficient number to meet the necessities of the case; but this problem soon presented itself to my mind—what kind of potato ought to be planted? Those who have followed the question closely are probably aware that. consequent upon the distress of 1879–80, the Champion potato was almost universally planted along the west coast of Ireland; and the Champion potato is still the popular potato in Mayo, Galway, Cork, and other counties. Curiously enough, the Champion potato is not popular in Donegal. The farmers of 546 Donegal are not of opinion that it is the most disease-resisting potato; they have by no means made up their minds as to what potato they ought to have; but they have come to the conclusion that the Champion potato has many defects. I myself am disposed to think that it has not the disease-resisting qualities it had at one time; and experiments that I caused to be made last year have confirmed me in that opinion. Long before anyone could have suspected that there would be a failure in the potato crop this year I had £500 or £600 worth of Champion potatoes brought from Scotland and planted in Donegal. I have reason to believe they were excellent seed potatoes; I Lave no reason for believing they were planted under worse conditions than ordinarily obtain on the west coast of Ireland; and the failure is, I am informed, as complete as that of any seed which has been planted during the last 10 years in that district. The result of that experiment, the discovery I made of the views of the Donegal farmers, and other circumstances brought to my notice, showed that the Government would take upon them selves a great responsibility if they selected the kind of seed that was to be used by the people. Although I am only too painfully aware of the defects that will attend the administration of the Poor Law Unions in this matter, I was reluctantly driven to the conclusion that we had to fall back upon the machinery of 1880, or some machinery like it. I do not see in his place the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan), who has brought in a Bill framed very much on the lines of the Act of 1880. The Bill I have just asked leave to introduce does not differ very materially from the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member. I have no desire to compete with him; he is entitled to credit for his action 10 years ago and now. My Bill differs from his in small details and in two important points, which I will mention. In the Act of 1880, and in the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member, the loan was and is a loan without interest, and, therefore, it amounted to a free gift of the interest during the continuance of the loan. The loan of 1880 was within a few thousands of £600,000; it was £590,000; and the interest on that at 3 per cent. was a gift from the 547 British taxpayer to the Irish farmer of several thousand pounds. It may be said I am proposing to give a great deal too much from the British taxpayer; but I do not think this free interest on the money lent should be paid out of the Imperial funds. This part of the contribution, I think, should be paid out of the Church surplus, and in the Bill the Church Surplus Fund will be required to pay the interest on this money. In the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member it is assumed that nobody who takes advantage of this loan can pay ready money; but I should hope that in these districts there are some small occupiers who can pay, and I think they should be encouraged to do so. Very few Englishmen, and no Irishmen, would pay ready money when they could get a thing on credit. That will not be interpreted by any Irishman present as an attack on his country. [An hon. MEMBER: Scotland.] Certainly, no Scotchman would do it. If the tenant buys on credit, the interest is lost for two, three, or four years; and if we simply say, "You may pay ready money if you like, but if you do not like you shall have the loan without," of course the tenant will not pay ready money. I propose that if any man chooses to pay ready money he shall obtain the article at 20 per cent. discount. It will be seen that this is not in the nature of a gift, because you save to the Church Surplus Fund the interest that would otherwise be lost, and you save the cost of collection and insurance. There is, therefore, a financial as well as a moral gain in giving some privilege to those who are prepared to pay ready money. I shall further make an endeavour to provide, as far as regulation and inspection can do it, that the abuses which prevailed in 1880 shall not prevail again. The Committee may like to be reminded of some of the malpractices which went on. In many cases no record was kept by the Guardians of the amounts sent to various depôts; no means were devised to check distribution; in many cases the money obtained by Guardians was not distributed; some persons were charged with more than they had received; some who received were not charged at all; there were cases of gross fraud on the part of both Guardians and contractors; and in some cases loans were corruptly 548 used to secure the election of Poor Law Guardians. These are monstrous scandals, and I hope and believe that by the regulations we shall lay down they will be prevented on the present occasion. We have, at all events, this in our favour: that whereas in 1880 the Act was administered under the shadow of an election which was known to be approaching within a month or a few weeks, causing extravagant promises to be made by candidates, and all sorts of extravagant hopes to be entertained by the people, there is no such perturbing cause on the present occasion, and I hope that the experience which has been gained will operate as a salutary preventive against the course of extravagance, and worse than extravagance, which prevailed 10 years ago. I have had prepared by the Irish Agricultural Department, whose services to the Government on this matter have been absolutely invaluable, a Circular on the subject, embodying all the knowledge of that Department with regard to the proper seeds to be used. Without in any way fettering the discretion which Boards of Guardians must exercise for themselves, the Circular will put them in possession of all the facts that experts are acquainted with. I pass to the consideration of a more vital question—how we are to meet the impending distress. I would begin by reminding the Committee, and I hope the Irish public, that I do not propose in any way to interfere with the operation of the ordinary Poor Law. The ordinary Poor Law is still in force, and it is undoubtedly capable of meeting, I will not say all, but a great deal of the distress which is now impending. The latest Returns show that the pressure upon the Poor Law Authorities is not greater than it was this time last year. The outdoor relief, taking Ireland as a whole, or taking even Connaught, has been slightly increased, and the indoor relief has, in some cases, actually diminished. I have heard by telegram to-day that in certain of the more distressed unions the pressure upon the Poor Law is increasing, and I have not the slightest doubt that as the winter advances, and as the people come to take in their stock of potatoes, not only will there be an increased pressure upon the Local Authorities, but the Poor Law Authorities, unaided, will not be able to meet the distress with 549 which we have to deal. What additional means ought this Committee and the House to provide against the distress with which the ordinary Poor Law can not cope? We have a not inconsiderable body of experience on this subject—experience which, I am afraid, in many cases is fruitful rather in telling us what we ought to avoid than in telling us what we ought to do. In 1879–80, which is an example of the most considerable distress that has occurred in Ireland since the great famine, exclusive of charity, which was largely distributed at that time, the chief means of dealing with the distress was as follow:—There were loans to landlords at very low interest—namely, 1 per cent, which was not to begin until the loan had been running two years. Over £900,000 was advanced in that manner. There were loans to Sanitary Authorities upon the same easy terms, and I believe about £38,000 was advanced in that way. There were loans to the various baronies for baronial improvements on similar terms, and these loans amounted to £270,787. And there was the gift of £45,000 for the construction of piers and harbours. In 1886, again, there was a sum of £20,000 given, also to small piers and harbours. Both in 1879–80 and in 1886 there were some loans and gifts to various Boards of Guardians, and, above all, in both years the rules which normally govern relief in Ireland were relaxed and out-door relief was permitted in Unions in the cases of occupiers of land of more than a quarter of an acre. That being a brief enumeration of the means of relief previously applied, what judgment ought we to pass upon the success which has respectively attended them? The £900,000 advanced in 1879 is, I think, an example which ought not to be followed on this occasion, for two quite separate reasons. First, I do not believe that now, since the Act of 1885, the landlords have been prepared to borrow money at all. Before that Act, which so materially altered the status of the landlords, they were no doubt prepared to borrow money in many cases upon these terms, and there by to afford a great deal of what was, no doubt, valuable assistance to the population. I do not think they would—I am sure they would not—do it now, but even if they were prepared to do it, I do not think that is a convenient 550 method of attempting to supply relief, because the relief does not solely depend upon the degree in which it is required, but depends also upon the willingness and ability of particular landlords to borrow large sums of money, and there is no ground for supposing that the ability and willingness of the landlords to borrow money would be in any direct relation to the amount of distress existing in their districts. I therefore reject that method as not only impossible, but inexpedient. It is, no doubt, possible that loans to baronies might not be open to objections of a similar kind, but they have objections peculiar to themselves. In looking back upon the manner in which the money lent to baronies in 1880 was expended, I find that it too often happened that the persons who benefited by that money were not the poor, not the inexperienced poor who were really in need of employment, but rather small local contractors accustomed to make roads under the county surveyors and under the Grand Juries, and that these small contractors naturally enough gave the money with which they were supplied, not to the able-bodied poor who desired employment, but to their own particular friends and relations. I think that argument is conclusive against employing Baronial Authorities as organs for relieving distress. The loans to Sanitary Authorities—the money spent upon piers and the money spent upon harbours and boat slips—are open to another objection. That such piers and boat-slips can be, with advantage, constructed in various parts of Ireland I am not prepared to deny—far from it, although an immense amount has already been done in that direction. The objection, I think, is not that these piers and boat-slips are useless, but that they do not employ unskilled labour. The amount of unskilled labour proportionate to the expenditure which can be used upon works of that kind is very trifling, and these works, however useful and expedient they may be, are not fitted to be our mainstay in dealing with impending distress. The only other expedient which I have enumerated, and which has been employed, is a relaxation of the rules governing outdoor relief in Ireland, combined with loans and gifts to various Unions; and I say, if experience has proved 551 anything, it has proved absolutely and conclusively that you cannot trust Boards of Guardians in Ireland, under the stress of a calamity of this kind, to administer out-door relief and gifts and loans from this House without gross extravagance, amounting in many cases to scandalous fraud. The experience of 1880 and of 1886 taught one lesson. I do not wish to introduce any controversial element into this speech, and I am very far from desiring to attack the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. Morley); but he, of course, is as well aware as I am that the manner in which the five or six Unions distributed the £20,000 free gift of this House in 1886 was perfectly iniquitous, and that in one case there were more persons upon the list for relief than the total number of inhabitants of the Union. I say that that instance alone should warn this House, and warn this Committee, against endeavouring for the third time to repeat this most disastrous experiment, and should induce them to adopt any expedient, however costly to the community, rather than increase the demoralisation which has been produced by this unfortunate measure on previous occasions. I have explained to the Committee what it is I do not mean to do, and why I do not wish to do it. Let me now tell the Committee what it is I hope to do, with their sanction, and how I think it will meet the present crisis. After the Poor Law I rely principally upon the railway works which are about to be constructed. In County Cork there is a line to be constructed from Skibbereen to Baltimore, seven and a half miles, and the Bantry extension, a mile and a half, a short though costly work; in the County of Kerry there are the Headfort to Kenmare, and the Killorglin to Valentia Island lines, respectively 19 miles and 25 miles; in County Galway the Galway to Clifden line, 49 miles; in County Mayo the Westport to Mulrany line, 18 miles, with an extension to Achill of 8 miles; the Ballina to Killala line, eight miles; and works are to be begun on the Coolgreany and Claremorris line, which, if completed, would amount to 48 miles; in Donegal the Donegal and Killybegs line, 18 miles, and the Stranorlar to Glenties line, 24 miles. In addition to the above, which are either constructed under the Act of 1889, or 552 have been begun by the authority of the Government independently of any Act, there are three lines to be constructed, respectively in Clare, Mayo, and Galway and Cork, under the Act of 1883, passed by the right hon. Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan). There is the South Clare line, 26 miles; the Tuam and Claremorris line, 16 miles; and the Donoughmore line, County Cork, eight miles. The total mileage of the lines I have enumerated is no less than 284 miles authorised and about to be begun. But the Committee will ask me, how soon will these lines be available to meet the distress? Unfortunately, I cannot give a perfectly complete answer to that question, but I may say that the Skibbereen and Baltimore line was begun on November 24, and that 300 men are now employed upon it; the Bantry extension will be begun on December 15; the Galway and Clifden line was begun on December 2; the Westport and Mulrany line on December 3; the Achill extension I hope to have in full operation by December 15; the Ballina and Killala on the 8th, and the Claremorris on the 15th of December. With regard to the Donegal and Killybegs line tenders for the earthworks have actually been opened and begun, and the Glenties line contractor informs me that he is ready to commence work at a week's notice. Therefore, there only remains uncertain in the first class of railways I have enumerated the two Kerry lines. With regard to the two Kerry lines, I had the honour of an interview with the Chairman of the Great Southern and Western Railway before I left Ireland. They labour under a technical difficulty which will be removed when the House passes the Bill now before it; but I distinctly understood that, in spite of these technical difficulties, they were prepared to begin the work instantly if the Government were prepared to indemnify them for any loss they might sustain in consequence of not being in a legal position to draw up formal contracts. I thought that the House would sanction any such action on my part, and I certainly understood that with that promise of indemnity they would begin at once. Why they have not done so I cannot say; but the assurances given me by the chairman were such that I have not the slightest doubt that in a very few 553 days work will be begun on these two lines also. It will be seen, therefore, that these 284 miles of railway will be in fall operation in a very short period. This, I think, reflects credit on all concerned. I will not dwell upon the exertions of the Government; but it is only fair that I should say that the authorities of these great Railway Companies of Ireland have shown themselves fully alive to the exigencies of the situation. They have felt that they owed something to the community from which they draw their profits; they have done their best to second the efforts of the Government; and though I do not think that any of their officials or shareholders will for a moment suggest that the terms offered by the Government are not such as to secure them from all loss, still no one will be prepared to deny that that depreciates very little, if at all, the credit which they deserve for the energy and public spirit they have shown on this occasion. The criticism which has been passed on these great works as means of relief usually resolves itself into this. Everybody I have talked to in. Ireland admits that if people can get work on the railways, it is by far the best way of relief. Everybody, of whatever shade of politics, of whatever profession or religious belief, priest or occupier, agrees that the distribution of charity in 1879 and 1880, and the reckless administration of outdoor relief in 1886, produced a demoralisation, not only in those years themselves, but more or less lasting in its character, and with one consent they all implored me, while asking me to find some method for the relief of the distress, to adopt means which would not demoralise the population concerned. And though all agreed that no method can be chosen less open to such objection than work on the railways, it was said that work on the railways would only be of use to the relatively small portion of the population who live close to the railways. They put it in this way: The man who goes far from home to work on railways would have to pay for lodging and food; and if he gets in wages 12s. or 14s. a week—which, I take it, is the rate that will prevail—he will probably not be able to send back to his family more than 4s. or 5s. a week, if so much. I think that is a valid argument, and I think that 554 these railway works will not produce the benefit which I anticipate, unless provision can be made for lodging the people in the neighbourhood of the works in a manner which will enable them to send home at least 7s. a week. In order to carry out that object, I have corresponded with and seen personally those who will be concerned in the carrying out of the works. I had a long conversation with Mr. Worthington, the well-known Irish contractor, and with an hon. Member of this House, the Member for one of the Divisions of Dublin, who is also a large contractor. I laid before them the views of the Government with regard to feeding and lodging the men, and these and all the other contractors have equally expressed their readiness to come forward and make all the provision that may be required to render these works as useful as possible to the maintenance of the poor population. Therefore, I look forward with some confidence not only to the employment of people in the immediate neighbourhood of the railways, but to the employment of people living at considerable distances. Labourers may be expected to travel at least 10 or 20 miles if at the end of the journey they can be adequately lodged and can send home to their families sufficient to keep them. So much for the main part of my scheme, which depends upon the construction of railways.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether the contractors have been put under any condition as to the employment of the people in the districts
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am glad my hon. Friend has asked me that. I have made very particular inquiries in this connection, and I find that not only will the contractors employ the people in the district, but that it is their interest to do so. The arrangements made with the Railway Companies insure that the work which is to be first begun is work on which unskilled labour can be profitably employed, such as embankments and earthworks of different kinds. It has further been arranged that the work shall be begun at a large number of points along the various railways at once, so as to afford the greatest amount of employment to unskilled labour living in the neigh bourhood of the lines. But 555 though I look forward with great confidence to these railway works meeting the great bulk of the demand for employment which the failure of potatoes will produce in Ireland, I am perfectly conscious that there are districts and localities where, for various reasons, but chiefly on account of distance, some other mode of dealing with the difficulties is required. I have told the House that the only method by which the railway works can be supplemented is by other relief works; and I have already said that I do not mean to employ Boards of Guardians or baronies, or any County or Local Authorities whatever, in these relief works. If we are to be in any way responsible for meeting this distress, I do not think that it is fair to us or to anyone else that the responsibility should be shared by bodies over which we have no control. I am convinced that money spent through the medium of Local Authorities would not be money spent to the best advantage of the particular population concerned. I have obtained the services of two eminent engineer officers, and I have sent them over those parts of Ireland where I think it possible that relief works may be required. They have made a careful survey under my instructions of what works may, if they be required, be beneficially undertaken. When works are required and are undertaken, I propose that the persons responsible for them shall be those engineers, and under them, possibly, the County Surveyors, not acting as servants of the Grand Jury, but acting as servants of the Government, and I propose that the works shall be attended by members of the corps of Royal Engineers. Under these circumstances, I think we shall be able to absolutely stop anything in the nature of local jobbery and to insure that any expenditure on public works goes to the employment of the unskilled labour that we wish to relieve. I believe that all the evils which have been incident to previous forms of public relief will be by this means avoided. Of course the amount given in wages, either in money or in kind, will be entirely under the control of Government, and, of course, I shall take care that under no circumstances does any relief work interfere with railway work. I shall not allow works to be undertaken where 556 I think that railways will serve the purpose, and I shall stop any relief works which are begun before the railway. I shall also take care that the wages are such that it will be to the labourers' interest to work under the railway contractor rather than on the relief works which may have been started. The Committee will naturally ask what kind of relief works I propose. Any one who has travelled, as I have, and seen, or who has read about the condition of the West of Ireland, is well aware that roads have been constantly undertaken for this and similar purposes. They have not, however, been undertaken, I regret to say with much judgment. You will constantly see a road leading from nowhere to nowhere, or to some in hospitab'e bog. These are the memorials and relics of some previous famine, and the memorials, also, I am afraid, of the incompetence of some authority which was responsible for the construction of the road. At the same time, though very useless roads have been constructed, road-making does present certain advantages over other forms of relief works, and I have instructed the officers of whom I have spoken to put roads in the very first rank, subject to this condition: that no road should, under any circumstances, be made which a prudent County Authority would not readily vote money to keep up. There is another kind of work which I think in some places might with advantage be adopted even before roads. There are certain districts in Ireland where you see holdings along the lower slopes of mountains or along some line of bog, all of which could be greatly improved by improving the general system of drainage. A common system of drainage is required I believe, and that, I take it, will not only afford labour for which the people are particularly qualified, but, as it will permanently improve the holdings, it will diminish the possibility of a recurrence of famine. There was a form of relief, very like this, which was much pressed upon me when I was in Ireland. I was recommended to pay the occupiers wages for improving their holdings; but I cannot recommend this course to the Committee. One of the most melancholy facts which strike anyone who looks at these holdings in the West of Ireland is that the occupiers have ample 557 leisure in the winter to carry out improvements of the most obvious kind; but year after year elapses, and the improvements are not made. To come forward in years of distress, and say, "I will pay you to do that which you ought to have done years ago," is the worst lesson which you can possibly teach. So much for the roads and main drains, which will form the staple of such relief works as may be required. There are two other forms of relief work which I think may be attempted in a tentative fashion—I mean the reclamation of land and afforesting. I need hardly say that I do not believe there are huge tracts in Ireland which only require large sums to be spent upon them in order to become extremely profitable investments. I am sceptical about that, but I think that where there are in the immediate neighbourhood of existing holdings tracts of bog precisely of the character of the soil out of which these holdings were originally carved it might be advantageous as an experiment to carry out the drainage, sub-soiling, and other operations which are necessary as a preliminary to cultivating the soil. What should be done with the land so obtained is a difficult question, but my own impression is that it should be handed over to the Congested Districts Board, which I hope is to be constituted by the Bill now before the House; and it is worth considering how far it might not be worth while for that Board to let out the land so reclaimed on short leases to the occupiers of existing holdings under the most stringent conditions of cultivation. I admit that the experiment is a rash one. I think it is possible, if those occupiers were allowed to use this land under conditions of cultivation which would oblige them to see by experiment how very badly they now cultivate their holdings, something might be done in a practical manner to improve the condition of these people. I admit that the matter is one of great difficulty, and I am not at all competent to decide it; but it is a matter which I think the Congested Districts Board would be eminently qualified to deal with. With regard to forests, it is a matter of universal complaint that the result of recent events in Ireland has been to denude it of timber. There are two distinct sets of causes tending in the same direction. One is 558 that the landlords, to whom residence is not always made agreeable in Ireland, are anxious to turn into money that timber which they are perfectly prepared in more fortunate circumstances to leave on the land. The other is that the new purchasers under the Ashbourne Act, and, I fear, under the Bill now before the House, always set to work to cut down timber on the holdings as soon as the control of the landlord is removed. I believe there are tracts of Ireland well suited, but almost useless now, for afforesting. At all events, all the preliminary operations of afforesting—such as draining, and turf fencing, and so forth—are operations with which the Irish peasant is very familiar, and which apply just as much to the class of operation most suited for relief works. I hope I have explained adequately to the House the general line I propose to take. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle asks me who will direct the reclamations. I ought to repeat and supplement the observations which I have already made on the method which I propose for the control of the works. Practically, what I have done is to create a small department for dealing with those reclamation works. The person responsible to the House and otherwise will be myself, but the engineer officers will be under me. They will have the expert assistance of members of the Land Commission wherever required, and they will have such clerical assistance as the occasion warrants. They will carry out all the relief works which I think are required. I am conscious that this statement of mine will bring down upon my head from every part of Ireland loud and persistent demands for works to be started. But all I can say is, that I shall do my best not to start any relief work where it is not required. I shall do my best to sift all those stories of misery and distress which are too easily fabricated on the spot and too easily believed outside. I must ask the House to support me as well as they can both in carrying out the works which I have undertaken and in not carrying out the works for which I do not believe adequate necessity exists. I shall possibly be asked by some gentlemen below the Gangway, and perhaps above it, why it is that the Government propose to do for the West of Ireland what they 559 never have done as yet, and what certainly they would decline to do, as far as I know, for any other part, broadly speaking, of the United Kingdom. The first answer I have to make is that, though the congested districts have never been treated precisely in this way, they have already been treated on many occasions in an exceptional way, and I maintain that the exceptional method of treatment which I now recommend is less open to criticism here and to abuse in Ireland than any of the various exceptional experiments which have preceded it. But I think there is something more to be said. If I am asked why I am prepared to recommend relief works in Ireland when I am not prepared to recommend relief works in London, I say that not merely has Ireland been always treated exceptionally, but, as a matter of fact, its condition is exceptional. The Poor Law in London always has been, and I trust always may be, adequate to the necessities of London; but nobody who knows anything about these western districts can say or pretend that the resources of the Poor Law in Ireland are adequate to meet a crisis like the present. There is no rich population in these electoral divisions. The population of these electoral divisions which bear the main weight of the Poor Law taxation consist wholly and solely of the small occupiers whom we have to relieve, and to ask them to come forward and pay out of their own pockets the means for relieving their own exceptional distress is obviously impossible. But there is another and even a deeper reason. My own firm conviction is that to meet any temporary need which unskilled labour in London might have for employment by starting Government relief works would be found to permanently aggravate the evil which it is intended to meet. Such temporary want of employment results from the discrepancy between the supply and the demand of labour; and I believe the relations between the demand and supply of labour would be still further dislocated if on such an occasion the Government were to step in and provide relief works for London, and London would be not more but far less capable of meeting the stress that was laid upon it if the Government were to adopt any policy of that kind. That is not the 560 case, I believe, in the congested districts. I believe the large amounts, either in the form of railway or other works, which this House will be asked to give for the aid of the congested districts will render those districts not more but less liable to a recurrence of the same class of distress. I believe that the making of those railways and roads, especially railways, will do much to act as a permanent remedy against the evil which we have to deal with to-day. If you were to make large contributions for relief works in London you would demoralise the district; in Ireland if you do not have relief works what do you do? You throw a burden on the locality which it cannot bear You lend it money which it cannot pay back; and it will sink deeper and deeper in the demoralising slough of insolvency which already has almost destroyed the powers of self-help in the poorer and congested parts of the country. I cannot conclude without, as far as in me lies, imploring every man who hears me and who has anything to do with Ireland to face the real difficulties of this problem. It is too much the habit of those living in the West of Ireland to say, "Get us over this year's distress, and perhaps all will be well." All will not be well if that habit of mind continues to prevail. This House has been asked to make an immense effort for those congested districts; they must make an effort for themselves. The priests and the leaders of the people must put their shoulder to the wheel. They must recognise that if when the next time of distress comes—as most infallibly it will come—they come to this House and say, "Four or five years ago yon helped us, and we have done nothing in the mean while to help ourselves; the population has not diminished; it has, perhaps, somewhat increased; the fishing is very much where it was; the mode of cultivation of the holdings is such as has prevailed for the last 100 years," Parliament will begin to feel that the condition of those districts is not merely deplorable, but almost hopeless. I think that the people of Ireland are capable of learning a lesson. The years 1880 and 1886 have already taught priests and people alike the demoralising effect of lavish expenditure, either in the way of charity or outdoor relief. Let 561 them learn the further lesson that the population which remains in these districts can only be prosperous if they cultivate the land better, if they fish better, if they use to the best of their ability such resources as are placed at their disposal, and that there are districts for which no mere improvements in the methods of agriculture, no better system of fishing can be sufficient, and which can only be dealt with adequately by emigration and migration. If they set themselves to deal with each district as the circumstances of the district require, by attempting to collect the fishing population around the good harbours and the best fishing grounds, to help them to improved methods of agriculture, and lead them to see that it is impossible they should prosper if crowded on the soil; if they will do that, I am convinced this House will never regret the money which I am asking it to spend as a beginning. A substantial and important beginning may at last be made to take these people out of this hopeless slough of insolvency; and, if that be so, we may feel that this period of distress, this year 1890, may be the beginning of a period in which the people may march steadily forward to that condition of prosperity, and, above all, of independence, which every true well-wisher of Ireland desires to see them attain.
§ (5.33.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman in wishing to eliminate from the very few observations with which I shall trouble the Committee anything of a controversial character. The right hon. Gentleman has avoided that tone, and I am sure that everyone who considers the deplorable state of these districts will feel we are bound to lay aside every trace of Party spirit. So far as regards the remark of the right hon. Gentleman that experience has taught us the hopelessness of the methods hitherto resorted to, everybody who has studied the history of these districts and of the Relief Act of 1886 must agree as to the incapacity shown by the Boards of Guardians in administering the relief funds. But I may say, as the Minister responsible for that Act, that there did not appear at the time any particular reason for setting aside the machinery of local administration, and I was advised that it would 562 be too serious a step to take if I were to supersede it. We have had that painful lesson, the advantage of which the right hon. Gentleman now possesses. Therefore I am bound to say, reluctant as I am on any occasion, or under any circumstances, to set aside the functions of an Elective Local Body, that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the right course on the present occasion in taking the administration of these works into his own hands. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that the works are not to be carried out under the supervision of the Board of Works, but under his own control. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Yes.] The right hon. Gentleman has not told us what is to be the total expenditure, and I think it is only fair before giving him the £5,000 he asks for to-night that we should know what is to the total expenditure on all these various and, I should think, very costly operations which he has outlined.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I deliberately asked for the nominal sum of £5,000, because it is really impossible at this stage of the matter to make any forecast, It is difficult—I am afraid in the case of the railways it is impossible—at this moment to make a forecast; but I shall in January, when I shall ask for the necessary funds, be in a far better position to tell how the matter stands. I would venture to point out to the Committee that if I were to name a sum now I should be more than ever a prey to that kind of begging which Public Bodies resort to. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will not press me to give any amount.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Of course, after what he has said I will not press the right hon. Gentleman, but I am bound to point out in passing that his policy is committing Parliament to what may prove a very serious expenditure. I will say frankly that I agree with much that fell from the right hon. Gentleman in the latter part of his observations as to the duty we owe those districts and as to the exceptional and deplorable state in which they are sunk, and as to the obligation which lies on this House to make what I may call a dead lift to get them out of their degraded position. But Parliament ought to be prepared for facing a very large expenditure, and, though I would 563 not grudge it, I should not be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman hears, when the country sees how much will be wanted, a good deal of' murmuring from a good many quarters, and not merely on this side of the House. As to his railway policy, the right hon. Gentleman seems to pay some rather undeserved compliments to the public spirit of the Railway Companies. This is not the occasion on which to go into the terms of the transactions made by the Government with the companies; but when that occasion comes, I think it will be found that the Great Southern and Western and the Midland Great Western Companies have made no bad bargains for themselves, but very good bargains. I gather from the remarks addressed by the Chairman of the Midland Great Western Railway, a couple of months ago, to his shareholders, that he congratulated the shareholders on the terms he had succeeded, in their interest, in extracting from the Government I, therefore, demur to the compliments which the right hon. Gentleman paid to the Railway Companies. I regard the transaction between the Government and the companies as a purely business one, and I am not sure that the Government have not paid a very heavy price for the advantages they have gained. That, however, we shall have an opportunity of examining later on. As to the immediate relief of the distress, the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to an objection that the railway works would not go through the most distressed districts, though they would go through districts where there was a great deal of distress, said that it would be the interest of the contractors to employ the labour of the districts. I was in the districts before the right hon. Gentleman himself, and I heard experts doubt that proposition. They said that it would be the interest of the contractors to get very powerful navvies from other places, and even from England and Scotland, because the population on the spot would not be efficient enough to carry out the heavy work of railway construction. The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that this is a danger which might thwart his object.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Actual experience is on my side. There have been railways constructed in such districts, 564 and I am informed that the contractors have employed local labour.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I hope sincerely that, that will be so. There is another point as to the construction of railways as a method of relieving distress. Of course, there is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, a great difference of opinion as to the route to be taken by some of the railways. For example, in the case of the railway from Clifden to Galway it is a matter of great controversy whether it would not be much batter, from the point of view of distress at all events, to take the line by the coast. The other plans which the right hon. Gentleman resorts to are road making, drainage, reclamation, and afforesting. With regard to road-making, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Everybody with the most superficial acquaintance with Ireland must be aware that there were numbers of roads started in the famine times and in 1880 which began nowhere in particular and led nowhere. In 1886 there were some very good roads made, and I believe we got value for our money. But there is no form of relief which leads to so much make-belief work. A man may pretend to be making a road, and, in fact, be only pleasantly idle. Experience proves that to be the case, and, therefore, I am not at all sure there may not be in this road-making, if not carefully and vigilantly supervised, as much fraud and corruption as there was under some of the provisions of the Act of 1886. As to reclamation and afforesting, I thoroughly applaud the right hon. Gentleman for being willing to try the experiment. I am not going into controversy, but we should have more hope from this experiment if undertaken and carried on by a Local Body. I do not mean Boards of Guardians or such Boards, but a Local Government Body, an Irish body. The right hon. Gentlemen referred to the importance of enlisting on his side in the administration of his Act the priests and the leaders of the people. I would rather that the priests and leaders of the people, politicans, everybody of authority and with a large and perfect knowledge of the district, should indicate the line of the experiment, than that it should come, as I presume it will, partly from the right hon. Gentleman's own ingenuity, and partly also from the Boards 565 in Dublin Castle. There is less chance of flexibility and originality in the way of making experiments when conducted by the right hon. Gentleman than if you had a Congested District Board which would be really representative and had on its side the whole local interest, and the whole of the local sympathy. I only want to make one proviso with reference to these experiments. From my own study of this question I doubt very much whether reclamation taken in hand by the Government on a large scale can be a remunerative experiment. I think you will sink a great deal of money, and in the end get a very small return for it. The great instance of reclamation, of course, is Kylemore, but even in that case it has been doubted whether the reclamations have not involved a heavy money loss. It is said also that some of that reclaimed land is going back, that rushes are appearing, and so forth. The lesson to be learnt, I take it, is that reclamation to be carried out remuneratively and safely should be undertaken by the small men themselves. I understand that the Government are to hand over these reclaimed lands on short leases to the people already occupying them. My own notion of reclamation would rather be to give to a small man a piece of bog land to reclaim. He would be more likely to do the work cheaply and effectively. I fear that the experience we have of reclamation on a large scale shows it to be a very losing enterprise. I wish to make one bargain with the right hon. Gentleman, that if he begins these experiments they shall be finished. The curse of Irish experiments is too often this; an experiment is begun to tide over some temporary distress, and as soon as the distress has passed, or the Minister initiating the experiment goes out of office, it is dropped and the money spent upon it is absolutely lost and wasted. I hope to get from the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking that so far as in him lies these experiments of reclamation and afforesting shall not be taken up simply to enable us to get out of the difficulties of today, but that they shall be serious works undertaken with a serious view of doing permanent good to the unfortunate people in these poor districts. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] With respect to the railway 566 policy of the right hon. Gentleman I reserve the right of criticising its details. As for the seed provisions, I think the right hon. Gentleman is again on the right line. The provision for 20 per cent. discount on ready money transactions is a most sensible provision. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman most cordially in thinking that the great thing is to teach the people of these districts that they must depend upon themselves. But when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking in that sense I asked myself—Has not every Minister who has brought in a Relief Bill for Ireland said exactly the same thing? I am sure I need not make an exception. I am sure that I did myself, and I doubt whether any one Chief Secretary has ever made a proposal to give money to Ireland for the congested districts or elsewhere without speaking in the sense in which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken. I fail to see what element there is in the project of the right hon. Gentleman that is likely to make these people more self-reliant. Everything is done for them. The only lesson they can learn—and I admit it was also so in regard to my Bill of 1881—is that when they get into trouble, whether in consequence of their own improvidence or not—although one does not like to speak of improvidence in the case of men who live under such conditions as those in the West of Ireland—this Parliament is sure to come to their relief. I would give much to get that notion extirpated from the minds of the Irish peasantry. But to accomplish this you would have to adopt far wider measures; you would have to put the responsibility of dealing with this intricate, this inveterate problem upon Irishmen themselves, and without official supervision. Whatever we may think as to the sources of the difficulties in the congested districts, we must all recognise that a state of things that has grown up in 200 years cannot certainly be cured at once. You will want 30, 40, or 50 years before you can make even an impression upon this difficult problem, and although we must accept the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman as a means of tiding over a pressing emergency, I hope he will not allow himself to be led into the belief that anything can make a real impression upon these districts except a long, persistent, 567 continuous course of action on the part of a Congested District Board, or similar organisation, having enlisted on its side the whole local feeling of a district, and commanding, in the performance of its work, the co-operation of the best brains in the district.
§ (5.54.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
The advice given by the right hon. Gentleman is extremely good. I hope we 'shall have self-reliance in the West of Ireland, and that the people of the districts will be assisted by the men of brains, but just at present it is not so much a theoretic virtue that is wanted as a little practical help. Whenever I hear this talk of self-reliance I cannot help thinking that if you would give us the produce of the Licence Duties and let us cultivate our own tobacco, we should be able to help ourselves. I am very sorry to say that I was engaged in much more disagreeable work upstairs when the Chief Secretary was speaking, and therefore I was unable to hear all the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I believe he has said the provisions of the Bill will include all the West of Ireland, and I believe the measure will be a great success. It is, in my opinion, perfectly fair to pay interest on the money out of the Church Fund. On the last occasion when a scheme of this kind was carried out, we were able to say that we paid all the money back, and in the present case we shall be able to say the same thing. I think we may congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having done a great deal to tide over the time of distress.
§ *(5.56.) SIR J. COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)
All must acknowledge the admirable tone adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle in his speech, and I myself noticed with regret that the Nationalist Party were not present to hear the exposition of the Chief Secretary of the scheme, and that they are not here now to take part in the discussion. I do not share the apprehensions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) with regard to the absolute certainty, as he regarded it, that the local populations will not be employed in the construction of these works. That may be the case in some districts, but I do not think it will be universally so. I believe the very fact that so many lines of railway will 568 be constructed simultaneously by contractors will prove that there is not a sufficient number of ordinary navvies available to do all the work. It will be more economical to employ the local population in the preliminary labour on the lines. It is satisfactory to find the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle accepting the plan of my right hon. Friend with regard to taking these exceptional matters of relief out of the hands of the Board of Guardians. In the absence of the Nationalist Party I should like to say that, according to the evidence placed in our hands by the Colonisation Committee, I think we may claim that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) himself will approve of the action of the Chief Secretary in not trusting Boards of Guardians in this matter. Speaking in regard to the relief of the congested districts by emigration and migration, I find the following passage in the evidence of the hon. Member for Cork (Question No. 5656 in the Report of the Colonisation Committee):—Q. Then I understand you would not take the opinion of Boards of Guardians as indicating local opinion in Ireland?—A. Certainly not.Therefore, I think we are all united in approving of contributions from the Exchequer towards relief by means of work other than railways directly through a Government Department. Just one more matter I should like to mention. One of the dangers in the congested districts and throughout Ireland is the habit that tenants are universally getting into of cutting down the timber and shelter on their farms. I can go further than the Chief Secretary. He says that tenants who have purchased do this, but I can answer from my own observation that one of the effects of the Act of 1881 in districts bordering on the Atlantic is that the tenants imagine that other changes beside alteration of rents have flowed from that Act, and the destruction of timber and even of hedges is remarkable, and has already produced evil consequences, and will have disastrous consequences on agricultural prospects in the future. I would say, therefore, in regard to experiments in reforesting, that they should be gradually undertaken, and not pushed too far. The Chief Secretary has paid a great compliment to the Grand Trunk Line 569 Railway Companies in Ireland, but knowing something of the work done by others, I think it my duty on Be half of the inhabitants of a remote district of Kerry, as the representative of that district is not present, to say that we in that district appreciate the unsparing exertions of the Chief Secretary himself and of the Secretary to the Treasury. I had the opportunity of knowing that while we were taking our holidays the Chief Secretary and the Secretary to the Treasury sacrificed their holidays to this object. I can say that the Secretary to the Treasury from first to last spared no personal exertions to get this work thoroughly and quickly done. I think it only right to say this, and I think I may say it for the poor people of the district not now represented here. We cordially thank both these right hon. Gentlemen for their personal exertions to carry through these railway schemes.
§ *(6.3.) MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I listened with close attention to the speech of the Chief Secretary, and I am sure the Committee agree with me that the right hon. Gentleman, having a most difficult task to undertake, has devoted himself to it with an enormous amount of application; and if I venture, as I shall venture, to offer one or two words before I sit down that may not seem to be quite words of gratitude, he must not think that I at all undervalue the difficulties of the work he has undertaken and the troubles he has had to contend with. He has not only had the difficulties of what he has told us, but he has the difficulty of the long habits of the people, which he has to some extent to endeavour to change, if he can, if any permanent good is to be produced. I wish it had been possible, though I agree it would be difficult, for the Chief Secretary to have told the Committee some amount beyond which Parliament was not being committed by the Vote the Committee is asked to give on this Estimate, because, although the Estimate is only for a very trifling sum, the Chief Secretary does not disguise that he is asking the sanction of Parliament, through this Committee, to the whole of the scheme he is putting forward; therefore the decision, whatever it may be, is a decision of the very gravest character. I am not sure whether for the moment it was 570 wise, although I am quite sure that for the future it was frank, for the Chief Secretary to say that he might subject himself to the criticisms of those who have in view distress in other parts of the United Kingdom, who might ask the Government, "Why do you not deal with all instances as you are proposing to deal with this?" To that, I admit, it is difficult to give an answer, but the answer the right hon. Gentleman gave hardly, I think, did credit to the rest of his speech. All the answer he made was that the circumstances were exceptional. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR expressed dissent.] I am sure on this question I have no wish to strain one word used by the right hon. Gentleman beyond the meaning that may fairly be attached to it. I listened attentively and with intense pleasure to the speech as an effort to do some good to the unfortunate country without reference to political divisions.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am quite sure the hon. Member does not mean to misrepresent what I said. It is true I stated that the circumstances in Ireland being exceptional are treated in an exceptional manner, but I also dwelt at some length on the face that, whilst the treatment we are giving to Ireland would, as applied to London, aggravate the evils in London, in Ireland it would have the effect of preventing a recurrence of those evils.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I was coming to that portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I would put it to him whether he himself did not rather cut the ground from under his own feet? He showed that effort after effort had been repeated in Ireland, each provocative of demoralisation there rather than tending to encourage self-reliance. ["No."] The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan) disagrees, but I am only repeating what the Chief Secretary said, not expressing my own opinion, as now I am going to do, nor do I expect him to agree in what I am going to urge. What are the grounds for supposing that this scheme will be more effectual in developing self-reliance than any other to which Parliament has consented? I frankly concede that my opposition to the right hon. Gentleman is weighted with the same difficulty which attended his speech. It is clear there is distress 571 which ought not to be ignored, and, therefore, in dealing with the subject now, one cannot argue from, any theory; but we must deal with the existing state of things as best we can. In some of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals I feel great interest, and particularly I followed that part of his speech in which he spoke of dealing with waste lands, because on more than one occasion I have ineffectually submitted propositions to the House on the subject. I gathered, though the explanation was incomplete, that the Government propose to acquire the lands and reclaim them. Does not this at the very onset make a difficulty which I will try to put to the right hon. Gentleman? It is not the encouragement of individual effort assisted by the State, even perhaps, with great risk of loss, or even certainty of loss, but still with an incentive to the individual to do his best with gain to his interests if he succeeds and responsibility if he fails, if the experiment is to be confined to giving employment for some 12s. or 14s. a week, with nothing to tempt him to put in more than make-believe exertions sufficient to secure subsistence for the moment. It does seem to me, however, that reclamation efforts might tend, as I believe they would tend, to find some employment which should develop the individual effort, but if the Government is to acquire the land, the thing is upside down, so far as that is concerned, and it is simply a relief measure from which all incentive to special action is entirely eliminated. I would urge on the right hon. Gentleman that, as this is only put forward as an experiment, the experiment should be made as far as possible for the encouragement of individual effort. The Chief Secretary says the Irish are capable people, and I think they are. I think that, taken out of the conditions of life which hamper them, and habits which hinder them, they have in different parts of the world given evidence of capability. I admit it would not be possible to press the individual to make such great exertions, surrounded as he would be by conditions which incapacitate him at home; still if the effort is to be made at all, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to make it in some such fashion if he can as will give reward to the individual who strives best. I am without information on the subject. I disagree 572 with the right hon. Gentleman, and think that the evidence given before the Duke of Richmond's Commission shows large quantities of land, large tracts here and there, and small tracts here and there—I do not wish to take the most exaggerated statements of witnesses—large quantities of land capable of reclamation, on which efforts at successful reclamation have been made, and have only broken down because the persons trying to reclaim the land found that the landlord exacted higher rent for the improved quality given to the land. Now, is it possible, instead' of the Government buying the land, or of the Government acquiring it, is it possible to let the individual on to it in connection with the work of reclamation on such terms as will hold out expectation of his becoming the proprietor of the land reclaimed? I do not know whether it is possible. I admit the great responsibility upon a Member who meets with objection what was throughout a careful presentment without some better means of information, but it is scarcely my fault. This Supplementary Estimate—I do not blame the Government for it—comes upon us by surprise, and I must plead that as an excuse for the non-efficiency of fact to support the case I am submitting. I fear that a great deal of the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman to-night will come against the Government of which he is a Member during the coming Session in different forms; and unless he can separate his measure from being one of pure relief and charity, unless he imports into it something of the development of self-reliance of which he has spoken, he will lay himself and his Government open to attacks difficult to answer. If the circumstances of the Irish people are exceptional, so are those of the people of this vast Metropolis, so are the aggravations of the evils in connection with congestion of population such as exist in other parts of the country, exceptional. It is a matter upon which I look with considerable apprehension, not wishing in any way to hamper the Government in the experiment they are making. If an error is committed, at least it is pacific in character; I do not in any way desire to hinder the experiment, and am willing to assist in making it successful, but I listened 573 throughout to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I see no reason why in 1895 or 1896 a Minister should not come to the House of Commons, and present a case again, showing quite the same features, making quite the same claim upon the country.
§ *(6.20.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I am not going to enter into the question whether these unfortunate people in the West of Ireland are to be made more self-reliant. Homilies are all very well in their way, but they are not very useful to hungry people. The Committee are face to face with the fact that a large area of Western Ireland is in danger of destitution and want. After journeying from Skibbereen to Gweedore last month I am convinced that in many districts through which I passed the inhabitants will not have a potato left on New Year's Day. It is of very little use talking about the people being more self-reliant. It is of no use saying they should develop their fisheries when they are without the means of providing nets and boats, and have no railway to send their fish to market when caught. In the present condition of things homilies on self-reliance is not the treatment we expect from the Government and the Committee. I greatly regret that the statement of the Chief Secretary has been made in the absence of so many of the Representatives of Ireland. It is a more important statement than any that have been made in recent Sessions of Parliament. Upon that statement I wish to ask one or two questions. I entirely approve of the proposal as to seed potatoes. I think this is the most valuable help that can be given to the people. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman over what area the relief is to be spread, and whether he proposes to schedule special districts. I think the area ought to be well considered, and resolutely adhered to. He will probably be pressed for a larger area of population than he has in his mind. With regard to the districts affected by the railways my mind is quite easy. I have travelled through those districts, and only wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland had been with me. That hon. Gentleman did his best last Session to prevent the passing of the Light Railways Bill; but I found the people in 574 the districts blessing the House of Commons for having frustrated the designs of the hon. Member. I am quite easy n my mind, so far as the districts are concerned in which railway operations will be carried on, but I am not quite at ease in regard to other districts. So far as the districts of Westport and Ballina are concerned I apprehend no danger, for railway work will be carried on there. But does the Chief Secretary know the districts of Swinford and Foxford—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to say that I stated, though it was in the middle of a catalogue of railways, and thus, perhaps, escaped his notice, that we have, without the powers conferred under the Act, promoted a railway to the North, and work will be started at once through the district he is alluding to.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I am glad to hear that; it escaped my notice. Above all others the Swinford district needs relief. The contractors for the railway should be called upon to erect huts for labourers. If that were done I do not see why men who migrate in large numbers every year to Great Britain for the harvest should not go 20 miles for railway work. A man who will not do that will not require much sympathy from the House of Commons. There are several other points I should like to mention. Unfortunately there are a very large number of old people in these western districts. The young people have left the country, leaving the old people behind, people who are not fit for work on a railway, many of them not fit for work at all. The Chief Secretary has said to-night that he has made up his mind not to allow the Poor Law Rules to be relaxed. I know the danger that follows such relaxation, how it is open to abuse, but from what I have seen of the old people in the Island of Achill and elsewhere I do not believe that two months hence the right hon. Gentleman will be able to maintain his determination. There are parts of the country near which no line of railway is to go. Judging from the strip of the country through which I passed in the County of Leitrim the potatoes are worse there than in any other part, except, perhaps, in West Cork, but no railway is to go near Leitrim. What does the Chief Secretary 575 propose with regard to such districts? I doubt if any railway is to go through the part of Sligo which will feel the pinch of the potato failure. What does the Chief Secretary propose? His first idea is the making of roads. Now, if there is one form of relief I distrust, and that I think has lamentably failed every time it has been put into operation, it is the making of roads. What is the use of making roads if, when they are made, the county is not to maintain them? I passed over miles of such roads, and continually had to take to the bog because the roads were impassable. They had been made during previous periods of distress, they led nowhere, they started from nowhere, and nobody took the slightest care of them when made—nobody supplied a barrowful of stones to repair them; the money spent on the construction was wasted. Now these roads were all made under supervision.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Well, I do not know. But no money should be expended on making roads without careful supervision being exercised. One part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman I heard with regret. I had some hope, when he came to the question of drainage, he would touch upon a point I heard a great deal about in the West of Ireland, and upon which I think money might be judiciously spent. Instead of road-making, and even main drainage, I should have preferred an extension of the Loans Clauses of the Act of 1881, under which tenants can borrow money for the improvement of their holdings. I should have preferred that small holders under £10 or £12 valuation should have been allowed loans at a low rate of interest for draining operations. These are a necessity. In many places you may take a handful of earth and almost wring the water out of it. This would be a good substitute for road-making. By this means the people would be kept from want, the land would be improved, and the Government would get the money back. I offer these criticisms in no hostile spirit to the proposals 576 of the Chief Secretary. In the main, I think them of the greatest value, and they will be received in Ireland with the greatest pleasure. Everything depends on supervision, and if the plans are worked out with spirit and care they will meet the present crisis and be permanently useful in the future.
§ (6.28.) MR. COX (Clare, E.)
I am very glad to say that for once in my life I find myself thoroughly in accord with the hon. Member for South Tyrone. I regret that with other Irish Members I was not here to listen to what I am informed was a very liberal and able statement of the Chief Secretary upon the distress in Ireland. I regret it the more for my own part because the right hon. Gentleman touched upon subjects in which I am particularly interested. I rise now rather to ask a question or two for the sake of information than to criticise the details of the scheme laid before the Committee by the right hon. Gentleman, but with which I am but imperfectly acquainted. I join with the hon. Member for South Tyrone in asking the Chief Secretary to give us some definition of the proposed scheduled areas; this is information in which my own constituents have an interest. I deprecate the road-making proposal. I have had practical experience of the working of Relief Acts in Ireland. In 1879 I was Secretary to a Baronial Committee for the purpose of carrying out works under the Relief Act of that year, but the Committee were greatly hampered in their operations. We had practically nothing to do but to make roads and embankments to the roads. I agree with the hon. Member for South Tyrone that many of the roads lead to no place, and are of no use to the people now they are completed. Within a couple of months of their construction grass was growing over the roads. To give the people employment and keep them from starvation we had to construct roads, because, by Act of Parliament, we were prevented from engaging in more useful works. I appeal to the Chief Secretary to abandon the idea of making roads, at least to some extent, and do something in the way of drainage.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member would have been at greater advantage if he had heard my speech. He is making recommendations which I 577 think he would not hare made if he had heard what I said.
§ MR. COX
I put a question to-day to the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) with reference to the Scarriff River, County Clare. In 1879 it was proposed to drain the river, and the sum of £32,000 was voted for the purpose. All the preliminary surveys were approved by the Board of Works, but it was necessary to form a Drainage Board. For one reason or another the people refused to form the Board. Thousands of acres of land are flooded every year and rendered good for nothing. I am happy to say that in the Recess I was able to gather in Scarriff all the representative men in the district—priests, landlords, land agents, occupiers, and nationalists. We had a most harmonious meeting, and adopted resolutions copies of which were sent to the Chief Secretary. I have now to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give careful consideration to the unanimous request made by the people, of all shades of opinion, in that particular part of the country; that request is, that a Drainage Board will be constituted and an enormous drainage scheme at once commenced. I understand that Colonel Turner, Resident Magistrate, is now making inquiries in Clare as to the advisability of reproductive works. I ask that he be instructed to inquire into the need of the drainage of the Scarriff River. The people do not ask for charity, but that they may be permitted to borrow money from the Board of Works or the Treasury—of course at a small rate of interest—so that they can proceed with this work, which will be useful, permanent, and reproductive.
§ *(6.34.) MR. MACARTNEY
I recognise that this is not a very convenient time to criticise at any length the extremely able statement made by the Chief Secretary, but there are one or two points in regard to which I desire to say a word or two. In respect of the method of distributing seed, I understand it only differs from previous methods in that it offers as an inducement to a part of the population to purchase seed for cash payments at a reduction of 20 per cent. It is upon that method I find my opinion somewhat at variance with the view of the Government. I admit that my experience of the congested portion of Ireland is confined to Donegal, but in 578 that county I find the opinion of all classes of the people is absolutely opposed to the distribution of seed potatoes upon the methods that have previously been adopted. One farmer, who has had a great deal to do with the distribution of seed in his Poor Law Division, has told me it would be far better not to distribute a single seed potato than to employ the method adopted in previous years. Great difficulty surrounds the question, and by no means wish to say my opinion or the opinion of the people in Donegal is absolutely right and ought to be adopted universally, but the Donegal people express their view so strongly that I am perfectly convinced that if the distribution of seed potatoes takes place upon any other system than that of cash payments, on the spot, the idea of educating the people of the congested districts out of their dependence on public charity will not be realised. It may be said there are portions of the population in congested districts who are utterly unable to make a cash payment. I quite admit that that is so, but I meet it by saying that such cases represent—certainly in County Donegal—an infinitesimal proportion of those who require seed for next year, and that it will be perfectly easy to pick out the cases in which it would be preferable to give an absolutely free distribution of seed potatoes from those in which payment ought to be demanded. Then I desire to know whether any conditions have been placed on the contractors with regard to the employment of the local labour in the congested districts? The Chief Secretary said that no absolute condition has been imposed, but that in some recent experiment the contractor has employed local labour. I do not think it would be right for the House, and I certainly do not think it would be safe for the Irish Government, to leave this matter absolutely free to the good intentions of a railway contractor. It is possible that in one district the advantages of employing almost entirely local labour may be so great that a contractor will be forced to do so; but I doubt very much, especially in County Donegal, whether contractors will employ a certain proportion of local labour unless they are placed under stringent conditions to do so. They may find it better for them to employ labour which has always 579 been employed on light railways in Ireland—that is, skilled labour, as against labour that has never been employed on railway works. I feel so strongly on this point that when the proper time comes I shall invite the House to insert some provision in the Bill which will preclude a contractor from making such excuses as will enable him to avoid the employment of a due proportion of local labour. I understand certain people imagine that local labour ought only to be employed upon the preliminary work. I know of no reason why local labour, if it is employed on the preliminary work, should not be employed throughout the whole undertaking. It is necessary, no doubt, that some of the men employed should be skilled labourers, but contractors ought not to be allowed to suppose that they can employ the people in the locality for the first few weeks, and then cast them adrift. On the question of road-making, I find myself entirely in accord with the views expressed on the opposite side of the House. I have the greatest possible objection to the making of a single new road in Ireland. Under the Relief Act of 1886 money was expended in Donegal in making new roads, but no one used the roads. Their construction was a very interesting means of employing the engineering talent, but they are white elephants for the county. No money was taken from the cesspayers in respect to the making of the roads, but now the cesspayers have to keep them in r repair. I shall certainly invite the House on this point also to insert a provision in the Bill preventing a single farthing being expended on making new roads. But, while I am of this opinion, I think a great deal of the money might be expended on improving the existing roads, especially those in the West of Ireland, which will connect the light railways with each other, and which are now in a deplorable condition. I do not deny that the reclamation of land is a very difficult question, but I believe that if the Government will really complete the experiment they will do considerable service. Many of the small holders are bad agriculturists, and it will be of the utmost value to them if a model farm can be established and they can see with their own eyes the best means for cropping the land in their neighbourhood. 580 There is a most extraordinary prejudice in one portion of Donegal against the Champion potato. I have been informed by men who have had to do with the distribution of seed potatoes that the people in the Glenties Union are prejudiced against the Champion potato, because they have never seen it grow in the ground. The experiment made by the Chief Secretary last year has not proved successful, because all sorts of rumours were set afloat in respect to the Champion potato. Many people were told that the seeds were diseased and imported by the right hon. Gentleman for the purpose of devastating the country. As to the advantages of afforesting, I do not believe there are two opinions in Ireland. Any one who knows anything of the country knows that one of its greatest misfortunes is that it is absolutely deficient in the quantity of the necessary timber to counteract the atmospherical causes. Timber has been gradually disappearing from the holdings, but I am not sure that the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley)—namely, that afforesting should be entirely given over to Local Authorities—would be successful. The right hon. Gentleman will admit that in the two European countries in which tree culture has been brought to high perfection—France and Germany—the absolute control is not vested in the Local Authorities, certainly it is not in most parts of Germany, and I do not think it is in France. I believe that if afforesting is to be carried out successfully, it must be conducted by a Government Department possessing the very best scientific advice, and free from all local influences.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I am of opinion that if the Local Authority, whether the Board of Guardians or County Council, or whatever Local Authority may be hereafter created, are given considerable pecuniary interest in the result of afforesting, the experiment will prove a complete success. I do not wish to detain the Committee longer; but on the points I have raised I feel very strongly, and when the proper time arrives I shall endeavour to give effect to them.
§ *(6.40.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
I am inclined to think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would have convinced anyone who has not had the long and serious experience I have had of the difficulty of dealing with these questions of famine. But I must say also I could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman was a great deal too sanguine, and I could not but dwell on the long catalogue of failures and frauds he recited. His speech led me to wish that it was not necessary for us to do with this matter. I was one of those who went in for Home Rule for Ireland with a great deal of hesitation and some misgiving; but a speech like that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, showing the enormous difficulties Englishmen must overcome in dealing with such a question in regard to Ireland, makes me very much wish that we could wash our hands of such subjects, and let somebody else be responsible for them. As to the amount of distress likely to occur, I admit I have not visited the districts in which the distress is anticipated; but I can give this negative evidence, that I have this season visited parts of Ireland where there is no distress, and where, on the contrary, the crops are excellent. I am inclined to think that perhaps too much has been made of the partial failure of potatoes in a limited portion of Ireland, and I am inclined to hope that it is not such a big thing as the Chief Secretary imagines. We are likely to experience, on the present occasion, very much what I have experienced on other occasions, namely, that people want to get all kinds of things done under the cry of famine that they would not get done under other circumstances. Though I give the Chief Secretary full credit for the utmost desire to do what he can for Ireland, I cannot help thinking that he is assuming that which has been called the "stick and pudding" policy. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has been somewhat too ready to persuade himself that this large sum of money will be spent with advantage in Ireland, and that he has taken too sanguine a view of the situation. The late Chief Secretary (Mr. J. Morley), who admitted that he himself had made a failure, said the Chief Secretary is trying the same 582 experiments as have been tried by many Chief Secretaries before him, and that he is likely to meet with the same difficulties and perhaps the same results. We must be very careful in this matter not to listen too readily to the demands that come from Ireland. Although our hearts may be very willing to accede to the demands of people who are said to be suffering from poverty, we must take care that that feeling does not carry us too far. Care must be taken with regard to the relief works, so that we do not have roads constructed, as they have been in the past, that are of no use. You must also take care that you really do employ the poor people of the district. I know very well how very incompetent and unpaying pauper labour is, and I know that if you leave it to the Railway Directors they will employ the labour that pays them best. There is no labour so unprofitable as that rendered by people who think you are giving them work out of charity. I view with great distrust these drainage and reclamation schemes. Last year and the year before I think we succeeded in defeating some great drainage schemes of this kind.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken; the drainage schemes he refers to are of a very different character from that now before the House. The only point of resemblance is that the word "drainage" is used.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL
I quite admit that, but the principle is the same. The principle is that of spending British money in improving the character of the land in Ireland. I should like to ask this one question: When these drainage works are carried out, who is to receive the profit? Are the landlords at the next revision of rents to get the profit due to the expenditure of British money? Some means of preventing that were embodied in a scheme brought before the House by a former Chief Secretary, and I hope that a similar course will be adopted in the present instance. Of course, if we vote the £5,000 needed for making the inquiry, we do not pledge ourselves to the schemes themselves, and when the estimates for the schemes come before us we shall not be to bound to sanction them. I wish to say one word on a subject which has already been 583 referred to, namely, the position of the large body of persons who are not able-bodied and are not able to go to work. When the pinch of poverty comes, it is at first most severely felt by those who are not able-bodied, and who are not able to do profitable work, and it is my impression that this class should be provided for out of the relief afforded under the Poor Law system in Ireland with some relaxations. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Gentlemen laugh. I do not see why, if a large sum is to be provided out of the British Exchequer for the purpose of furnishing relief works for the able-bodied portion of the population, at least that portion which is required for the maintenance of those who are not able-bodied should come from the ordinary fund for the poor relief of the country.
§ (7.2.) MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
I am glad to have the opportunity of making a few remarks on the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, of whom I may say that his manner has been so conciliatory and his intension so kindly that although I feel it necessary to oppose the measure he has brought forward, I trust I shall in doing so exhibit a similar spirit. There are two things which the House ought to bear in mind in considering this question. The first is, how utterly incompetent this Committee is to deal with this purely Irish matter. Had this question been remitted to Irishmen in their own country, how much more competent would they have been to deal with it The second point is, that the Chief Secretary is compelled to assure us that every effort in this direction that has been made before his time has been a failure. In that he was supported by the Irish Members who have addressed the House. [Colonel NOLAN: No.] Well, he has been supported by most of the Irish Members. I do not expect my hon. and gallant Friend below me (Colonel Nolan) to admit that anything is wrong in Ireland. But what does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do? He proposes to make roads and main drains, to reclaim land and to afforest a portion of the country. Now, as to roads, what do all the Irish Members tell us on that subject? They all tell us, "Whatever else you do, don't make reads, because the making of roads 584 in days gone by has always been a failure." Well, what as to drains? Others who have spoken on the subject say, "Do not deal with main drains; do something else." When the right hon. Gentleman comes to the reclamation of land he is told by the late Chief Secretary, who is an authority on the subject, having had experience, to beware, and, with regard to afforesting, I have not heard anybody propose a tangible plan. We certainly have been told that it will be advantageous to have trees in Ireland, because the Irish have cut them down; but as you are going to hand over the land to the tenantry, I, for one, cannot see the utility of planting trees in order that the tenants may cut them down. All these things have been tried by equally kind-hearted Ministers, and equally philanthropic Governments in days gone by, and they have always failed. "But," says the Chief Secretary, "I shall succeed because I am going to try a new plan. I am not going to trust to the Local Authorities. I intend to have a special Board to carry on these works." But I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the great majority of the works of reclamation and other works for relief have been carried out in the past, not by the Local Authorities, but by a separate Board. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) introduced the Local Authority, but before that public relief works were carried on under the control of a public Board in Ireland. ["No, no!"] I say "Yes." They were so carried on in the main, whether drainage works, roads, or harbours, and they were all lamentable failures. Notwithstanding this, the right hon. Gentleman is going to attempt the impossible. I wish him success; but I tell him that, although my heart is with him, my judgment does not approve his plan, and I do not think he will succeed. The strangest thing about this business is that, while he asserts his desire to make the people to whom he proposes to administer relief self-reliant, he, nevertheless, intends to take the whole of the operations out of their hands, and to treat them as if they were not men, but mere human machines. I agree with him in saying that we ought to make these people independent, prosperous, and self-reliant if we can do so; but I cannot think you will secure 585 that result by administering the proposed relief in the manner suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. I say that his proposal is an impossible proposal. He is going to make certain gifts to this particular district in Ireland, and the money is to come from the Public Exchequer and the Irish Church Fund. He is under the impression that in this way the Irish people may be enabled to tide over the present period of distress, and that hereafter great blessings will be secured to the population. I sincerely hope he will be enabled to tide them over the period of distress. I cannot help giving him my hearty sympathy in this effort. I only regret that circumstances have been allowed to arrive at such a head once again that Parliament is asked to deal with this part of Ireland as it has had to do so often in the past. But I say that if the right hon. Gentleman is going, in defiance of all past experience, to bestow public money on the West of Ireland, while he declines to bestow it on this country, which almost equally needs it, ought he not, first, to take most stringent care to be as economical as possible in carrying out the works proposed; and, secondly, ought he not to see that the persons who are about to be benefited by those works, and who at the same time are not badly off, shall contribute a reasonable share of the outlay? I ask the House, is he economical? He is going to make railways. I ask him how have the landowners dealt with this matter? I allude to the landlords through whose district the railway will pass. I am told that personally I have done all I could against the construction of light railways. That is true, and I would do the same again. Let me recall what has happened with regard to these light railways. A Bill was passed in 1889. It was forced through the Committee upstairs, and afterwards forced through this House at what was expected to have been an All-night Sitting.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
The fact is that a small minority attempted to coerce a great majority on the occasion referred to by the hon. Member.
§ MR. STOREY
Then we were only imitating the hon. Member and his friends in Ireland. But, however, the Bill was passed. It was forced into law in August, 1889. Will my hon. Friend 586 tell me why that measure was not made use of? Why was nothing done under it? Why was not even a single line laid down even up to August, 1890?
§ MR. STOREY
No, it was for this reason: it was because the Bill which passed the House was a useless Bill. It was a Bill which introduced the question of promoters, and we cautioned them that if they insisted upon introducing promoters the Bill would not work. The result was that last August an amending Bill was brought in to put an end to the promoters, and to place the lines in the hands of the Railway Companies. That is all I have to say about the Light Railways Bill. But the point I wish to put before the House is this: what have the landlords who are to be benefited done? Have they contributed their full share of the expense in relief of the Public Exchequer? I will tell the House what is to be done. These railways, which are to be made at the public expense, are to go through stretches of territory which are not in themselves valuable, but the value of which will be largely increased by the fact that the railways pass through them. If the public have to bear the expense of making those railways, is it not reasonable to demand that the landlords should, at least, give the paltry bits of land through which the railways are about to run? The landlords promised to be generous, but they have not, as far as I am aware, given a penny.
§ MR. STOREY
Well, when we get the Returns, which will shortly be laid before us, we shall be able to see what proportion they have given. But even if some of them have contributed, that fact does not get rid of my argument, which is, that the House should see that when they are about to grant so large a sum of money as will be needed for these lines out of the Public Exchequer, the landlords should at least give the necessary land. Another point is this: Has due economy been observed in 587 connection with this scheme? If we are going to make railways at public expense, why are they not to belong to the public? Why are they to be given to the existing Railway Companies for nothing? Public money is to be given to make railways, and then, when the lines have been completed, they are to be handed over to the existing Railway Companies! I think we shall be able to show the right hon. Gentleman that in the case of some other agreements we have made with the existing Railway Companies we have been exceedingly wasteful of the public money. We have given tens of thousands to Railway Companies to make lines, though we had in our possession agreements for the same lines at less sums. I do not call that attending duly to economy. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me if he is going to spend public money on afforesting land belonging to the landlords, or is he going to acquire public land and put forests upon it? If he does the former I shall accuse him of being neglectful of the public interests, but if he does the latter then I shall have less objection to the proposal. I should like to press upon his attention the criticism as to whether or not the poor people of the districts are likely to get the benefit of the employment afforded in the construction of the railways. I have had some experience of contractors, who will endeavour to make as much as they can out of the work. The Chief Secretary said that much of the work could be as well done by unskilled as by skilled men. He can know nothing about the making of railways. I warn the Chief Secretary that unless he makes a bargain with the contractors now this will happen. They will employ skilled men, and the poor people of the locality will not receive benefit from the works. But, again, if you make a bargain with the contractors that they are only to employ the people of the localities, then you must be prepared to pay twice as much for the works as you would otherwise do. The contractor would certainly, if such a condition were imposed upon him, take care to put more money on his contract. If you do not make that bargain then the contractors will look to their own interest and will employ outside labour. I do not make these criticisms as at all opposing the evident 588 desire of the Committee to do something at the moment for Ireland, but I can only say to the Minister that once again we are going the weary round that we have gone before. We will for the moment tide over the distress by a lavish and wasteful expenditure of public money, with more or less good or bad results; but the evil will remain, and the very medicine we administer will tend to make the patient not fitter to stand the future, but as first my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton remarked that six years hence, very likely, the Chief Secretary would be again standing at that Table proposing another Relief Bill for the West of Ireland. I sincerely hope my hon. Friend is wrong. If the right hon. Gentleman will still persist in trying to govern a country about which he knows nothing, and against the wishes of that country, of course, you will have successive appeals for charity. I hope, on the contrary, before six years are over, the present Chief Secretary will be relieved from the necessity of dealing with Irish matters, and that Irish affairs will be relegated to an Irish Assembly sitting in Dublin, where the work will be done much better than we can do it.
§ *(7.22.) SIR LYON PLAYFAIR (Leeds, S.)
I only want the right hon. Gentleman to give us such information as he has in his possession in regard to the very important statement which he gave us at the beginning of his speech, namely, as to the number of meals per day partaken of by the people. I understand that it would be only possible for them to have two meals of potatoes during four months, whereas the other eight months are to be provided for. I suppose he simply intends to apply his proposal to those districts where there is a prospect of famine. It is necessary, before we proceed to the discussion of such an important proposal, that we should have all the information possible as to the area to be dealt with. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must have been in possession of information before making such an important and painful statement in regard to certain of the districts of Ireland, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will be able to furnish it to us. We would like him to tell us what is the average crop of potatoes at the present time, in the congested 589 districts, and if Returns have been made which confirm the serious state of things in these districts.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)
Sir, I wish to call attention for one moment to the subject of afforestation. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some assurance that if this work is undertaken it will be carried out in a proper, scientific, and permanent manner, and not merely with the view to afford relief. It would be a discredit to forestry could any reflections be cast upon a national system.
§ SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the Committee whether in the drainage scheme—not the great arterial scheme of drainage—the benefit will go to the landlords, or otherwise?
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state what proportion of land, in the construction of 284 miles of railway, has been given by the landlords through whose estates the lines will run?
§ (7.26.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will endeavour to answer the various questions put to me, and perhaps I had better first answer those asked last, and of which I have not taken a note. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds asked me a question with reference to the illustrations I gave at the beginning of my speech as to the congested districts. I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman clearly understood what I said. I stated that under ordinary circumstances tenants have three meals a day. Two of these consist of potatoes, and not the third as a rule. I took the worst districts during an ordinary year, and I found the tenant would get two meals consisting of potatoes from the 15th August to the 15th December, and then probably only one meal of potatoes from the 15th December to the 15th April. After that date he has to depend directly on the credit of the local shopkeeper for what is necessary for himself and family. Here I took this year as an illustration, and I said that the tenant would only have one of the three meals with potatoes up to the 15th December, and that after the 15th December he would have to depend on credit, if he could get it, and it is probable he will not be able to get it. It is 590 therefore that I have laid before the House some methods of affording relief. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds asked as to the area of the congested districts. It is not easy to state the area over which distress exists. I shall, however, be able to give the right hon. Gentleman minute information as to the degree of failure in different districts in the West of Ireland. Of course, too, the resources of the population in different districts must be considered. In some districts the population may be successful in obtaining work in England, or in fishing. One cannot tell exactly how the distress will weigh in different districts, but in the illustration I gave about the beginning of my speech I had specially in view the southwest of Donegal. With regard to the question asked me by the hon. Member for Leith, as to afforesting, if the idea is carried out at all it will be a very tentative experiment. The land will be acquired by the Government, and it will be necessarily cheap land, worth very little to the owner, and practically not used by the occupier except for grazing. The earlier stages in the work of afforestation are those which require little practical skill, consisting largely of draining and making turf fences, surmounted subsequently by a couple of wires which are generally considered an effective fence. The planting so carried out under skilled supervision would belong to the public; whether it would be proper afterwards to hand over the land so planted to the Local Authority, the District Board, the County Council, or whatever the Local Body may be, will be a matter for subsequent examination. The hon. Member for Sunderland appeared to think that if Home Rule were granted there would be no more failure of the potato crop, that the wisdom of Ireland uncontaminated by the folly of Englishmen would be able to deal adequately with any difficulties that might arise, and that those congested districts would be put in a specially favourable position by being deprived of the advantages of English credit and English money. I really do not understand the view of the hon. Member. I believe I have considered the opinions of Ireland. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Galway, who knows those districts, is distinctly in favour of 591 the proposals of the Government, and for myself I am vain enough, to believe that, whatever form of government is adopted, they cannot do much better than the plan the Government has ventured to submit. The hon. Gentleman has said this scheme has been tried before. I maintain that the scheme which I now recommend to the House has never been tried before, and, whether it fails or not, it is not open, to the criticisms which have been passed upon it by hon. Gentlemen opposite. An hon. Member asked why the Railway Bill passed in a recent Session remained unfruitful, and he puts that down to the action of the promoters. But a great many preliminary investigations had to be made, and it was true that five promoters came before the Railway Company. But the Bill of last year was not intended to exclude the private promoter; it merely enabled public companies to carry out schemes of the private promoters. Does the hon. Gentleman suppose that either in Ireland or in England the Local Authorities or the Public Exchequer could profit by a scheme which would retain in their possession the working of these railways, and prevent the great Railway Companies which they form working them? Why, a wilder idea than that I cannot conceive. To pass over the trunk lines to private companies and to give to the Exchequer the small feeders is quite impossible. It is the most preposterous idea that ever entered the mind of any politician. My hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone put certain questions, and I think the same questions were raised by the Member for Clare. I am asked what districts are to be scheduled. I do not think we should gain much from scheduling districts. The only result is that in this House each man whose district is not scheduled will bring pressure of an intelligible character to bear upon the Government. I do not think it leads to economy either of time or money. There was no Schedule put into the Light Railway Bill. In this case I do not think the Schedules would be necessary. I gave the House a pledge, which I think they will admit I carried out, that I would not allow myself to be induced by local pressure to use money for the purposes of constructing railways where assistance was not required, and I say now, that I will not allow local 592 pressure to force me to start works in districts that do not require them. Therefore, I do not think a Schedule necessary either in the Seed Potato Bill or the Bill for these works.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I should hope not so many. It, however, depends on the extent of the failure of the crop. I hold that no power should be given to the Boards of Guardians unless it is absolutely necessary owing to the poverty of the district. It will not depend on the district in which the failure occurred. I have been taken to task by hon. Members who referred to failures of efforts in the past. I am conscious of the failures in the past. I stated in language, afterwards borrowed by each gentleman in turn, that parts of Ireland were dotted over with roads which began nowhere and ended nowhere—a fact which spoke to the incompetence of those who had to deal with them. But surely no hon. Member will maintain that in Ireland no more roads are required. All I can say is that a more extraordinary statement never was made. There are districts where people have to go many miles round to attend church, fair, or market. It is only in such districts that roads will be made.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Certainly, and I hope that no new roads will be made which the county will not be prepared and willing to take over. The next point which has been urged is that none but local labour should be used, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone urged the adoption of such a drastic measure as inserting such a condition in the contract. That is impracticable. It would not only increase the cost of the contract, but it would be utterly demoralising in the neighbourhood, because the contractor would be compelled to employ, only local labour to carry out his work, and the labourers themselves would have it in their power to ruin him by refusing to work for him. It Would also prevent these works being carried out on commercial principles. But I may tell my hon. Friend who raised this point that 593 I am assured very little beyond local labour has been employed on these works in the past. Of course, contractors cannot make embankments without having culverts, which require skilled labour not to be found in the place, but I am confident there will be an adequate demand for unskilled and local labour. Then an hon. Member has urged that the Government ought not to give seed potatoes except for cash payments. Well, if that is acted upon, we may rely upon it that we shall not get at the people we wish to reach, and will have to come forward again next year to relieve these people from suffering all the evils of distress and want, or even of starvation. I think the argument of the hon. Member for Northampton, and of other hon. Members, involves some misunderstanding of the line of argument I laid before the Committee earlier in the evening. They have all said in turn, "You stated there ought to be more self-reliance among the Irish people, but how will this proposal of yours tend to increase it?" But I do not propose this measure in order to increase their self-reliance. I propose it as tiding over the present difficulties. It is giving them a lift out of the mire, as it were. I firmly believe that, not in consequence of these relief works, but in consequence of the general measure, especially when the lesson is brought home to the clergy and the tenants themselves that they must do something to help themselves, great improvements will be introduced. I may be wrong, but that is my opinion. At all events, it is perfectly clear that if you do not do something of the kind all hope will be gone, and if you drag the Local Authorities into debt, you will only plunge them deeper and deeper into the mire of insolvency. If you are going to do nothing to improve the communications, to improve the agriculture and industry of the people, then the thing is hopeless. But it is because of the far-reaching effects of my scheme that I attach importance to it. Whatever other proposals may be urged upon the Government, their immediate duty is a plain one, namely, to do what they can to relieve these poor people. I have given the best thought I could during many months to the preparation of this scheme, which I believe to be the most practicable, the most economical, and the 594 most generous one that could be devised.
§ (7.46.) COLONEL NOLAN
I wish, to ask a question as to the area in which seed potatoes will be distributed. I think that the distribution should not be confined to the distressed districts, but should be spread over a considerable part of the country in which the seed has not been, renewed since 1880, and is consequently almost worn out, and, therefore, likely to render the potatoes peculiarly liable to disease. I would suggest that in every district west of the Shannon, and several east of it, it is desirable to give facilities for obtaining new seed. The fact is, in most districts of Ireland there are no proper seed merchants. There are those who sell the early and the fancy varieties of potatoes, but there is no machinery for the exchange of seed. I may point out that, even in the richer districts, there are many anxious to get new seed, and if the Government arranged for the supply they might rely on prompt payment, so that there would be no loss. All I wish for is an assurance that the Irish tenants will have the opportunity afforded them of obtaining new seed.
§ (7.49.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It will rest with the Irish Local Government Board, looking at the necessities, of the district, to determine whether, seed will be available or not.
§ (7.50.) COLONEL NOLAN
The matter should not be left to the Irish Local Government Board, but should be decided by the House of Commons. The Irish, Local Government Board would be a very proper authority for determining which are the 20 poorest Unions, but it is not their business to say whether 20 or 60 of the Irish Unions shall be classed as poor.
*(7.51.) MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
There are large areas of Crown Lands in Ireland known to contain an immense wealth of minerals. For instance, there are Crown Lands of high value in County Wicklow.
MR. P. MORGAN
There are lands over which the Crown claim certain right. Perhaps I should call them 595 Crown Mines, which cannot be developed by private enterprise because of the royalties exacted by the Crown. Yet, the money of the British taxpayer is to be expended upon experimental works and new schemes which have not been tried before, when these mines might be advantageously opened up.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I suppose the hon. Member is alluding to the right the Crown have over certain minerals in Wicklow.
MR. P. MORGAN
Yes; and the Government prefer to thwart and starve Irish industries, which might easily be developed, rather than encourage them.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I cannot conceive how the remarks of the hon. Member have any bearing on the matter.
MR. P. MORGAN
I have no desire to frustrate the objects of the right hon. Gentleman. I prefer to assist them, and therefore I would suggest that either the Crown should withdraw its claim to the royalties, which prevent the mines in the distressed districts in Ireland from being worked by private enterprise, or else that such mines should be worked at the expanse of the Crown itself.
§ *(7.53.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I hope proper precautions will be taken to prevent landlords increasing the rent by reason of improvements carried out at the public expense.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if the Government object in the reclamation of land is, as I understood it, to undertake such works as will enable the tenant when settled on adjoining land to so extend his holding as to get a living. I do not think the fund could be applied to a more useful purpose than undertaking drainage Works beyond the power of individual effort, and enabling people to live on land not otherwise suitable for the purpose. I hope, however, that care will be taken to prevent the buying or leasing of lands so developed by the Government. With regard to the subject of finance, the right hon. Gentleman did not state how much money was involved in his scheme. I would, however, venture to suggest that, in order to prevent the Irish people from disappointment, the 596 right hon. Gentleman ought to fix some definite sum that should be applicable for the purpose of relief. Indeed, I hold that this is a matter which should be controlled by the Imperial Parliament. A certain sum should be voted, and then if that proved insufficient to meet the necessities of the case a further grant should be asked for from the House. Otherwise, the right hon. Gentleman will have laid before him a great many applications in the simple hope that the Treasury may be drawn.
§ (7.59.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I believe the purpose we all have in view will be better attained by not fixing the amount; but I hope it will not be a great one. It is desired to keep down the relief works to the minimum of actual necessity; and fixing a sum will not keep down the number of applications. If reclamation is carried out, it will be an experiment, and it is desirable that the land reclaimed should be in the neighbourhood of holdings. There are cases where you will find holdings carved out of bog, and where there is a limitless amount of bog capable of similar treatment, and those are the cases in which experiments should be tried. If I can find such places, and obtain them on reasonable terms, it will be there that the experiment will be tried.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No time will be lost in issuing to Boards of Guardians the Circular of which I have spoken.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow. (8.3.)