§ 1. £55,831, Relief of Distress, Ireland.
§ (4.32.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Mr. Courtney, it will be in the recollection of the Committee that in the early days of last December I asked the Committee of Supply to vote a relatively nominal sum—£5,000—towards the relief of distress in Ireland. The sum I ask the Committee to vote to-day is a much larger one, and hon. Members have, no doubt, a right to ask what account I can give of the plan we are actually carrying out, and which I briefly sketched on a previous occasion. Our experience, of course, is not yet complete. In England, as the spring-approaches, the strain of distress either on the Poor Law administration or on private charity sensibly diminishes; but in Ireland, when the distress arises from the failure of the potato, the crisis is not in the winter months, but it goes on steadily increasing in intensity, until it is either relieved by the annual migration of the able-bodied men to England or Scotland, or by digging for the next year's potatoes in those parts of the country where migration is not practised. Therefore, it comes about that the account I shall have to give to-day of what we have done in the way of relieving distress does not include a survey of the whole of the transactions in which this House has taken part in this matter. All I intend now to do is to give the results of our efforts and experience up to the most recent available date. Now, the Vote on which we are actually engaged is a Vote for the Relief of Distress, to be followed immediately by a Vote on Railways; but I think it will be convenient to the Committee if, on the first of the Votes, I touch not, indeed, on the railway policy of the Government—not upon those matters in which I know the right hon. Member for Newcastle is interested, but on certain 779 incidents and circumstances connected with our railway policy which have a direct bearing on the relief of distress. Therefore, if the Committee will permit me to presuppose the measures that have been adopted for the relief of distress, and to exclude from our purview such steps as have been taken to meet that distress by special arrangements for railway work, I think the convenience of the Committee will be regarded, and they will have a clearer view than if my statement were divided illogically into two parts. As the Committee are aware, the general railway policy of the Government has no connection whatever with the distress in Ireland. It was begun even before the failure of the potato crop in 1890 was so much as thought of, and, probably, if that failure had merely been allowed to run its ordinary course, the railways would have been constructed, not quite sufficiently or as now constructed, but they would have been constructed at a period when they would not have served, or hardly at all, to mitigate the distress arising through the recent failure of the potato crop. But the House and the Government have taken means by which the work of these railways shall be made directly useful for the purposes we are now considering. In August last a Bill was passed, under great Parliamentary difficulties, in this House for the purpose of expediting these railways. It received the assistance of the majority of the Members of the House, and many at that time seemed to be of opinion that, do what we could, we should not be able to hurry on the construction of these works so as to bring them into action for the relief of distress. But I am glad to think that the prophecies we gave utterance to have not been proved inaccurate. Every means the law allows has been employed to hurry on these railways. Grand Juries were called together early in November, and they assented to the railways, and the Government lost no time in obtaining the necessary land and in getting the contracts made. If we had pursued the ordinary course there is no doubt we should not have been able to set to work much before March, April, or May; but in order that the demand for labour might be met at once we anticipated the completion of the contract 780 plans by provisional contracts on a schedule of prices, and in this way it was possible to ante-date the ordinary and natural commencement of the lines by many months. The result was that the sod was broken early in December for most of the lines, and by the end of December a large number of them were in operation. Another difficulty we had to contend with was in the acquisition of the necessary land. Here our progress was facilitated by the Act of 1890, and but for the co-operation of the localities, and especially the priests of the localities, together with the landlords and the tenants occupying the land, it would have been quite impossible to set to work as soon as we did. All heartily cooperated, and the result was that we did not meet with any of those obstacles which one might naturally have supposed would have hampered us. There are two railways on which work has been begun—the extension of the Mulranny line to Achill, and the line from Collooney to Claremorris. These were the only lines which the Government started in view of the distress, and I believe they were justified by the condition of the population through which they run. I have to acknowledge the immense assistance we have derived from all quarters, by which great trouble and a great deal of expense have been saved to the Government in carrying out these valuable and, I hope, permanently useful works. We were told that these railways would not afford employment to the particular class of the population it was desired to employ; it was said that most of the money would be spent in skilled labour, and that only a small branch of the population on either side of the lines would receive any benefit from them. In fact, we were told that any hopes we might build upon those railways as a means of averting distress would be doomed to disappointment. I am glad to think these prophecies have not been fulfilled. We have, where we could, entered into formal arrangements with the various contractors in order to secure that the greatest amount of unskilled labour should be employed, and where these formal arrangements were not possible informal contracts have been entered into. The contractors have been good enough 781 to come and talk the matter over with me. They have fitted their plans in with the views of the Government; they have made every effort to suit us, and I have consented to take the advice of, and act in co-operation with, the local priests in the matter of selecting the labour to be employed on the line, and the result has undoubtedly been that while, no doubt, a large number of persons—or a certain number of persons—in the neighbourhood of the line who could not be described as in an acute state of distress have been employed. There have been no instances where, after the line has been in process of construction, and our plans have begun to work, able-bodied persons in acute distress have been excluded from employment. I believe that this will be confirmed by every one who has had practical experience of the work on the line, and if it be true—as I believe it to be—I think it is eminently satisfactory. It is not necessary that I should go into the special contracts that were made for the purpose of securing labour. The general result I have given to the House, and probably no more details will be required. I have a good deal of ground to cover, but if further details are wanted I shall be happy to supply them. We have found that on some of these lines the demand for employment considerably exceeded the demand for labour which would take place if the construction of the lines were left to follow ordinary development. In order to meet that, further arrangements were made with the contractors beyond those broad, general arrangements to which I have referred. On some lines, for example, I found that by making embankments from cuttings it was possible, no doubt at increased cost, to augment the amount of unskilled labour that could be immediately said to work, and I made arrangements for carrying that out. On other lines I found that if special arrangements were made with the contractors, and they could be recouped for the loss which would fall on them through having the earth taken in barrows from the cuttings to the embankments, they would be prepared to give a very much larger amount of employment than they otherwise could. Thus, by dealing with each line and each contractor separately, 782 and by having personal conversations and discussions we have been enabled to squeeze out these plans of railway construction, so as to give the very maximum of unskilled labour it was-possible to give. The general result has been that the number of men employed has been about 8,000, who, I suppose, may be multiplied by five or six in order to get the number of individuals interested; and the amount of wages paid is something over £40,000 since the railway works began. A conclusive proof, in my judgment, that the works fully supplied the demands for labour is that in many of these districts there were strikes for shorter hours or higher pay. The wages have ranged from 11s. to 14s. I do not think anything less than 11s. has been paid, and, though I do not complain of the strikes, I think they have formed conclusive proof that our demand for labour was not less than the supply, and that the distress was not so acute as to induce the people to sacrifice any of their cherished convictions, or imaginary convictions, to obtain a livelihood. I recollect on one of the lines—the Westport to Mulranny line—gang after gang gave warning or struck because a tenant of an evicted farm was one of the labourers. I do not imagine that any of the gentlemen who then struck have been allowed to resume work. That, of course, is not my affair. I do not know whether there is any other matter on which I should touch in regard to railways; but before I pass on to the subject of the relief works there-are one or two miscellaneous matters on which the House will probably desire some information. The first relates to the project which I had some hope of being able to accomplish—namely, land reclamation. I have been disappointed in that matter. Anybody travelling through the West of Ireland would suppose that the amount of unoccupied land is at present unlimited; that the landlords would probably desire nothing more than to sell it, and that in the sale they would have the co-operation of all the occupiers in the neighbourhood. But in the inquiries which I made in regard to the various portions or parcels of land which I thought might be suitable for reclamation I have always been met with one or two difficulties—either it has been proved that the landlord, either 783 on account of defective title or some other reason, could not satisfactorily sell his interest, or else that the number of subsidiary rights, rights of grazing, turbary, rights of passage owned by occupiers in the neighbourhood, were so numerous and so impossible to get rid of that the Government could not be expected to embark in that transaction. I do not say that land for reclamation cannot be acquired; I only say that, without advertising and taking steps which I did not feel at liberty to take, I have not been able, so far, to acquire land, and therefore I have not been able to carry out an experiment which I think would have been interesting, and possibly very useful. But one experiment I have been able to start—an experiment in planting. It is on the south coast of Lough Boyle. There it so happened that the landlord was quite ready to sell, and the hill-side of 1,000 acres was in the hands of a single tenant, and that tenant was Father Flannerty, a gentleman whose name is perhaps known to many to whom I speak as one who has made great and useful efforts to ameliorate the condition of the people. He offered to give up his rights in the land for nothing. The land required from the landlord was obtained for 10s. an acre, and I have given directions to start an experiment in forestry which I cannot but think will prove instructive. I may say that I sent round a large number of inquiries to various owners in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and I have received a number of valuable answers from them. The information I have thus been able to obtain has quite convinced me that not only in Ireland, but in England and Scotland as well, we are far behind the Continent in this matter of forestry. Of course, it is natural it should be so; there are whole regions in Germany and Denmark where the population depend on wood as their chief source of livelihood; but, still, I cannot help thinking that the sooner we make ourselves acquainted with what they do on the Continent in this regard the sooner we shall be able to turn to useful account large tracts in Ireland, in this country, and in Scotland which are now little better than waste. The next question I have to call attention to is that of fuel. Last year there was not only a failure of the potato crop, but in 784 one or two districts where a potato famine was not anticipated there was real reason to apprehend that the people would suffer greatly from want of fuel. I thought that in this matter the difficulties attending Government intervention—I mean in connection with the supply of fuel—were overwhelming; and, therefore, after much meditation, I reluctantly took the course of authorising Boards of Guardians of the several unions concerned to give relief even to able-bodied persons holding more than a quarter of an acre of land in certain electoral divisions of their unions, provided that relief was given simply in the way of turf. The number of unions to whom I gave these instructions was 11, situate in Donegal, Mayo, Clare, Kerry, and Limerick. So far, I believe, not a single union has taken advantage of the permission thus given. This is partly to be accounted for by the fact that subsequent to the action taken by the Government the weather became extremely dry, and it was found that the failure of turf was not so complete as at one time was feared. The parts of Ireland that have, on the whole, caused most anxiety and difficulty to deal with are the scattered islands on the west coast. They are in many cases Sparated from the mainland by a passage, short, indeed, but so stormy that they are sometimes cut off from all intercourse with the mainland for days and even weeks together. It is clear that if in these islands the potatoes fail, and there is no means of substituting other food for potatoes, there must be what there never has been on the mainland, namely, danger of famine. Very early in last winter I took steps for having the condition of every one of these islands carefully examined, and the examination has been continued from time to time. The Admiralty has aided me with gunboats; but I found that was not sufficient, and that it was absolutely necessary to have vessels the movements of which I could control without application to any other office; and, moreover, I found that the gunboats could not always face a head wind of the severity which blows on that coast. I was, therefore, authorised by the Treasury to charter two steamers, which have proved invaluable, both for carrying Inspectors from one island to another 785 and in conveying potatoes and stores of meal where it was deemed necessary. They also carried about the engineers and the superintendents of relief works in the places where those works were required. It has been found necessary to establish meal stores at Clare Island, Inniskea, Tory Island, Inishtrahull, and Innismurry. I do not think that, so far, it has been necessary to draw on the meal; but the amount of food stuffs on the islands was, in the opinion of the Inspectors, so small that we could not with safety allow these people to stand the risk of being separated from the relieving officer or food stores for the length of time during which they might be separated from the mainland. Another difficulty arose in connection with these islands, and that was that in many cases Boards of Guardians thought, and thought perhaps rightly, that the people could not afford security for advances of money or money's worth. There are some of the islands which have not paid county cess or poor rate for years. Naturally, the Guardians were not prepared to make a loan to such islands, seeing that they had not shown that anxiety to pay their just debts which would give confidence to their creditors. By way of solution of the difficulty, we started relief works, and we paid 7s. a week, which is the common rate of wages on the relief works, and this was paid partly in money and partly in meal, leaving the balance accumulated to be paid in seed potatoes, and by this means the difficulty to which I have adverted in Innismurry and Tory Island was successfully got over. That brings me to the case of seed potatoes. The House knows that last year, following the pracedent of 1880, we made a loan to Boards of Poor Law Guardians to enable them to purchase seed potatoes to be provided on credit to tenants within the limit of their respective unions. The whole responsibility for the kind and amount of the potato seed was thrown on the Guardians, but we have done everything in our power to enable them to choose the best possible seed. We have supplied them with forms of tender, we have given them advice in regard to the kind of seed that is most suitable, and we have, in fact, done all in our power to secure that the loan which this House authorised shall 786 be spent in getting the very best seed that the market can supply. Perhaps the House would like to know some of the details. After the Guardians had issued tenders in the form prescribed by the Local Government Board, the Land Commission, acting in co-operation with my Department, have supplied general and local Inspectors. The general Inspectors were in Glasgow and the North of Ireland, and they were able to telegraph to the local Inspectors when a defective cargo was either sent from Scotland or landed in Ireland. The local Inspectors acted with the Committee of the Board of Guardians; they inspected the seed potatoes on delivery by the contractors, and the result of their inspection was that in no less than 37 unions 46 consignments were found to be defective in quantity or quality. In these cases the contractor was communicated with, and the default was made good. It must not be supposed, however, that all the errors were on one side. I could mention some cases in which, after the potatoes had been taken home by the tenant, he, with a view of getting off having to pay for them, said they were rotten, when, in fact, they were perfectly sound and good. The Inspectors in these cases promply visited the tenants' houses and satisfied themselves that the seed potatoes were quite sound. These cases show that there has been fraud or error on both sides, and that the Inspectors have done admirable and valuable work, and it is satisfactory to know that the Boards of Guardians have shown themselves grateful, and have appreciated the efforts made on their behalf. Now I come to the question of relief works proper. The Committee has, no doubt, gathered that almost all the works have been in the shape of roads. That is not invariably the case, but it is mainly, and, of course, we have met with a great difficulty as to the selection of the roads to be constructed. Any one acquainted with Ireland will understand the kind of pressure that has been put upon a Government which is known to have unlimited resources at its command to start works wherever a Local Authority happens to desire it. Of course, there is everywhere a useful road to be made. There is no part of Ireland, probably no part of the world, 787 where, if you have the money, you cannot spend it usefully. And in the West of Ireland there is scarcely any part where there is not genuine poverty. I have received a largo number of letters and resolutions, and I believe over a hundred questions have been put to me in the House this Session to the effect that relief works are urgently required in various districts. I have been told of impending starvation. In such cases I have, within 24 hours, invariably sent down to make inquiries, and in every case I have found such statements to be entire, and, in some instances, fraudulent, exaggerations. It would have been easy for me to have earned cheap popularity in Ireland by a lavish assent to the applications made to me, irrespective of the interests of the British taxpayer. If, on the other hand, I have refused, as I certainly have, very many applications for relief works, it has not been mainly or principally in the interest of the British taxpayer, but rather in the interest of the population of Ireland. I am perfectly certain that to repeat the experiment of 1880, and to lavish money where it is not absolutely required, to make people believe that if they want a year of prosperity they must cry out in a year of panic, is ruinous to the population, and this is why I have refused, and I am afraid have appeared harsh in refusing, the impassioned demands that have been made on me by those who, no doubt, believed in the truth of the statements upon which those demands were founded. The fact is that it is not easy to discover the real truth as to the existence of distress even by those living in the locality. A police sergeant sent up to the Government a statement that the condition of his district was awful, and that one death a week from starvation was taking place. I made inquiries, and found that this statement was greatly exaggerated. Priests living in a district, and who, one would suppose, would be well acquainted with the resources of that district, have made to me communications showing that the population was on the verge of starvation, and imploring aid. In some of these cases I have offered it—I have offered at a place not more than 10 or 12 miles distant free lodging, free cooking, and 12s. a week to those men who desired work, and yet they have not 788 come. I do not adduce this with a view of showing that these priests intended to deceive me, but it is evidence that, they were themselves deceived. In one-instance where this offer was made—I believe it was in one of the poorest districts of the Swinford Union—nine men did apply for work, but five were so-drunk that they were incapable of working, and the other four accepted the work, but soon threw it up. [Colonel NOLAN: Name.] I think I had batter-not give any names, as I do not wish to make any reflection on those who made these statements to me. I give these cases as indicating the extreme difficulty in which even people well acquainted with a district find themselves when it comes to determining whether people in that district are or are not on the verge of starvation. The people all live in poor buts and in very much the same way, and the amount of their stock is not necessarily a conclusive indication of their condition. It is thus very easy to mislead even the most careful person as to the real amount of distress. The course I have taken with regard to starting works is this:—I have not relied upon any one Report or source of information; but if I had relied upon one set of persons I should not give their names to the Committee; because, as anyone who knows the condition of the localities of which I speak is well aware, if a man were to report that relief was not needed in a particular place, and if his name were made known, he would render himself obnoxious to the whole population, his popularity would suffer, and his opportunities of doing useful work in the future would be destroyed. I shall not, therefore, throw the responsibility of determining where works should or should not be undertaken upon my officers; the whole responsibility rests-upon myself. I have not rejected any source of information, but have collected information from Inspectors, the Constabulary, local Justices, the clergy, local gentry, and other persons; I have collated it all, and come to the best conclusion I could in the circumstances. Istarted works on this plan: Long ago, through the assistance of Colonel Fraser and latterly of Major Peacock, works were roughly designed for those places where it was thought they might be required. When 789 I have satisfactory information that the work is really needed, it is started as soon as possible. The wages in ordinary cases are at the rate of 7s. a week. Only one member of any family is allowed to work except when a family happens to be an extremely large one, when two of its members are allowed to work. Lists are carefully made out of the persons really in need in a district, and those persons only are allowed to work, all others being excluded. I am well aware that this system of allowing only those on the lists to have work has produced a good deal of discontent, but I believe it to be absolutely necessary. If you were to give as much as 7s. a week and were to exercise no supervision as to the class of persons to whom work should be given, this Committee would inevitably be asked to spend money upon those who are not absolutely in need of it. In framing the lists of persons in need of assistance it has not been thought necessary to compel these poor farmers to sell all the stock they may have upon their farms. According to English ideas it may seem absurd to give public assistance to a man who may have a few sheep or a cow; but it is not so in Ireland. Of course, the amount of stock that a man may have ought to be taken into account; but the mere possession of stock ought not to be considered as an absolute bar to work on the relief works. Nevertheless, the number of these works has been kept down very low, not too low to satisfy the necessities of the localities, although no doubt too low to please many of the parsons most concerned. There are certain places where it has been found impossible to collect the information necessary for drawing up a satisfactory list. There are cases where I place no reliance upon the lists furnished to me of persons really in need. The plan I have adopted in such cases is to alter the remuneration from 7s. to a stone of meal paid in kind daily. The worth of a stone of meal is about 11d., and a man working six days a week would therefore earn the equivalent of 5s. 6d. That is enough to keep a family alive, but it is a very small wage, and I do not believe that you wilt get people to work from 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening for a stone of meal a day unless they are really in need of it. I have found in those places where this system has been started and where there 790 was a large demand for labour before that the demand has very materially fallen off. Perhaps the Committee would like to have statistics of the men employed, and the money spent upon the relief works. The number of men employed in Donegal is 752, and the amount expended in wages £1,674. In Sligo 85 persons are employed; in Mayo, 2,555, and the amount expended in wages is £7,500. In Galway the number of persons is 2,300, wages £8,400; in Cork, persons 1,700, wages £3,400. The total number of persons employed on February 28 was 7,392, and the total amount of wages spent up to that day upon the labourers was £21,159. We are now actually spending upon labour at the rate of about £3,000 a week. Now I ought to describe the system we have adopted for supervising the relief. Any one acquainted with the distress works started in 1880 and at other periods will know that one of the greatest difficulties then experienced was the difficulty of supervision. The gangers were almost always local men, who had their favourites, and the result was that they largely employed persons who were not amongst those most in need of relief. Moreover, it was not always possible to trust them to see that the day's work was really carried out, and that the day's wages were not earned on false pretences. In order to meet this difficulty I have asked the War Office to lend me the services of two Engineer officers, Major Peacock and Lieutenant Harvey, and they are responsible for the general management of these relief works. Under them the county surveyors, who in Ireland are competent engineers, settle the details of the works and exercise a general engineering control over them. Men of the Royal Engineers act as supervisors, and supervise the construction of the works. The timekeepers or gangers are sometimes local men who can be trusted; but, as a rule, I have obtained the aid of the constabulary, the men being drawn from other districts than those in which the works are in progress. I believe they have given universal satisfaction, and have carried out their duties admirably. Our system, I believe, has secured this invaluable result—the people in the West of Ireland do not look upon the relief work as an excuse for getting money for doing 791 nothing; they have to do a day's work for a day's wages. The police, I may add, also act largely as paymasters. Everybody must be aware that the task upon which the Government have been engaged is one of extreme complexity and difficulty. Errors have been committed, I do not doubt. I dare say that there are people engaged on the relief works who ought not to be there, and that there may be cases—I trust very few—of people who ought to be, but are not there. But when we recollect to what extent individual charity goes astray, how many mistakes a charitably-disposed man often makes, how difficult it is for him to investigate the individual cases brought before him, how often fraud is committed in spite of every precaution, I think the Committee will be lenient if some errors are brought home to the Government. We have to act without precedents to help us, for the task we are engaged in has never been undertaken by any previous Government; our plan embraces such different things as railway construction, road-making, the provision of seed potatoes, and the supply of meal, and we have had to create a department for the execution of all these different schemes. When the Committee recollects all this, I am certain that it will think that if the Government have committed errors they are pardonable errors. But I believe it will be found that, on the whole, we have met this great difficulty as well as it could be met. I believe that the general plan we have devised—in its main outlines, at all events—is not capable of any very material improvement, and I believe that we have succeeded in relieving the distress with a minimum of demoralisation to the people. If I am not deceived in these hopes, we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the failure of the potato crop this winter will leave behind no feeling of soreness against the Government; that it will not render more difficult of accomplishment those more permanent schemes of amelioration upon which I believe this Committee is bent, and which this Government will endeavour to carry out; and that we shall not find, when the clouds break and this period of darkness comes to an end, that the permanent task before us has been 792 rendered more difficult by the gloomy circumstances of the present winter.
§ (5.30.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I have no fault to find with the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, or with the lines upon which the Government are proceeding, and I have only a few observations to make which are of a general character, and in offering them I shall, perhaps, be excused for rising before hon. Members from Ireland, who would interpose with greater local knowledge. The right hon. Gentleman has told the Committee that the land reclamation scheme from which in December he hoped for considerable results has now been abandoned. I, for one, do not greatly regret it, because, as I ventured to say in December, I believed the views of the right hon. Gentleman in the matter of land reclamation were not based on facts which could be sustained. The right hon. Gentleman's view was that reclamation should be undertaken on a large scale by the Government; but I ventured to point out that the only chance of effecting land reclamation lay in intrusting it to small men, each man reclaiming his own patch for his own benefit. Under the head of planting, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to go further, or whether the experiment of planting 1,000 acres is to be the end of his activity. I admit what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the backwardness of this country in the art of forestry. But the right hon. Gentleman forgot that within the last three or four years a Committee of the House has been sitting and has made certain important recommendations in reference to forestry, if not in Ireland, certainly in England and Scotland, and it is the fault of Her Majesty's Government that no steps have been taken to carry them out. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will pay attention to these recommendations of the Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has not been quite clear in explaining the amount of his estimate. Is the £60,000 to carry out the whole of his relief policy, or is it merely an instalment? I asked that question in December. I did not press the right hon. Gentleman then, nor will I press him now; but it would be convenient for the Committee 793 to be told whether this £60,000 is the whole they should be asked for. I do not understand how the amount was made up. The right hon. Gentleman told us that £21,000 has been expended on wages on works, and that £3,000 a week is now going on.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
A great many items are involved. The £21,000 merely refers to the actual wages on the relief works.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Do I understand that £21,000 has been actually expended, and that the payment of £3,000 a week is going on?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The right hon. Gentleman has not said how many weeks that is to last. Am I to take it that it is a continuous expenditure?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The items have not been very clearly stated. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he has been allowed by the Treasury to employ two boats on the west coast. Is the cost of these boats included? Of course, we know there must be a considerable expenditure for material. I have not gathered the amount of the expenditure upon seed potatoes. The right hon. Gentleman has made reference to certain frauds and errors being detected, such as might be expected in any operations of this kind. I have no doubt the Committee would be inclined to look with great leniency on any errors that may be brought to light. I have only to say that, at all events, we gather from the scheme of the right bon. Gentleman that when we and hon. Members representing Irish constituencies were charged in September and October last with having stated that there was real distress in Ireland in order to make political capital, there is now ample evidence in the Reports of the Inspectors that there is no truth in that charge, and that there is very real distress, which the right hon. Gentleman himself has now admitted. Putting it generally, as far as can be gathered from the Reports of the Inspectors, what is it that has happened? Simply this: that over one-half of Ireland there is a deficiency of one-fourth of the potato crops, and this seems to be the foundation of the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. With respect to railways, I 794 put a question on January 30th to the Secretary to the Treasury, my object being to ascertain whether, when a certain contract since laid before Parliament was entered into by the Government with the Great Western Railway of Ireland—whether an opportunity was given for competitive tenders, or whether the Government had altogether placed themselves in the hands and at the mercy of that Railway Company. The Secretary to the Treasury used language at that time which I did not clearly understand——
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this would come more properly under the next Vote, which relates to the expenditure under the head of railways.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
In that case, Sir, I shall make what remarks I have to offer on this point when the Railway Vote is taken. I only alluded to the matter because the right hon. Gentleman had already opened it in his statement. I may, however, be allowed to say that in regard to the question of the railway policy of the Government to which the right hon. Gentleman referred at considerable length, I should like to receive from him an explanation of the fact that no opportunity has ever been given for inviting tenders for the construction of the railways that are now being undertaken. I will reserve what remarks I have to make on that subject until the next Vote. I can only say that, as far as I am enabled to understand the operations set forth by the Chief Secretary, there is really no disposition on this side of the House to find fault or to offer any opposition.
§ (5.42.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I have listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary with great attention, and on the whole I do not think there is much reason for quarelling with the course he has taken; but I do think there is some confusion in the statement he has put before us with regard to matters of fact. The right hon Gentleman proposes to pay the starving peasantry by three different scales of wages—a 12s. scale, a 7s. scale, and a 5s. 6d. scale; and in regard to the 12s. scale I suppose the right hon. Gentleman only refers to wages in connection with railway construction, which is a matter that does not come 795 under the present Vote. I may, however, say that not long since I was travelling with a railway engineer, who told me that it was very hard to get men for the work of making railways who were accustomed to, and able to, perform really hard work, such as that kind of labour involves. It could hardly be expected that men who are to be paid only 12s. a week will do the sort of work that is usually done by railway labourers. It is perhaps enough to pay to a man who requires it in the shape of relief, and who merely needs assistance to tide over from one bad harvest to another, which he hopes will be a good one; but if you take the case of the ordinary labourer who expects to be put into the same position as the English labourer, I do not think 12s. a week can be looked upon as proper wages. It must be remembered that there always are a great number of men who look upon themselves in the light of professional labourers rather than as belonging to the class to whom it is proposed to give relief. These are the men who are discontented with this 12s. a week. Some of them are discontented, I know. These railways are not, strictly speaking, relief works. They were instituted long before the relief was thought of. It is a mere accident that they fall in the year in which the potato harvest has proved bad. The policy of the Chief Secretary has been, up to the present time, to confine the relief works to the mountainous districts. He has left the general portions of the country without any relief at all. There is a large proportion of the distressed population in portions of Mayo, Galway, and Roscommon—other than the mountainous districts. As far as I can see, the Chief Secretary has done nothing in those districts. He promised me that three weeks' ago work would be instituted in those districts. This is the point that I make against the Chief Secretary: In November last he took the whole responsibility upon himself of saying where works should or should not be commenced; and he got a Bill granted enabling the Government to do what they liked in the way of relief. Since then he has done nothing whatever in the greater portion of the districts affected by the failure of the potato harvest. In none of these districts 796 could you find one out of every 200 with more than £10 in the bank, and if a man's savings were absorbed, and he were driven to sell some portion of his stock—two or three head of rough cattle, a few sheep, and perhaps a horse, he would be parting with his means of future subsistence. As to the wages given for these relief works, 7s. a week is not a high amount; still I do not grumble at the amount, but at the fact that no wages at all are given in two-thirds of Mayo, three-fourths of Galway, and part of Roscommon and the districts around. It has become fashionable for English Members to visit the mountainous districts, and I admit that poverty there assumes a picturesque aspect, and that, probably, English Members know more about it than they would if it existed within easy distances of London. But the flat portions of Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, and similar districts in other parts of the country, have been neglected altogether up to the present, as far as relief works go. The Chief Secretary has been making promises from week to week, but I hope he will see that these works are commenced in the districts to which I refer. As to the distribution of potatoes I have no great fault to find with it, though, I think, there was a little red-tapeism in some of the orders issued by the Local Government Board. But I am of opinion that the perfect success of the Act will not be shown until the time for the recovery of debts arrives. I went round some of the districts and found the farmers taking limited and moderate quantities of potatoes, and I expect that, on the whole, the Act will be tolerably successful and will work well. I should wish those who are charged with the administration of the Act to take note of the fact that within a fortnight or three weeks applications for additional quantities of potatoes will be made. The Unions have, rather than have left on their hands potatoes which they would be unable to get rid of, under-estimated the quantities they required. I think they were right in doing so. But now that they will have to make application for further quantities, I hope no red-tapeism will stand in the way of their being supplied. I am extremely glad that the Chief Secretary is making exertions in Father Flannerty's district, but 797 I think the Chief Secretary has exaggerated the difficulty of acquiring land in Ireland for the purposes of his plans, and he has only to notify to the proprietors that a reasonable price will be given, to secure the land he requires. Of course, compensation would have to be given to the tenants. I quite agree with the Chief Secretary that it would be a good thing if we could have more trees in Ireland, and it is high time that Her Majesty's Government should imitate the example of the French Government and commence the planting of trees. By adopting a system of forestry the Government would in many ways develop the resources of the country. It would appear, however, from the Chief Secretary's statement, that he is giving no relief whatever to the people in a large part of Ireland, but I sincerely hope he will be able to increase the scope of his operations. The right hon. Gentleman took great credit for not spending too much money, and for acting on the principles of political economy. I quite agree with him that he is acting on the strictest and most niggardly principles of political economy. He belongs to an insincere school of political economists who have cultivated hose hard notions of political economy until they have become a kind of second nature. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is acting according to his lights, and thinks he will demoralise the Irish people if he spends more than the sum he has stated; but that sum will not tide more than 50,000 people over a bad harvest, although there are between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 engaged in agriculture in Ireland, of whom at least one-half have been affected by the potato failure. [Colonel WARING: No.] Well, the hon. Gentleman does not represent the whole of Ireland. In his part of the country there has been a splendid potato crop. I am glad it is so, and I hope his part of the country will get no relief; but if the hon. Gentleman likes, I will say a third or a fourth of the agricultural population has been affected. Well, how can the money which the right hon. Gentleman is spending help such a vast number of persons? The right hon. Gentleman has been very chary of figures, but it is clear that this insignificant Vote will not meet the present emergency. I do 798 not believe that the people are going to starve in Ireland, on the main land at all events, but I am afraid what will happen will be that the people will eat up their means of subsistence so that they will be reduced to poverty for the next three or four years. This might be very easily remedied if the right hon. Gentleman would apply his relief works over a larger district than at present.
§ *(6.5.) SIR JOHN POPE HENNESSY (Kilkenny, N.)
There can be no doubt that the statements of the gallant Colonel who has just sat down are entirely justified as regards the area of distress. It is evident from the reports that, along the coast of Kerry, and throughout the County Cork the gravest distress prevails, and that distress will be intensified week after week. This Vote is described as one for the relief of distress in Ireland. It amounts to £60,800, and in that sum we find items of £2,500 and £2,230 for the payment of Inspectors and officials employed in administering this comparatively small amount. How does it come to pass that 9 per cent. of this money is to be laid out upon officials? One answer will naturally occur to those who have been observing the action of the Chief Secretary for the past few months, namely, that these Inspectors of the Local Government Board in Ireland are employed in administering another fund—a fund amounting very nearly to £60,000—a fund which has been collected by Lord Zetland and the Chief Secretary under the famous letter of the 3rd of January last. Can we then deal with this sum of £60,000 and omit altogether from our consideration the £50,000 or £60,000 which has been collected by Lord Zetland and the Chief Secretary? It is impossible. In the letter to which I refer the Chief Secretary very kindly tells the British public what is the main necessity on which he bases that appeal. I venture to ask the attention of the House to the reason given by the right hon. Gentleman why the public should contribute to a charitable fund for Ireland. It is that there exists in Ireland a law which does not exist in England or Scotland, and the effect of that law is to render a charitable appeal necessary. Here is what the Chief Secretary said—Outdoor relief, except, of course, in cases of emergency, cannot legally be administered 799 to persons holding more than a quarter of an acre of land; and though no one acquainted even superficially with the history of the Irish Poor Law would regard a general relaxation of this rule as other than a public calamity, yet its maintenance undoubtedly limits the capacity to deal, unaided, with periods of exceptional distress. Here, then, is a state of things which may well appeal to the charitable.First of all, is the Chief Secretary wise in calling attention to that exceptional law which is harsh to the poor, which does not exist in Great Britain? He says that no one would think of repealing it.
The hon Member has disqualified himself from discussing that subject because he has brought in a Bill dealing with it.
§ *SIR J. POPE HENNESSY
I may perhaps be allowed to say that the House many years ago dealt with the law, and actually repealed it, though the Bill was thrown out in another place. The Irish Members say that the area contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman is too small, that the distress in the South and West of Ireland is widespread, and we appeal to the officers of the right hon. Gentleman in support of our contention. The right hon. Gentleman deserves credit for much that he did in connection with Irish distress—he himself visited that particular part of Ireland to which he has especially called attention to-night—but the House will observe the very fact that the right hon. Gentleman's tour was not extended to the more southern parts of Ireland may account for the fact, that in the proposal put before us to-night he has omitted those districts to which my hon. and gallant Friend called attention. But the whole question of the relief of Irish distress depends upon far higher considerations than those which have been stated by the Chief Secretary. Take that experiment which he is now about to begin. He deserves credit for being the first Chief Secretary to try the experiment of afforestation even upon a very minute scale; but it is impossible not to see that the difficulties to which he has just referred are difficulties that can only be encountered by an Executive in Dublin and a Parliament in Dublin. It is impossible for this House, with the large amount of business before it, adequately to deal with the remedies for the state of things in Ireland; and, there- 800 fore, what I and other Irish Members venture to recommend to Her Majesty's Government is that they should adopt a radical remedy for all these evils, and that is to throw on my hon. Friend (Mr. Justin McCarthy) and the other hon. Members from Ireland the responsibility of dealing with these questions—not dealing with them here, but in Dublin.
§ (6.18.) MR. THEODORE FRY (Darlington)
I am certain the House listened with the greatest interest to the Chief Secretary's statement of the work the Government have undertaken in various parts of Ireland, but I cannot help feeling that the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) has hit one of the weakest parts of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and that is, whether he has really commenced sufficient works in order to deal effectually with the distress which now exists. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think he has done all that is necessary for the relief of distress; or, at any rate, he appears to convey that the Government will have very carefully to consider before any other works of any kind are commenced in Ireland.
§ MR. THEODORE FRY
I am glad of the correction. At all events, the right hon. Gentleman told us that, up to the present time, the total number of persons employed on the works is 7,300. Considering the population of Ireland, that number is exceedingly small. I am aware of the difficulty of starting relief works in a hurry; but I think that the right hon. Gentleman is disposed now to minimise the distress in Ireland just as he was some months ago. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the greatest care is taken to employ the most needy men; but when there are large numbers of men precisely in the same position, how are the men chosen for employment? The week before last I visited the Island of Achill. The population of the Island is about 8,000, and there are 317 persons employed in relief works. These persons are not all men, because I noticed a great number of able-bodied girls, and in some cases two or three members of one family at work. 317 is an exceedingly small number indeed to employ on relief work, espe- 801 cially when there is scarcely any difference whatever in the position or the income of the inhabitants of the Island. Father O'Connor, the respected parish priest, told me he did not believe there are 20 persons on the Island who are not in need of some assistance of one kind or another. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks he is attending to all the distress when he employs 317 persons, he is taking far too much credit to himself. When I was there hundreds of people ran up and clamoured for work, and one man with a large family seemed almost beside himself when he was told he was to be employed. I impress upon the Chief Secretary the need of granting, if it is possible, even a greater amount of relief than he has yet done. The other day I asked a question in the House concerning the distribution of seed potatoes. When I was in Ireland I saw seed potatoes being weighed out. The women carried them away, but when they got them home they found many of them were rotten. Although the responsibility of inspection is taken off the shoulders of the Government by the Inspectors being appointed by the Boards of Guardians, it is necessary the Government should see that the potatoes are carefully sorted. One great evidence of distress is that several families are eating their seed potatoes; but perhaps nothing can more clearly show the poverty of the people than a statement made to me by an eminent ecclesiastic. That gentleman told me that within his knowledge there are at least 100 families who are so poor that the piece of peat with which they heat their gruel in the morning, they carefully cover up with ashes so that it may serve them as a fire at night. This is an occurrence in a district from which large sums of money are taken year after year by the landlords. "And," added the ecclesiastic, "not a single penny comes back to the district in the form of charity or work." I trust Her Majesty's Government will, if possible, increase the area of relief, and see that greater care is exercised in the selection of the seed potatoes which are to be distributed.
§ *(6.25.) SIR J. COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. Pry) if the seed potatoes distributed are found 802 to be rotten, the blame in no sense rests with the Government. The distribution of such relief is in the hands of the Boards of Guardians, whom the Government assist by means of a system of Inspectors. I am astonished to hear that out of a population of 8,000 in the Island of Achill there are only 20 persons who are not in need of relief. I think if that were the fact we should have heard a great deal more about it, and it would not have been necessary for an hon. Member of the House of Commons to go over there to make the discovery. I must express surprise that upon this occasion, when a matter so vitally interesting to Ireland is under discussion, the Irish Benches should be almost completely empty. The hon. Member for North Kilkenny (Sir J. Pope Hennessy) seems to think this or any other Irish question cannot be dealt with except by an Irish Parliament. I will not follow him into that question, but I must flatly contradict the hon. Member's statement that "all along the coasts of Kerry and Clare the greatest distress prevails." On certain patches of those coasts there is distress, but there is not distress along the entire coasts. And with regard to the hon. Gentleman's question whether we can deal with this Vote without regard being paid to the private fund raised by Lord Zetland, let me say I cannot see what we have to do with the fund raised by the Lord Lieutenant any more than with the funds of the National League. It is satisfactory to note that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) has no hostile criticism of the Vote to make. There can be no hostile criticism of the Vote, for the best of all reasons that the greatest care has been taken to prevent anything like jobbery or waste. But in respect to land reclamation, the right hon. Gentleman advocates an alternative policy to that formulated by the Chief Secretary. I am not surprised that the Chief Secretary had to abandon any immediate action with respect to land reclamation, and I am not in the least surprised that he should have found that, although there are large areas which appear to be utterly waste, when you come to examine them you find they are really in occupation of tenants who wont improve. The hon. and gallant Member for Gal way 803 said there was no such, difficulty. For instance, in his county, he said, you have only to write to a solicitor in the town of Galway and say you want to buy land, and you can get it. You will have to pay the solicitor, of course, but the whole point of the question is, what price will you have to pay for the land? When he hon. and gallant Member talks about going to the landlord first and then to the tenant, he must know that the object is to get the land vacant in order to deal with it, and, therefore, you must go to the tenant and settle with him before you approach the landlord. I put it this way: Suppose the Chief Secretary, following out the hon. and gallant Gentleman's views, writes to a solicitor in Galway, and says, "I want to get land for Government reclamation." Then the solicitor finds a landlord who is willing to part with land at a price, and he arranges with the landlord, but then he must also arrange with the tenant; the tenant is not going to give up occupation, as the hon. and gallant Member must know perfectly well. Whenever a railway is being pushed through the difficulty arises with the tenant, and not with the landlord, it is the exorbitant demand of the tenant that usually creates the difficulty. Therefore, unless the Government have compulsory powers to take land from the tenant for purposes of reclamation or planting, it is perfectly plain they will not get it at a price rational and decent for the Government to pay. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle has an alternative policy to this Government action. I understand him to say he would prefer to have the work done by the tenants themselves. Well, if that is the alternative, then the right hon. Gentleman has really no proposal to make, because every possible facility is now afforded by the law for the tenants carrying out these very operations.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not quite understand me. I said I did not believe an any gigantic scheme of Government reclamation, nor do I. I said, if reclamation is going to be carried out properly and promptly it should be done, with or without the assistance of the Government, by small men working for themselves in the first place.
§ *SIR J. COLOMB
I am exactly in accord with the right hon. Gentleman. I am quite opposed to the Government undertaking such gigantic operations at all, but I must also point out that the law as it is, is quite sufficient for the full development of the policy the right hon. Gentleman advocates. Take the case of a small tenant in any county in Ireland. Suppose I am a tenant, and want to reclaim a piece of land. I post a letter without a stamp to the Board of Works in Dublin saying what I want, the Board sends an Inspector and the Inspector draws the plans, everything is done for me. I am not even required to pay for his expenses, or his plans, or for postage. The Government give me professional advice, and advance the money on easy terms, spreading repayment over a large number of years, and I get the full benefit of the reclamation, which becomes my absolute private property. Well, I do not see that legislation can go any further, so that what the right hon. Gentleman says, in effect, amounts to this—that the law as regards reclamation is perfectly sufficient, and that there is nothing further to be done. But I think if the right hon. Gentleman really knew Ireland, and had travelled through Ireland, he would feel amazed and distressed at the amount of land there is in Ireland which is capable of being made infinitely more productive by the expenditure of very little capital and labour upon it in view of the fact that all the land is in the occupation of tenants, and that the law as it at present stands does not produce the result that was hoped for as regards reclamation of land, there is no alternative; you are either to say the land is not to be reclaimed, but to remain as it is, or you must propose some new plan. For my part I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is not work for the Government; but I certainly think it is the business of the Government to assist in the operation of reclamation—not through the occupying tenant, but by some process of enabling capitalists and landlords to acquire from tenants neglected land for purposes of reclamation, making that land more profitable in the future. That, I believe, is the true policy; but you are immediately face to face with the difficulty, that the Land Acts of the last few years have 805 stereotyped a condition of things adverse to reclamation and progress and disastrous for the future of Ireland. One further observation I wish to make on the statement of the Chief Secretary. I was rejoiced, greatly rejoiced, at the firmness with which he has resisted the pressure of gentlemen, Members of Parliament and others, to spend money on relief in a more reckless way. In Kerry, for example, drawing a comparison between what happened there in 1880 and what is happening now, I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman, while amply dealing with the distress existing, has saved us from that demoralisation which followed the reckless expenditure in 1880. I think we ought to be exceedingly grateful for that; and as regards the fact that he has not relied on local supervision, I may say that my observation of the expenditure of public money in Ireland, in my own district and other districts, has been that there has been the greatest jobbery connected with it, and this largely due to the fact that local supervision has been employed. I have not the acquaintance of Major Peacock and others engaged in supervision, but I think that in the supervision provided we have a safeguard against a repetition of that wasteful and demoralising expenditure.
§ (6.40.) MR. MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred with regret to the absence of Irish Members from this discussion, but let him be assured that he will have ample opportunity of renewing his acquaintance with Irish Members in his own constituency at the next election. Now let me turn with a few words to the interesting statement of the Chief Secretary. Very full and clear that statement was, and very significant, inasmuch as it admitted the existence of severe and even appalling distress in Ireland. I expected an admission of that, and it would have been strange if that admission had been absent from the statement. We cannot shut our eyes to the reports in the public Press, and we know that the Lord Lieutenant and the right hon. Gentleman, in their capacity of high officers of State, have actually solicited the charity of the world for Ireland. As I listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman—his statement of the amount of distress, its 806 severity, and the absolute inefficiency of the ordinary means to cope with it—I thought what a commentary that statement was on the effects of the legislative union between the two countries, that, after 91 years of incorporation with the richest country in the world, here is Ireland, according to the admission of the Minister at the head of Irish administration, a mere Lazarus among the nations. The right hon. Gentleman is a practical man. I do not know whether his reading lies much in ancient history, but has he ever looked into the speeches of Mr. Pitt at the time of the Union? Why, he assured the nation there would be something like a shower of gold falling into the lap of Ireland. He spoke with the earnestness of conviction, and showed with almost mathematical precision that if Ireland for 18 years before the Union had been prosperous the 18 years after the Union would have 12 times the prosperity. But here we are now in exactly the same position in which we were in 1846, and the inhabitants of Ireland are unable, according to the confession of the Chief Secretary, to support themselves in their own country without special legislative assistance. My right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Morley) is far too gentle a man to say what I am going to say now, but he will remember the dates. He has only gently and almost kindly touched upon matters I shall more directly refer to—the warnings we gave the right hon. Gentleman months before of the impending distress. If the Chief Secretary had accepted our warnings much of the suffering of the last three months would have been obviated, and the Irish tenants would be relieved from the pressure of severe distress, of which I admit the Chief Secretary has spoken to-day very properly, very feelingly. But so far back as the middle of July we knew distress was imminent, and again and again we referred to it in the House. I have asked a few questions, and in doing so I may have exceeded the usual limits accorded on such occasions, but my excuse for not considering the feelings of those around me is the knowledge of a starving population at home. From July onwards, so far as we were able, in season and out of season, did I and my colleagues bring the extent of the distress and the con- 807 dition in Ireland before the right hon. Gentleman. The Secretary to the Treasury visited Donegal, not my constituency, but he went to Glenties early in September, and there was a large and influential meeting at Glenties to meet him. At that meeting the Recorder of Cork (Mr. Hamilton), a Conservative gentleman entirely out of sympathy with the people, but an upright, honourable, kindly man, declared that the cry of famine in Donegal was raised by agitators for political purposes, as did also Archdeacon Cox. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury went to Achill, but instead of going to those who can give authoritative information as to the condition of the people (the Irish clergy) he went to Mr. Johnston, of Ross town, and so we find afterwards the paragraph going the round of the Press that "Mr. Jackson considers the accounts of distress in Ireland very much exaggerated." Matters went on, and the Chief Secretary received letters from priests in my own constituency warning him of the state of the country. There were meetings of the Catholic clergy, there were letters to the papers, all announcing the distress to no small extent, and then there came a series of political meetings, held in Newcastle, where my right hon. Friend (Mr. Morley) referred to the Irish distress, and hinted that the Chief Secretary, who had not been in Ireland since the January before, would do well to go there to see the condition of affairs. The right hon. Gentleman retorted that it was not for my right hon. Friend to dictate to him from whence he should address his letters. Quite right, and my right hon. Friend never dreamed of such dictation; but, still, the right hon. Gentleman is the head of the Irish Government, and holds in his hands power on which life in Ireland depends. Then the Times took the war path. Letters appeared in the Times from a well-known hand, and Times' articles were written by a well-known hand—that of Mr. Wilson—to check the flow of subscriptions, and then on October 3 came a letter from the Chief Secretary, dated from Whitting-ham, to an American gentleman, with a view of stopping American contributions to Ireland, to the effect that there was no real distress in Ireland; that the amount of distress was exaggerated by 808 agitators for political purposes. Yet though this was on October 3rd, in three weeks the right hon. Gentleman rushed down to Mayo, Sligo, and Donegal. The right hon. Gentleman had been judiciously prodded to this, and there was another effectual prod in the Eccles election. I wish the hon. Member for the Eccles Division were present now. The factor of Irish distress and the conduct of the Irish Executive formed the subject of debate on every platform, throughout the Eccles election campaign——
An hon. MEMBER
And the Eight Hours Bill.
§ MR. MACNEILL
Yes, and the Eight Hours Bill, too. I wish to be candid. On October 22 the result of the Eccles-election was declared, and on the 25th came the expedition to Mayo. And the result shows the benefit that in some respects would accrue from a short period of Home Rule even in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. So long as he remained in England he could not believe in the distress. The expedition returned in three days. It was planned, so far as Mayo and Sligo were concerned, by an eminent Judge, who has four times received promotion from a Conservative Government. During this tour a remarkable document appeared, a pastoral signed by nearly all the Catholic Bishops, declaring the distress imminent and the country in a desperate condition, and imploring the Government, while the people were in want of food, not to allow the Forces of the Crown to be used to deprive the people of their homes. It was impossible to pay the rent, and the Executive were implored to do as the President of the Board of Trade once did in the case of the Clanricarde tenants to stay the arm of the law in the interests of justice and humanity. Well, the right hon. Gentleman came back from Mayo and Sligo, and of that tour I say nothing. I only wish to refer to the visit to my own constituency. We have evidence from the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fry) that the people are starving in Achill, and we have that in letters from the clergy of the district. I was looking over, a short time ago, a little volume, very amusing and, I may say, unconsciously comic, describing "Mr. Balfour's Tour," and in that is a picture of the 809 right hon. Gentleman addressing the islanders, he promising them help, they responding with cheers and "God bless you" Have those promises been fulfilled? No one can say so if what the hon. Member for Darlington says has any approximation to accuracy. The right hon. Gentleman, having returned to the Castle from Mayo and Sligo, thought he would then try Donegal, and started for that bleak and picturesque region. He telegraphed Mr. Olphert, the celebrated Donegal benefactor, of his movements, and I daresay the hon. Member for South Tyrone knew all about them; but the right hon. Gentleman did not do the Representatives of the constituency the courtesy of announcing his intention of visiting it, or invite co-operation in his object. On the 4th November, the day on which the Donegal tour began, and of which we knew nothing but from the newspapers, there appeared a letter from Dr. McDonald, the Bishop of Raphoe, in whose diocese Donegal is comprised, A public letter which must have drawn the attention of the Chief Secretary to the fact that Mr. Olphert was again on the war-path. He had unroofed and burned the houses of 150 of his tenants, and had obtained warrants for the eviction of 250 more, and this the Bishop referred to and to the fact that troops were proceeding from Derry to Donegal to carry out the evictions. I confess it seemed too strange to me that the right hon. Gentleman should be going to Donegal with the honest intention of investigating the distress, and at the same time that Mr. Olphert, the scourge of Donegal for 50 years, should be permitted to complete the ruin of people whose condition had evoked so much sympathy. So I went to Donegal myself, and I found great difficulty in catching the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal went also, and I think we spent a small fortune on telegraphing in our efforts to discover the whereabouts of the right hon. Gentleman. At length we found him, and I had an interview, of which the right hon. Gentleman has given at Liverpool a very amusing, very witty, though slightly inaccurate account. The speech on the occasion, so far as Donegal was concerned, harmonised with the traditions of the place in which it was delivered; it was bright and 810 merry, and addressed to an audience in Hengler's Circus. He stated there that I went to Donegal to obstruct him in his work of benevolence. Nothing of the kind; I went there with the intention of showing him how and where his attention might be most usefully directed. I wanted to stay Mr. Olphert's hand. It was not an unworthy motive, but I knew it would be open to misconstruction. I had no intention of putting myself in antagonism with him; I simply wanted to obtain the highest influence to restrain Mr. Olphert's hand. I brought as awful a charge as could be brought by one man against another against Mr. Olphert.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
Mr. Chairman, I rise to Order. I desire to ask for the information of the Committee, and especially of Members on this side of the House, whether it is allowable on this Vote to go into all the details of the management of the Olphert estate and the relations of Mr. Olphert with his tenantry?
It clearly would not be in order to take that broad view, but I do not think the hon. Member has gone so far as that.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I desire to point out that in the Paper laid before the House with regard to the Poor Law Union in which Mr. Olphert's Estate is situated, not a single case of outdoor or indoor relief has been added since these occurrences.
MR. MAC NEILL
I will take no notice of the interruption except to say that when I come to the question of the Olphert estate on another Vote, I shall appeal to the hon. Gentleman, who was himself there when I was, to reply to the facts which I shall bring before the House. I am keeping strictly to the subject of Irish distress and its relief. Hon. Gentlemen will understand that distress arises from want of food; and if people burn other people's food and destroy it, there is a probability that food will be wanted. I brought this charge against Mr. Olphert publicly, and he could have charged me with libel if he had so chosen. I stated that the food and the crops of those people who had been evicted had been taken by Mr. Olphert's emergency men under the protection of the Royal Irish Constabulary——
§ MR. MACNEILL
I will not, then, say any more about that. I would, however, point out that as the finale of the Chief Secretary's tour in Donegal, no fewer than 250 families were deprived of food and housing.
§ MR. MACNEILL
Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like to hear the truth. Falcarragh is one of the most desolate places in the world. I have been in the Karroo Desert, and I can inform the House that that desert is a Garden of Eden compared with Olphert's estate in Donegal. The right hon. Gentleman heard from me that these people were Starving, but he did not take the trouble to go to Falcarragh, but ran away the next morning without even seeing Father M'Fadden, who could have given him the best information in the district. He saw Mr. Olphert, however, and the evictions took place two days afterwards. If the right hon. Gentleman had gone to Falcarragh, I believe he would have told Olphert, as the President of the Board of Trade when Chief Secretary told Clanricarde, "These people are starving, and I will not give you the forces of the Crown to assist in putting them out of their homes." The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman this evening have been fairly conciliatory, and I will give him some information in reference to the distress in one parish. In this parish no less than 66 able-bodied men have nothing to do. There is one district mentioned in the documents I have before me relating to the district of Killcar in my constituency, and it is described as the most congested district in all Ireland. The value of the potato crop there is given as one-fourth of the ordinary value, while the bulk of the potato crop is given at one-third of the ordinary bulk, and I have been told recently that nothing has been done for the relief of distress in this district. Nothing has been done, and the people are in a starving condition. The right hon. Gentleman knows the nature of the Donegal coast, and his experience has been that of every public man who has had to do with Ireland. The fishermen come and implore you for God's sake to do what you can to get them a few piers run out from the land, 812 so that they can get out and in from the bays in stormy weather and send their fish to market. There is not in Donegal or on Tory Island the slightest attempt being made to provide piers. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary what he intends to do in the matter? He has £60,000 in his own hands, which he can spend as he likes. What does he intend to do in reference to Gweedore? Does he intend to leave the people to starve? They are in the unfortunate position of being on the Olphert estate, and Mr. Olphert has a son in Dublin Castle. When there is an eviction in the neighbourhood, this gentleman makes Olphert Castle a barrack for Her Majesty's troops. But the tenantry are human beings, although they are Mr. Olphert's tenants. One of the Government overseers went to Father M'Fadden in the autumn and asked him what, in his opinion, should be done for the people, and he recommended the construction of a certain road, and undertook himself to do it for £5,000. The work would cost the Government £15,000 if they undertook to do it themselves. What do they intend to do in the matter? They hold the opinion that Father M'Fadden is a gentleman who has used his spiritual influence over the people to their detriment; but the right hon. Gentleman should go to Gweedore for himself and see what has been effected by the exertions of Father M'Fadden, and I undertake to say he, for one, would goon change his opinion. I am sorry to say anything against the action of the right hon. Gentleman in his efforts to alleviate distress in Ireland; but I must remark that his own intelligence should show him the uselessness of giving doles for public works with one hand, while with the other he allows the scenes which have taken place at Falcarragh—the evictions, the burnings, the oppressions—to go on. The items devoted to Donegal were spent before the 8th February, when the right hon. Gentleman had an interview at Letterkenny with the Bishop of Raphoe, who told him that what had been done was illusory, and that unless Some great and comprehensive scheme were undertaken there would be a danger of the people dying of starvation. Some of the people who ought to have been the recipients of relief are in a state of absolute destitu- 813 tion and starvation. Within two days of the Chief Secretary leaving Donegal some peasants were expelled from their homes. I saw them, myself, and saw the food some of them were taking with them and preserving with the utmost care. Here are some of the potatoes. [The hon. Member exhibited to the Committee two or three extremely small potatoes.] They are miserable tubers like those described by the right hon. Gentleman's own Secretary as "more resembling plums than potatoes." Such, is the food of the people who are being expelled from their homes because they cannot pay their rent, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he intends to do to relieve their distress.
§ *(7.18.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I think there are two things with which the Committee need not trouble themselves. I do not think it has been gravely argued that an Irish Parliament could have solved all the difficulties which have been raised. In the second place, I do not think we are called upon to go into the question of evictions, whether in Donegal or in any other part of Ireland, for it cannot be successfully contended that evictions have increased during the distress, or even during recent times. Indeed, evictions have absolutely diminished, and therefore I need not trouble myself with either of those two arguments. There is one thing the Committee should remember in connection with this matter, and that is that we have had periods of distress in Ireland over and over again. I am not referring to the famine of 1846–7. We have had repeated periods of distress requiring the intervention of the Legislature or of private charity. Now, I want to know whether any man in this House is prepared to state that on any of those occasions one-half so much has been done for the people, or that it has been done half so well as on the present occasion? You may go back to 1880 when distress occurred, and two relief funds were brought into existence in Dublin. There was not half so much system or care in the administration of that relief as in that of the Government this year. Then, in 1886, we had the experiment tried by the right hon. Member for Newcastle in the West of Ireland, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman himself would like to see that experiment repeated. 814 The Island of Achill has been referred to, and described as having a population of 8,000. I really wish the habit of exaggeration could be kept out of these matters. As a fact, the population of Achill is only 6,000, and that is 5,000 more than the island is capable of supporting. Who is to blame for that? Certainly not the Government or the Chief Secretary. The fact remains that that island is overcrowded, and that it can only maintain a bare existence by labour in England and Scotland. Any English Member choosing to go to the Island of Achill will find distress there at any time. It is the normal condition of a large number of the people living there. It is, therefore, no argument against the Government for the hon. Member for Darlington to say that he has seen crowds of people there waiting for work, because he can see precisely the same thing at any period of the year, and will find abundant means to get rid of any money he may desire to dispose of in a charitable way. I was there myself in November last, and saw the people, and a most interesting people they seemed to me. They were coming-home from the labour markets in England and Scotland in hundreds. I made inquiries, and found that they brought home something like £6,000. Now, that is a sum not easily disposed of in that island. Those people returned, not only with that money, but clothed with garments which they had purchased in England and Scotland. The potatoes there were all but a total failure—I do not believe there was a fourth of them good. It did not seem to me necessary to bring any of them to the House of Commons, like the hon. Member for South Donegal, for I did not suppose the Committae would require occular demonstration. What has been done? In the first place, seed potatoes have been placed within reach of these people. It is quite true they are paying for them, as I think it is right that they should. I do not think that charity in the way of gifts of seed potatoes in such cases as these is much appreciated or does much good. There is no reason why these islanders should not have fresh seed for the planting of this year. The hon. Member for Darlington says there were some rotten potatoes supplied, and the Chief Secretary admits that.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I think the hon. Member for Darlington said they were distributed; but in any large distribution of potatoes under any scheme, or system of inspection, we are bound to get dishonesty of that kind. In addition to that there has been a railway made at a distance of eight or ten miles; there have been relief works opened in the island; a road there between Dooagh and Keel—one of the most execrable I ever walked upon—is being repaired; and other works are being carried on. I heard the hon. Member for Donegal say the people cannot get to the railway. I said to the people when they were pleading with me to use my influence with the Government and the Chief Secretary to open the railway, "If this railway is made you will get a good deal of work." Then, even those able-bodied young men who had just come back from working in Scotland shrugged their shoulders and said, "It is too far," although the works were only seven or eight miles from their homes. Huts, bedding, and food have been provided for them, but these people think seven or eight miles from their own doors too far to go for work. What are the facts at the present moment? We have heard a good deal about the distress on the island. I say it is normal—though deplorable. Bat I am informed that there are seven buts, with bedding and everything ready, vacant at Newport now. The directors sent for 50 labourers to the island the other day, and only got eight. The hon. Member for Darlington went to the parish priest and got those tales of distress, and no doubt he was quite right in the course he took; but how does he come to say these measures are not sufficient, and that the Government is not doing its duty? I myself have had doubts whether the Chief Secretary's measures of relief would come in time for the pinch in the spring. I was afraid the works would not be in operation in time, but I am glad to say my fears have been falsified. I think the measures taken by the Chief Secretary with respect to the money expended on relief works, the providing of seed potatoes, the construction of railways, and the system of inspection established during this time of distress were admirably 816 and perfectly made, and I believe that the people of Ireland are profoundly grateful to the Chief Secretary for what he has done.
§ (7.29.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
I think every attention should be given to such a Daily Graphic statement of the hon. Member. The hon. Member has travelled at considerable expense all over Ireland, and like many another Gentleman who misrepresents Ireland, he never loses an opportunity of trying to depreciate the sufferings of the people of Ireland, and to do harm to the country which gives him shelter. The hon. Member has talked about evictions having ceased in Ireland. Well, we are at the present time on the eve of a census being taken in Ireland. It is known that our population has diminished very considerably in Ireland. They are not taking into consideration the number of evictions which, have been going on through the length and breadth of the land since the present Chief Secretary came into office. Under his shelter—under the aegis of this god of eviction—there do not remain many more people to be evicted, and the consequence is that the hon. Member tries to make much of what is, practically speaking, very little in this the last term of the power of the present Government. We know that the majority of Irish landlords are not at the present time so prone to persevere in evictions as they were, because they know that the day of retribution will come, when they will have to give an account of their stewardship. The Chief Secretary, in the course of his very able speech, told us that he was able to ask the House of Commons for anything he wished, and that he would not be refused. That, unfortunately, is true, because a majority of the House of Commons at the present time support the policy of the Government. The hon. Member for South Belfast called attention to the fact that a few Sundays hence the Census would be taken, and it would be found that the people who had been working in England, Scotland, and Ireland, had taken back to the Island of Achill, as the result of their labour, £6,000, which would be sufficient to keep them during the winter. But I can state with certainty that considering the number of women and children there were, and the congested state 817 of the Island, £6,000 will not be sufficient, especially in face of the failure of the potato crop, to keep these people during the winter. I do not accuse the hon. Member of want of compassion; I trust no honest gentleman lacks compassion; but I can assure the Committee that in some of the districts of Achill there is a near approach to starvation, and the £6,000 will in no degree help to relieve the tension. I know that a great deal of benefit has come from some of these relief works, but they are not administered in a proper way. An hon. Member who sits for an English constituency, because no Irish constituency would return him, suggested in regard to reclamation of the land that it should be made not in favour of the tenant, but, naturally enough, in favour of the landlord. We hear these things said occasionally in the House of Commons, but few Members have the bluntness to declare them in such an unequivocal way as the hon. Member did. The Chief Secretary whom I love and revere, our beneficent Chief Secretary, is, naturally enough, trying to do his best under difficult circumstances. His policy is one of whips and sweet buns, chains and soup, prison and Indian meal. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he finds it necessary to give the unfortunate people who require relief a stone of meal per diem. And in that he is following the policy of his predecessors in the Island of Achill, where the people were provided with soup on condition that they changed their religion. To this day the buildings can be seen in the Island of Achill where the people were supplied with soup on changing their religion. The right hon. Gentleman is following that policy; he is trying his uncle's 20 years' of coercion together with this policy of relief, in the expectation that Irishmen will forego their nationality and accept what he gives them in return. Many of those poor people who require relief are called upon to pay exorbitant rents, and if the right hon. Gentleman really means to do good work, instead of following his policy of "souperism," he would try to effect a reduction of these exorbitant rents. The information we have about the light railways is scant. In my opinion these light railways——
§ DR. TANNER
I have been led into the mistake by reason of the Chief Secretary having alluded to them. At the present moment we have only to deal with relief works. In connection with these I find that only one member of a family is employed at 12s. a week—a sum which has to support some seven or eight people. In many cases that is not enough. He has alluded to fraudulent starvation cases; but I regret that he did not furnish us with the names of the clergymen who had been imposed upon. We are, however, accustomed to the word "anonymous" in many of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman. He has frequently given us statistics of boycotting, but has never favoured us with the names of those who had been boycotted. I hope, before the Debate closes, he will be able to furnish the names of the rev. gentlemen who have been imposed upon. Attention has been called to the planting which has taken place at Lough Boyle. Last year I introduced a small Bill dealing with planting in Ireland. I took up the subject believing that if tree planting were properly carried out in Ireland, many good results would arise. Places now sterile would thus become productive; while employment would be given to a large amount of labour. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman admit that the English system of forestry was inferior to that which is pursued on the Continent, particularly in Germany and France. A gentleman in Gal way, a Mr. M'Dermott, whose acquaintance, I believe, the right hon. Gentleman has made, has paid great attention to this subject, and notably to the Forestry of the West of Ireland; and I think if the right hon. Gentleman would read his pamphlets, and follow the advice he has tendered to the Royal Society at Dublin, much good: would result. The late Sir G. Coulthurst, who was a Member of this House, planted Ballyvourney and Rathcoole, I believe, with success; and if the Chief Secretary could but see his way to planting many other districts which it is impossible to make productive other- 819 wise, much benefit might accrue to our impoverished people. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the fuel famine of last year, which, undoubtedly, produced a great deal of trouble; surely he is aware that when times become troublous and the people are sorely in want of light and warmth, those are the very times that are pitched on by many landlords in Donegal and the North of Ireland for trying to promote their turbary rights as a means of extracting rent. We hear many strange things in this House; and I was pleased this evening to find the right hon. Gentleman somewhat sympathetic. It is in the memory of most Members of the House that many of us who had been amongst our constituents, and knew their condition, saw that there was danger ahead, and that something should be done to meet it. Bat at that time we were laughed and scoffed and jested at as alarmists. Now, however, they are able to realise the fact that our people are in danger of starvation. When I went to Mid Cork last November, I found that Inspectors had been sent to various places threatened with starvation, places where the poverty of the people was almost unendurable. I then heard that a gentleman, Mr. T. S. Porter, whose report I hold in my hand, had visited the town of Rathcoole shortly before, and had stated that the crops in that district were fairly good. Hearing this, I made it my business to follow Mr. Porter through the district he had visited. I went into the very same fields and got the people to point out the places where he had dug, and show me the kind of tuber he had seen. I had potatoes dug from the same places, and out of every 12 of these tubers I brought away six. Out of the whole of these I assure the House there was not one that was really fit for human food. At Macrooni, where Mr. Porter had had potatoes dug for him, a friend of mine, a member of the medical profession, and a Conservative gentleman experienced in agricultural matters, gave me a solemn assurance that the potatoes were not only unfit for human food, but that the people who ate them would possibly bring about some kind of typhoid fever or other serious illness. From inquiries I have made on this subject, I find that there has been a considerable increase of fever 820 in some of these districts consequent on the consumption of this class of potatoes, notably in the poorer and more congested districts. I followed Mr. Porter from Macroom to Inchegeela, where there is very beautiful and picturesque scenery, but where, I regret to say, the character of the soil is very bad. In every field I visited there was proof positive that not one quarter of the crop would be available. Nevertheless, although relief works are elsewhere being offered, nothing has been done for these people, who are now suffering great privations, beyond what is obtainable from private charity. Where the right hon. Gentleman has himself seen what is taking place, something is being done, but in the districts I have mentioned nothing is being done. In the Mushra district, between Macroom and Millstreet, the state of things is nothing short of lamentable. I shall never forget my visit to a poor labourer's cottage on the slopes of Mushra, where we saw a poor woman boiling potatoes for dinner. I asked her to let me see what she was putting into the pot, and I assure the Committee that no English labourer would give to his pigs what was then being boiled for the consumption of that family. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman trusts so much to his Medical Inspectors. Doubtless men like Colonel Slade would do much, but he and Mr. Porter and others have too much thrust upon them. The right hon. Gentleman would have done better had he not trusted quite so much to his own system, and had not done so much to conciliate the clergy and medical men of the country. Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the dispensary doctors of Ireland? Hon. Members may say, that in putting this question I am actuated by by feelings in connection with the order to which I belong, but that is not the case. My reason is this, that if you want to ascertain whether real distress exists, you must go to the medical men who have to deal with the diseases of the people, and to whom the people go for parochial advice. That is not the right way to do it. The Catholic clergymen with whom I have come into contact, are not men likely to have put themselves in the humiliating position of begging assistance from the right hon. Gentleman. 821 We listened with great attention to the Chief Secretary. He did not tell the House whether these people who through no fault of their own, but by the visitation of Providence have become paupers, and been driven to receive outdoor relief are to be disfranchised and their votes taken away from them? I hope he will answer that question. So far as I can see in distributing the relief the Chief Secretary has erred in many respects. To a certain extent some good has been done, no doubt, but I think, for instance, that the light railways will not pay their way.
§ DR. TANNER
Then, Sir, I will leave that subject. There is one district in which nothing at all has been done. I allude to the district of Donoughwon, and I venture to say if anyone would take the trouble to drive through it he would become convinced of the terrible poverty of the people. I have called attention to their condition time after time without effect; but I hope that even now something will be done on their behalf. I am not often able to praise the Chief Secretary, but I am bound to say that in the Castle Hayden district a considerable amount of good has been done. Still the wages paid are, in the case of large families, only just enough to stave off starvation, and I think they might reasonably be increased. I am afraid, however, that the right hon. Gentleman has trusted too much to the Reports of his Inspectors as to the condition of the various districts in Ireland. I followed one of the right hon. Gentleman's Inspectors through certain parts of the country, and found that in many places where the Inspector reported the potato crops to be fairly good the greater part of the potatoes were not fit for human food, and I was informed by medical experts that if the people were to consume such food they would probably become victims to fever. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, instead of trusting exclusively to the reports of his Inspectors upon the state of the various districts of the country, he should apply for information on the subject to the clergy and to the medical men who reside in them. With regard to the classes of officers by whom the works are 822 being superintended I should like to say a few words. As to the local surveyors, I have nothing whatever to urge against them. No doubt they are well fitted for the task. I say little either for or against the engineer officers, but it is the constabulary to whom I feel I must refer. Why should the right hon. Gentleman, knowing the unpopularity of the police, have made them the paymasters of these poor people? The fact is that by his policy he has made them unpopular, and now he seeks to whitewash them by making them ministers of relief. He gives them the power to pick and choose whom they will relieve, and they take care to relieve the land grabbers. There is an old saying, "Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar," and I venture to assert that if you only remove the epidermus of this magnificent scheme of relief you will find it is intended to subserve political interests. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will find out a way of doing more solid work in the interests of Ireland; that he will cease to do evil and learn to do good.
§ (8.14.) MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)
I am growing sick of this system of relief works, by reason of the way in which they are managed, for jobbery and demoralisation prevail all around. We must, however, hope for better things by and bye. The congratulations showered by the hon. Member for South Tyrone on the system of the Chief Secretary are, I think, premature. A few days ago I called attention to cases of distress in the County of Roscommon, and the Chief Secretary said he was inquiring into them, but he has as yet done nothing. I now wish to call attention to the dire distress prevailing in Gweedore. Not a single seed potato has been sent there, neither has any relief works been started. This is owing to the apathy of the Guardians, an apathy to be accounted for by the fact that the Chairman of the Poor Law Board is Mr. Olphert. I am afraid that it is his hardness of heart which has prevented the Chief Secretary from relieving the distress there. Finally, I should like to say, I do not know anything more cruel than to make the police the instruments for distributing the relief seeing how they are hated in Ireland, and I feel confident that many people would sooner starve than accept 823 relief from them. It is a cruel and horrible idea.
§ (8.20.) DR. FITZGERALD (Longford, S.)
We wished very much at the time these grants were first submitted to Parliament that we had been able to dispense with them, but still relief was necessary, and I cannot help saying after the statement we have listened to to-night that as far as the limited funds permitted, the right hon. Gentleman has certainly endeavoured to carry out the work satisfactorily. The only thing I regret is that Parliament could not see its way to grant more money. I am one of those who think that any money voted by this House for the relief of the poor in Ireland is not given in the way of charity, but is simply a restitution of money which Ireland has for many generations been improperly deprived of. The main reason why I regret that the House has not seen its way to vote more money for these relief works is, that although much of it finds its way into the pockets of contractors and others who are not in need of it, a considerable amount does reach the very poor. I give the right hon. Gentleman full credit for having selected those districts which stood most in need of relief, but still the amount which the Committee are asked to vote to-night is but as a drop in the ocean; and a great many districts remain—among them some in the county which I have the honour to represent—in need of this help. Much might be done in the towns by getting rid of the filthy hovels in the back streets and substituting for them houses which would be a credit instead of a disgrace to a civilised people. The right hon. Gentleman, in speaking of the difficulties with which he had to contend, stated to the House—not, I believe, for the purpose of prejudicing the case of these poor people who are often very much in need of work—instanced cases in which men had applied for work while they were drunk. Of course, we know that unfortunately this disease of drunkenness is very prevalent among the lower classes of the Irish people, but I would submit, in extenuation, that it may in part be attributed to the want of food, for they sometimes have to go without dinner and supper three or four days in succession; and then a pint of bad porter 824 would quickly upset a person in such a condition. If the right hon. Gentleman were to live under such conditions he would not be able to perform his duties as he now does with such satisfaction to himself. I again say, however, I am glad to see he has got rid of much of the red tapeism which usually surrounds these undertakings, and in the administration of relief has taken a good deal of care to prevent the injury which often succeeds the doling out of charity, I ask the Chief Secretary not to leave-the people altogether in the hands of the-contractors; and, above all, I impress upon the right hon. Gentleman, if he is wishful that these funds should be justly administered, the necessity of entrusting their administration to some other body than the police. I do not complain of the police, but I know that in the district in which I live there is an idle policeman to about every 20 inhabitants, and during the last five or six years I have never known the policemen do anything, for the simple reason that they never had anything to do. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) will bear me out that many of the people who sorely want work would rather starve than go to a policeman to get a day's employment. I trust, therefore, the Chief Secretary will pause before employing policemen practically as the masters of these funds. The right hon. Gentleman compared the wages paid in England with those paid in Ireland, and told us that the unskilled labourers who work upon these railways get wages which vary from 11s. to 13s. a week, and from a stone of meal a day, which, according to him, amounts to 11d., 5s. 6d. a week. Is it not astonishing that there are to be found in any country men willing to work for 11d. a day, or 5s. 6d. a week. I confess that if I were in the position of one of these poor men I would never work for 11d. a day while a sheep or a bullock was to be found grazing on the land of the country. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of 11s. and 13s. a week as a high wage for work upon railway embankments and the like. I would remind him that in the county of Dublin the wage of an ordinary labourer, of a man who drives horses, or gathers leaves, is from 12s. to 13s. a week besides lodging, milk and other things labourers often get from their 825 employers. When these poor people have to go 7, 10, and 15 miles to work, I think the wage the right hon. Gentleman is paying is very poor indeed. I am inclined to think it is the old story over again: the greater portion of this money will find its way into the pockets of the wily contractor who hovers about this House and Dublin Castle, and the poor labourer will get the worst of the bargain. I do not complain of the Chief Secretary, I think he has done his utmost to administer these funds in a just and legitimate way, and to hurry on these works in times when there was great need of them in Ireland; but again I impress upon him not to employ the police, which is really an insult to the people. I have a word to say as to the cause of the distress in Ireland. I believe bad government is the primary cause of distress in every country, but I am disposed to think that in Ireland the secondary cause of distress is the potato. I believe you will have famine and distress in Ireland so long as the people depend entirely upon the potato, and I suggest—and one day or another if this Parliament does not an Irish Parliament certainly will act upon the suggestion—that every man in Ireland who has land to plant anything in shall be obliged to discard, partly, at any rate, the potato, and to plant for himself a crop of wheat. If some system could be devised whereby people would be compelled to plant a crop of wheat, and the people could feel that the crop would be safe from the landlord or the bailiff, famine would never be known again in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman told us he thought of establishing some works for the reclamation of land, and he made one remark I was particularly glad to hear. He told us he was enabled to go on with the scheme of reclamation because of the fact that a number of landlords in Ireland are unable to make good their title. That is what we have been trying to persuade the people of this country all along. We know that the great majority of the landlords of Ireland have no title at all to the land, and, therefore, we have arrived at the conclusion that eventually we shall be able to get back every sod of the land and use it for the purpose of the people. (8.40.)
§ (9.15.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ (9.18.) DR. TANNER
There are several points which have not been touched upon in the course of this Debate, and there are several questions that deserve specific answers. To what extent has the right hon. Gentleman availed himself of the local knowledge of the priests in the distressed districts in Ireland? I have already elaborated this point, but no answer has been vouchsafed. Are the police entrusted with the administration of the whole funds? My hon. Friend the Member for South Longford (Mr. Fitzgerald) certainly did very well in hammering this point home, but I put the question specifically. Are the police entrusted with the administration of the whole funds; and, further, is it true that the famine-stricken condition of the people is being made the excuse for paying starvation wages? By the statement of the Chief Secretary we learned that the people employed on relief works are getting, in some cases, shelter and fuel for cooking and 7s. a week; but, said the right hon. Gentleman, in certain instances it is in the power of the administration to give them a stone of meal, which he showed is worth 11d. a day, which amounts therefore to 5s. 6d. a week. Therefore, it would seem that advantage is taken of the condition of the people to pay starvation wages. To speak plainly, is it an alternative open to the police if a man has strong political views opposed to the Executive—if he is, say, a campaign tenant—is it in the option of the police to decree that that man is to receive a stone of meal in lieu of 7s. a week and shelter? Another point arises in connection with local relief works—are alien artisans employed? If reports are accurate, this has been the case. Aliens have been employed to the exclusion of poor and respectable men in the small towns of the West of Ireland. This is not fair, and I should like to know under what circumstance it is allowed. Something we have heard of what is being done on Tory Island, and we should naturally suppose the name would evoke the sympathy of a Conservative Government. We have long been anxious to 827 have a lighthouse established there; but we have still need of enlightenment. We have heard of the difficulties gunboats have to contend with, and what is really the condition of affairs on these small Islands. It seems to me the right hon. Gentleman is making the time-honoured mistake of putting the cart before the horse at Clare Island, Inishkea, and undoubtedly at Achill the pressing need is for piers, and road making and repairing are secondary works. Off Clare Island, Achill Bay, in Black Sod Bay there are magnificent fishery banks, but the fishermen are unable to avail themselves of these advantages because they have no accommodation for their boats. I know from personal experience the difficulty of embarking and landing at Achill. There is a pier, I know at Achill Sound, but it is unapproachable except at high tide.
§ DR. TANNER
Yes; I am travelling a little beyond the Vote; but all I want to do is to draw attention to the fact—that money would be much better spent in constructing piers in Achill and other places than in making and repairing roads. It is important that the expenditure should be directed in the best manner, for the amount asked for is very small, the right hon. Gentleman telling us he has had regard to the interests of the British taxpayer. I am glad to hear that, though my experience in Committee of Supply is that the British taxpayer has often scant consideration, and millions are voted for dubious purposes upon very vain reasons. But if the right hon. Gentleman, instead of putting so much trust in the system he vaunts, and in which he is upheld by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, would avail himself of the local knowledge of the clergy, his efforts for the alleviation of acute distress would be much better directed. One point more in reference to piers. If the Reports of Inspectors are to be relied upon, it is upon the sea-bound congested districts that the failure of the potato crop has been most felt, and the distress among the people is most acute. I know from personal acquaintance with these districts, from fishing and yachting visits in times long past, as well as in more recent visits, the cry of the people is for 828 piers that they may be able to prosecute the fishing industry. But here I go through all the relief works enumerated and find only one estimate for such a purpose—a pier and approach road at Schull, and two other estimates for repairs of piers. But still the people of these sea bound districts reiterate the cry "Give us shelter for our boats that when the land harvest fails us we may reap the harvest of the sea." What, comparatively, is the use of making these roads at Mulranny and Achill Sound beyond the present means of finding employment? You only get a kelp crop from Achill. Let the right bon. Gentleman turn his attention in the direction I have indicated, and he may confer a lasting benefit upon the people, and accomplish a work upon which he may be congratulated in future years. I content myself with putting the questions I have referred to, and I sincerely hope I shall have an answer.
§ (9.32.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The next Vote is one on which I expect some discussion, and I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle intends to raise an important point with regard to it. Perhaps, therefore, the sooner we proceed to that Vote the better. The hon. Member opposite has put three questions to me which I think can be answered in three sentences. It does not rest with the police to determine who shall be employed on the works; the rate of wages is not determined by the police; and, with regard to the priests, I am desirous of obtaining all the information I can of the various localities through the priests, or any other trustworthy source. The other questions raised hardly call for reply. The hon. Member for Donegal spent a good deal of time in discussing details, and I will not follow him in that, but he said that the Chief Secretary awoke to the fact that something ought to have been done in November last. In that the hon. Member is greatly mistaken. It was in July last that I asked the House to pass the Light Railways Bill against the opposition of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite. It was in August last that I had many important interviews with Inspectors of the Local Government Board on the subject of the condition of the potatoes, and it was in September that I made arrange- 829 ments for the purchase of seed potatoes. The tour which has so exercised the mind of the hon. Member for Donegal was made in the month of September. As to the statement of an hon. Member that the works of the Island of Achill are insufficient, all I can say is that if it is proved that they are insufficient they shall be augmented. The fact, however, pointed out by the hon. Member for South Tyrone should not be lost sight of, that a higher rate of wages has been offered on relief works in Achill than was ever offered before, and that, though there are many men who could avail themselves of the opportunity up to the present time, hardly any advantage has been taken of it. As to the potatoes, the most minute examination has been made by the Inspectors appointed for the purpose. They have inquired into over 40 cases in which bad potatoes are alleged to have been given; but the result of the inquiries has been to show that there was an error in the Report. There have been bad potatoes, but they have not been distributed, and the potatoes which were distributed were not bad. There is the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Darlington of the woman who showed him potatoes which he says were rotten. Well, I notice that the Inspector reports that in one case of complaint made by a woman he made an inquiry, and the woman showed him some bad potatoes, which she said she had been supplied with. He found that the potatoes were bad, but that they were potatoes which the woman had grown herself, and which she tried to palm off on him. I fear she found the Member for Darlington a more credulous witness than the Inspector. The potatoes shown were not the potatoes supplied by the Guardians. As to the cases brought forward by the hon. Member for Galway, I must point out that there appears to be very little difference in the matter of the relief granted by the Union this year and last.
§ *(9.38.) SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
I listened with great attention to the right hon. Gentleman's opening speech. He laid great stress on the difficulty of obtaining accurate information as to the poverty and absolute need of the people in the distressed districts, but the whole drift of his information seemed to me to depend 830 on the statements of the police. But I would point out that the people consider it a disgrace to be seen speaking to a policeman. Yet it is on police statements the right hon. Gentleman relied.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Not at all. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may be interested to know that the police reported some heartrending cases.
§ *SIR J. SWINBURNE
What I was pointing out was that if the right hon. Gentleman's words meant anything they meant that he relied on the reports of the police.
§ *SIR J. SWINBURNE
I am very glad to hear I am mistaken, for how can the population have any sympathy with the police, whom I have myself seen assist at evictions? I am sorry to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has left the House. I wish to point out to him what I saw in a district which he carefully avoided when in Ireland, namely, the district of Gweedore and Falcarragh. At Falcarragh the police actually stoned the people in their own houses, so anxious were they to assist in turning the starving people out of their miserable cabins. I saw 150 police going out to assist in the evictions, and they assisted in storming the houses. How could the people have any sympathy with those officers? Why, the people there say that there is not a man amongst them worth his salt who has not been to prison. And yet the right hon. Gentleman says he gets his information supplemented by statements of the police. The people would rather starve than go to the police with their tales of distress. As to the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the people in many cases have acted fraudulently in dealing with seed potatoes, one can very well understand a woman with a starving family of little ones around her going to almostany length—even the length of false representation—to obtain a few potatoes for food. Then, as to the remarks of the hon. Member for Cork, who urged on the right hon. Gentleman the necessity for the construction of piers. I have lived on the south coast of Ireland for a year and 831 a half myself, and I know how much works of this kind are required. The existing piers have all been built in wrong places by persons who have had no local knowledge. I cannot imagine a stronger argument for Home Rule, or Local Government, whichever you are pleased to term it, than the present position and state of repair of a large proportion of these fishing piers.
§ (9.45.) DR. TANNER
With regard to accurate information, I would call the attention of the Government to a statement in the Return of 1890, referring to the district I represent. Mr. T. S. Porter says—My Report on this Union not being completed, Mr. Doran will also report upon it.Then, on page 47, Mr. Doran says—I did not interview the clerks of the Union, believing that Mr. Porter hd done so.It is said that too many cooks spoil the broth, but it seems as though this truism could with equal force be applied to Government Inspectors. Though I have pointed out, time after time, the condition of things which exist in my district, we find Inspectors, when they are sent down there to make inquiries, neglect to do their duty. To whom are we to lay the blame of this failure to obtain accurate information. Are we to expect it from the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, who, when he was driving through a district in Ireland, had his glass in his eye, and looking at some fine turniptops said to the car driver, "Well, there is no failure in that potato crop." We are told that the accurate information does not come from the police. Then from whom does it come? I think we are entitled to an answer to that question before the Debate closes.
§ Vote agreed to.