Order read for Adjourned Debate on Question [8th February],—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament" (Colonel Lockwood).
§ Question again proposed:—Debate resumed:—
§ *MR. MICHAEL DAVITT (Mayo, South)
Before moving the Amendment which stands in my name on the paper I would ask the House to allow me, for a few minutes, to offer one or two observations on the main question. I think, Sir, I can say, on behalf of my friends around me, that we can offer no assistance whatever to Her Majesty's Government in their conflict with the people on the North-West Frontier of India, nor can we lend them any sympathy in their diplomatic difficulties with Russia in China. These matters do not concern either us or our country. Our sympathies in such case must be determined by the rights and wrongs of the 153 issue, and I for one fail to see what injury or wrong has been done to England or to the English people by the handful of brave Afridis who are defending their homes and independence, by means of rifles sent them from Birmingham, against the wanton aggression of this country. I deeply regret that, so far, there has not been an honest note of protest against this campaign from the Liberal Benches. There was a time when righteous protests would have been uttered in this House against the wholesale destruction of homes and villages on the West Coast of Africa and on the North-West Frontier of India, in order to carry out England's policy of forcing markets for English manufactures. But after listening to and comparing the speeches made last night from the Government and Opposition Benches, I am driven back to Swift's famous saying about the difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum, so hard is it to see where one side differs from the other. I regret, too, that so far in this debate we have not had a speech from the warlike Attorney-General. The hon. and learned Gentleman is, as we all know—at least, I know it—a formidable opponent when armed with a brief; but I think he would only be a qualified success if he buckled on the sword of General Lord Roberts. I read some time ago a speech delivered by the hon. and learned Gentleman, in which he declared that if this country were involved in war with Russia in the East England would have the co-operation of the United States. Well, I know something about the United States, and I should like to know upon what authority the Attorney-General based that statement. I believe, Sir, that, on general principles, no such alliance would be possible. The American people are not in the habit of prowling around the world stealing countries and carving out continents. They do not push their manufactures and interests among savage peoples by means of Melinite shells and Maxim guns. They sit at home and mind their own business within their own borders, and, consequently, I am certain they will never lend their arms, or the prestige of their name, to a policy of brigandage such as England is carrying out in Africa and in India. If there is one country in 154 Europe against which America will never put out her strength it is Russia, for when this country—the only one in Europe that ever did so—attempted to destroy the American Republic—as was the case in the Civil War—Russia was prepared to lend her fleet and armies to America to defend her against, your treachery. And, consequently, whatever you may do in forcing your manufactures upon markets in the East by well-known English methods, you will not have the great nation from across the; Atlantic to assist you. Having said this much on behalf of my friends and colleagues, I will now ask the House to give its attention for a short time to a country less remote than the West Coast of Africa, or than Ta-lien-wan. I ask leave to move the following Amendment to the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech:And we humbly represent to your Majesty that in large districts of Ireland considerable bodies of the population have been for some time, and are at the present moment, reduced to live on insufficient and unwholesome food, and are on the very brink of actual famine; that this condition of things has been brought about by a failure of the potato crop and partial failure of other crops in districts the population of which, impoverished by the general depression of agriculture, had even in better times existed under such conditions that the failure of one year's potato crop produced a famine; that the temporary relief measures proposed by your Majesty's Government have been too long deferred and are entirely inadequate; and that we earnestly urge on your Majesty the necessity, first, of applying measures of temporary relief on a large and generous scale to the suffering districts, and, secondly, of introducing legislation calculated to avert the constant recurrence of famines in the certain districts of Ireland.I do not think that it will be denied by the Chief Secretary that this Amendment is called for. I also venture to assert that the right hon. Gentleman will not contend that this severe destitution is confined to a small area. I submit, on the contrary, that it is co-extensive with the area extending from West Donegal in the North to West Cork in the South, reaching, in many cases, 30 or 40 miles inwards in various counties. The distress is also found in an acute state in such islands as Achill and Arran, on the Western seaboard. Timely warning was given to the Government early last autumn in reference to what seemed to be inevitable, impending severe distress 155 in those regions. Of this I have ample evidence, and I may also quote a letter sent from Ireland to one of the London daily Unionist papers, in which the writer, as early as last September, described what he had observed in Mayo and Galway of the prevalence of the potato blight on an extensive scale. He said then that, while Ulster had escaped fairly well, there was absolute ruin in Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, and the crop in Tipperary was much damaged. In recent years the failure and partial failure of the Irish potato crop had been frequently discussed in Parliament, and hon. Members realised that even partial failure practically meant semi-starvation for enormous numbers of the population on the Western coast. Sixty Irish Members consequently addressed a memorial in October to the First Lord of the Treasury, calling his serious attention to what was certain to occur during the winter in Ireland; but the right hon. Gentleman, for reasons which, no doubt, appeared to him to be sufficient, thought fit to refuse our request for an Autumn Session of Parliament in order that proper measures should be taken to deal with the threatened calamity. The right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, referred to the fact that there had been a serious failure of the potato crop, and that in consequence of this it was necessary for the Government in Ireland to keep a watchful eye upon what might occur during the winter months. But he did not in anything he said in that letter deny the statement made by Irish members with reference to the very serious character of the failure of the potato crop in these regions. Now this official recognition of what was certain to occur was emphasised again and again by the appeals made to the Chief Secretary by Boards of Guardians and similar popular bodies. Not with standing all this, nothing material, as far as I have been able to observe, has been done by the right hon. Gentleman in reply to the earnest entreaties of these popular bodies in this district. On the 23rd of December, at a Poor Law Guardians' meeting, at Ballinrobe, an official. Dr. Flynn, speaking, I presume, for the right hon. Gentleman, called the attention of the public to the acute nature of the distress, and said something must be done. Well, Sir, Dr. 156 Flynn represented the Government, and yet he had to go down to the most afflicted district in the West of Ireland and tell the people there that something had to be done. What was done in consequence of this action of this official of the Chief Secretary was, as far as I can see, to carry on a species of haggling with Boards of Guardians as to who should begin the work of succouring the people suffering in consequence of this distress. On the top of all this we have had independent, humane English visitors in Ireland, going through the country, and writing letters such as those of Professor Long in the Manchester Guardian, appealing to the conscience of the English, if such a thing is in existence, to do something in order to save these people from the starvation which was awaiting them. In the midst of all this distress and destitution in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, the Government did something. What was that something? In December last the landlords in that wretched stretch of country thought that the distress of the people was the proper time to put in force England's peculiar policy of winning the Irish people to the acceptance of their rule. It was under these circumstances that evictions were carried out, I do not for one moment say with the advice of the Chief Secretary, although I am aware that he is the virtual ruler of Ireland. That was the time chosen by the landlords to enforce their legal demands among poor families turned out of their wretched cabins, while Poor Law Guardians were actually doling out relief to these doubly-afflicted poor. Like vultures hovering over carrion, the Irish landlords smelt subscriptions from the public, and, while Professor Long and humane Englishmen and Irishmen and people in America are pouring out their subscriptions to save these people from starvation, the landlords hold their hands in order that, in a short time, they can pocket these subscriptions. If ever anyone had justification to be the enemy of the Government which tolerates such infamies in Ireland, we have such justification. Acts of this kind would be enough in themselves to make one a rebel against your rule. What has the right hon. Gentleman done in order to avert a calamity? He does, I believe, contemplate 157 some kind of public works. I am sorry that he has delayed so long in putting his scheme into operation, because, if his works are started now they will inevitably interfere with the ordinary spring labour of those small cultivators. That has been one of the traditional blunders of English rule in Ireland in connection with calamities of this kind; you always wait until the last moment and then come forward with help, and offer it in a stupid and blundering way. What will have to be done? I can only speak in that respect with reference to a portion of my own constituency; other Irish members, who represent the unfortunate people on the West Coast, will speak from their own knowledge, and I would earnestly urge upon the Chief Secretary to respond to the suggestions addressed to him by the people of South Mayo. They want him to help in the construction of certain roads that will be of permanent benefit, that will give immediate employment to starving people, and that will open up one of the most picturesque and most beautiful sections of the West Coast of Ireland. Then, again, there is the matter of the deepening of the Robe river. That is a question to which I have drawn the attention of the right hon. Gentleman once before, and I believe that, if he could have his own way in this matter, and were not dominated by the influence of the only individual who opposes this work, Colonel Knox, tin's undertaking, which would be so beneficial to the locality, would have been begun before now. This work was first started about forty years ago, on a similar occasion to the present, in face of existing distress. Some £20,000 or £30,000 of public money were expended in carrying it out, but the work was allowed to lapse because this one landlord will not lend his assistance in carrying it out. I trust that in the pressing circumstances the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence on Colonel Knox in order that this work of great utility may be completed. I am not one who believes that it is the duty of a Government to feed the people or find employment for them in normal conditions, but I hold that no Government has a moral right to rule where the people are allowed to come periodically face to face with starvation in a state of potential plenty. It is a sad 158 commentary that these poor people are compelled to starve on their wretched patches of land, while within every one of these districts you have abundance of land for them. They are an industrious people; why in the name of commonsense will you not enable them to utilise that which nature has placed around them; why allow some 50 or 100 landlords to stand between the people and the abundance of food that can be got by them out of this land if they are only allowed to plant their labour upon it? In this phase of the question I find myself supported by the official views of the Chief Secretary, that is assuming that the Chief Secretary is, as I believe he is, the nominal head of the Congested Districts Board, a body which was the creation of the First Lord of the Treasury. In the last report of the Board we read on page 6:The poverty, and in some cases, the destitution, prevalent in these districts, is undeniable, and we consider it has been clearly established by our efforts that much can be done by a relatively small expenditure towards permanently improving the condition of the people with whom we have to deal, but additional funds would be necessary in any attempt to more rapidly and thoroughly develop the resources of the districts, and to afford an opportunity to the inhabitants of raising themselves out of the chronic poverty in which they have been sunk for generations.This is not a picture of what is going on in the West of Ireland now. This poverty and chronic destitution is the normal condition of these whole districts along the West Coast of Ireland, and surely, therefore, if, according to this report we can permanently improve the condition of the people by enlarging their holdings, by means of what has already been done by this House in the matter of land legislation in Ireland, there is every reason why the Chief Secretary should ask this House to give him, if required, the authority and the means to extend the operations of the Congested Districts Board, and to grapple once and for ever with these chronic famines in this West of Ireland District. This work of eradicating this recurring social evil would not be a gigantic task; it would not even run counter to what the right hon. Members opposite call "the social programme of the Unionist Party" All you want to do in order to 159 prevent Irish Members bringing questions of this kind before the House year after year is to extend the work of the Congested Districts Board. We are not asking for a penny of English or Scotch money. We only ask that money which you have extracted from Ireland by excessive taxation should be utilised, not in carrying out our ideas with reference to these evils, but to carry out the policy which you see is necessary for the pacification of Ireland. In conclusion, I would urge you not to put us off by the usual excuses about the limitations of the powers of the Congested Districts Board. I am certain that, even on the other side of the House, there would be no disposition to deny to the Chief Secretary what means he may lack in order to prevent these recurring famines. It is not a political question, excepting so far as the administration of Ireland is concerned, and I am certain I will have the assent of this House to the statement that, if Ireland had what she is entitled to have, and will have some day, the right to manage her own affairs in her own way, this starting of public works in a case of emergency like that which exists in the West of Ireland would be a question of immediate and obvious duty.
Amendment proposed, at the end of of the Question, to add the words,—
And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that in large districts of Ireland considerable bodies of the population have been for some time, and are at the present moment, reduced to live on insufficient and unwholesome food, and are on the very brink of actual famine; that this condition of things has been brought about by a failure of the potato crop, and partial failure of other crops, in districts the population of which, impoverished by the general depression of agriculture, had even in better times existed under such conditions that the failure of one year's potato crop produced a famine; that the temporary relief measures proposed by Your Majesty's Government have been too long deferred and are entirely inadequate; and that we earnestly urge on Your Majesty the necessity, first, of applying measures of temporary relief on a large and generous scale to the suffering districts, and, secondly, of introducing legislation calculated to avert the constant recurrence of famines in certain districts of Ireland" (Mr. Davitt).
§ MR. JOHN P. HAYDEN (Roscommon, South)
In rising for the first time to address this House, I may say that it 160 is no pleasure to Irish Members to stand up year after year to make appeals to the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, on behalf of these districts. The distress has not been brought about by any fault of the people themselves. Last year, for instance, they tilled the land, and it produced a comparatively good crop, but it was destroyed, not by any fault of their own, but through an exceptionally severe season, which set in and prevented the crop coming to fruition. That distress exists is admitted by the action which the Government has recently taken. They have sent out orders to the Boards of Guardians empowering them to give outdoor relief in cases in which the ordinary law allows no such relief to be administered. But the relief I, and I may say Irish Members of all Parties, wish to see for these districts is not alms-giving to the people, but work which will prevent the existence of distress. Last year the Government was asked, not for an Autumn Session, but to provide means for meeting the distress. Neither one thing nor the other was done by the responsible rulers. They were observing the question from day to day, and from week to week, and from month to month, but practically nothing was done, except within a short time past, and then it was only to empower the poor people themselves to relieve themselves out of their own money. To ask the people of an impoverished district to subscribe rates in order to relieve their own poor means that those who are not exactly poor themselves will shortly become as poor as those they are relieving. We believe that exceptional distress of this kind ought not to be charged upon a district, but should be a national, if not an Imperial, charge. At the present time, according to the Queen's Speech read yesterday, there is distress in the West Indies. That distress is about to be met, not by money subscribed by the people of the West Indies, but by money subscribed by poor, starving people on the west coast of Ireland—people who are already overtaxed to a sum amounting to about three millions sterling per annum, as established by a recent Royal Commission. Whilst the Government is looking anxiously and jealously at the distress existing in distant places like the 161 West Indies, it has done nothing for Ireland. There is no recognition in the Queen's Speech, or in the Address of Ministers, of distress existing almost at our own doors. I speak, not so much for my own constituency—I do not claim that that is a distressed district—but there is a small portion of the county in which my constituency is situated, Roscommon, in which there is great distress. A few days before Christmas I received a letter from a parish priest, in which he said that the people in his district were without a potato to eat, and it is one of those districts in which the potato is, unfortunately, the staple food of the people. The official answer I received in reply to an inquiry was, that the matter was under the observation of the Chief Secretary. For all I know, it is still under his observation, and the people are without any means of existence. We do not appeal to the Government for food for the people, who are willing to work, and are entitled to get work to provide food for themselves. Resolutions, forwarded to the Chief Secretary from Boards of Guardians, pointed out the means by which this work can be provided, and that is, by establishing the railway between Castlereagh and Londonderry. That railway was approved by the Irish Privy Council, and it will certainly provide work, and open up a wide district. This is a policy which, if followed, by the present Chief Secretary, will be found to be one of the most successful. It was found to be successful in other districts, when the present First Lord of the Treasury adopted it. There are many other districts which are largely affected. This very day a letter was placed in my hands from a correspondent in South Kerry, in which he complained greatly of the distress there owing to the failure of the potato crop and the fishing industry. I would urge upon the Chief Secretary that the policy of observation is useless, that the time for action has now come, and that that action should not consist of asking poor people to relieve those who are poorer than themselves, but in providing permanent works, which would have the effect of stopping these periodical famines, and prevent Irish Members occupying the humiliating position of appealing year after year for help to Ireland.
§ *MR. J. DILLON (East Mayo)
I think it will be a matter of very great surprise and disappointment in Ireland, and will lead to a great deal of bitterness and ill-feeling, that the Speech from the Throne, while it wandered all over the civilised and uncivilised world, and proposed measures of relief in the West Indies, contained no allusion to the suffering and misery which is to be found, I may say, almost at the very doors of this great city. It shows a rather curious conception in the minds of Her Majesty's Ministers, and especially in the mind of the Minister who is responsible for the government of Ireland, that he did not conceive it necessary, in view of the terrible events which have been going on—and I think I shall justify these words before I sit down—in the western districts of Ireland during the past few months, to put into the mouth of Her Majesty, in her Speech from the Throne, any allusion to those occurrences, or that when he addressed his constituents at Leeds, on the 4th of this month, he made no allusion whatever, or gave utterance to any expression of sympathy with the sufferings of the poor people for whose good, as Chief Secretary, he is responsible. I confess I looked with considerable interest to the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman, when I saw that after a prolonged silence the Chief Secretary for Ireland was about to address his constituents at Leeds in what he described as his annual address. And I think it was not unnatural on our part—we, who had seen with our own eyes the condition of things in the West of Ireland, and had read descriptions that had harrowed the feelings of the people of this country as to the miseries that are going on, and have been going on in the West of Ireland—that we should have expected from the Irish Minister, Scotchman though he be, that after a prolonged silence he would have some policy of amelioration to announce or that, at all events, he would have had some words of sympathy for those poor suffering people. But what was the fact? I have here in my hand a report of that speech, taken from one of the Leeds papers. It commences with a long disquisition on the affairs of China, to which the greater portion of the speech is devoted. From China the Chief Secretary for Ireland passed to the Afridis 163 and the North-Western Frontier of India, at the invitation, apparently, of someone in the gallery, and, last and least, he comes back to Ireland, and in the tail of his speech he devotes a few almost contemptuous words to the miserable island over which he reigns. I think the House will share my astonishment when I quote from the speech in the Leeds Mercury the words he devoted to Ireland. It is headed "Peaceful Ireland," and he says:Last year I told you that the internal condition of Ireland was more peaceful and satisfactory than it had been for many years, and I am happy to say that the same condition continues.More peaceful and satisfactory! Before I sit down I shall describe to the House, not altogether from the mouths of Irishmen, much less Irish agitators, but from the mouths of independent Englishmen, some of them strong Unionists, what the Chief Secretary called "peaceful and satisfactory." The Chief Secretary, in his speech, goes on to say:Anybody who, like Mr. Morley, uses his position to encourage those people to hope for dreams that can never be accomplished,alluding to Home Rule,does them not service, but dis-service. Our future is the future of the Irish people. We invite them to be one people with those of England and Scotland. "Our future," says the Chief Secretary, "is the future of the Irish people,but the present and the past of the Irish people has been a present and a past of rags, misery, and famine, and Ireland, under your rule, has sunk deeper and deeper into a morass of misery from which we do not see anything in the policy of the Government, in the near future at all events, to extricate us. And yet the Chief Secretary, after describing the condition of Ireland as peaceful and satisfactory, invites us to be one people with the English and Scotch. I think he might have waited before he made that invitation until his Government had given to the Irish people some taste at least of the prosperity of the people of whom he invites us to be one. Let me turn, at the very outset, from the speech of the Chief Secretary to the letters of a man who came to Ireland as the representative of one of the greatest journals in this country, not as a politician. 164 I have not heard what his politics are, but if he is a politician I believe he is a Unionist. I allude to Professor Long, of Manchester. Now, his testimony will not be questioned, I think, by any man in this House, nor will it be said that he is affected by any political bias, nor will any man stand up and say that Professor Long, by his training and experience, is not qualified to give a true and fair account of the condition of things he saw. I shall have occasion, later on, to give some of the details which were witnessed by Professor Long as to the condition of the people in the western districts, but I desire, as bearing on the problem, to quote two passages from the speech of Professor Long, delivered at the great Distress Meeting at Manchester, about a fortnight ago. This speech was founded, he said, on a three weeks' journey through the western districts of Ireland, during which, as everybody who studied his letters will see, he was continuously inquiring into the subject. What does he say?Of one thing I am certain—our conduct, as far as it relates to the West, is not anything of which we can be proud. It is the conduct of which Matthew Arnold spoke, and which, untempered and unchanged, will shipwreck our fortunes, for it is not the conduct of civilised humanity.Now, that is the language of a Unionist who went and saw these things for himself.It is not the conduct of civilised humanity. The majority among those who compose a nation are responsible for the welfare of the minority—the prosperous for the existence of the poor—and yet amid all our thirst for religion, our devotion to morality, and our jangling politics, we have failed to provide that form of social legislation for the benefit of a large number of our people—who are kept out of mind because they are out of sight.Yes, because they are starved and go naked, and yet the condition of Ireland is "satisfactory." I have been told by nuns and priests, who have seen them, that the faces of the children are growing paler and paler every day, that they have hardly enough food in their stomachs, and yet we are told that the condition of Ireland is "satisfactory." "Would that I could feel," Professor Long goes on:as sure that the assistance of the British Government would be conveyed to the people 165 whose sorrows have not ceased to haunt me since I first set my foot upon a Mayo holding as I do of the sympathy of the thousands who read these lines. I have faith, however, in the Chief Secretary, and, perhaps, I may add, with some reason.I have not got the same faith in the Secretary that Professor Long has, but I agree—though I am opposed to them in politics—that both he and his brother have shown, since they have been to the West of Ireland, some signs of interest in the condition of the people. I think, however, that during the last three months, the conduct of the Government has left me with very little shred of faith that they will show generosity or humanity in dealing with these unfortunate and suffering people. Now, dealing with the general aspect of this case, I have just one other quotation which I think will carry weight with all sides of the House, particularly with hon. Members opposite, as giving a general idea of the condition of things we have to face. It is an extract from a very remarkable and interesting letter written to the Times newspaper, on the 15th December, 1893, by the Member for South Tyrone, the present Under Secretary to the Local Government Board. This extract gives an insight into one of the most important aspects of the question.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I thought he said a letter that I had written in connection with this controversy.
§ MR. DILLON
No. But what did the hon. Gentleman say? He said:The condition of the De Freyne and similar estates in the West of Ireland is simply appalling. In a good year, as this undoubtedly has been, rents are fairly well paid. In bad years—and in that Western district they are the rule—instalments only are paid, arrears consequently accumulate, and in due time they become a hopeless mountain of debt. Evictions then take place, scenes such as those with which Englishmen now are painfully familiar, will inevitably follow. It is a miserable condition of affairs. Will the day ever come when a Government shall be found willing to look facts in the face, and, instead of passing on, deal with them?Will that day ever come? We have now a wealthy and powerful Government— 166 wealthy beyond record in the history of this House; they have surpluses, and millions for Egypt. We don't know how many thousands they have for the West Indies, and millions to add to the expenditure for Naval and Military purposes. The Government has further an immense majority, and it has declared itself in favour of a policy of winning the Irish people over to Unionist policy by kindness and generosity; yet the day for which the hon. Member for South Tyrone so longed in 1893, when a Home Rule Government was in power, has not yet dawned for the poor people in the West of Ireland. Yet we have the words of the Chief Secretary, "peaceful and satisfactory!" I would like to lay before the House the appalling facts of the condition of those poor people. I desire to remove two false impressions. The first of those is that priests in the West of Ireland whose duties bring them into contact with the poor are prone to raise a cry of distress without sufficient grounds, and the second false impression is that the applications for out-door relief, or the number of indoor paupers, can be accepted as any reliable or final test of the amount of actual want among the people of the Western districts. With regard to the first of these false impressions, I have to say that my experience, which is pretty wide in the Western districts, leads me to an entirely opposite conclusion. My experience is that the priests particularly, and in a lesser degree the poor-law guardians, are so horrified by the worry and enhanced responsibility and labour cast upon them by the institution of relief works, that they are rather apt to err in the opposite direction. If you go into the country you will find that the priests, having horrible memories of the past, would rather shut their eyes to the condition of the people, and hope to tide over the winter and spring without relief works. That is my experience, and my recent visits to the West, and all my inquiries, have strongly confirmed me in that view. In this connection I feel it my duty to utter a word of strong protest against the tone adopted and the language used by some of the Government officials in Ireland upon recent occasions. One official—I mention no names, because I do not want to attack individuals if I can help it—one individual, an Inspector 167 of the Local Government Board, is reported to have used this language at a recent conference with the Galway Board of Guardians:If there are three or four days' rain in the Western districts a howl of distress is immediately raised.Now, I know that these poor people existed on two meals a day of potatoes and Indian meal, and I say that such language is unfit for a Christian to use; but nobody expects a Government official in these matters to be a Christian. Another gentleman, and an official, is reported to have used this language—that the poor-law guardians, in dealing with the distribution of the wretched relief which the Government has now, at the eleventh hour, provided, or undertaken to provide, must in each instance be satisfied—I think he said on medical authority—that the applicant, before being being admitted to relief, was in actual danger of starvation.
§ MR. DILLON
I am glad of the contradiction, because I consider such language most barbarous. Now, having dealt with that matter, let me say a word as to the normal condition of these people. Nobody, I feel sure, will contest my statement. You have in these congested districts a population estimated by the reports of the Congested Districts Board at 100,000 families, or about 500,000 people. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that their normal condition is one of insufficient food. They do not receive enough food to get up their strength all the year round in even the best years. The reports of the Congested Districts Board agree as to that. In a good year they are able to live by the strictest economy on food that I don't think any section of people in this country would dream of living upon. Their ordinary food is composed of potatoes and Indian meal, and, as Professor Long says in one of his letters:You can travel for days and not see a loaf of bread or a piece of meat in one of these cabins.As regards, therefore, 60,000, 70,000, or 80,000 of these families, even a partial failure of one year's potato crop means actual lack of food for the greater part of the year. Now, that 168 being the condition of things—which, I beg leave to say, is a crying scandal to a Government with the resources of the present Government—before I sit down I will beg of the Chief Secretary, and challenge him to say whether his Government will now, even after all these years, seriously address themselves to the problem of solving this comparatively narrow part of the Irish difficulty, but one which is a fruitful source of crime and disorder in Ireland, and of hatred to this country, and one which, if he were successful in solving it, would undoubtedly reflect great credit upon his Administration in Ireland. Now, what is the actual condition—because that is the really important point—of these Western populations at the present moment? I maintain, first, that large bodies of people in those districts have been, for a considerable time, living upon food which is unwholesome and unfit for human use, and that even of that food, such as it is, they have not had a sufficient supply; that, as a consequence, the strength and physique of the people have been, in many districts, seriously affected. I am informed, as I have already said, by priests and nuns, and others whose duty it is to inspect schools, that it is a pain and misery for them to go into the schools and watch the children growing day by day more wasted and sickly. Two weeks ago I met a priest near Westport, who told me that when on his rounds inspecting the schools he was told by one of the schoolmasters that every child that day in school was suffering from diarrhœa on account of the miserable, watery, and unwholesome potatoes they had consumed. Grown men have come to me themselves, and told me that every day after they had had their miserable meal they had suffered for some time from severe pain. You have only to look into their faces—the appearance of the people shows their condition. I venture to say, with regard to the food crop throughout my district of East Mayo, that there is not, in the Swinford Union, fifty tons of potatoes that are fit for human food. The amount of potatoes in the Swinford Union that is fit to be used for food is something extremely small; it has been stated also, by officials and by English visitors, that those potatoes are so bad that they not only sickened human 169 beings, but even cattle, pigs, and fowls. The second point that I maintain is that the Government proposals for relief are insufficient, and have been delayed to a disastrous extent, and I think I should be able to prove that beyond question. Thirdly, I say that the normal position of the people in those districts is a scandal to the Government, and that the Government is bound by every consideration of humanity, as well as of public policy, to propose some comprehensive policy for raising these poor people from the hopeless position into which they have been plunged, by previous mismanagement and bad laws, through no fault of their own. I am compelled to go somewhat into detail because I know the Chief Secretary will make a detailed statement on the subject. In the facts I bring before the House I should refer to a very great extent to the testimony of an ex-official of the Local Government Board to my own observantion, and to the observation of tourists and others. Now, I first of all turn to a very remarkable statement made in the Daily Telegraph, in September last, and I am specially interested in that statement, because it was made by a special correspondent, who had accompanied a Royal Prince on his visit to Ireland. We were told in Ireland then that the sun of Royalty had commenced to shine, and that peace and love would reign, instead of the miseries of the past. The London papers were full of descriptions of the delightful characteristics of the Irish people—that same people whom we have over and over again heard described in this House by Ministers and Members as a set of murderers and assassins in the midst of whom no man's life was safe—and the Daily Telegraph, on the 7th September last, in a leading article, wrote as follows:It has at one and the same time revealed the irresistible charm alike of the country and its people, and the winning characteristics of the Irishman, as evidenced in his reception of his illustrious guest, and fully illustrated in our correspondent's interesting letters, have doubtless done more for the promotion of his own and his island's prosperity than his enterprise and business faculty were ever likely to have achieved for it.The Irish were a most charming people, and had so received the Royal visitor 170 that prosperity was to reign over the country. In the same newspapers, however, is the very reverse of the picture. The correspondent, after he had quitted the subject of the triumph of the Prince, turned his attention to the charming people, and here is his account on the 7th September. No one, I may say, will accuse this correspondent of being a Home Ruler, and he had for some weeks been keeping very good company. He wrote:Long before I crossed the Shannon at Athlone I noticed the blackened stalks of the crops in the fields, and felt, particularly in the evenings after sunset, the pungent, unpleasant odour that arises from a diseased field of potatoes. It was not, however, until I had got well into Mayo, in the district of Claremorris, and on towards the coast near Westport, that the really distressing character of the failure of the crop became apparent. 'Shure, they're not worth diggin',' said an old peasant, whom I met on the roadside, in reply to my question, 'and whin ye hev thim boiled ye can't ait thim, they're so small, and bad, and watery.' He himself had a small quantity of potatoes in a sack, which he was carrying home for dinner. The biggest of the tubers were not much larger than walnuts, and they looked absolutely worthless and unfit for human food. Later on in the day I called at a cottage by the roadside, while the tenant and his family were at dinner, and made the usual salutation of 'God save all here' on entering, and was greeted with the reply, 'God save ye kindly, sir,' from the man and his wife. The latter gave me the stool upon which she had been sitting, and, standing up herself, resumed her meal. The food which the family—consisting of the man and his wife and five children, three girls and two boys, whose ages ranged from three to nine—were eating consisted of potatoes, and salt, and buttermilk. The 'table' on which this wretched and unwholesome meal was placed consisted of a shallow wicker basket set on top of a 'creel.' Into this the watery, yellowish, unripe potatoes were poured in a heap out of the pot. With the good-natured hospitality so characteristic of the Irish people, the woman, with an apology for its scantiness, invited me to share the 'meal.' I drank some of the buttermilk, which was not altogether bad, but I did not try the potatoes. The look of them, almost floating in their water-sodden skins, was enough. The children looked pale and unhealthy—little wonder at it—and I was told by their anxious mother that they had not been well since they had begun to 'dig the praties, and if it wasn't for the wee dhrap o' tay and the bit av bread that she managed to give them in the mornin' they'd be dead Entirely.' 'Indade, thin,' said her husband, 'an' it won't be long we'll be after having the praties, bad as they are. Shure, it takes nearly twinty yards of a drill to give ye a 'male.'171 The correspondent continued:In reply to a question as to the prospects for the winter, my friend told me that they haven't been worse since '47,and he went on to say:From what I have seen during the past week, I believe that before Christmas there will be a cry of famine from the West and North-West of Ireland as bitter as that which reached us from our Indian Empire earlier in the year. The potato—the main crop—is a total failure; in many districts the grain has not ripened, while the incessant rain and cold have prevented the winter store of peat being dried for fuel.. Altogether, the outlook is gloomy and depressing.Now, that is the account written by an Englishman, the correspondent of a great journal, fresh from the glories of the Royal visit, on the 7th of September, when already the eyes of this Englishman had detected the signs of famine on the faces of the children. What is their condition now? Has the Government done anything now for these hundreds and thousands of children who have been suffering from the pangs of increasing hunger? I turn for a moment to another authority, whom no man in this House will question. I turn to the letter which appeared on 13th September last in the Irish News, from Colonel Spaight, an old and experienced ex-Local Government Board Inspector. He says:I have had experience of the sad effects upon all concerned by leaving the necessary precautions to the last moment, and then endeavouring to do what is required in a necessarily hurried and imperfect manner.Then he goes on to describe the potato crop, and says:The potato crop, though not now the sole resource of the poorer people and districts, is undoubtedly their main reliance in this country. This is in the mountainous and poorer lands, I may say, a total failure—small, ill-grown, and blighted. Not only is it the people's own food, but their pigs, fowls, etc., almost entirely depend upon it. The hay crop in the same districts has been impossible to save. Of course I allude to old meadow hay and later crops. The oats in the district, I allude to are seriously damaged, and will be impossible to save if the weather does not clear up.Colonel Spaight suggests:First, it should be ascertained where relief is necessary; second, to whom employment should be given; third, provide works of 172 a suitable and permanent character, such as arterial drainage, reclamation of waste lands, slobs, etc., and new roads where really required.The main point to be observed in this letter is that there can be no question of the gravity of the crisis, that he himself, from repeated and long experience, is satisfied of the infinite evil of adjourning any application of a remedy to the last moment, when the money would be wasted, and the measures introduced would be necessarily slipshod and ineffectual. Soon afterwards the matter was brought under the notice of the First Lord of the Treasury; that has been alluded to, and the answer of the First Lord of the Treasury was given, but still nothing was done that I know of to meet this distress until the 21st December, 1897. To show the extraordinary method of procedure adopted by the Government, I may say that early in the month of December I went down to Swinford, and went over my constituency. Of course, it was not in my power to make a detailed and exhaustive examination into the condition of the people, but I saw enough to satisfy me that the accounts which had reached me had understated the case—that the people were actually suffering from insufficient food; but, above all, that the food the people were consuming was very unwholesome and dangerous, and led, in a great many instances, to sickness. I visited in the course of my tour an old priest who resides near Swinford, and I shall never forget the interview I had with him. He is a very old man, and is not a politician. He had been curate in a parish in Co. Sligo in the black year of 1847, and he told me of the number of families who were then either starved or driven into the workhouse, and described the awful condition of the people. He had frequently seen women pass his house with children hanging on to their skirts, and sometimes a child dropped dead on the road, and the mother did not turn round to look at it, so horrible was the universal despair and misery of the time, and the priest added:I speak deliberately when I say that never since the black year of '47 have I seen anything approaching to the distress in my parish.What motive could the old man have for not speaking the truth? While the 173 Government are haggling over some dispute about a wretched twopenny-halfpenny system of relief works, people are dying of starvation. I notice that three hundred people have marched into the Swinford Union to inquire if anything is going to be done. We held public meetings throughout the Swinford Union during the first week in December. I went round myself, and it made me shiver. I saw men digging out their potatoes, and looking round the whole ridge you could not find one larger than a child's marble. Immediately after I returned to Dublin the Government sent down an Inspector to travel round the Union, and on the 23rd December the Local Government Board wrote to the Swinford Union:Sir—I am directed by the Local Government Board for Ireland to state from information of Board of Guardians of Swinford Union, that they learn from their Inspector that in consequence of the partial failure of the potato crop this year an increased demand for relief by persons residing in certain portions of the Union may shortly be apprehended.At the same meeting a Mr. Lynch, Local Government Board Inspector, attended, and he said:He thought the best, most far-reaching, and advantageous scheme that could be adopted for the relief of the distress was the proper administration of the Poor Law,and he went on to say that in addition to the proper administration of the Poor Law a labour test should be adopted.This would have many advantages: In the first place, it would prevent people who were not entitled to be supported getting relief, and it would not be demoralising people by giving them doles of food without exacting any corresponding work, which would have permanent advantages.With regard to the labour test, take the case of an unfortunate widow, who has a family of five or six children. Would the labour test be enforced against her, as it has been enforced, compelling her to come out with a pick-axe in hand on the mountain and work for the support of her children?
§ MR. G. BALFOUR
The Guardians can give what outdoor relief they like, and people can get outdoor relief without the imposition of the labour test.
§ MR. DILLON
Of course they can, but with regard to the unfortunate Swinford Union, to whom you refuse to lend, it is 174 steeped in poverty, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and the whole thing is a mockery. He says they may give outdoor relief as they like. Yes, but will the Government stand the expense? Nobody in Ireland whom I have yet met understands the relief scheme of the Government. We wanted them months ago to find out what was necessary, and to state their plans, and although there are thousands of people who are in a semi-starved condition, I venture to say that they do not understand what the relief schemes of the Government are. The discussion went on at this meeting, and Mr. Lynch said:The Government do not pledge themselves to give any proportion of an indefinite expenditure that the Guardians may undertake, but if the schemes are well devised they will assist them.Then he was asked what portion of the cost the Government would give, and the Inspector said he could not tell what portion of the cost the Government would give.When sanction was obtained to any scheme, the Government proportion of the cost would include the proportion of the cost of gangers, timekeepers, etc.It seems to me that the main object of the Government was this—to intimidate the Guardians by saying that if they dealt in any generous way with this relief they might be surcharged; and by saying that they would do everything in their power to make the Guardians run the people to death as closely as they could, meanwhile interposing them between the Government and the people as a sort of buffer state, and putting the responsibility upon them. I say that that is an ungenerous and unworthy policy. I am, of course, looking forward with very considerable interest and anxiety to the Chief Secretary's unfolding of his policy, but if that be the policy I think it is a thoroughly unworthy one. I will not pursue any further this question of the Government Measures of relief, because I suppose we shall have a full and clear statement of the Measures and plans of the Government from the Chief Secretary when he rises to speak; but what I do press upon him is this, that when he makes a statement he will 175 make a statement that will leave no room for doubt as to whether these grants are to be confined to grants towards relief works or whether they are to be loans.
§ MR. DILLON
We want to know what proportion of the cost of these extra relief works is to be borne by the Government, and what regard will be had to the capacity of the union or the ratepayers. It seems to me that the extent and the intensity of the distress on the present occasion has been very much underrated. There seems to be a kind of conspiracy in the London Press—the Press in the North of England is a very honourable exception—to deny or cloak what is going on in the West of Ireland. The Manchester Guardian is a very honourable exception, and it has given full accounts to the people of Manchester and the surrounding districts. I believe, further, that, although the distress is not so extensive in its character as regards the area and that there are not so many people involved, yet where it does exist it is of a very much more intense character than the distress of 1879, and I believe that, even without those reservations, it is far more dangerous than the distress of 1890. I can quote a few instances upon unimpeachable testimony. Here is another letter from Colonel Spaight. Writing to the Press in the month of October, he said:I am induced again to address you, fearing that the short spell of fine weather which a few days since has enabled so much hay, corn, etc., to be harvested, might lull those responsible into the belief that all danger was avoided for the coming season. Now, any practical man who knows this country, and has taken the trouble to see for himself, must be aware that these few fine days came too late to in any degree serve the potato crop—for this reason it is hopelessly gone. Where there are a few tubers, they are small, wet, and soft, and, I have no hesitation in saying, unsuitable for food. Take, for instance, Westport. For an area of 40 or 50 miles round the seaboard there are practically no potatoes.I don't know whether a shilling of Government relief has yet reached these poor people, and yet this is one of the districts from which I have heard the most bitter and heartrending complaints. 176 Here are a few extracts from the letter of Professor Long. He says:At Gortmelia, in Mayo, a man, his wife, his niece (an orphan), whom he kept, with eight small children under thirteen, were living in a house of one room, with a thatched roof that was falling in because it was so rotten. This man had received notice of eviction, and was required to pay the rent and costs, 32s. 6d., to avoid being turned out. He had no food and no money. In another case a man and his wife and family owed £7 to the dealer in the village for food consumed, and one year's rent. He had had one ejectment notice, and paid the costs with the aid of his friends, and now he had another notice. He had no food and no money. In the parish of Clifden there were four towns or small villages which he had visited. The people were partly employed in gathering seaweed in winter for their land, and he was astonished to find they had to pay 13s. a year to somebody for the privilege of gathering this seaweed from the shore. These men were all poor alike. He did not think any one family possessed more than one bushel of potatoes, and in some cases they were living on turnips for breakfast and dinner. In another part, a man and his wife and five children, all under fifteen, were suffering from want of food. The wife, a young woman—good-looking, cheerful, black-eyed—was lying on the floor, on the right-hand side of the fire, for there was no bed. He asked the husband—a strong, sturdy man, whose trousers were hardly anything but rags—what was the matter with her. The man looked at his wife, and said, with sorrowful eyes—'Tell him yourself.' She said—'I have been lying here for fifteen days. I have been suffering from a trouble of my own.' With barely enough food to keep body and soul together, without bedstead, without bed or covering, she had lain there with five little children around her crying for food which she could not give them.Now, is that a condition of things that ought to be described by the Irish Secretary as "peaceful and satisfactory"? These are the things that Professor Long declared had haunted him night and day since he set his foot in Ireland, and I say it is nothing less than a scandal to the Government that they have done, up to the present moment, nothing to give relief to these unfortunate people. Here is a letter published from one of the Secretaries of the Manchester Relief Committee—Mr. Peter J. Conroy:I have had widespread knowledge as a general trader in 1879 and 1880, also 1890 and 1891, and I now assure you, without fear of contradiction, that neither of those years was half, or nearly half, as bad as this. There is not a family in this district has got a potato 177 to eat to-day, unless a few traders and a few farmers. Some of the oldest and most respectable people tell me that unless the people get immediate relief it will be another 1848. I don't know what 1848 was like, but I know that unless we have immediate relief we will most undoubtedly have deaths from starvation. Nothing could be worse; it would grieve you to see poor creatures, with weak children, coming begging for a meal of Indian meal, but, of course, the shopkeepers are already crippled, and cannot stand longer.Here is a description which I cut from yesterday's Freeman's Journal of the condition of the people who were recently evicted in mid-winter in the mountain district of Partry by the forces of the Crown for non-payment of rent. They were in rags at the time, and were in receipt of a miserable pittance of 2s. a week from the Board of Guardians of the district. The cutting is as follows:Our Ballinrobe correspondent writes—I have visited the scenes of the recent heartless evictions which took place in the mountain district of Partly on 19th December last, and I must say a more heartrending sight I never before witnessed—such an abject state of misery as that which at present exists in this district could not be imagined. The children are now in a state of starvation, but, besides being starved, they are half naked. Their clothes were all sold to purchase food.'These are the people whom the forces of the Crown have been evicting in a "peaceful and satisfactory" Ireland today. I see that some Hibernians in Texas have sent subscriptions for relief, and yet the Chief Secretary has nothing to offer these poor people except a body of police. I suppose it cost the public about £100 to evict them. Here is what Father Corbett says, parish priest of Partry, alluding to people dying before his eyes from starvation:I hate this begging business if I could help it. It is heartbreaking to myself, and demoralising to my poor people. But what can I do? I must seek aid somewhere, or let the people starve before my eyes. No doubt outdoor relief is doled out to an enormous extent, but in such miserable pittances of 1s. 6d. and 2s. a week to families of eight and ten members as to be nothing short of a mockery. Besides, there are scores of needy people who will not touch it at all, and who are literally starving on half meals a day of Indian meal, procured on credit.Is that a state of things that any civilised Government ought to allow to continue, and was it not the business of the Chief Secretary, when he visited his constituents at Leeds, to tell them what he was 178 doing for the suffering poor of Ireland instead of going to Ta-lien-wan and the trade of England with China? I will quote only one more case concerning this distress from a very remarkable letter written by Father Mulligan, parish priest of Curry, co. Sligo. He describes a tour which he made through his parish at Christmas, when numbers of people, like us, were enjoying our Christmas dinner, while other poor people were feeding off turnips and Indian meal:In another case," he says, "the tenant paid a judicial rent of £8 10s. for eleven acres (former rent, £11 5s). He was processed for four years' rent. Some four years ago he was evicted and readmitted. Last year he paid two years' rent together, and was now awaiting the Sheriff to put him out again on the roadside. At the next house we visited we were informed that of the twelve acres, for which the tenant paid £6 10s. a year, there was only about an acre of good land, the remainder being sour and wet. The family consisted of ten children, the two eldest of whom were in England. The father himself also went to England for the harvest. Said he—'We had not a barrel of safe potatoes when they were dug. There are two springers there that we have from neighbours to make a bit of manure for the land. They are giving us 15s. for the winter for them. We were processed for four years' rent at the Sessions in August, and now we are only caretakers and within a couple of weeks of eviction. I paid four years' rent within the last two years.' There are about 25 houses in the townland, and there may be seven or eight in Sargara, where all the tillage land consisted of cut-away bog, and now during the winter it is quite saturated with surface water, for which, however, the Messrs. Knox, landlords, squeeze out an impossible rack rent. We entered a house in which the wife of the tenant lay sick in bed, her husband being in England. The old grandmother, who, as she informed us, was in receipt of 1s. per week outdoor relief, took care of the little children. They paid £6 a year for 12 or 13 acres, and, said the old Woman, 'one or two acres would be better than the whole of it.' There were only a little calf and a cow, which belonged to a neighbour, and a starved-looking little pig. 'We owe two years' rent,' said the sick woman, 'and my husband is waiting in England, trying to make up the rent. If we eat one of the potatoes we will have none for seed. The Indian meal is on credit, and, God help us, it is very little credit we can get.'I could go on for hours giving extracts of this kind. One point I am particularly anxious to bring out is this, that this condition of distress is not only neglected by the Government but enormously aggravated by the heartless evictions 179 of landlords on the spot, who are endeavouring to extract from these starving people impossible rents. The Government that makes no serious attempt to stop this is certainly doing wrong. I had intended, only everyone wants to get away for the interval, to speak at some length on the permanent remedy. I have been for years like a voice crying in the wilderness in this House, appealing to the Government to face facts and to recognise that it is their duty not to be satisfied with applying to the present distress measures of a temporary nature; but I trust they may be induced to apply measures of generous and adequate relief, and to recognise that the condition of those districts, in spite of the amelioration brought about by the Congested Districts Board, which, with all its goodwill, as I could prove from their own reports, are crippled from want of funds; that they have only been able to touch the fringe of the question and prove what they could do if they were properly supplied with money. I appeal to the Government to recognise that this condition of things is, and has been, a scandal and a disgrace to this great Empire, and so long as it may be continued this policy is condemned. The First Lord of the Treasury admitted that this was the result of misgovernment, and by the operation of their own bad laws these people are condemned to live only one degree from year to year from famine and actual starvation, in degradation and poverty, and under such circumstances that no exertions of industry or economy on their own part can lift them out of that slough of despond. I appeal to the Government to recognise in them a reproach and a scandal to this Empire, and to recognise that no amount of military glory or acquisition of territory will compare with the glory to be won by some great measure which will not leave a deep stain of moral degradation and abasement of character behind it, but seek to place, to lift these poor people from the sad condition in which they stand to-day, and have stood for two centuries, and place them in such a position that they can, by their own industry and virtue, make themselves self-supporting. I would direct the Chief Secretary for Ireland to take this opportunity. I would ask him to direct his attention to the words of a man—the Bishop of Clonfert 180 —who, although I do not know that he is a political supporter of mine, is an able man. He delivered a most remarkable speech, which ought to secure the attention of the Ministers, and which, I trust, will arrest their attention. He was asked to take part in a meeting to discuss and promote the schemes of the Member for South Dublin, and while Dr. Healey, the Bishop of Clonfert, gave every credit to the Member for South Dublin for the good he had been able to do, he said that he had repeatedly heard priests and others, who are intimately acquainted with the condition of the people, when asked to co-operate, say "Yes, but, unfortunately, the Member for South Dublin has commenced at the wrong end," and he agreed in that view, and he said what I would—appeal to the Member for South Dublin, and others, who acquiesce with the Government, to press upon the Government, and urge upon them that the first step—an essential step—if we are to redeem this population from degradation and famine, is to place them on the waste lands from which their forefathers were driven in days of civil war, and of unrestrained landlord power. The Bishop said:Place them on these lands, and I undertake, from my knowledge of the West, to say that a moderate amount of money would do it, and without inflicting one shilling's worth of injury upon anyone. I say, if this is done, famine will disappear for ever from the West of Ireland, and they would have recourse to agricultural pursuits.I recommend that advice to the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I ask him to turn for a moment from the frontiers of India and from China, and to direct his attention to a country which ought to have stronger claims upon us, and to devise some scheme which will give to these people a hope of a better and a brighter future; to lay it before this House: and I think I could say, with some degree of confidence, from my knowledge of the Members, that it would be received, if not entirely in a non-contentious spirit, at least in a kindly spirit from his own supporters on that side, as well as from his supporters on this side of the House.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (East Clare)
I desire, very briefly, to call the attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the state of affairs that exists 181 in the constituency I have the honour to represent—the constituency of the Eastern division of the county of Clare. I might refer generally to the whole county, but I have no doubt that the distress, which unquestionably exists in the Western division of Clare, will be laid before the attention of the House. I will, therefore, confine myself to what exists in my own constituency. I consider that the attention of the Government has not been directed as it ought to have been to the condition of affairs in the county of Clare. The fact is, that Clare is not scheduled as in the congested area, and I desire at once to say to the Government that I think that is a great mistake, and that certain portions of the county of Clare ought to be so scheduled, and ought to be tabulated as in the congested district of a portion of the country. That a great deal of distress exists in the ocunty of Mayo cannot be doubted, after the representations made by the Members for the county of Mayo, who have already spoken. They have given their testimony to the widespread destitution in that county. A very great deal of distress also exists in the county of Clare, although I admit that it is not so widespread as in the county of Mayo. And I desire the Government to take notice of the condition of affairs. I say it is a hardship for Irish Members to have to come periodically to this House and almost pray for some redress and relief of the distress in their various constituencies. And I would say this much, I am perfectly convinced that if a like state of affairs existed in any portion of England, Scotland, or Wales that now exists in certain districts of Ireland, there would be no necessity for Members to come to this House to be protected, for the Government would at once take measures to meet the distress.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
The distress slightest degree, as far as my informa-slightest degree, so far as my information goes, be compared to the distress which exists in certain districts of Ireland at the present time. The distress which the right hon. Gentleman says exists in Scotland is certainly extremely limited as compared with the distress 182 and destitution which exists in many parts of Ireland, and the fact that the Chief Secretary reminds me that there is a certain amount of distress in Scotland is not, in the slightest degree, any answer to the charge we make, that the Government has not taken any proper steps to meet the requirements of the case in Ireland. I am quite convinced that if the same state of affairs existed to anything like the same extent in Scotland, Wales, or England, steps would long ago have been taken to alleviate it, and it is little short of humiliating in the extreme for Irish Members to be obliged to come here and ask the Government to do their duty. What did I do with regard to my own constituency in Clare? I desire to say at once that I am altogether opposed to anything in the shape or in the nature of exaggeration in dealing with the distress we have existing in Ireland. I am simply desirous of placing plainly before the Government the information I have received from my constituents—an intimation that distress existed there, and what did I do? I simply visited the whole of the district in question, and took pains to have myself accompanied by a special correspondent of a Dublin daily newspaper, the Irish Daily Independent. The instructions to the gentleman representing that paper were that he should interview every person in authority and influence that he came across—men of all parties, and all religions and convictions, and set down their views plainly in his report without any reference to whether those views appeared to support the Government or not. That was done, and special articles appeared in the Daily Independent, which contained a mass of information that it would be impossible for the Government to ignore. Interviews were printed with prominent gentlemen, such as the Chairmen of the various boards of guardians, and representative men of all classes; and the unanimous opinion of them all was that there existed a very serious state of things in the different unions of the county of Clare, and that it was clearly the duty of the Government to take some steps in the matter. Now, I do not propose to read extracts to-day from those interviews and reports, for the simple reason that they were open to the right hon. Gentleman, and I 183 myself took the precaution of writing to him, drawing his attention to these published reports. I am sure that he will not deny that they were the views of a great number of representative men in the divisions of the county, and in the unions of Ennis, Curofin, Ballyvaughan, Scariff, and Tulla. The Guardians, and in most cases the Chairman of the Guardians, were interviewed, and they all agreed that the failure of the potato crop had been of very alarming extent, and that something should be done by the Government other than merely giving leave to the Guardians to give out-door relief. What was required was that something should be done in the nature of a free grant by the Government in order to give reproductive employment in the districts affected. Now, I have very reluctantly to draw attention to what I consider unjustifiable action on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. In pursuance of my duty, and in compliance with a request made by the men who elected me, I drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the complaints that came from East Clare, and I asked him to be good enough to allow me to know what steps the Government intended to take, and what the views of the Government were with regard to the distress to which I drew attention. The Chief Secretary simply replied to me that he would not tell me what steps the Government would take. He would give me no information whatever, and I venture, without any desire to be personally offensive, to tell the right hon. Gentleman that conduct of that kind is not only offensive to men who occupy the position of Irish representatives, but is calculated to irritate the people, who are very much disappointed and annoyed when they find their elected spokesmen and representatives do not receive from the Government that attention to their requests which their position entitles them to.
§ MR. G. BALFOUR
I may at once satisfy the hon. Gentleman on that point. I must distinctly explain to the hon. Gentleman that, in declining to afford the hon. Gentleman the information asked for, no disrespect was intended to him, nor was there any desire on my part to withhold information from the representatives of the people. But at the time when I received the letter of 184 the hon. Gentleman I simply considered that it was inopportune to announce the policy of the Government.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman, whatever his motive may have been, absolutely refused to enlighten me, or men in my position in Ireland, in the slightest degree as to the steps the Government intended to take. He says that the Government have got a policy, but at the time I wrote to him about the distress in Clare he did not tell me what the policy of the Government was, and, so far as I know, from that time to this the right hon. Gentleman has given us no indication whatever as to what the policy of the Government is upon the matter, or whether they intend to do anything at all. I venture to say, Mr. Speaker, that if an English Member of Parliament, or any gentleman sitting behind the right hon. Gentleman, were to address the right hon. Gentleman with the same authority that we had from our constituents, the treatment accorded to them would be very different from that accorded to us in half-a-dozen formal lines, and some indication would be given of what the Government intended to do. The right hon. Gentleman, so far as I know, has taken no steps whatever; certainly no steps have been taken to meet the distress in the Eastern division of the county of Clare, and I call upon him now to state whether it is the intention of the Government to meet the views of the influential men whose opinions were published in the daily Press, and whom I interviewed in County Clare. The right hon. Gentleman may say that suggestions have not been made to him as to the relief of distress in places like Eastern Clare, but I say that many practical suggestions were made in the interviews to which I referred him. So far as the steps to be taken are concerned, there can be no difficulty whatever, provided the Government show that they are anxious to do something, and are prepared to spend a certain amount of money in preventing suffering and dire distress and destitution. I could name to the right hon. Gentleman places in the Eastern division of Clare where most painful distress exists, and where the people have nothing staring them in the face but the most distressing circumstances, and where it is absolutely 185 impossible that these people should be able to meet their engagements, unless some means are adopted by the Government to give employment, and help them to meet the undoubted failure of the crops. The right hon. Gentleman cannot attempt to deny that the potato crop in Clare and other districts has failed miserably this year, and everybody who knows anything about the rural districts of Ireland must recognise the extreme gravity of the circumstances when the potato crop has failed. I got information from many managers of banks in different localities in my constituency, and everywhere they told me the reports they had received were bad and distressing. I went to shopkeepers who had been in the habit of giving credit to the farmers, and they told me they had never found the same difficulty in recovering their debts as at the present time. All classes, landlords as well as the farmers themselves, admit that there is a necessity for something to be done, and I can only urge upon the Government from my place in this House, as I did from my constituency, to take some steps to meet the distress. I am told, of course, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will probably say there are difficulties in the way of granting any monetary relief to the Irish people in view of the failure of the potato crop. All I can say is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a gentleman who has spent a good deal of time himself in Ireland. He was Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland for some years, and he ought to know the circumstances of the country and the circumstances of the case. And I do say here, without any desire of unnecessarily prolonging my remarks, that it is simply scandalous, and little short of a crying shame, to find in the newspapers every day that millions upon millions of sterling money are being spent now in carrying on a profitless, bloody, and inglorious war on the Indian frontier, while people in Ireland are left in the most dire distress. Is there a gentleman in this House representing an English or Scotch constituency who would not be ready to admit that it would be far better to spend money in granting relief in Ireland in reproductive works, and giving the people employment of a permanently useful nature, rather than squandering it 186 as it has been squandered on the frontier of India and other portions of the world where wars are being carried on? The plea that there is no money, and that money cannot be got, is no answer to the appeal made for relief of distress in Ireland, and, as has already been pointed out by one of the Members for Mayo, it is a monstrous thing that Irish Members should be placed in the position of being obliged to beg in this House for a few thousands of pounds to meet the pressing necessity of Ireland, when it is a notorious fact, vouched for by a Commission appointed by Her Majesty, that we in Ireland have been taxed to the extent of some millions over the amount at which we were entitled to be taxed in fairness and justice under the Act of Union which destroyed the Irish Parliament. I call on the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to make some statement which will give hope to the people in places like my constituency, that something will be done. But there is the question whether the county of Clare should not have been scheduled in the congested districts, because there are portions of the county of Clare in which there has been as much distress as in any portion of Ireland. This is one practical suggestion I would make. The next is that in Clare, and in East Clare particularly, there is great room for useful railway extension. Nobody denies it. It is simply a question as to a few thousands of pounds more or less. I am quite aware that the action of the Grand Jury has prevented a railway extension, which many people considered would be advisable—but that is simply the result of a sufficiency of money not being voted by the Government for the scheme. The scheme is a good one, and I must, without, in the slightest degree, grudging anything to the county of Donegal and other districts, where very severe distress exists, protest against the policy of the Government, which has applied so little money to be utilised in Ireland, and, whereas the majority of the money is to be put in the county of Donegal, useful schemes, such as railway extension in Clare and other districts, are at a standstill, because enough money was not applied for by the Government in dealing with these schemes.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Because the Grand Jury wanted the additional money necessary to secure a free grant for the Government. What I complain of is, that in Clare the Government only proposes to advance half the necessary money.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
That is exactly what I complain of. Clare is not one of the districts included in the congested districts area. This railway has been abandoned, simply because Clare is not included in the congested districts area, and I call upon the Government to make some statement on this point. Referring, again, to the complaint I made about the curt way with which I was answered, I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman has any desire to be personally offensive to the Irish Members of Parliament at all, but I do assure him that the greatest possible irritation was felt by me and the people for whom I acted, on finding that it was utterly impossible to extract from the Government any information whatever as to what steps they intended to take. Treatment of that kind is certainly not calculated to make the Irish people satisfied with the present rule which exists over them, and I now call upon the right hon. Gentleman to state whether he intends, in the Eastern division of Clare particularly, to take any steps to relieve that distress which undoubtedly exists, and which has been borne testimony to by representative men of all kinds of opinion throughout the country.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
I hope hon. Gentlemen on the Bench opposite will not mind me saying that as an agricultural Member, although I do not intend voting against the amendment, I cannot vote for it. I may say that I have not forgotten that hon. Members representing agricultural districts in Ireland have always given to English agricultural Members a kindly and sympathetic attention, when we have had to bring the woes of our distressful county of Essex under the notice of the House, and I may say that I am, personally, not at all opposed to what the right hon. Gentleman the late Irish Secretary used to call the system of loans and doles. All I can say is they do not seem to come 188 our way. Some time ago, in June last, I will not go into details, but everybody knows we suffered from what they call a tornado in Essex, and we made application, or I made application, to the Government, to the Leader of the House, and the Minister for Agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture said that damage was done to the extent of something like £200,000, and sent down a Commissioner. He gave us his Platonic sympathy and nothing else. Last winter we had a storm which ravaged the whole of the Eastern Coast of England, and perhaps hon. Members may not be aware of the fact that in some parts of the County of Essex we managed to eke out an existence absolutely below the level of the North Sea. Damage to the extent of millions occurred. Land which used to grow four quarters of corn to the acre, is now under water—it is not worth reclaiming, and it is as a consequence going back to the condition of the Goodwin Sands. I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and asked for help—for a temporary loan. The right hon. Gentleman said there was no precedent for it. I do not know whether he meant there was no precedent for a flood, or for the loan I asked for. But, obviously, if Noah had said there was no precedent for the flood, and had not built the Ark, he would have been in an extremely awkward position. You ought not to make fish of one and fowl of another. What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander, and if distress is to be relieved in Ireland—and I know those parts of Ireland which the hon. Gentleman has alluded to, and I think he is quite right—then I think the same Measure ought to be meted out to us in the county of Essex. For this reason, I shall not vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend; if I may call him so. I think he will understand my reasons for taking the course I propose to adopt.
§ MR. J. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must remember that a Bill was passed a year or two ago, giving relief to the rates of the farmers and landlords of Great Britain. The unfortunate farmers of Ireland have not and cannot have the relief that the rich farmers and landlords of England have got. I think that the hon. and gallant Member that 189 has just sat down should not have forgotten that the poor farmers and landlords of Ireland are a good deal behind the farmers and landlords of England in this respect. But, Sir, the hon. Member for South Roscommon, who seconded this Amendment to the Address, commented upon the fact that large sums of money were about to be voted to India for distress there. It strikes me, Sir, that any country that wants relief from the present Government must be on the eve of going to war with that Government. At the present time the British Government have in some parts of India their hands pretty full of war, and it is quite evident that the part of India that the present Government are in dispute with are holding their own pretty well, and that the Government have got the worst of it. It is also possible that if the Government did not relieve distress in India there would be a general uprising, and that the Government would lose their hold on that country. In 1887 there was agitation going on in Ireland, and the times were nearly as bad then as they are now. Because there was agitation in the country in 1887 a revision in the Judicial rents was granted by the present First Lord of the Treasury, who was then the Chief Secretary for Ireland. That revision was obtained on account of the agitation that was going on in the country, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, when he stated that Ireland was peaceful, really meant that no relief would be given so long as she was in that state. There have been several applications from the West and other parts of Ireland, asking for relief, but it is quite evident that no relief will be given. But if a landlord or an agent required a police hut or a police barracks erected in some district, that would be a slight and an insult to the people. There would not be much difficulty at Dublin Castle in finding the money. This is the sort of Government that Ireland has been accustomed 190 to, particularly under the Secretaryship of the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Roscommon, when he spoke about the money that was going to be votel for India, forgot that the Secretary for India is in the Cabinet. The Chief Secretary for Ireland is outside the Cabinet; he is not, therefore, in touch with the Cabinet, and any representation he makes is really and truly in effect second-hand. This is the way in which Ireland is to be killed by kindness, according to the right hon. Gentleman. If any proof were needed as to the amount of distress going on in Ireland, it would be from a report that might be seen from the South Dublin Board of Guardians last week. Owing to the extraordinary number of paupers that are in the South Dublin Workhouse, the Master stated that it was necessary to enlarge the Dublin Workhouse to accommodate the number of inmates. In several small unions that I have travelled through I find the same state of affairs. I will not give the large number of in creases that have taken place in every workhouse, unless the right hon. Gentleman asks me, but I can give a very strong indication of the distress and poverty that exist in Ireland at the present moment. Last year potatoes were selling in the district that I come from for about £1 5s. per ton. They cannot be got this year at £4 per ton, and that is entirely due to the failure of the potato crop, and, Mr. Speaker, I will read a small cutting from the report of the Chairman of a couple of our Irish Banks, and I think it will be as fair an indication of the distress that exists in Ireland as anything that has been brought before the House this day. The Chairman of a bank cannot make rash statements. His shareholders and directors are composed of men of every class, and his report is only such a report as may be expected of the Chairman of a bank occupying such an important position. It seems from the report that has been published of the 191 balance-sheets of the Bank of Ireland and the National Bank, that the deposits from farmers are half a million less this year than they were last year, showing that the amount that was realised from crops this year has been half a million less than last year. Now, Mr. Speaker, I will come to the statement made by the Chairman of the Munster and Leinster Bank:—The hopes of an abundant harvest, which the indications of the time justified us in entertaining in the early months of last summer, have unhappily not been realised. The grain crop—barley in particular, which forms a staple produce in some of the most important districts into which our operations extend, was short in yield, and of poor quality. Potatoes, especially along the seaboard, have been almost a failure.Mr. Speaker, if the right hon. Gentleman seeks relief from the distress, the only remedy he has is "leading the dog by his own tail," or taking relief out of the rates. Now this is the state of things, and this is what a sympathetic Chief Secretary has to do to meet the distress in the various parts of Ireland. The Chairman of the National Bank says that the deposit receipts from the farmers have fallen off considerably. He says:—In Ireland affairs have not been so prosperous as could be wished. The hopes of a good harvest, as too often happens, were not fully realised, and the failure of the potato crop in certain districts has caused widespread distress. Fortunately this has been, to some extent, alleviated by an exceptionally mild winter up to the present. Ireland is so largely dependent upon agriculture that any deficiency in the harvest reacts upon business generally throughout the country, and the banks, naturally, are among the first to feel the effects.I have had conversations with many bank managers, and they state that during their experience money was not so difficult to be got from the farmers as it is now. It is a well-known fact that when agriculture declines shopkeepers cannot get money. There is a great scarcity of money owing to the failure of the potato crop, and the partial failure of other crops. This does not affect the West of Ireland alone. It 192 also affects the Protestants of Ulster. I was only recently addressing a meeting of a portion of my constituents, which is largely composed of Protestants—the Doohomlet Protestant Society. The Chairman of the Association was a Protestant. A few years ago it was almost impossible to get the Protestants to join with their Catholic friends in demanding relief, but the times are such that, owing to the failure of the crops, they have come in with them. I will just read a copy of the resolution proposed at the meeting, which I know was sent on to the Chief Secretary. It is this:Owing to the depressed condition of Irish agriculture, the total failure of the flax crops and the partial failure of the potato and other crops, and the reduced prices of all farm produce, it is impossible for us to pay the present rents.It was said that Ulster was happy, and no protest was coming, but here is a protest coming from Ulster—Ulster dependent wholly on the flax crop. I am sorry to say that where flax would go to market at 10s. a stone a few years ago, the average price now does not exceed one-half that amount. But if there is no agitation or civil war in Ireland, it is no reason why the Chief Secretary should not do as was done in 1887—grant a revision of the judicial rent. I say there is no part of Ireland at the present moment that does not require relief; considering the bad harvest, the small yield, and the current prices of last year. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not turn a deaf ear to my words. I am sure he would be glad to take credit for the prosperity of Ireland, but instead of giving him that, we can attribute nothing else to him but inaction with regard to the help required in a part of the country. He, no doubt, has a scheme for relieving us, but it is not before us. At the same time, the rates in certain parts of Ireland are extremely heavy, and those parts will become bankrupt in the near future unless some remedy is found. Among my constituents, and over various 193 parts of Ireland, the auctioneers tell me they are filled with auctions of farmers who were solvent a few years ago. Those auctioneers are endeavouring to sell the land by the acre and the crops upon it, and in some cases I have known them to go upon the land, and although they offered to take bills bearing no interest, there was not a single bid for the land. Owing to the failure of the potato crop and others, the farmers were compelled to offer the land for sale, and to let it to somebody else. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to take heed of this, and have regard to the sufferings of the people, and to revise the judicial rents, over that part of the country at all events that I have come from. I would not be doing my duty if I did not read this resolution from the Protestants of Ulster, and those people I represent, and I would ask him to take the matter into consideration, because I have been pressing him two years to see if he could introduce some method of improving the crop of flax; and I hope I am not appealing in vain in this matter—that he will endeavour to do something to relieve the Protestant tenant-farmer where I come from.
§ *MR. H. PLUNKETT (Dublin Co., South)
I rise for three reasons. First, because it is right that some unofficial Member from Ireland on this side of the House should show the sympathy which is there felt with their distressed fellow-countrymen; secondly, because, as one of those who have been asked to distribute the fund collected in Manchester, to which the hon. Member for Mayo has referred, it has been my duty to make inquiries in the distressed districts; and thirdly, because I have some views on the amendment now submitted to the House. I am sure that I can give credit to hon. Members opposite for an earnest desire to mitigate the sufferings of their fellow-countrymen; and I am certain that the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo has stirred deeply the feelings of the House. So far as my inquiries have gone, I can bear 194 testimony to the fact that he has not exaggerated in any way the intensity of the distress in some districts in which my inquiries were extended. But I think he may, in some cases, have given an impression that the distress was somewhat more widely prevalent than is actually the case at present. The hon. Member for East Mayo truly stated to the House that his own constituency was also in a very distressed condition. The hon. Member for West Clare has also, I think, some strong claims on any funds which may be available for the relief of the immediate necessities of the people. There is one district in his constituency which, I am informed, is at present in a very serious condition, indeed needing immediate relief; but so far as the rest of the county of Clare is concerned I cannot hear that there is any exceptional distress. The worst districts I believe to be North-West Mayo and South Connemara. The reports I have seen from those districts present a condition of affairs which does need the immediate and most earnest attention of the Government, but I cannot see that any case has been made against my right hon. Friend, the Chief Secretary for Ireland. It is quite true that in his speech at Leeds, the other day, where he was entitled to exercise his own judgment, he seems to have come to the conclusion that his constituents were more interested in China and the North-West of India than in the West Coast of Ireland; and he did not think it necessary, at the meeting, to discuss his plans, which he was, in a few days, going to explain to the House, for the relief of the distressed districts of Ireland. I say, so far as my knowledge of my right hon. Friend goes, we have never had a Chief Secretary who has more industriously studied the conditions with which he has to deal; and I say, confidently, the event will show that he is as sympathetic on the present question with the necessities of the Irish people as any of his predecessors. With the first part of the resoution I will not deal 195 further, although I might state a great deal which has already been said by the hon. Member for Mayo in confirmation of what he has said with regard to certain districts, but I think it would be a waste of the time of the House. With regard to that part of the resolution which deals with permanent remedies, in order to prevent the recurrence of these Irish famines, I think any Member who has listened to the speeches made will look upon it as an extremely difficult question. It will be recollected that during the last Session of Parliament a Measure was introduced—which I am not going to criticise now—which was intended to improve the agricultural and other industries of Ireland. I am not prepared to argue that that Measure was perfect in all respects. We are all agreed that it was financed in a manner which prevented any of us supporting it unless it was changed in some of its provisions. At the same time it will be remembered that no provisions of the Bill found any support from any part of the House, and as a result the Bill was withdrawn, and the policy of agricultural and industrial development was deferred to goodness knows when. Now, I cannot myself conceive that any Measure—that any scheme for the prevention of these recurrent periods of distress—can be effective until Ireland has been treated in the same way that every country is that has raised itself out of conditions similar to that of Ireland today, and found the means of economic regeneration. Some scheme must be prepared by the Government. We are all aware that this Session is to be absorbed by a Local Government Bill. I am entirely a supporter of the Measure, and I believe that when the Measure is referred to the House it will be recognised as one of the most statesmanlike Irish Measures that we have seen. But so far as the economic conditions are concerned which give rise to these recurrent periods of famine, nobody expects it will be an effective force. In November a deputation waited on the 196 Government, which I daresay was not noticed in this country, but the composition of that deputation was very remarkable. It consisted, firstly, of all the Chambers of Commerce in Ireland; of all the municipal bodies, and of every association representing any industry of any kind whatsoever in the country; and this deputation, which was properly characterised by the Lord-Lieutenant, and the Chief Secretary as well, as the most remarkable deputation ever introduced to the Irish Government, expressed to the Government the wish that they should go forward with their policy of agricultural and industrial development, which was stated to be mainly concerned with technical education. Well, the Chief Secretary, who was known to be entirely sympathetic with the deputation, gave it a most sympathetic reception, but we shall have to wait for some time before anything is done. I am not myself a supporter of Home Rule, but until the Unionist Government has taken steps to deal with the economic condition of Ireland, I readily admit I cannot say they have done everything that a Home Rule Government would do. My only reason for resting patiently in this condition of affairs is that I know that a large number of Her Majesty's Government to-day are deeply in sympathy with the views expressed by all the business men in Ireland who have only recently taken an interest in public affairs; and I look forward to the day, which I do not think can be long delayed, when all the Members of the Government may see the wisdom of dealing with the question of the economic condition of Ireland.
The honourable Member who has just sat down complains that no suggestion has come from this side of the House for dealing with this state of affairs. It is not our duty to give suggestions to the British Government. The British Government have been good enough to undertake to run our country. The British Government have been good enough to suppress our Parliament, and 197 have taken measure to make all our plans ineffective. When gentlemen take upon themselves to pretend that Ireland is better off under these conditions than if she had Home Rule, it is not for us to make any suggestions, but let me make one suggestion for the settlement of this question. I take up the Statutes for last Session and I find an Act to make temporary provision for the relief of distress in Ireland, and every year since I have been in this House there has been a temporary Measure for the relief of distress in Ireland. Now, what I suggest to the Government is this: You have got a permanent Coercion Act. The Viceroy by a stroke of his pen can suppress the British Constitution in that country. Bring in a Permanent Distress Act, and when occasion arises, such as temporary distress, instead of our having to come here and ask you for relief let your automatic Lord-Lieutenant assist us by his automatic legislation, and let him be empowered to act at will, and so relieve this House of all responsibility. I really cannot imagine a more compendious scheme to lay before a British Parliament. I will, however, make another contribution to the debate in the nature of another suggestion. We were asked what did we do, and I will give the British Government another chance. Let them take off half the taxes in Ireland, which will give the country £4,000,000 of money to play with, and with £4,000,000 of money anybody skilled in finance would make some effort to run the country. Of course, you will not do that because you want it for your fleets at Ta-lien-wan. Now, I make another suggestion. Two years ago you got from this House a relief scheme for the building of a railway. That was two years ago, yet not a sod has been turned, nor a sleeper laid, and I supposed at any rate Her Majesty's Government would, in respect of that work, have done something during the distress; they have done nothing whatever so far as the distribution of that money is concerned. 198 But what have they done; what is the railway policy? An English company proposed to take it over, and spend £1,200,000 of British money in opening up this district, and the British Government said "You shall not do it. We will not support your Bill. On the contrary, we will support another Bill," the effect of which has been to throw £8,500 on an additional railway tax. The Government cannot deny it. It might not be in order to discuss the provisions of that Measure at present, but I will say this: You claim to have an open door in Chinese ports for the development of the country. Give us an open door in Irish ports, and let Ireland be developed, if you will not develop it yourselves, by others who are willing to undertake the task. If there is any policy of the British Government with regard to Ireland, it is this, to rule Ireland by what are called congested districts. In my opinion there never was a British phrase containing the same amount of offensiveness, both to God and man, as this phrase of congested districts. It is like "Charity Organisation Society." As if this Government had limited the action of the people, or as if the Almighty had brought creatures into this world, without giving them a land where they could draw the breath of life and live in frugal comfort. There is no congestion in Ireland, and it is a blasphemy against Providence to declare it. There is ample opportunity in Ireland for development, and there is ample land in the country, if you will only take your hands from off our throats and enable us to live. The Chief Secretary will get up and say, no doubt, that he is to a large extent powerless in this matter; and so he is. The system which he administers is a rotten system. He cannot move hand or foot in the Castle. He has to come over here for his powers, and as a rule he can only get them when you withdraw your attention from Uganda or China, or some other portion of the globe in which you are interested. In truth, it would be better for Ireland if she were to be 199 governed as a Crown Colony. It may be. If it was, somebody would be proposing sugar bounties. The case of Ireland is ridiculously simple. It wants—we call it a Parliament; I call it a native board of directors. We come here and we try to interest Englishmen, but I do not know if it is of special interest to them. We ask every Chief Secretary for Ireland to do certain things, and he is absolutely unable to do them, because the Chief Secretary is not even a Member of the Cabinet. How can we expect to have our plans for the benefit of the country pressed forward against the general oppressive mass of British interests which smother every Irish interest? The Government might do a kind thing for this distress in the coming Local Government Bill. They might give us complete powers for road-making; they might give us some powers as to the compulsory acquisition of land and water; they might make piers and develop harbours; they might, in fact, have some power of developing the large resources of the country. We don't desire to come here year after year, as we have done, complaining of distress in the West of Ireland, or in the South of Ireland. We desire, if we can be allowed, to manage these affairs in our own way, if you will only be so good as to permit us to do so. What have the Government done? The right hon. Gentleman sent down a number of inspectors of land. I can understand, with Her Majesty's Government, that the money should not be needlessly spent. Instead of putting any plans before them, the Government put upon them the responsibility of developing and initiating schemes, stating that the Government might or might not make a contribution to those schemes, and that is the offer made by the Government for the relief of this distress. I don't think that is a sufficient means of dealing with this question. If the people had a chance of work they would be glad to do it, and surely it is for the right hon. Gentleman, when he admits the existence of distress, to take all the means he can for coping with it, that he should not throw that duty on the Boards of Guardians, which were intended only 200 to have the supervision of union workhouses, the clothing and feeding of the pauper inmates, and so on. There is absolutely no machinery in the country for the taking on of the works such as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Let us take some of the unions. There are unions which consist, I suppose, of the most distant and out-of-the-way spots in the whole world. And suppose that these rural guardians were to initiate a system of reproductive or useful works. None are civil engineers, and they are without the power to employ engineers, for which they would be surcharged. The idea of these farmers initiating a scheme of canals or railway-making, or something the Government considered to be useful or reproductive work, is simply an absurdity. Where the Government have failed is in this way: Having listened to the cry of distress, they took no steps themselves, and they denied all responsibility, throwing that responsibility upon institutions which were never intended to cope with them. True, the weather we have had during the last two or three months has mitigated the hardships and sufferings of the people, compared with the severe winter of former times, especially in December and January. We thank not the Government for that, but Divine Providence. So far as their action is concerned, it was absolutely nil. The Chief Secretary himself confessed that to some extent, at all events, he has not the power to spend money, and I have no doubt he will make it a portion of his case that it is our fault. It would take a policy involving a considerable sum to have brought relief to those distressed districts. He has no power, and the system will continue of these recurring periods of distress. The Local Government Board have attempted to mitigate it by breaking the law in regard to this question of outdoor relief. I think a case has been made out from this side of the House against the policy of Her Majesty's Government in regard to dealing with this distress. I say that, with regard to the mountainous districts of the country, you must come forward with a thoroughly comprehensive scheme, and put an end to this recurring distress.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (MR. GERALD BALFOUR)
If the experience of every other Government which has been unfortunate enough to have to deal with a year of exceptional distress has been the same as mine, they must know, however earnestly they tried to do their duty in the interests of their country, an amount of abuse and denunciation was certain to be levelled at their heads. That has been my fate more or less. It was also the fate of my predecessor. That denunciation invariably takes the same form. We are always told that the Government had ample warning, and that at last when we were stimulated to pass an Act the Act was unwise or inefficient. What are the facts of the case in regard to the charge that we have been apathetic and insufficiently alive to the distress in Ireland? As early as August, when the rain came down day after day, and when it was doing the crops a great deal of injury, we had been making inquiry as to the probabilities——
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
August? In August we began to make inquiries, and again in October the Inspectors were instructed to make visits to every union in their districts, and inquire as to the condition of the people there. The result was that it was found that exceptional relief was not likely to be required much before Christmas, but that in the spring and summer of the present year there were districts in which the Government might take exceptional measures. The forecasts of our Inspectors appear to have been fairly borne out. I tested those conclusions, beside the opinion given to me by the officials of the Local Government Board. I had the letters of farmers and correspondence to the Irish and English Press, as well as letters from the Boards of Guardians and from the police. The conclusion that they led to was that there would be distress in the coming spring and summer, but that that distress was not likely to be much more serious than my right hon. Friend had to deal with in the year 1891. My hon. Friend, the Member for East Mayo has read to the House a number of quotations giving an idea of what the people had to suffer. Here is a quotation from Professor Long 202 at a meeting held in Manchester the other day. One of the speakers described Mr. Long as a gentleman whose accuracy was unimpeachable and whose judgment was sound. I believe that he honestly gave to the public his impressions, but it must be remembered that Professor Long, according to his own account, was a stranger in the West of Ireland, and that he went somewhat hurriedly through it. I will refer to two letters, because in these letters there is this singular fact, that Professor Long, although he was staying with a member of the Congested Districts Board, appeared to be unaware that such a Board existed. I state this fact in order to warn hon. Members that however high an authority he may have been, he was not properly equipped for the task he undertook. The other point to which I would refer is this. He wrote of the West of Ireland as in the same condition as in 1847. I am happy to say that, bad as the chronic condition of these districts is, it is a very great deal improved since 1847, and that there is hardly any district in the West of Ireland where the potato is the staple food of the people during the whole of the year. In spite of that, I have said I fully acknowledge that the situation is a grave situation, and one calling for exceptional measures. The Government have to consider most carefully what those exceptional measures shall be. Let me enter, in passing, one brief reference to a personal matter. The hon. Member for East Mayo referred again and again, in the course of a long and eloquent speech, to the phrase which I used in a speech last week, when I described Ireland as being peaceful and prosperous, and he denounced me for not dealing accurately with the state of affairs in the West of Ireland. I did not deal with the West of Ireland, because I knew perfectly well that the whole question would be raised in the House of Commons on the Debate on the Address. I do not think I am to blame because, in the course of a long speech omitted this reference. As to the phrase to which the hon. Member has taken so great an exception, I should like to say that when I spoke of "peaceful and satisfactory," the word satisfactory had reference to the word peaceful. Of course, I meant peaceful and satisfactory in consequence of being peaceful. But 203 I pass over that point; it is a matter of very small importance. The real subject with which we have to deal resolves itself into, as several speakers have indicated, and as the Amendment itself indicates, what permanent benefit can we find for the condition of things in the congested districts? Apart from that, when an exceptionally bad year occurs, how are we to deal with the distress caused thereby? As regards the first of these, I think that in the last seven years a good deal has been done by the Government, but it has not been done, so far as I am aware, with the concurrence of the hon. Member for East Mayo.
§ MR. DAVITT
I have always said a good word for the Congested Districts Board. I have never said the Government have done nothing.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think the hon. Member has said many good words of the Congested Districts Board. As the hon. Member has quoted, I may, perhaps, also venture to quote a letter on the subject, which Professor Long wrote to the Manchester Guardian, in which he says:—I am led to believe, from what I have seen with my eyes and heard from informants whose testimony I regard as the most valuable of all—the people themselves, and the priests who are in so many cases standing by them—that any diminution in the distressed areas is due to the work of the Congested Districts Board, which, with limited resources, is doing a great work, even although it may have made a few mistakes.The creation of the Congested Districts Board was the work of my right hon. Friend, the First Lord of the Treasury, and it was he also who initiated the scheme for light railways in the poorer districts, to which the hon. Member for North Louth referred in his speech. I regret that it should have been found impossible, up to the present time, to commence work on the scheme of light railways, but I can assure the House that the Government have lost no time, and that the delay is not due to us. Immediately after the Session of 1896, in which the Act was passed, I undertook myself to go through the congested districts, and settle the schemes of railways which I thought most desirable; and since that time no delay has occurred in bringing our scheme to ripeness. I am happy to say that the Privy Council has now passed both the 204 railways, which are to be made in Donegal. I trust that the beginning of the work will take place as soon as possible.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The whole of the money is now entirely hypothecated. I now pass from the very difficult question of permanent relief to that of temporary relief, which has been the principal subject of debate this afternoon. We have most anxiously considered what form that relief shall take, and the conclusion to which we arrived was this: that, looking to the experience of the past 15 or 16 years, there were only two methods by which distress in exceptional years could be properly dealt with. One was the machinery of the Poor-law, and the other was the system of Government relief works, adopted by my right hon Friend in 1891, and again in 1895 by the right hon. Member for Montrose Burghs. All the other methods which have actually been tried during the years to which I have referred have proved practical failures. We have made loans to landowners and loans to public bodies of various kinds. Enormous sums of money were spent in this way in 1880 and 1881, but I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs will bear me out in saying that there was little result—certainly no result commensurate with the expenditure.
MR. JOHN MORLEYetc.) (Montrose,
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
We have also considered the various methods that have been suggested by Boards of Guardians, by the priests, or in other ways. One of these has been brought forward to-day by several speakers. It is that we should start light railways, and, to use the phrase of the hon. Member for East Clare, "reproductive works of permanent utility." Experience clearly shows that you must make a very broad distinction between reproductive works of permanent utility and relief works. I do not say that reproductive works of permanent utility may not give some relief, nor do I say that relief works may not be works of public utility; but if a work is to be effective as a work of relief it is almost impossible—in many instances absolutely impossible—for it to be a 205 work of permanent utility. You can make roads, but you cannot make a definite number, and yet the making of roads is one of the best forms of bringing relief in times of distress. We rejected works in which public utility was the first and immediate object, because they are not suited to the period of emergency, and do not bring relief to the really destitute. Another suggestion was that we should make loans to small farmers. Under the existing law they can obtain loans from the Board of Works, at a very moderate rate of interest, for improving their holdings, but I do not think anybody who has had any experience of the practical working of the Poor-law will suggest that it was a practical way of meeting the distress that you should make small loans to thousands of persons. It is impracticable. It is neither more nor less than making a present to these small farmers of so much money—a form of outdoor relief of the most demoralising kind. I now come to the systems of Government relief works adopted in 1891 and 1895. No doubt the Government relief works in both those years were effective in securing the object at which they aimed. They did give relief, and, on the whole, they did so with the minimum of abuse: but, at the same time, it must be remembered that relief works of that description are open to serious objections. In the first place, they require to be supplemented, either by private charity, or by the extension of the facilities of outdoor relief; otherwise the relief afforded by such works does not reach isolated cases, or those weak and sickly persons who are unable to do the work offered. Then, again, the cost of supervision has been found to be extremely large. In 1894–95 the wages paid to labourers in carrying out the relief works amounted to £47,000. There were spent on tools and materials, £4,370; on Royal Engineer officers, £1,460; and on supervisors and members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, £8,700. There is no doubt that the works were carried out in a very satisfactory manner, but it is impossible to carry them out satisfactorily without incurring a very large cost for supervision. But there is a more grave and serious objection still. These relief works have the effect of taking the whole of the responsibility off the shoulders of the 206 local authority, and practically the whole of the extra expense, and, therefore, it became an object in each successive year with Boards of Guardians and persons resident in these distressed districts to secure that this assistance should be given again, and we have gradually reached a condition of things when not a year passes without frantic appeals to the Government to start relief works at the Government's expense. The demoralisation created by such a state of things is extreme, and I am sure that everyone acquainted with the administration of the Poor-law must sympathise with me in the feeling that such a state of things should be brought to an end. The hon. Member for East Mayo has stated that, according to his experience, Boards of Guardians, so far from desiring that Government relief works should be opened, on the contrary rather held back from asking for them when they might reasonably do so. But that is not my experience, and I doubt whether it has been the experience of any Chief Secretary. I should like in this connection briefly to refer to the experience of the Irish Government in 1895. In that year the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Montrose, while starting relief works, at the same time supplemented that measure by relaxing the conditions of outdoor relief where he did not think there was sufficient excuse for starting relief works, offering this power to Guardians as an alternative. There were 23 unions in which the restrictions on outdoor relief were removed owing to alleged distress, but in which no Government relief works were in operation. In the year 1895—a year of exceptional distress—in 13 out of these 23 unions, there was a decrease in the cost of indoor relief as compared with the previous year of 1894—a prosperous year—and in 10 unions there was an increase. But the net decrease in 1895, as compared with 1894, was £699. As regards outdoor relief in these 23 unions, there was an increase in 14, and a decrease in nine, and the net increase over the whole only amounted to £480, a net decrease in the amount of relief, indoor and outdoor of £219. Just let me take out of a very large number of instances at my disposal two or three illustrations of the action of Guardians. First, I take the 207 Castlerea Board of Guardians. On the 16th of February, 1895, this Board of Guardians passed a unanimous resolution callingThe immediate attention of the Government to the urgent need of relief works in Kiltullagh parish.It is stated that—The staple food had entirely failed, and numbers in the parish were already face to face with a state of distress bordering on starvation.The Guardians, at the same time, forwarded a memorial, presented by the Rev. P. O'Connor, and a large deputation, in which they stated that public works were necessary to save them from "impending famine, which is already at our doors." Considering, however, that the parish priest assured us that the majority of the people were in a state of starvation "worse than anything remembered since the famine of 1848," and that the population was thePoorest, largest, and most distressed of any parish within the four seas of Irelandperhaps the Guardians may be excused if the interests of the ratepayers were for the moment subordinated to those of the destitute poor. The Local Government Board authorised the Guardians to administer outdoor relief to all destitute persons, and after about a month the Guardians reported that the Poor-law system was unequal to the strain imposed upon it. At the conclusion of the financial year, however, it transpired that the additional expenditure for poor relief amounted to one farthing in the pound. This, however, was a rather extreme case. Generally, the cost to the ratepayer was not so high, and the fact that an extra farthing in the pound had to be added to the rate, may have been caused byUndue extravagance on the part of the Guardians in giving outdoor relief to persons who refused to workan allegation made by a large body of ratepayers in a memorial addressed to us. Now, Sir, I take another Board in the same year. The Manorhamilton Guardians having, in spite of the expostulation of the Local Government Board, cut down the Clerk's estimate for the new rate by £834, called the attention of the Government to the widespread and acute distress existing in the union, and stated 208 that they, with confidence, referred to our Board as toThe desire they always manifested to maintain a creditable financial position, but a sense of preservation of the interests of the ratepayers compelled them to state that the additional expenditure involved by extending the outdoor relief meant 'ruin,' and they therefore called upon the Government to open relief works, and save the people where danger was imminent.These resolutions were sent to the then Chief Secretary, and also to the Member for the Parliamentary Division who wrote that the proposal to allow the Board to extendThe outdoor relief was a wretched subterfuge for which, not Mr. Morley, but the permanent officials of the Board were accountable.The Guardians calculated that the extra cost of the outdoor relief would be upwards of £1,000, and although we considered this an excessive estimate, we were very much reassured to find that the Guardians had earned the tribute they paid themselves, as careful financiers, by relieving the "acute and widespread distress" in the union, by an expenditure of £313 less than that of the relief afforded in the previous year. I will only give one more illustration, that of the Claremorris Guardians. The Claremorris Guardians assured the Government that famine could only be averted by the prompt opening of relief works. They said:—We view with alarm the distress now prevailing in Bekan, Armagh, and Loughinboy, where 1,665 individuals are striving to live on a valuation of £770. We earnestly call on the Government to come to their immediate relief, or otherwise a sad story will be told.Public meetings were held calling attention to the disastrous and deplorable results of not opening works, and one Guardian, whose name I will not mention, but the right hon. Gentleman opposite will remember the incident, forwarded to that right hon. Gentleman the names of persons whom he said he had seen with his own eyes to be in a state bordering on starvation. Many of these, it was afterwards ascertained, had been dead for years. Happily, few were found to accept the bread of idleness in outdoor relief, as the expenditure for this item was £7 lower than in the previous year. I think I have said sufficient to convince 209 the House that the statements made by Boards of Guardians must be taken with a grain of salt. Now, Sir, it is considerations of this kind, and the feeling that the interests of all classes in a distressed locality must be served, that induced me to cast about to see whether some more satisfactory method of dealing with the question could be found, and I determined to deal with it through the machinery of the Poor-law. The reason, I imagine, why the right hon. Gentleman himself did not adopt some method of that kind in 1895, was his own experience of Boards of Guardians in 1886, when he placed at the disposal of Boards of Guardians a certain sum of money—I think it was £20,000—and left it practically to their discretion to disburse. Certainly the Guardians did, on that occasion, convincingly prove that it is impossible to trust them without proper checks and restrictions with the distribution of public money. The various Unions to which this money was entrusted started a sort of rivalry in advertising distress. Each hoped to receive a sum of money in proportion to the acuteness of the destitution which they made out existed in the district. It at once became a race between four of five Unions as to which could get rid of its share the quickest. Two Unions in this race in particular outstripped the rest. Swinford made a bold bid for victory by putting people on relief lists in thousands with a simple stroke of the pen; but Westport carried the day, for the Guardians there were able to show that, on the lists of some districts, the numbers of the destitute exceeded the total population of the districts. It is perfectly clear, after the experience of the right hon. Gentleman in 1886, that it would not do simply to hand over to the Guardians a sum of public money and direct them to spend it as they please. Notwithstanding the failure of the attempt of 1886, I cannot help feeling that, if proper checks and restrictions could be placed upon Boards of Guardians, they are the best authorities to deal with local distress. Their local knowledge, for one thing, is a great consideration in favour of using the machinery of the Poor-law for relieving distress. It appears that some method should be adopted, if the relief 210 of distress is to be entrusted to Boards of Guardians, and that some method should be invented by which gross abuses should be prevented. That is what I have endeavoured to do in the scheme I have adopted on this occasion. We have, in the first instance, relaxed the conditions of outdoor relief, and we further informed the Guardians, in those Unions where the rates were high and in which the natural condition was not very strong, that as the provision for distress was likely to be large in the time of spring, we would assist them with public money, but on certain conditions, the principal of these conditions being that the Union itself should subscribe some portion of the expenditure which would be necessary. So long as the Board of Guardians has to dip its hands into the public purse there is absolutely no check; but the moment the Board of Guardians spends some of its own money, in addition to the assistance given by the Government, you have a check. As my experience goes, that check is likely to prove effectual. So far this scheme has been accepted by five Unions. If the Guardians can employ the destitute on works of public improvement, so much the better. All we actually required was that the labour test should be applied and enforced. Up to the present this scheme has been adopted in five Unions, and to-day we have received a telegram from another Union. In three of these five Unions the work is in actual operation, and is working well. Let me refer to the three in which the scheme has been refused.
§ MR. DILLON
What is the scheme? Have the Government made up their minds, and say that they will contribute, and what proportion they calculate?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The position of the Government is this—to provide part of the money. They require that a scheme should be submitted, with the number of people to be employed, and they require to know that such people are destitute persons. The Local Government Board then inform the Guardians what proportion of the expenditure it will be prepared to advance. The proportion the Government propose to advance is three-fourths of the total expenditure. Understand that the Government are not undertaking to give 211 employment to the people. That would be most unwise. All we say is:—Owing to the destitution in your district, if the financial conditions of your Union are such as require Government aid, that Government aid will be forthcoming.The proportion to be provided in each instance by the Local Government Board will depend upon the financial condition of each particular Union, and on the amount of distress existing in that Union.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The Guardians initiate the scheme, which is submitted to the Local Government Board. If it turns out that the conditions we are imposing upon the Guardians prove in the long run more than they can bear, we might give them even more than three-fourths. The scheme has been rejected by the three Unions on the ground that the Guardians were not able to bear the cost. I take it that their real motive is that by doing so the Government may be induced to bear the whole cost.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I cannot undertake that the law shall not be carried out. The Ballinrobe Guardians estimate that £1,000 will be required to meet the cost of the needs. The Union consists of a mountainous district. There the Government undertook to provide one-half of the cost. We have there departed from the principle that we would not state what proportion we were prepared to bear until the scheme was submitted. They stated that if suitable works were proposed, they would be prepared to bear half of the expenditure. The Guardians rejected that scheme. In 1891 they denounced the system proposed by the Government, and in 1897 they desired that that system should be adopted; in other words, they seemed to think it was better now to adopt a system which, in 1891, was a mockery and a fraud. In Bantry the Government offered to contribute a portion if the Guardians would pay a proportion of the cost. The Guardians described this as inadequate, and a mockery, and called upon the Government to do their duty to the people, and save them from starvation. 212 I am sorry that the Bantry Union should have rejected the counsels of the Government. However, I do not think that, though the Bantry Board have rejected the proposal of the Government, they will have any serious difficulty in providing outdoor relief out of their own resources. Up to the present time no great demand was made upon them. In the case of Killala, the fact is that this Union's assets are equal to meet the liability during the present year. But the Guardians have been four months behind in striking their rate, and they make that the reason for asking the Government to bear the entire cost. The House will agree, from what I have now said, that the scheme which the Irish Government have started is one that proceeds upon sound principles, and that the reasons given for rejecting it by the three Unions are entirely inadequate and unsatisfactory. Let me say, in conclusion, that we have not only given the Guardians in the distressed Unions this opportunity of receiving Government assistance when they apply the labour test for outdoor relief, but we have followed the example of previous Governments. We undertake to apply the Seed Supply Act. We offer Boards of Guardians the loan of money free of interest for the purpose of purchasing seed potatoes and seed oats. Last year only one Board of Guardians asked for an application of the Seed Supply Act. I was denounced for being the cause of the distress this year. I was assured over and over again that if I had applied the Seed Supply Act there would have been no distress this year. I sincerely trust that they will make use of it. It will not only enable small farmers to obtain seed potatoes under the proposed Bill, but it will also enable the same privileges to be extended to Boards of Guardians in regard to the supply of spraying machines. In the present year we have done something. It is necessary to draw a careful distinction between works of public utility and relief works. It is not the business of the Congested Districts Board to start relief works, and we have always been most careful to avoid that danger, but it is a danger. But, of course, there are works of public utility already approved by the Congested Districts Board in their distressed districts, but which they 213 have not been able to carry out; and if we can enable the Congested Districts Board to carry Out these works at an earlier date than they would otherwise have done, I think we do something to relieve distress and avoid the danger I have indicated. We propose to the Congested Districts Board that the sum of £10,000 should be advanced to them free of interest; in other words, that they should be allowed to anticipate their income, that they should repay that sum of money in three or four years, and without interest, and that the sum so withdrawn should be recouped by the Treasury. I have been told that we have done nothing, but we have in reality taken the matter into the most earnest consideration. I do not like to say how much time we have spent in considering the distress this year. It is not true that we have done nothing. We have passed the Seeds Act. We have proposed a system under which, while the ratepayers will be relieved to a very large extent, the responsibility will still remain with the local authorities. I trust that I have convinced the House that the complaints of the hon. Member that the Government have been behind in this matter are unfounded.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
It has not been denied by the right hon. Gentleman himself that there has been a very considerable amount of distress in Ireland. The case presented by the Member for East Mayo, and the Member for South Mayo, has not been exaggerated, and we may feel that the Gentlemen below the Gangway are justified in calling the attention of the House to the subject. As to the particular scheme which the Chief Secretary has framed, with a view to meet this distress, I cannot criticise it in detail, until I see it in all its force. As he said, my own attempts had a most disastrous criticism. This is not the first time this House has heard of such a scheme. In 1891 the right hon. Gentleman, who sits next me, tried his hand, and he worked upon lines which I myself followed in 1895. I think the Chief Secretary is perfectly justified, certainly from the experience of 1886 on the one hand, and from the experience of 1891 and 1895 on the other, in endeavouring to strike out a new course. I am not sure what that course is to be. I do not understand, 214 for example, how these local committees, upon whom the initiation of schemes is to rest, are to be composed. I should doubt very much whether you will get as much for your money; whether the schemes will be so worth the carrying out, as, for example, in 1895, when we had an engineering officer of great ability and great experience to take a group of districts as a whole and frame schemes for district upon district, each with relation to the other. With all respect for Irish Local Committees, and with all my respect for local knowledge and local interest, I should have thought that a scheme such as Major O'Connell's more likely to give you your money's worth than any these Boards of Guardians will devise. I hold my former view that you had much better have a competent engineering expert to frame these schemes than trust to their initiation by these local bodies. When you frame these schemes you are in a tremendous dilemma always. You cannot know that your schemes are permanently adopted. I quite assent to what was said on that point. I assent still more strongly to the objections to granting small loans to farmers. I think that would be an extravagant waste of money; not only so, but intensely demoralising. The right hon. Gentleman has introduced a point to which I would refer. He talked about Congested Districts Boards, and the hon. Member of South Mayo made a suggestion; he anticipated that a sum of money should be provided and placed at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board. I did the best I could to show my interest in the working of that Board, and I have the fullest confidence in that Board. I think you may look for a continuance of the excellent work that Board has carried out. I do not understand about the £10,000 which the Congested Districts Board is to have at its disposal during the current year. They will have £10,000 advanced from their own capital fund. I am sure that gentlemen from Ireland will not at all demur to a proposal for making a permanent addition to the funds of the Congested Districts Board. When the hon. and gallant Member for Essex spoke about not voting for Irish relief, because Essex could not get English relief, he should remember that the 215 £45,000 a year that the Congested Districts Board has at its disposal is from a purely Irish National Fund. The right hon. Gentleman referred to his own Agricultural Department. This is not the time to discuss that matter, but I myself should be sorry to see the Congested Districts Board absorbed in an Agricultural Department; but, as I said before, that is not a matter for present discussion. But, however that may be, I should like to take this opportunity of proposing such an addition to the income of the Congested Districts Board as would enable it to continue its excellent work; but as my hon. Friend, the Member for East Mayo, spoke about a permanent amelioration of the condition of the people in the West of Ireland, I cannot help saying that nobody knows better than I do that a permanent amelioration of the economic conditions of such a country as the West of Ireland is not very easy nor practicable. It will take many a year, and perhaps more than one generation to do that, and the Irish themselves, if they had their own Parliament to-morrow, would fail to at once achieve any marked improvement upon the unfortunate economic conditions in which these people live in the Western District of Ireland. The Chief Secretary has only been two years in Ireland, and yet he felt that some attempt ought to be made for some permanent method of dealing with this ever-recurring trouble. The Congested Districts Board, no doubt, makes an effort to attack the difficulties of that problem, but it is only over a very small area. As my hon. and learned Friend said, the Congested Districts Board can only deal with a very small area, but I think it would be well worth the attention of the Irish Members, if circumstances would permit, and they had leisure, to see whether they could not go further in the direction in which the First Lord of the Treasury went, when he was Irish Secretary. Some Members of the House will recollect that what Mr. Parnell used to say was:If you will not give us Home Rule, the next best thing you can do in the interests of Ireland herself is to transform her into a Crown Colony.This is, of course, not the occasion on which a subject of that sort should be discussed, but I do feel that these problems 216 of distress, and the condition of these rural populations on the West Coast of Ireland require a continuous method of treatment, which, under our present system of government, is not possible. The Chief Secretary is necessarily absent from Ireland three parts of the year, and he has consequently a broken method of looking at these problems; but I do feel strongly that there should be some system of government which would secure that continuity of treatment, which the miserable state of these poor people demands. This is not the time for enlarging upon that kind of consideration, and I can only say that, with reference to the question now before the House, I have no doubt that the Chief Secretary has done his very best, and has given his most painstaking and conscientious attention to an attempt to deal with the matter. I am afraid I do not understand what his scheme really is, and, as at present explained, I am not sure that I assent to all the elements of it, but when the Bill is introduced we shall be able to judge whether it is likely or not to be effective in dealing with a state of things which hon. Members below the Gangway would have failed in their duty, if they had not brought strongly and effectively before the House on the present occasion.
§ *MR. P. A. M'HUGH (North Leitrim)
MR. Speaker, the Chief Secretary for Ireland said that he had given, he would not like to say how much attention and how much study to this problem of dealing with the distress in Ireland. I regret, Mr. Speaker, to find that the Chief Secretary has spent so much time in vain, because, so far as this House is concerned, he has been a failure. He has done nothing for himself, he has done nothing for this House, and nothing for the distressed people in Ireland. So far as I can judge from his statement, he proposes, as a solution to this question, the relaxation of the rules of the Local Government Board; or, in other words, he proposes to break the law in Ireland without the leave of this House. Mr. Speaker, we do not want the relaxation of the rules of the Local Government Board. They are relaxed enough. It is a monstrous thing in the face of the statements that have been made, for the Chief Secretary to come and tell us that 217 the distress is to be relieved by relaxation of the rules of the Local Government Board. What does it mean? It means that paupers are to be compelled to support paupers, and keep them out of the workhouse. This is no solution. This solution has been frequently offered to the people of Ireland. We do not want it, and we will not have it. As a matter of fact it is publicly known that the very poorest districts in Ireland are the places where this relaxation, if it is to be exercised at all, must be exercised. It is simply asking paupers to support paupers. Then the Chief Secretary goes on to talk about a labour scheme. What is that? Apparently, he does not know himself, and I am certain that no Member of this House understands the labour scheme that he proposes. But what I do understand is, that before that labour scheme is carried into effect the green grass will be growing upon the graves of the men who are now distressed. By whom is this scheme to be carried into effect? The right hon. Gentleman says by Local Committees. Local Committees! Take for instance the Swinford Union. Who are to be the Local Committees in the Swinford Union? What is the result of all his study, and all the labour that he has spent upon this scheme. The net result is this, that five Unions in Ireland have adopted this scheme, and in three of the Unions the scheme has been rejected. I am sorry that the Chief Secretary spent so much time and trouble in bringing that about. Then the right hon. Gentleman says he will give an advance to the Congested Districts Board of £10,000, free of interest, to be expended in the relief of distress during the present year. But that is not your money: it is our money; and you have no right to mortgage the wretched income of the Congested Districts Board. I entirely agree with the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Montrose, that instead of advancing £10,000 to the Board you should permanently increase its income. It is the only public Board in Ireland in which we representatives of the people have any confidence, and I suppose it is because of the very fact that the people are represented on it, that you only allow it the miserable income of £45,000 a year. No doubt the British Government, and especially the Dublin Castle officials, would 218 be afraid if any addition were made to its income, that the money would be expended in alleviating the distress of the people, instead of for the benefit of the Castle-hacks, as money is expended by every other Irish Board. Like my Friend, the hon. Member for East Clare, I visited my constituency during the recess. I was told that distress existed, and I considered it my duty to make inquiry into the condition of the people, I knew very well that discussions of this nature are not viewed with favour by certain Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom. I was aware that the debate would be listened to with impatience in this House, and for this reason hon. Members know that the blame lies at their own door, because the laws passed by them have caused the people of Ireland to sink into the position of misery and degradation, in which they now are. Irish distress is undoubtedly the result of your treatment of the country in the past. But some Members listen not only with impatience, but with incredulity, and some will even go the length of sneering at what they are told. But that will not prevent us doing our duty, although in my opinion, we might as well be speaking to stones as to Members of the Government. You, in this House, would show great enthusiasm if there were a Debate on the condition of the Armenian peasantry, and you would express pious opinions on the conduct of the Sultan. At the same time you send your Armies to Matabeleland to butcher the inhabitants, in order that you may extend the area of British markets, while in Ireland you send your armies of Irish policemen to carry out evictions, which, in my own constituency, have proved to be sentences of death. Now, I went down to Leitrim, to see what efforts the Chief Secretary had made to cope with the distress. What did I find? I found an army of police, numbering 100 men, in charge of a divisional commissioner, a county inspector, and two district inspectors, carrying out evictions, and for four days I accompanied them, in order that I might be able to describe to this House the scenes I witnessed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is not dealing with the amendment before the House, which is one dealing with distress in Ireland.
§ *MR. P. A. M'HUGH
I was about to talk of the distress as I have seen it with my own eyes, in my own constituency. The first person I saw evicted was one who, owing to the failure of the potato crop, was unable to pay the rent demanded. It was a Mrs. McGourty. The army of police went down to her house, and found it locked and vacant. I sought her out, and she told me she had fled because she had no money, and was in terror lest they should put her in prison. All she possessed was a bucket of small potatoes. Well, the Chief Secretary's Royal Irish Constabulary stood by while the emergency men were breaking into this poor woman's house. The next house we went to was, in my opinion, one of the most fearful specimens of desolation the eye of man ever witnessed. It was the house of a poor man I have known for years as most industrious and hard-working. He was lying upon a bag of hay; there was neither furniture nor food in the house, and the forces of the Crown sent down by the Chief Secretary were directed to see him removed. He was sick and starving; he had neither clothes nor boots, and yet on that wintry day, while the rain was beating down in torrents, he was carried out and laid in the gutter. These things show that the Chief Secretary is forgetful of the promise he made when he accepted office—viz., that he would kill Home Rule with kindness. There are one or two other instances I should like to draw attention to. The evicting party went to the house of another man, who, through the failure of his potato crop, was unable to pay his rent this year. His house was torn down.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must remind the hon. Member that the question as to whether the evictions were carried out with due care is not the question before the House.
§ *MR. P. A. M'HUGH
I was trying to show that it was in consequence of the existence of distress that these evictions were carried out.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is wandering from the amendment which deals with the actual existence of distress. The mode of relieving it is germane to the question before the House, but the consequences of the distress, be 220 they evictions or not, have nothing to do with the question.
§ *MR. M'HUGH
I thought that, as I was dealing with matters which came under my personal observation, and which showed the close connection between evictions and distress, I might be permitted to relate my experiences. Put as you have ruled me out of order I will address my remarks more closely to the distress itself. In my own constituency—North Leitrim—a meeting was held on the 29th December last for the purpose of considering the distress in that part of the country, and resolutions of a most practical nature were adopted, one being in favour of the advance of public money for the making and repair of roads and passes through bogs, which would be of great public utility. Now, has the Chief Secretary sent down an inspector to inquire into the desirability, or otherwise, of acting on that suggestion? Last year I spoke to him regarding the construction of a light railway in North Leitrim, but he now tells us that the £500,000 allocated by the Government for such works have already been hypothecated. So we can get no more money. You have plenty of it; you have in your coffers 150 millions sterling which you have filched from the people of Ireland; let us have some of that. Let us have only the three millions of which you are robbing us this year, and we will construct our own light railways without imposing an impossible guarantee on the people, or doing, as is now done in Roscommon and Leitrim, allowing stock-jobbers to grind an unjust tax out of the ratepayers. The Chief Secretary has done nothing in response to the appeal made to him by the people of Leitrim, and I do not think he is likely to do anything. If, when he takes his holidays, he will come to Ireland I will go with him round the counties of Leitrim and Sligo, and will point out to him what he is not likely to learn from his inspectors, as to the actual condition of the people of the district. We may be told that if these people are unable to support themselves they should go into the workhouse. Why, Sir, there are people in Ireland who would as readily go to hell as into a workhouse.
§ The House adjourned at 5.30.