§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *MR. J. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
Mr. Speaker, I ask the indulgence of this House as it is the first time I have had cast upon me the duty of moving the Second Reading of a Bill. The Bill of which I have the honour of moving the Second Reading I will style under two heads, namely, a useful Bill and a necessary Bill. I claim it to be useful on account of the good that the Congested Districts Bill has already done in Ireland, which Bill I hope now to improve. I call it a necessary Bill owing to the Debate that took place on an Amendment to the Address a fortnight ago in this House concerning the acute distress that exists in the West 1436 of Ireland. I believe there can be no opposition to the Bill I am now in charge of, particularly when I read to the House reports signed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland for the years 1896 and 1897. Sir, I wish to read the following remarkable passage from the Sixth Report of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland—The income of the Board remains at £41,250 a year, and we think that a close examination of the work that has been done by the Board since its formation would justify the granting of an increased income. By the provisions of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1896, the Board were enabled to borrow money from the Land Commission for the purchase of lands required for migration or the amalgamation of holdings, and negotiations are accordingly pending in many cases for the purchase of lands. But while the purchase money is provided by loans from the Land Commission, the amount to be spent on carrying out the enlargement and improvement of holdings still comes out of the Board's income, and their power of purchasing land is therefore limited by the very small amount that is available for dealing with land when purchased. The rent received by the Board, while lands are being re-apportioned and improved, must be set against the repayment instalments of the loans made by the Land Commission for the purchase of estates. We also invite close inspection into the value of our efforts for the improvement of agriculture, fisheries, and industries, and also into the other methods adopted by us for improving the condition of the inhabitants of those districts confided to our charge by the Legislature. 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.Hon. Gentlemen who do not know much about Ireland will wonder who signed this Report. The first name is that of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and the other signatures are: Viscount de Vesci, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Patrick O'Donnell, Mr. Horace Plunkett, Mr. Frederick Wrench, Mr. A. J. Balfour, Mr. W. S. Green, and Mr. Dennis O'Hara. Sir, after reading this Report, it may be wondered if there will be any objection on behalf of the Government to the accep- 1437 tance of this Bill, the Second Reading of which I move. It may be necessary for me to state who was the originator of this Congested Districts Board that I am attempting to improve. The Congested Districts Board Bill was introduced in 1891 by the First Lord of the Treasury when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland. While I do not agree with all that was done in Ireland in the right hon. Gentleman's name when he was Chief Secretary, I will say this much: that the Bill passed by him in 1891 was a Bill which aimed at relieving distress in the West of Ireland, and which has conferred considerable benefits on the country. If this Bill, of which I now move the Second Reading, be accepted, I believe it will be the means of alleviating the distress in the West of Ireland in the future. But if this Bill, or some other on similar lines, originating with the Government, be not introduced, then distress will prevail from time to time, and it will be the duty of Irish Members in the future to bring the case of the distressed districts before the House, and I am sure none of us would like to bring forward this case unless it were absolutely necessary. Sir, it is not to be wondered at that distress does prevail in the West of Ireland, and will prevail so long as the state of affairs is such that the people are forced to emigrate. So long as the present state of things exist, so long will poverty and distress prevail. I daresay that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland always depends for the relief of the distressed districts coming from charitable sources. Sir, so great is the hold which this distress has taken upon the people in the West of Ireland, that the Lord Mayor of Dublin has summoned a meeting for the purpose of devising some means of alleviating the distress. The Lord Mayor of Dublin issued a circular stating that it had been brought under his notice that great distress existed in the West of Ireland, and that he proposed holding a meeting on the 24th inst., and that, in the meantime, he would like to have from clergy of all denominations in the distressed districts their opinions as to what would be the best means of alleviating the distress. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary does not desire that the distress in Ireland should be relieved by donations from 1438 sympathetic people. Up to the present it occurs to my mind that this is the course that has been pursued by the Government, Sir, under the existing condition of things distress will continue to prevail, for the youth and strength of the country, having no prospects at home, has to go to foreign countries, to America, Australia, Africa, and only the feeble and distressed axe left behind. I do not know, Sir, if there is any sentiment in Scotchmen, but I have often heard that if a Scotchman is in poverty in his own country he gets away as quickly as possible, and he does not commit the offence of Lot's wife by looking behind him. But, no matter how opulent an Irishman might become in any country in the world, he is always anxious once more to return to the old land and the old country. I daresay it is difficult to make the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland understand the anxiety that Irishmen have to return home to the old country, but if he, or any other Member of the Government, could see the leave takings between children and parents when the children are leaving Ireland to seek a home in another country I think the Second Reading of my Bill would be assured. Last year a Congested Districts Bill was passed for Scotland, and £20,000 was given out of the Imperial Exchequer, and the Scotch Members said the money given was not nearly enough. I agree with them, and if the Scotch Members had asked £100,000 for the relief of distress in Scotland I would gladly have supported them. What is the case with regard to Ireland? The fund at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board in Ireland is Irish money, and, unless there is money in Ireland for the relief of Irish distress, the Government is evidently not disposed to give money in the same way as they do with regard to England and Scotland. They say that the area to be relieved is much larger in Ireland than in England or Scotland, and I think that is the case, but apparently no money can be given out of the Exchequer for the relief of the poor people in the West of Ireland. If any person reads my Bill they will see that, if it had been drawn by a Member of the Government, greater safeguards could not be introduced. 1439 One of the provisions is that any application to extend the powers of the Congested Districts Board must be made through the Privy Council in Ireland. Is there any hon. Gentleman in this House who believes that the Privy Council, a body largely composed of landlords and sympathisers with landlords, will do anything that would be injurious to the landlords? Such an idea is absurd. Besides, there is the Land Commission for final, settlement, and every hon. Gentleman knows that the sentiment of the Land Commission has been rather in favour of the landlords than of the tenants. If this Bill is accepted by the Government as it is, it is safeguarded in such a way that it might be let loose in Ireland to-morrow and not do any injury to any member of the community there. The Bill gives the Congested Districts Board power to acquire more land, and I daresay I am right in saying that there are thousands of acres of land in the Encumbered Estates Court that it would be a godsend to the nominal owner to get rid of. I want powers given to the Congested Districts Board to acquire land, if not by agreement, then compulsorily, for the purpose of migrating people from the congested districts into other districts which are not congested, so that they may be kept at home, and not compelled to emigrate to foreign shores. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen who represent Irish constituencies, and support the Government, to support me in securing the Second Reading of this Bill, and I believe that, if passed, it will be the means of relieving a great deal of distress and destitution in the West of Ireland. I am ready to give way to the Chief Secretary for Ireland if he can give a promise that he is prepared to bring in a Bill that will give the Congested Districts Board greater powers in Ireland. Here is an extract from a recent report of the Congested Districts Board, which shows the amount of the available funds of the Board—With the exception of the donations just referred to, the Board's ordinary income remains unchanged, and the apparent additional increase shown in the Annual Account, appended at page 30, is due to large repayments of advances under Fishery and Agricultural projects, and to a refund of purchase-money for an estate purchased by the Board for the amalgamation of holdings, and resold to tenant occupiers. As has been stated in the Board's last 1440 two Reports, their income is no longer adequate for satisfactorily carrying out the provisions of the Acts of Parliament relative to the congested districts in Ireland. The Board have to deal with an area of 3,608,569 acres, valued at £556,141 a year, and inhabited by a population of 549,516, according to the Census of 1891, while the ordinary income at the disposal of the Board amounts to only £41,250.Sir, I say that this sum of £41,250 is quite inadequate for the extension of the Board's work and the relief of distress; it would not be sufficient for more than one parish, and I trust the Government will not be so nigardly as to say they are not prepared to give this sum to enable the Congested Districts Board to take effectual steps for the benefit of the people of Ireland. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, will give me such a favourable answer as will give the Irish Members some hope that the distress in the West of Ireland is not to be relieved out of private charity. That is what has been done for some time past, and so great a hold has the distress taken upon people in England that collections are actually made in Manchester for the relief of these unfortunate people in the West of Ireland. As to giving increased powers to the Congested Districts Board, I can safely say that no better security can be got than the Irish people. As an instance of this, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that with regard to the money given for holdings purchased under the Ashbourne Acts, the number of defaulters is so small that they are not worth mentioning, and there is not the slightest excuse for the right hon. Gentleman not placing such a sum at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board as will make it efficient and useful. While the brother of the right hon. Gentleman was Chief Secretary for Ireland, he brought in this Bill. Well, it has done such wonders in Ireland that I hope he will see his way to give greater powers to the Congested Districts Board. I earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that he will give such a reply to-day as will bring hope to the people of the West of Ireland that emigration to a large extent will cease to exist, and that the people 1441 in the West of Ireland will be allowed to live in the country that they love so much.
§ *MR. MICHAEL DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
The lucid and practical statement of my hon. Friend in introducing this Bill relieves me from the necessity of trespassing for more than a few moments upon the time and attention of the House. But, Sir, I must at once ask my hon. Friend to allow me to dissociate myself from his observations upon Scotland and Scotchmen. I know Scotland and Scotchmen well, and I have met them in all parts of the world, and I am bound to say that, next to the intensity and sincerity of Irish patriotism, I would place the patriotism of our kindred in North Britain. Sir, the incapacity of Englishmen to rule this Empire, compels Scotchmen to take the task in hand themselves, and this explains why they do not concentrate their patriotic efforts, as we are doing, on attempts to rule Scotland in accordance with Scotch ideas. Now I thoroughly agree with the opening remarks of my hon. Friend that this Measure, which we submit to the judgment of the House, is a useful and a necessary Measure. We are frequently reproached by our political opponents with being more visionary than practical in our programmes for Ireland. I, of course, deny that contention, and I point to this Bill as an evidence of the practical character of the suggestions put forward by Irish Members for relief, in a practical way, of the chronic distress which visits certain parts of Ireland in consequence of the failure of this House to legislate in a proper and practical spirit for the solution of this recurring problem. Now, Sir, I would ask the House kindly to bear in mind two anomalies in connection with Ireland while listening to this discussion. These anomalies are, first, while every day in the week we are exporting thousands of pounds worth of food from Ireland to the markets of Great Britain, we have recurring distress and semi-starvation in many parts of our country. Secondly, that while the existence of this distress is made known in a painful and humiliating manner in this House Session after 1442 Session, we have even upon the Statute Book of the Imperial Parliament remedies that would be able to cope with chronic distress if those remedies were only applied in a sympathetic and practical manner. Now, Sir, I do appeal to English Members here to-day to bear these two facts in mind during the discussion of this Measure this afternoon. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the historic "Declaration of Independence," said a truthful thing when he declared—Wherever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural rights.That sentence describes the condition of the West of Ireland, which we bring under the notice of this House in this Bill. Here we have chronic distress, as referred to by my Friend, all along the Western seaboard, while face to face with the people who suffer from this chronic destitution we have millions of acres of uncultivated land, and what we desire in this Measure is to place this land at the disposal of the labour of those poor people, who, in consequence of being restricted to small areas, are at the mercy of a few wet weeks in July or August, and for whose relief, under those circumstances, we are compelled, Session after Session, to appeal for assistance to this House. Now, Sir, the remedy for this sad economic condition of things is as obvious as the evil is palpable. We say that the remedy is not only obvious but it has been applied on a small scale in a few counties under the operation of the Congested Districts Board, and has been successful in every single instance. What we ask for, therefore, is not an untried scheme, or a contentious plan, or a doubtful experiment, but the extension of the powers of the Congested Districts Board, so as to embrace a wider area of ameliorative efforts. I think that in view of that proposal there ought to be no reluctance on the part of the Chief Secretary or gentlemen opposite to come to our aid this afternoon, and press upon the Government the acceptance of our Measure. At the present time, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the means at the disposal of the Board are practically limited to an income of £40,000 a year, an income, let me remark, for the benefit of English 1443 Members, which is derived not from English taxes, but from Irish sources; and consequently, when we ask for an increase of means and power for this most useful Board, which, as my hon. Friend has stated, is the creation of the First Lord of the Treasury, we are not begging for any concession from English Members, and we are only asking for a further extension of the means with which to cope with this condition of things in the West of Ireland. Now, Sir, most of the income from Irish sources of the Congested Districts Board goes in aiding such minor industries as horse breeding, poultry rearing, afforestation of the country, and other beneficial labours of that kind, all of them most excellent in their way, and we on these Benches are most anxious to enable the Congested Districts Board, by an increased income, to increase their endeavours in this direction, to enable small cultivators of land in Ireland to better their position, and to make themselves independent of outside assistance when these chronic visitations of poverty come along. There is not enough of this kind of work done by the Congested Districts Board in those distressed areas in various parts of Ireland, and this is due, not to any unwillingness on the part of the Board to extend its efforts, but to the limitation of powers and means at the present time. For instance, complaints have been made again and again by the Claremorris Board of Guardians—a body of gentlemen who look after the poor in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. They complained, and I think with some justice, that small cultivators in the area of that Union have received little, if any, assistance from the labours of the Congested Districts Board. They point out that, for instance, the waters of the river Robe have a bad habit of overflowing their borders occasionally and swamp the land along the course of the river. They have appealed again and again to this body to lend them assistance to protect their little cultivated plots against this periodical overflowing. Then, again, they have appealed to this body for small loans at low interest, to enable these small cultivators to improve their holdings. Well, Sir, I feel certain that, if a Measure like that of my hon. Friend became law, the Congested Districts 1444 Board would respond to the invitation and the complaints, not only of the Claremorris Board of Guardians, but of all similar bodies in the counties along the West Coast of Ireland. Well, Sir, I do appeal to this House, and to the Government, to listen to our request on behalf of such people as I have referred to, and to back up our demand for an increase of income and an increase of power to this most useful body—the Congested Districts Board of Ireland. I believe, Sir, I should be out of order if I refer at any length to an important Bill that was introduced on Monday night last by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, but I may mention incidentally that in that Measure a very large sum of money has to be given out of the public purse to certain classes in Ireland. I sincerely hope that the Chief Secretary will see the justice, and the equity, and the wisdom of modifying his scheme to some extent so as to give an additional £100,000 a year out of these public sources to the Congested Districts Board in order to enable it to carry on this work in the way in which we want to see it done. Now, Sir, the work of this Board, upon which we place the greatest value, is that of the enlargement of the holdings of the small tenant or cottier class of these counties that are periodically visited with distress on the Western coast of Ireland. It is in the extension of this work that we base our strongest hope for a successful remedy against constantly recurring distress. As I have already stated, wherever this has been done by the Congested Districts Board, wherever the holdings of the small cottier class have been enlarged, the poverty which was incidental to these people heretofore has practically ceased to exist. For instance, there is the case of Clare Island, an island which I know personally very well, owing to visits there in years gone by. The land on the island is of a clay character, and not nearly as good as the land that is generally found through the County of Mayo, and in past periods of distress along the western seaboard the first cry for relief came from the poor cottiers in this Clare Island. But what took place this year? So far, while a wail of distress has gone up from Connemara and the west coast of Mayo, Sligo, and Donegal, we have heard nothing from Clare Island, and why? Because the Congested 1445 Districts Board, even with its limited powers, has been able to buy out the rights of the proprietor of that island, to sub-divide the land, and enlarge the holdings of small tenants upon that island. Now, this is the kind of work which is wanted to help the Congested Districts Board to carry on. They said in their annual report, and I am sure that statement will be emphasised by the hon. Member for South Dublin, if he speaks in this Debate, that wherever they have been enabled to buy out the proprietors of small estates and enlarge the holdings of tenants of such estates they have given not only present, but permanent, relief to the land workers upon these lands. Now, Sir, the reason why the extension of this kind of work has been so beneficial is possibly owing to the increase of the powers of the Congested Districts Board. Previous to the Land Bill of 1896, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the Board was unable to buy land for the enlargement of holdings, excepting out of their own, unfortunately, limited income; but now, in consequence of the provisions in the Bill of 1896, they are placed in such a position that they can purchase land from the Land Commission just as ordinary tenants may upon any estate in Ireland, and, therefore, they would be able, if this Bill became law, to set to work to practically eradicate poverty from all these distressed areas along the whole western seaboard of Ireland. We, therefore, propose in this Measure to give to the Congested Districts Board compulsory powers to buy out such landlords in these areas as may be unwilling to dispose of properties which enable them to reap rents quite altogether disproportionate to the economical value of their land. In fact, the landlords in these distressed areas resemble in every respect the usurers who were examined by a Committee upstairs, they are the Kirkwoods and the Isaac Gordons of Irish landlordism, they are enabled, by the laws of landlord property enacted in this House, from generation to generation, to exact rents from wretched reclaimed bog or mountain side, which would never be attempted by landlords in this country, or any other civilised country in this world. Well, Sir, I have confidence, in conclusion, that what we are asking for in this Bill will be considered by the Chief Secretary as not 1446 unreasonable; such powers as we require in this Measure would have enabled the Congested Districts Board to grapple at once with the ever-recurring and humiliating evil of chronic poverty; and however much we may differ on both sides of the House as to political issues, we are all agreed that any legislation which would put an end to these visitations of chronic poverty would be welcomed by men of all political shades of opinion. In the provisions of this Bill there will be no fear of the power demanded being misused while the Chief Secretary for Ireland would be the head of the Congested Districts Board, and while the tribunal of arbitration would be the Privy Council of Ireland and the Land Commission. I think we can all say that these authorities would look zealously after the interests of the Irish landlords in any transaction that may be necessary under our Bill. In fact, every interest likely to be involved in any way is fully and carefully guarded in the provision of this Bill, and this being so, I appeal to the hon. Members opposite not to oppose this Measure, either in their speeches or in the Division Lobby. We only ask a Unionist Government to go with a courageous step forward on the policy which they have laid down for themselves in Ireland. Their policy is to cure social discontent and agrarian unrest by ameliorative measures. We ask for a continuation of those measures, and of that policy, and by doing this, by supporting this Bill, hon. Members will only be helping to carry out what is the best Unionist policy in the government of Ireland, the cure of these recurring visitations of distress by aiding the labouring poor of those western districts to lift themselves and their families above the reach of want and despair.
§ MR. HORACE PLUNKETT (Dublin County, S.)
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill need not appeal to us on this side not to look at it in a political light. The question can very easily be treated from a purely economic and social standpoint. I am sure there is no one in the House who is not deeply in sympathy with the object which hon. Members have in promoting this Bill. 1447 The circumstances with which we have to deal are these: There are some districts in the West of Ireland to which none of the ordinary remedies can be successfully applied. The inhabitants are crowded together upon an area in which, no matter what industries you develop, the people cannot possibly exist. In some of these districts they manage to keep body and soul together by sending over the entire able-bodied population to work in England, Scotland, and Wales for the greater portion of the year. In those districts it appears to the Congested Districts Board that there are only two possible remedies—one is migration, and the other is enlargement of holdings. Of course there is the alternative of emigration, which, many years ago, when Ireland was what it was, and when the condition in America was different, might, perhaps, have been, on the whole, a better remedy then; and, therefore, we come down to the two that I have named. Now, migration, by which I mean the removal of a family from one district to another, tinder conditions in which the family will be able to make a living, repay the cost of removal, and settlement elsewhere, is surrounded with very great difficulties. In the first place, hon. Members opposite know that very often it is very difficult to persuade these families to move beyond their own parish. Without instituting any comparison between the love of country manifested by my own countrymen and Scotchmen, I cannot help thinking that the love of country is more intensely localised in Ireland than it is in Scotland. I am quite sure that there are many families in Ireland who, if once they move beyond the borders of their own parish, would just as soon go to America. The difficulty of acquiring land and providing a house and outbuildings, and giving the tenant a little capital in the way of stock, is almost insuperable, and consequently the remedy which in most cases remains is adding to the holding in which the people already live. The fact to be admitted—and I am convinced that a close examination of the facts will prove that to be so—is that the acquisition of additional land is an absolute necessity in order to remedy a state of things which is a disgrace to civilisation. In certain areas there is, of 1448 course, a great deal of primâ facie evidence in favour of the compulsory acquisition of land to effect this purpose, if land cannot be otherwise acquired. I should stipulate that, if compulsory powers were given, they should be given in such a way that they would not form a precedent for lands not similarly situated. It was only to-day that I was able to get the figures I wished personally to examine before I gave my opinion—I am speaking for myself and not in any way for the Congested Districts Board—before I was able finally to make up my mind upon it. We have succeeded in obtaining eight estates, and, as has been very generously admitted by hon. Members opposite, I think we have made a success of these experiments. I may say that, from the figures I have examined—I speak for myself on this occasion—our failure was due to our not offering as much as we ought to have offered. Some of the estates we bid for we certainly did pick up at a bargain, and I think in future it may be necessary for us to give a little more money.
§ MR. DAVITT
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Report states that in regard to one estate a very excessive price was given?
§ MR. PLUNKETT
That is quite true It was a small estate, not in extent but in value; and there were other reasons why it was desirable to give a little more for that particular estate than we wished to give. I think if the hon. Member will call in at the Congested Districts Board, when next he is in Dublin, he will satisfy himself that the Board exercised a wise discretion in that case. The real difficulty that confronts us is this: in addition to the estates I have named we negotiated for a considerable number of other estates, and I firmly believe that if this Bill were to be passed now we should not acquire those estates on nearly so good terms as we are likely to acquire them; and for this reason—it is perfectly useless to ask Parliament to accept the principle of compulsory purchase and sale without adequate compensation. I am convinced that in regard to most of the estates that we have bought, and most that we have been negotiating for, the law, if passed, would award a higher price than 1449 that which we are likely to pay. Secondly, at present our funds, as has been said, are utterly inadequate for purchasing estates on a large scale. It is perfectly true that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has made a provision which enables us to anticipate our income, but he has not succeeded in devising a plan by which we can——
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
You can purchase estates out of capital.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
Well, then, if the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that we have ample money to buy all the estates that we require without crippling our resources in the future, of course, that point falls to the ground, although I am afraid that there are at present some expenses that are incurred in connection with the purchase of estates that would have to come out of the income. There is one other point I would refer to in connection with the Bill. On general principles I am agreed as regards the object they have in view. As regards the Bill itself there are two very large defects in it that I think are worth pointing out. The term "available land," without restriction as to locality, seems to be altogether too vague. The Bill is not obscure as to whether migration is contemplated.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
I am talking about the way in which they are likely to use this discretion. The Bill would allow the Congested Districts Board to compulsorily secure land anywhere. Of course that would never be allowed by Parliament. And then there is another point. The purposes for which land is to be acquired did not include migration at all, but only enlargement of holdings, if by that we mean the addition of adjoining land. Of course that does 1450 circumscribe the area over which the compulsory power is to be exercised. What we, who wish to see an enlargement of these holdings rapidly extended, believe to be the best course to pursue is to ask the Government, in the first place, to do everything in their power to facilitate the acquisition of land voluntarily. The Board has pointed out that which is a great hindrance to them in acquiring land from the Encumbered Estates Court—namely, that they have to deal through the medium of the Land Commission. If the concession could be made to us it would be a very great help to deal with the Encumbered Estates Court direct. The Government would probably stipulate that in any measure—and I am speaking absolutely for myself and with out any authority—it would be reasonable that we should not attempt to draft any large and new principles upon it. Lastly, we might also ask them to remain openminded upon the broad question which is raised in this Bill, and if the resources of voluntary agreement are exhausted in vain, then they will consider compulsory purchase with all the proper safeguards.
§ MR. P. C. DOOGAN (Tyrone, E)
I rise to say a few words in support of the Second Reading of the Bill. A great responsibility must attach to the Government of a country that has kept the people in a state that is a disgrace to civilisation, as described by the hon. Member for South Dublin. So far as my memory extends back, the normal state of the people has been one of chronic misery of the lowest depths, the monotony of which was only accentuated by periodic famines. How can you expect that the people of Ireland will be contented with legislation which keeps the inhabitants of all these large areas in such a wretched state? Surely good government requires that you should try to raise up the people, to make them contented and happy and prosperous; and I do not, think that a policy of public doles—a policy which will have the effect of pauperising a large part of Ireland—over can meet with success. There should be wise statesmanship of a comprehensive and generous nature. 1451 It is said that the best statesmanship is displayed where the Government makes two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. Well, no grass grows in many portions of these Western districts. It is impossible for the Congested Districts Board, with the best will in the world, to do more than they have done. It has concerned itself with the fisheries, with cottage industries, and with the improvement of farms, and other matters; but some better soil is wanted to give the people a chance of raising themselves out of the chronic state of distress which they are in, leaving their homes annually to try to get a small subsistence, or to secure their poor holdings, for which they are heavily rented. It has been admitted in expert evidence, given before the Land Commission, that all economic rents have disappeared absolutely from all these holdings, yet they still have to pay rent. Now, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to listen to my hon. Friends, and to incorporate in his new Local Government Bill, which seems to be a large and comprehensive Measure, this power, and to give an annual grant which will enable the Congested Districts Board—which is admittedly a Board which has done as much as it possibly can in these districts with its present means—to have sufficient funds placed at its disposal. At the present time its income is too limited to be of much use. Now, with regard to buying estates for the purpose of migration and enlarging holdings, the object of this Bill is to enlarge holdings in the vicinity of these congested districts, and to provide for migration where necessary, and where land can be obtained for the purpose. When buying up estates, and paying for them large and exorbitant prices, as they have already done, out of their £41,000 of annual income from the surplus of the Church Fund, the Congested Districts Board have to expend money in improvements of these farms, while the rents that are to be obtained must be set aside to pay off the half-yearly instalments to the Land Commissioners for the money borrowed. The work can only be done by largely increasing the annual income of the Congested Districts Board, and allowing them to acquire land compulsorily when other 1452 means of obtaining it have failed. It ought to be the concern of the Government to remove this blot which has remained so long upon its system of Government. The right hon. Gentleman opposite speaks of a state of civilisation, but, surely, it cannot be for the honour and credit of this great and wealthy nation to have all the civilised Powers of Europe reading year after year speeches in this House describing the destitute and low condition of these unfortunate people. It would be far better to improve their position permanently, and not have this continual cheeseparing about grants, than to leave it to outsiders to be watching continually to see that these people are not allowed to die of famine, and to provide the funds which the Government are very unwilling to give. Now, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to assent to the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a modest Measure, and its provisions are very simple and highly practical. I can see no difficulty in its being worked, and its adoption will certainly do very much to add to the reward which it is very probable the right hon. Gentleman will reap in the golden opinions he will have from all classes of the people of Ireland in respect to the recent Bill which he has placed before the House.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
Mr. Speaker,—In what I am about to say I trust it will not be thought that I am in any way seeking to disturb the harmony which at present exists in all parts of the House; but, looking at this Bill, I feel bound to offer some observations to the House by reason of my practical knowledge of one part of the congested districts of Ireland, and of the interest which I take in that country. Now, Sir, I think that what has been done with regard to this Bill has rather placed the hon. Gentlemen opposite in a somewhat difficult position. I think they have got a place so early in the ballot that they really have not had time to look into their Bill, and, therefore, I think that every reasonable excuse is to be made for the introduction of a Bill which is supported by arguments which have really very little to 1453 do with its provisions. So it appears to me; and I would first of all say this, with reference to my right hon. Friend here on my right, that I think it is exceedingly inconvenient to have a Member of an official department dealing with public money concerned with a Bill of this nature. I am sure my right hon. Friend has acted with the best intentions, but I will point out to him the awkward position in which he is placed. He is now, I consider, in a quadruple capacity. He is here as a private Member; as we all know, he is an official Member of the Congested Districts Board, and he represents a constituency in South Dublin, which is not, at all events, a congested district. And in addition to that triple capacity, he is a Balaam. Yet the goes and puts his name on the back of this Bill. But, Sir, dealing with the Bill itself and looking broadly at the congested districts, the real fact is this: there is more population than the land can barely support; and I admit that it is beyond the power of political possibility any longer to argue in favour of emigration. Emigration has done much for these districts in the past, but I regard it as a political impossibility, and impracticable as a policy now. Therefore the question next arises, if the people have produced a population in excess of what the land will support, how can you best cure the evil? Well, it does appear to me to be a question of migration. But this Bill runs upon the opposite lines, as I read it; and if I am wrong hon. Members opposite and my right hon. Friend behind me will correct me. If you turn to the Bill you will see first of all that all this paraphernalia of official power is to be put in operation by a private individual; but that is not my present point, and I will refer to it presently.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
I will look at Clause 2, but allow me first to deal with Clause 6. It provides that the occupier of a holding in a congested district may, under certain circumstances, apply to the Congested Districts Board, "setting forth that in the vicinity of the congested area there is land available for the enlargement of such holding." It is only 1454 applicable in the case of land "in the vicinity of the congested area."
§ MR. DILLON
That is only applicable when the Act is to be put in force by an individual application. If the hon. Member will only study the Bill again he will see that that is only an alternative course.
§ SIR J. COLOMB
Mr. Speaker,—This is the most prominent clause in the Bill; but at any rate there is nothing in any other clause to contradict clause six. I repeat that the land to be dealt with must be in the vicinity of a congested district. And, more than that, the individual who puts this clause in motion must do it for the purpose of enlarging the holding. Well, I would like to ask my hon. Friend, if I may be allowed to call him so, to take the case of a holding in a congested district, say in Kerry, with land available in the vicinity. Surely enlargement of the holding does not mean relief of the population to be supported in that district, but a redistribution of the land. That is what I take it to be. Well, then, it speaks of unoccupied land, and those who know, for instance, a county like Kerry, will not say that there is land unoccupied which is available for cultivation. I do not know where that land is. I know how dangerous it is to generalise, and confine myself to facts. Will any hon. Member point out to me where there is available land in Kerry that is not already occupied? Is this Bill to put one man out in order to put in another? If so, then I do not see where the good of the Bill lies. I am endeavouring to explain to my hon. Friend opposite why I shall vote against this Bill. I am at one with him in his desire to see the natural increase and enlargement of the powers of the Congested Districts Board, but I am not in favour of the principle that a Bill of Districts Board, but I am not in favour of the principle of compulsion. I am not in this kind should be passed on a Wednesday night in this House. I do not know, if the hon. Member had had time to frame the Bill and consider the whole matter, that he would have brought such a Measure as this before the House. Now, there are other points in the Bill. The hon. Member refers me to Clause 2, but, so 1455 far as I can make out, the whole operative part of the Measure as it stands, is that it is the occupier who, at the instigation of the land-grabber, puts the whole thing in motion. It is to instigate land-grabbing. If anyone can read Clause G in any other way, I hope an hon. Gentleman will favour me with an explanation of it. I take it that the hon. Members who brought in this Bill desired it to be reasonable, and they thought that they had fulfilled that desire by putting the word "reasonable" into every clause of the Bill. But who is going to determine what the word "reasonable" means?
§ SIR J. COLOMB
I turn to Clause 6, and I find that where an occupier wishes for more land, and asks for more land, and fixes a price which he thinks reasonable, but which the proprietor does not consider reasonable, it raises a whole series of proceedings at the public expense, because the person who started this state of things thought he offered a reasonable price. Who is to define what is reasonable? Chaucer says, "A man is reasonable, but a woman is not," a point I am not at liberty to contest or agree with, but I think there is an understanding on the other side of the House that Chaucer's words might be, to a certain extent, applied by saying—"the occupiers are always reasonable, but the proprietors are not." What is, in this Bill, the definition of this word "reasonable"? In a word, it is what the land-grabber desires to give, and he always gives as little as possible. I feel, in the interests of those I represent, that I ought not to vote for it, and I shall certainly vote against it.
§ MR. W. H. K. REDMOND (Clare, E.)
I only desire to say a very few words in recommending this Bill to the House. The hon. member who has just spoken said it was promoted for the purpose of land-grabbing. I have no doubt, if it were, the hon. Gentleman would support it. The hon. Gentleman also says it is hard to define the word "reasonable." Of course, if you wish to do that you must not consult the landlord's dictionary. The real object of 1456 this Bill is very plain. It is to enable the Congested Districts Board to acquire land not, as I take it necessarily, in the immediate vicinity, but to give them power to acquire land wherever it may be suitably found, in order to carry out what the hon. Gentleman has expressed himself in favour of, that is to say, migration in place of emigration. That is a principle which I believe the hon. Member has expressed himself in favour of. I do not know whether it was the intention of the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill to confine the compulsory power of acquiring land altogether to the immediate vicinity of the congested districts, but I should not think that was the object. The object is to give the Congested Districts Board power to acquire land in any part of the country where it might be most convenient for the purpose of inducing the people to migrate. For too long the policy of emigration has been recommended as a means of relieving the congested districts of Ireland. The hon. Member says that this policy of migration is outside practical politics at present. I suppose by that the hon. Gentleman means that so many people have gone that there is not so much necessity as there was. At any rate, he has expressed himself in favour of a policy of migration in Ireland, and I remember very well that the late Mr. Parnell took a great interest in the subject, although the scheme in which he was particularly interested did not prove very successful. But there is no doubt whatever, in spite of the failure which attended that scheme, a great many people in Ireland believe there is plenty of land in Ireland which might be acquired quite suitable for agricultural holdings. It seems a pity, when we look at the congested districts in Ireland, where the population is extremely large, and the land for the most part very bad, and where there is no real scope for the energy of the people, that something cannot be done not to induce them to emigrate, but to put them on good land, such as there is in Meath and other places, which are at present practically unpopulated. The Chief Secretary cannot charge that this is an immoderate proposal in any way. I have often heard other Bills objected to on the ground 1457 that they were too revolutionary and proposed too much, but a more moderate proposal than this, I venture to say, has never been put forward. What does this Bill propose? It simply proposes to give to the Congested Districts Boards powers to carry out that work in which they have been very successful. We have already had to complain that our country has been too much governed, or misgoverned, by Boards, and that those Boards have not worked satisfactorily, or, at any rate, they have not inspired the people with confidence, and grave complaints have been made from time to time; but there is one exception, and that is the Congested Districts Board. That is the only Board in Ireland which receives any thing like confidence and support from all sections of the Irish people, and we simply ask that the Congested Districts Board shall, by this Bill, be given powers for the compulsory purchase of land. It is a large question, and one which excites a great deal of interest, which, I think, the hon. Member for South Tyrone will admit. This Bill does not propose to do more than to extend the present principle, in order to enable the Congested Districts Board to carry out their work. The Congested Districts Board has been a success so far as ft has gone, and we ask the Government now to extend its powers. It was originally started as an experiment, but I do not think it was intended, if it was successful, that it should be confined to its present narrow limits. The fund at the disposal of the Board shall be increased in order to enable the members of the Board to carry on their good work. I should like to see the Congested Districts Board made applicable to every district in Ireland where it could be shown that necessity existed for work of relief being carried on. Why should the operation of the Board be confined to a few districts? No doubt those districts are the ones most requiring attention, but what I would like to see would be increased funds placed at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board, and the enlargement of their powers, so that they would be able, in any part of Ireland where excessive distress was apparent, to deal with that its way distress.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
I know it is not, but if the right hon. Gentleman had done me the honour to listen to what I was saying he would know that I was expressing regret that the Congested Districts Board had not the power of dealing with districts throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. I called the Chief Secretary's attention the other day, on the Debate in this House with regard to the distress in Ireland, to the fact that there are some districts which ought to be scheduled in the Congested Districts Area which are not now so scheduled. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to meet the demand of the Irish Members in this matter, and to show that when a moderate Bill of a practical nature is proposed by the Irish Members there is a disposition to receive it with consideration. I am bound to say, in conclusion, Mr. Speaker, that this Debate, like very many other Wednesday Debates on Irish affairs which I have listened to in this House, constitutes, in my mind, an argument why all these matters should be regulated in Ireland, instead of being brought into this House. I took the trouble to count, when I came into this House, how many English Members were present while this important matter—a matter of almost life and death to the people of Ireland—is being discussed, and I counted five English Members of Parliament present. I submit that that is a very strong argument that we should not allow them to manage Irish affairs. No doubt at five o'clock the Members for England and Scotland will come in, but nine-tenths of them will not be able to tell what the Debate is about. They will simply go into the Lobbies and vote down this demand, which is put forward, not merely by the Nationalist Members, but by such a good supporter of the Government as the right hon. Member for South County Dublin.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I hope the House will see its way to give this Bill a Second Reading. Of course, when it comes 1459 into Committee, it may be that it will require some amendment, so as to make more clear than perhaps at present appears, what is the real object of the Act, when it becomes an Act. I think the hon. Baronet the Member for Great Yarmouth was rather hypercritical in his observations with regard to the Bill, and it seems to me that although he taxes the hon. Member who introduced the Bill with not having had sufficient time to consider it before he approached the House, the hon. Baronet himself gave but a perfunctory perusal to the Bill, and overlooked the true object and purview of the Measure. It seems to me that the Bill is aimed at removing what has been found in the working of the Congested Districts Board, as at present constituted, to be a very great difficulty, and, if passed, it will attain that object. The Congested Districts Board have no power under the existing law to acquire land compulsorily. Land can only be acquired by voluntary agreement between the owners of the land sought to be purchased and the Board, and the consequence has been, and I think this will hardly be disputed by any right hon. Gentleman on the opposite Bench, that in many cases where the Board would have thought it highly desirable to have carried out the policy either of migration or of enlargement of small holdings, their hands have been completely fettered by the want of compulsory powers. It seems to me that the sole object of this Bill is to supply that want. The Bill is to be taken to be dealing with two distinct branches of the subject. The first five sections assume that the Members of the Board, when they desire to acquire additional land, either for the purpose of migration or for consolidating small farms, are themselves to put the Act in motion, and that they are to put the Act in motion in such a way as to enable them to acquire the land compulsorily. Those powers are no novelty in our law, as this House knows. For the public benefit, in innumerable cases where land is required, it can be purchased in spite of the owner, but, of course, with adequate compensation and purchase money. The object of this Bill is merely to give the same powers to the Congested Districts Board, to enable them to carry on the policy of the Act which was brought in in 1891, and which reflects such great 1460 credit on the First Lord of the Treasury, who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland. The Bill merely gives to the Congested Districts Board those powers which every railway company possesses, and which public bodies possess in every part of the Empire; therefore there is no novelty in now giving these powers to the Congested Districts Board. If the Board comes to the conclusion that it is desirable to acquire land, they go to the owner of the land, and if the owner will not sell on reasonable terms, they then put in force, under the provisions of the Bill, the ordinary compulsory powers of the Land Clauses Act of 1845 and of the Railway Act, Ireland, 1851; it is a simple procedure and inexpensive. If the Congested Districts Board make up their minds to acquire an area in that way, they represent the case to the Land Commission. The Land Commission entertains the question, and considers the merits of the application. Due notice is given to all parties concerned, and then the Land Commission, if satisfied that available land cannot be acquired on reasonable terms by voluntary agreement, can make an Order putting these compulsory powers into force, and authorising the Board to acquire the land accordingly. The Land Commission may refuse to make that Order, and, if they do that, then the Congested Districts Board may appeal to the Privy Council in Ireland, and the Privy Council may then either affirm or refuse the Order. That is reasonable. Then comes Section 6, which is the section that the hon. Baronet—for whose opinion I entertain personally, much respect, knowing, as I do, his great knowledge of the county of Kerry—has dubbed "the land-grabbing section." I say it is not a "land-grabbing" section. The object of the sixth section is this: suppose the Congested Districts Board do not themselves put the Act in motion, and do not get from the Land Commission the necessary authority, the section enables any occupier to proceed under the Act, and, if he can make out a reasonable case for acquiring the land, he can acquire it. But he can only do that by showing to the satisfaction of the Board that the terms he offers are reasonable. The question of land-grabbing does not arise at all, because power to enforce that section will depend altogether on the Board 1461 making an Order. The words of the section are—It shall be lawful for the occupier of a holding in any congested district, where any landlord or owner, after application made to him, shall have refused to sell to such occupier available land on reasonable terms for enlarging the holding of such occupier, to apply to the Congested Districts Board, setting forth that in the vicinity of the congested area there is land available for the enlargement of such holding, and which such occupier is willing to purchase, but which the landlord ictuses to sell on reasonable terms, the said Board may make an Order that such available land should be purchased on behalf of such occupier in accordance with the Land Purchases Acts and Land Law Acts, Ireland.The section says "may make an Order." It is altogether optional whether the Board makes that Order. Surely it is not likely that the Congested Districts Board, in the members of which such confidence is placed by every class in Ireland—surely it is not likely that that Board, consisting as it does of gentlemen of every shade of politics, would sanction anything in the nature of "land-grabbing." I hope the House and the Government will, as far as in them lies, give the Bill a Second Reading, so as to enable the matter to be fully discussed in Committee, and thus enable a blot upon the existing system of land purchase in Ireland to be removed. I know, from my own experience, that the want of compulsory power was seriously felt in carrying out the Act of 1891.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
Questions have come before me as a Law Officer of the Crown, if I am compelled to explain how. The point I hare referred to is one which the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth overlooked. The object of this Bill is not to extend the powers of the Congested Districts Board in any other direction than conferring on them compulsory powers, which have been conferred upon every railway company and every public body in the country.
§ DR. B. AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
Mr. Speaker, I should like to say a few words on this Bill. I am sorry my hon. Friend the Member for the city of Limerick, who really drafted this Bill for me last year, is not present. He would probably define the word "reasonable" for the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth. This Bill asks for nothing new. As has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, it only asks for what is enjoyed under the Scotch Crofters Act and by railway companies. In fact, it does not propose to give to the Congested Districts Board so many powers as railway companies now possess. Railway companies are able to take your lawn or your kitchen garden for their benefit. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth seems to think that the Bill has no other object in view than buying out the occupier. That is not so. I will give the House an object lesson with regard to cases in which the Congested Districts Board, if it had the powers which this Bill proposes to give it, could have intervened on behalf of the public. I have here a list of four or five estates—in fact, six altogether—in which the Congested Districts Board was outbid by land-jobbers.
§ DR. R. AMBROSE
Yes, that is a common phrase in Ireland. There is the Houseton Estate of 60,000 acres, under Lords Sligo and Lucan. I daresay a good deal of this estate is not good land, but a large portion of it is valuable land. The Congested Districts Board tried to get a portion of it, but were outbid by four graziers, two of whom lived far away in Connemara, one in Westport, and another—well, the Almighty only knows where he lived, but he lived a very long way off. Secondly, in regard to the O'Donel estate, near Newport, the Congested Districts Board sent down a man to bid for this land, but a butcher in Westport gave £10 more than the Congested Districts Board offered, and secured the land. Father O'Toole, a curate in the parish, offered to make up the £10, so that the Congested Districts Board could have the land, but the butcher would not give it up to the Board. I claim that the State ought to 1463 have stepped in there, and prevented this butcher—this "land-jobber"—from depriving the community of the advantages which would have been derived from the purchase of this land by the Congested Districts Board. The number of agricultural holdings valued at £4 and under in these districts are, respectively: Donegal, 14,568; Leitrim, 3,638; Sligo, 3,831; Roscommon, 5,462; Mayo, 16,668; Galway, 14,198; Kerry, 6,135; Cork, 4,916. The population of the congested districts is 549,516, area in statute acres, 3,608,569. The Poor Law valuation of this population per head is: the highest, £1 6s. 8d.; the lowest, 17s. 10d.; the average, £1 0s. 3d.; and, in the Killarney Union, the whole union is £1 13s. 11d., and in one electoral division of that it is 6s. 9¼d. We have no cry of famine from the districts which have been bought by the Congested Districts Boards, such as Clare Island in Clew Bay, six miles from the mainland; the Leonard Estate at Carna, on the coast of Galway, and the Thomson Estate in the same parish of Carna. There is land in the congested localities, where it would be what I may term chivalry on the part of the Government to buy the land, and it has been said that this would benefit at least half a million people—that is, the population of the congested districts. I find in Mayo more than half the population live in these congested districts. The Act says, where more than 20 per cent. of the population of the county live in the division of which the total value being divided by the total population, gives the sum of 30s., those districts shall be called congested districts. We will go to the County Mayo, which has a population, at all events the congested district of Mayo has a population of 143,210; the total population is 218,406, so that more than half the population of Mayo live in the congested districts. Not only that, but great numbers live in the districts in which the valuation of each person is less than 30s., but they live in a dis- 1464 trict in which the population is 143,000, and only 18s. 3d. per head. I will tell the hon. Member for Yarmouth that if he goes to Kerry, not far from Killarney, the valuation per head is only 6s. 9d. I have a letter here from a clergyman, who says—I was brought up in a congested district. I was afterwards three years and a half a priest on the mission in this very same district, living, indeed, in my father's house. I know that district as fully and as accurately as any man could know a place of equal area. It is the electoral division of Sellerna, in the Poor Law Union of Clifden; and is typical of all the congested districts on the sea coast. I went to the trouble of making out the exact area and population of that electoral division, the circumstances of the people, their annual incomes from all sources, their style of living—food, bedding, education of children, etc.—and the result was surprising, and, even to me, appalling. For each head of the population there was only 7s. 10½d. worth of land, and the valuation was admittedly high; and, if you asked me how they lived, I must candidly admit to you that, with all my intimate knowledge of them, I cannot tell you how many of them managed to live, for to me it was a constant mystery. But I can say that 20 per cent. of them, for three or four months of every year—except a famine year—subsist on food that God, or man, or Nature never meant for human beings. Famine years, in which relief works are started, are the happy years of these unfortunate people. On the verge of this electoral division was a property for sale, owned by the late Dr. MacGee, which could easily be divided into 30 or 35 nice farms. The priests made an effort to secure it for the people. The Congested Districts Board was asked, but rather late, to intervene. In any case, a local man bought it up as a speculation to sell to the Congested Districts Board, at £1,000 profit. He did not want it; it is, in fact, rather an incumbrance on his hands. Many persons say he is paying interest on the purchase money, which amounts to more than his profits, for he paid a high price for the estate; but he thinks even yet the Congested Districts Board—since the people want the land so badly—will give him his large demands, and he is holding out. An estate in an adjoining parish was also up for sale. The Board wanted to buy, but a rich lady living in the place, rather than have these dirty peasants coming round her place, so it is said, offered more for it than it was worth. When I see things like these occurring—people literally starving for land, and one or two individuals, through sheer cussedness, keeping them still in sordid wretchedness and misery, is it any wonder that I am anxious that the Government would step in and prevent people of this sort from doing harm to these wretched peasants?Now, Sir, I think that letter shows what is the true state of the case as regards the congested districts. The Board, it 1465 appears, is not allowed to borrow money on the same terms as the tenants, and they are not allowed to borrow the money which they require for the holdings. At present, when the Board bid for land, they are often outbid by private persons, and I say the Board ought to be allowed to borrow money, in addition to having compulsory purchasing powers. I hoped my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh could bring this Bill to a Second Reading, and I am sure he can get the Bill passed if he wishes, because he can control the general body of Unionists, and we all feel that he has the Government under his thumb. I appeal to him to give this Bill his consent, and by doing that he will contribute to the improvement of the condition of, at least, half a million of people, the population of the congested districts, and if this Bill becomes law he will be entitled to the gratitude of those people.
§ MR. GEORGE MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid.)
I was rather surprised to hear the statement from the opposite Bench with reference to the principles of the Unionist Party. I think, if we had in the House at the present moment the hon. Member for the Kirkdale division of Liverpool we would hear a different view of the subject. This hon. Member has lately written a book dealing with this very subject, and advocating the views which this Bill proposes to carry out. In that book, which contains a large amount of useful information, will be found expressions of deep sympathy, and of sincere desire to benefit the people of Ireland. I regret very much indeed the absence at the present time of so many hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Benches, the Ministerial side of the House, because I feel and believe that they cannot have any solemn ground of objection to the principles of the Bill. Of course, there will be hereafter various Amendments to the Bill, but at present we have before the House only the strong principles which underlie the Bill. Those principles are those as to the possibility of the development of the resources of Ireland and the material advancement of her people. I am, indeed, sorry to hear coming from the Benches of this House 1466 an adverse expression of opinion. We want more than sympathy. We want the real article. We want specific administration. Sir, it is not sufficient for hon. Members to go over Ireland and take a diagnosis of this or that ill if they do not give us the opportunity to carry out the remedy. Some people seem to think that four and a-half millions of people are too large a population for Ireland. But in Ireland there are 20 millions and three-quarters of a million acres of land, and nine-tenths of this is either pasture or waste land. The remedy lies in cultivating or reclaiming this waste land. I, therefore, say the proposers of this Bill have a right to claim the assistance of all the Members of this House. It cannot with truth be said that this trouble in Ireland is because of the large population there. The trouble lies in the fact of this large amount of waste land being untitled. If we wish to improve the condition of the people, and benefit the country, we must reclaim this waste land. The unassuming Bill proposes to go in the direction of reclaiming the waste and cultivating the idle land in Ireland. Sir, what does this Bill propose to do? It proposes to widen the powers of the Congested Districts Board—a Board that has given satisfaction in the past, that has done the work entrusted to it to the satisfaction of all; a Board in which the Government can have confidence, and at the head of which the Chief Secretary has a seat. In asking to have the powers of this Board extended, to have them widened, to give the scope of its benefits a wider flow, we are not, I think, asking anything unreasonable, but what is moderate, useful, and beneficial. I don't think there is anything to be gained in the present state of the Bill by raising objections and saying we are proposing something new. We are proposing nothing new at all. Every principle underlying this Bill has already received the assent of this House. The hon. Baronet stood aghast in wonder, and declared that we were advocating compulsory purchase as a thing that had never been assented to, but he must remember that the House has assented to the taking of the land for the public good over and over again, not only in Ireland, but in Scotland. You have it in Ireland in regard to labourers' cottages, in regard 1467 to ground for burial, in regard to railway companies, and in what way can it be better acquired than for the poor, who live on small patches of land, so that they may have an opportunity of helping themselves and an opportunity of extending their labour, and get some return for the work they have expended upon the land? This is what the Bill proposes to do, by enlarging and extending the powers of the Board. I think, Mr. Speaker, that there cannot be any solid foundation, that there can be no real objection to the principle of this Bill. As I said before, the Bill, at the present stage, is only a Bill in principle. Later on, when it comes into Committee, amendments can be suggested and proposed, and if they are for the improvement of the Bill in the right direction, for extending the powers of the Congested Districts Board in the way desired by the promoters of the Bill, I am sure they will secure attention, and be received in a kindly spirit. But I would ask the House not lightly to reject this Bill, for if they do many honourable Members will be going back on the views they have enunciated, they will be casting aside and turning away from the remedies they themselves proposed for the benefit of Irish distress, and they will be doing this—they will be keeping the congested portions of the country in a condition bordering on starvation; whereas, by giving to this useful body, the Congested Districts Board, enlarged powers, they will be providing against the recurrence of distress that you so often hear about, and which, unhappily, exists on the Western seaboard of Ireland. Anything we can do to encourage their self-reliance, to encourage the spirit of self-help, to make the people depend upon themselves, and to turn to themselves as the only sure and safe prop for support, we ought to do. I think that principle deserves the assent of every man who means well for human progress. This Bill is not to deprave or demoralise; its tendency is quite the opposite. It is wanted to give them a chance of doing something for themselves and to improve a country that stands so much in need of improvement.
§ MR. J. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
This is not a revolutionary Bill. The principles that underlie this Bill 1468 are principles that you will have to carry into effect sooner or later if you want to cure some of the evils under which the people labour, especially in the Western districts of Ireland. I come from a, part of the West of Ireland where we have before us an example of such evils and the necessity for something like this Measure being passed into law. I live in the town of Boyle, where we have on one side of the town a rich rolling plain which stretches away for twenty miles, and you will not see a house there except a shepherd's house. The other side, bleak and bare, is dotted with the houses of the peasantry. There we have swamps and bogs. How is it that on one side of the town we see those fields waste and desolate, we do not see any habitations, and if we walk through the fields we come upon the tracks of old houses, which are as ghastly as a battlefield, where the bones of the dead are left above ground? We are told that when the famine came the people who lived on this plain were swept out, and that the survivors had to seek shelter on the mountains or the moors. These people were driven out, and the land was given over to bullock grazing, because in those days it was considered profitable to go in for bullock grazing. The curse that such a policy entailed had fallen upon this plain of Roscommon, and at the present day the large farmers who were imported from Scotland and elsewhere to take up this land and make large farming profitable had to adopt a certain policy, because of foreign competition, because cattle came to be brought into this country to undersell home-fed meat. These farms have become unprofitable, and the large graziers and farmers have been driven out, and the lands are in the hands of money-lenders. If we are to have a remedy for this state of things, it is by the operation of some such Bill as this, that will bring the people back from the mountains to this fertile plain, and make the land profitable. For these reasons I beg to support this Bill. I hope the Government is striving to enter a path which will meet some of the views of the Irish people in regard to the management of local affairs. I hope the Government will continue on that path, and see their way to give assent to the principle that underlies this Bill, so as 1469 to make it possible to farm waste lands with profit.
§ COLONEL E. J. SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
It is a remarkable thing that very few hon. Members have given us a description of what the Bill really is. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill told us at the outset of his speech that there were safeguards, and that the first safeguard was that the initiative rested with the Privy Council. I do not find that in the Bill. Probably he never read the Bill himself. Anyhow, I do not find it; that is all I can say. He may read it in a different way from myself, for I do not find it. The hon. Member for East Clare supported this Bill. He did not give any description of its details; he did not point out any of the safeguards which, naturally, would be required by the land-owning classes in Ireland; and I think he gave to the House the most extraordinary explanation he could have chosen if he had searched the whole of Irish history, in order to persuade the House that the object of this Bill was a useful one. The instance he gave was of the company started by the late Mr. Parnell, who bought the Bodkin estate for £18,000. An hon. Member, a friend of mine, in this House, invested some money in it—the Member for East Tyrone—and the present Lord Russell also invested money in it, as well as many other Irishmen, and they never saw any money back again, nor any result that might satisfy them for the loss they had sustained. It was an absolute failure; therefore I am rather surprised at the hon. Member for East Clare citing that as an example. He went on to state that the way the Bill was treated in the House of Commons shows that we ought to have a Home Rule Parliament. If we had a Home Rule Parliament, and a Bill of this kind was introduced, it would go through the House like lightning. My hon. and learned Friend opposite, the Member for North Tyrone, supported the Bill, although he did not give us much light on its clauses. He said—I took the words down, and, coming from a legal authority, they ought to influence even the hon. Member for East Clare—Pass this Bill, so that in Committee we may make out what is the meaning of it.1470 A Bill that does not tell the House what it means may pass a Home Rule Parliament, but I do not think it is likely to pass the British House of Commons. I agree with them a great deal, but on other points I join issue with them. I sympathise as much as any Irishman can with my fellow-countrymen who are placed in unfortunate circumstances on the West and North-West of Ireland, principally on the sea coast, and I sympathise with the objects of the Congested Districts Board; but where we join issue with the hon. Gentlemen opposite is here. I say that this is a most beneficial object to go to these people, and place them on larger farms than the miserable pieces of land they have now, I agree with them; but I say that in doing that for a great State purpose, in pacifying and assisting a part of Her Majesty's dominions in the North-West of Ireland, it ought to be done at the expense of the country, and not at the expense of the landlords. Now, Sir, what have we heard about the principle of this Bill? It appears to me that the object of this Bill is to break up portions of the West of Ireland, which are by far the most valuable part of the soil of Ireland, and place on them these poor people from the sea shore of Kerry, Donegal, and Clare. Can anybody see how they can introduce such a scheme of political economy in Ireland? Surely, if that is the object of this Bill, it is an object which, I think, Irishmen, for their own sakes, ought to look upon as most injurious if passed into law, to the country which they wish to serve. Another hon. Member says that one object of the Bill would be achieved if you only added another clause, to the effect that no one in Ireland or elsewhere had a right to offer more than will be offered by the Congested Districts Board, and that then it would be an excellent Bill. Surely, Sir, it will be very unfair to a landlord if he can get £1,000 or £2,000 more from someone else, to be compelled to sell at the price fixed. I do not think that that is a principle that this House will agree to for a moment. The thing that astonished me most of all was the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Dublin. He is a member of the Congested Districts Board, and when I saw his name on the back of 1471 this Bill I was led, apparently erroneously, to the conclusion that he approved of the Bill. I do not think it is fair to the House for a gentleman to put his name to a Bill, and when he comes to discuss it he disapproves of it. What is the meaning of the speech of my right hon. Friend? He said he did not like this Bill; and that, when he came to examine it, he found there was a great deal which he disapproved of in the Bill. If that is so, his name ought not to have appeared on the back of it, because his name on the back of this Bill means this, that a member of the Congested Districts Board—he is a distinguished member of that Board—has deliberately put his name down on a Bill which deals with powers which he wants the House to confer upon that Board. That would lead any ordinary Member of this House to believe that the view of the Board is the view expressed by the Bill.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
I think I ought to explain that I said I was not speaking for the Board, but that I spoke only for myself; and I also stated that there were members of that Board who disapproved of it, but I said that I was in favour of the principle of the Bill, and I think that explains it.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I do not want to misrepresent my hon. Friend; I only want to point out that when I saw the name of a distinguished Member of the House on the back of that Bill I was naturally ready to believe that he approved of it, and, as he is a member of that Board, in Ireland, people would naturally be led to believe that the Board is in favour of it. I cannot conceive anybody placing his name upon a Bill of which he disapproves. What is the principle of this Bill? The principle of this Bill is a principle which does not exist in any British law at the present moment, and there is no such principle embodied in any Act of Parliament. I am perfectly well aware that the Act of 1845 referred to in this Bill was passed to enable railways to be made in this country. I am quite well aware that that Bill enables Companies to acquire land compulsorily. The House will notice that the only part of the Bill—of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Acts of 1845—which is to apply, is that part 1472 which deals with compulsory purchase. It sweeps all the rest of the Bill away, and the same clauses are brought up to allow of property being sold at a ruinous price. This Bill itself puts down what is supposed to be the rule for the future purchase of land. At any rate, no safeguard is made by this Act, which is incorporated in this Bill. That is not a safeguard. The safeguard is carefully removed. I maintain, Sir, that the only safeguard provided in this Bill arises when the Land Commission refuses to take action. In that case, I believe, as far as I can understand this Bill, the question will come before another Court. I do not imagine that that is any great safeguard. I have not got that implicit confidence in the discretion of the Land Commission that would lead me to assume that they would ever offer any serious objection to taking land compulsorily under this Act. As is well known in the case of railway companies, in those Acts it is provided that if an agreement cannot be arrived at as to the value of the property, it may ultimately go before a Special Jury. So, what course are we to take? I do not suppose it would have been thought fair to embody that Act of 1845 to allow the railway company itself to be the ultimate Court of Appeal, and it is rather unfair to the unfortunate owners of land. Who establishes the value under this Bill? Who establishes the value of the land? First of all, it can be set going in this way. Clause 6 is really the most important clause in the Bill. It provides that a tenant who desires to extend his holding may do so. Well, now, every tenant wants to do that. What will happen then? What will happen if an agreement cannot be come to as to the price of the land which the tenant requires to increase the size of his holding? What would happen in such a case under this Bill? Why, the Land Commission would make an order putting into force, as far as respects the said land, or any part of it, the Provisions of the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts. That is to say, if the landlord was not satisfied with the price offered he would be compelled to sell it against his will. Who was to value the land? Why, the Land Commission! And how do their arrive at that value? Why, by 1473 sending down a valuer to look at it—a £3 3s. a day valuer! Is that likely to satisfy any ordinary landlord? That is a proposal over which landlords cannot be expected to wax enthusiastic. The very essence of this Bill is the compulsion of the Irish landlords to sell their estates to these tenants without practically any appeal at all, and that is a principle with which I absolutely disagree. I sympathise, I say, as much as anyone with the condition of the poor Irish peasants on the west coast of Ireland. But I say, and I have always thought, that their condition has been exaggerated, very much exaggerated. I do not know whether there is any hon. Member in this House at the present moment who has ever employed Irish labour during the harvest time. Now, I have taken a considerable amount of trouble to inquire in various places where they are in the habit of employing Irish labourers how they have got on with their work. The opinion I have everywhere received is this: that the Irish labourers who come over from these very distressed districts are hard-working, sober, honest, cheerful, and pleasant men to deal with, and so much is this the case that I have heard in numerous cases that the same labourers are in the habit of coming back to the same place year after year. If we were to believe the stories we hear about these people from the West and North-West, you would imagine that they were a helpless set of starving scarecrows. But they are nothing of the kind. You cannot judge the happiness of an Irish peasant, who lives in the West of Ireland, on the sea-shore, by the same standard that is applied to a man living on this side of the water. I venture to say this: that if you thought a little about those other congested districts that are not two miles from this House, and if you asked one of these Irish labourers or Irish peasants, who lives in a mud-house, with thatched roof, and who breathes for many months of the year the warm and healthy air that comes across the Atlantic, he would think twice before he would exchange his lot with a man who lives in the congested districts of this great city and who breathes the polluted air of the East End of London. Because he lives in 1474 a mud cottage thatched with straw, does that make him the miserable beggar he is always held out to be? I do not think, if you took these men away from Clare and Kerry, and put them on this land, I do not believe that they would thrive there. I do not believe that these men live in a condition of hopeless misery. What I think is this: that the wisest way to do these poor men good is not to take them out of the place where they have always lived in, and from the surroundings which they love, however lowly they may be, but if you do increase their holdings, increase them in the districts in which they live, and let their holdings remain around the houses in which their forefathers have dwelt. But if you want to remove them, and if you believe that it will really be a good thing for them, then it ought not to be done at the expense of the landlords—which will be the case if this Bill is carried—but at the expense of the State. I am quite ready to join in the appeals which have been made by Gentlemen opposite for a generous treatment of this question, but I say that the money ought to come out of the pockets of the British taxpayers, and not from the Irish landlords. My objection to this Bill is that it proposes to carry out these operations at the expense of those who, I say, ought not to bear it, and it proposes that the landlord shall be forced to sell his land at a disadvantage. If you want to have these things do them yourselves, and not at the expense of other people; and, besides that, you give power to buy land anywhere in Ireland whether the owners wish it or not, taking men who have lived in Clare and North Donegal and place them against the will of the landlord in some of the best districts of Ireland. That is far from benefiting the country. On the contrary, you will bring on society a new form of pauper far more dangerous than these poor and honest men who now live on the West Coast of Ireland. This is a Bill which is absolutely contrary to the principles which have guided the House in dealing with former problems of this kind, and whatever measures may be taken, I hope that the money that is to carry out what, undoubtedly, will be a most beneficial object, will be money not 1475 coming out of the pockets of Irish landlords, because you have had your hands in their pockets long enough, but at the expense of the British Exchequer.
§ MR. DILLON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman may be perfectly free from anxiety. This Bill has not been drafted with the intention of being hostile to the landlord interest, nor do I believe its provisions would have any injurious effect upon the landlords of Ireland. On the contrary, I am perfectly convinced that if this Bill were passed into law, and that such modifications as might be necessary were made in Committee, it would have the effect of improving the property of some of the landlords. Now, Sir, before I turn to the question of the Bill itself, I will look at the objections which have been made to it, and, with the exception of the non possumus attitude of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, I say that all the objections made have been Committee objections, and not directed in the slightest degree against the principle of the Bill itself. I desire to say one or two words in reference to the mistake made by the hon. and gallant Member about these migratory labourers. He used language with regard to these poor people in the West of Ireland which I was exceedingly glad to hear coming from his mouth—language which I do not think I ever heard coming from him before. Speaking of them as regards their labour in this country, he said that those who had occasion to employ them in this country found them to be industrious, and honest, and pleasant men to deal with, and who gave full value for the wages that they received. Is it not a cruel thing that these poor men, who are so described, are denied the right in their own country to use that labour and industry which they possess to drag, in the face of dreadful hardships, from place to place, all over this country, from North to South, in search of a living which, if this Bill were passed and carried out in a liberal spirit, they would find in Mayo and Clare, Galway, and Kerry, and where they would contentedly live, and apply that industry there, instead of going to America and England. I do not think 1476 I ever listened to a stronger argument in favour of a Measure of this character. The hon. and gallant Member said these men are not farmers—they are nothing more than labourers—drawing a distinction which I find it difficult to draw. He stated a proposition which I absolutely deny, and I would ask from any experienced man, such as the Member for South Dublin—Is there, in the whole world, a better material from which to form a prosperous body of small peasant proprietors than men on the West Coast of Ireland? I say that if you place these men on small farms—and a very small farm will satisfy their interests—under favourable conditions, the universal experience has been that, although they start under very unfavourable circumstances, almost without capital, and with little credit, give them only sufficient land, ten or twelve acres of decent land at a reasonable price, and they will create capital, and will be turned from chronic paupers, and from migratory labourers, into a contented and prosperous peasantry. The experiment has been tried over and over again, and recently retried, as shown by the Congested Districts Board, and the result has been shown as I have indicated. If the description of the hon. and gallant Member of these poor persons be a true description, and I maintain it is true and entirely unexaggerated, no greater work can possibly be undertaken by a strong and rich Government such as the present, than to turn this population, which has been a reproach to this country for generations, which, to use the strong language of the Member for South Dublin, is today still, after all these years, a disgract to civilisation, and to turn them at a comparatively trifling expense—as the experience of the Congested Districts Board proves that it can be done—into a body of contented people. I turn for a moment to another objection made by the hon. and gallant Member. He said this Bill would give power to the Congested Districts Board to buy compulsorily land in any part of Ireland, and he drew an absurd picture of transporting the poor persons of the West into the lands at Kildare. We have never had any such idea in our minds. The Bill speaks of land in the vicinity, and that word has been considered also by the 1477 hon. and gallant Member. Now, the question of vicinity in the congested districts is a word that will have to be properly applied in the course of the discussion; but it means this, roughly speaking, that in these counties in Ireland in which there are congested districts there is, in my judgment, and I speak from considerable experience on the subject, in Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Clare, and in Donegal to a lesser extent, ample room for all the population that is in the congested districts in each county, within the limits of that county. I know that to be the case in Mayo. You have in the immediate vicinity, within a few miles of the Western congested districts in Mayo, vast tracts like the plains of Mayo, from which the population has within historical times, and within recent times, been driven under stress of famine, and very often under the full operation of doctrine and theories that a small population was an injurious thing, and that large farming and a large capital were the real roads to Irish agricultural prosperity. These doctrines were in full operation in Ireland in 1840, and whole villages in the district were swept away, and the houses levelled with the ground, because it was then held to be the best political economy to throw out the small holders and substitute large capitalists. What has happened since then? That doctrine has not stood the stress of circumstances, and in the face of foreign competition these large holders, who have been substituted for the great mass of the prosperous population of these lands, have come to grief, one after another, and the lands have been thrown on the hands of the landlord in some cases or into the hands of jobbers and speculators. I say that there is, roughly speaking, within the vicinity of the congested districts plenty of land which, without doing injury to any man, could be bought at a fair price, and could be used for the purpose of accommodating the whole of this miserable population with the small farms which would seem absolute comfort to them. Now, Sir, I take one other point, which is as to an interjection made by the Chief Secretary. He wanted to know whether the object of this Bill is to enable the Congested Districts Board to purchase land from the landlord or occupier at a lower price than 1478 it can be purchased in the open market. That is not the object of the Bill. He knows perfectly well that when you ask a public Department to give powers to compulsorily purchase land, that that is not the result. Allow me to point out—and I think I shall carry the whole House with me in this contention—that when a public Department goes into maket for any commodity, and begins to bid against private individuals, there are means and ways by which the market can be raised up against the public Department. "Sweeteners" I think they are called, and I daresay the Irish landlords understand them as well as other people. The market can be forced up as against the Government, because people know they have got the credit of the British Treasury at the back of one of the purchasers, and I think it would be most unfair that this scheme should be left at the mercy of such people as these—at the mercy of land jobbers and speculators; people who would be backed up by the landlords who wish to put up the price of the land. Sir, we know perfectly well that when men are called upon to sell anything to a Government Department they expect to get at least double the value, and that is a sort of moderate estimate; and they think they are ill-treated if they do not get it. So I attach no importance to that at all. The object of this Bill is this: That this Board, which is a Government Department, with whatever restrictions and whatever safeguards might be inserted in Committee, and anything else the Government thought necessary, should be empowered to carry out on a large scale what they have already tried in the case of two or three estates, and proved to be the only really successful remedy that has ever been applied. That is the object of this Bill, and I do appeal to the Chief Secretary when he comes to speak on this Measure to abstain from meeting the great principles it contains by picking holes in the drafting of it. I myself have had no responsibility in the drafting of this Bill, but I must say that private Members are at a great disadvantage in drafting Bills, as compared with the Government. I say it is not worthy of this House, in dealing with a great policy where the well-being of a 1479 large mass of the population is at stake to endeavour to meet the enunciation of the principles contained in this Bill by finding fault with things which can be remedied in Committee. Now, Sir, I turn for a moment to the Report of the Congested Districts Board, and I shall refer specially to the fourth Report, page 10, where these records of the Congested Districts Board are put with great emphasis; and, now, what I want the Chief Secretary to tell us is, does he, or does he not, adhere to the view put forward officially and unanimously by the Congested District Boards in successive Reports? I have given the history of the policy of this Board from year to year. I refer to the Report of 1897, which was based on the Board's first experiment, known as that of the French Estate. Is the Chief Secretary going back on that policy? The Congested Districts Board, unanimously and without difference of opinion, decided that they required more funds and extended powers of compulsory purchase if they were to carry out this most successful policy to such a conclusion and to such an extent as must affect the poverty of the people. In my opinion this is the only portion of the work of the Congested Districts Board which is really calculated to solve this problem. I believe it is possible, at a very moderate expense to the Exchequer of this country, to solve the problem, and I say it is a crying injustice if the Government does not take immediate steps to enable the Board to carry out the policy in which they believe. I should like to emphasise what has been said with regard to that policy on Clare Island. For years, in this House and outside, I have been trying to press upon the Government the folly, indeed, almost the wickedness of leaving these people in such a condition that, every three or four years, you have to spend a quantity of money to keep them from starving or dying. And it is money which leaves no trace of good behind it, but the very reverse. You must spend it, but you do it in a way that does no good, and to a certain extent does harm. What have you in the case of Clare Island? The island was purchased with great 1480 difficulty by the Board, and one enormous advantage of their operations was this: they not only enlarged the holdings of the people, but they expended a considerable sum of money amongst them in wages for work done in improving the land. Sir, I have not heard a single complaint from Clare Island, and I have no doubt the result of these operations will be that, in all probability, the people of that island will be for the future a self-supporting people, instead of an unfortunate race obliged to look for public charity once every three or four years. I put it again to the Government, can they possibly apply their energy and the moderate amount of money required to a better purpose? I make one more appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to meet our demand, not on quibbling points about drafting, but as a demand to give the Congested Districts Board compulsory powers to acquire land, and also—what cannot be put on the Bill—a large increase of revenue, since they have shown conclusively, to the satisfaction of all concerned, that they have made good use of the money already placed in their hands.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think that I have ever listened to the discussion of a Bill in which the speeches delivered wandered so very widely from the contents of the Bill. I take, for instance, as a fair specimen, the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of the Bill. Sir, that speech was reasonable enough and moderate enough in its terms, but the hon. Member made practically no reference to the actual contents of the Bill. He argued, in order to prove the necessity for an increase in the income of the Congested Districts Board, but the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Mayo, said there was not and could not be in this Bill any reference to the income of the Board. The hon. Member who moved the second reading referred to existing distress, but this is not a Bill to cope with existing distress. At the very utmost all that can be said is, that this is a Bill prepared with a view to carrying through a policy which may ultimately 1481 have the effect of diminishing distress in the districts to which the hon. Member referred. The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo made an appeal to me that I should not criticise the details of this Bill. I think that is a reasonable appeal within limits; at the same time I object to the view that on Wednesday evenings this House is merely called upon to decide and pass resolutions in favour of a vague policy. It is desirable, and even necessary, in the interests of the House itself, that, when a Bill is brought forward on a Wednesday afternoon, there should be a certain amount of consideration of its details. Unless I am greatly mistaken we were told by the Member for East Mayo that this Bill was drafted by the hon. Member for the City of Limerick. I cannot congratulate the hon. Member upon his work. Apparently, the Bill is intended to carry out two objects. One of these is described in Clause 2, and the other in Clause 6; and the hon. Member for East Mayo himself described these two as alternative objects. Sir, I desire to call the attention of the House to Clause 2. It reads as follows—If the Congested Districts Board are unable to acquire by agreement, and on reasonable terms, available land for the purposes, for which they are hereinafter authorised to acquire the same,and so forth. Sir, I looked carefully through the Bill in order to find out what are these objects for which the Congested Districts Board is to acquire land, and I cannot find them anywhere described. The only possible explanation I can give is that Clause 6, which the hon. Member for East Mayo described as an alternative proposition, is not an alternative proposition at all. Clause 6 is an extraordinary clause. It provides that, where any occupier of a small holding thinks that his holding can be usefully enlarged, he may appeal to the Congested Districts Board—if he cannot persuade his landlord to enlarge the holding—and, if the Board is satisfied as to the desirability of the enlargement, they may make an order under the Land Purchases Act, and the Land Acts. But, Sir, allow me to point out that Clause 6 refers, and can only refer, to land in the vicinity. What is the meaning of this word "vicinity"? We have heard 1482 a great many explanations of it. In the opinion of some hon. Members the word "vicinity" includes the whole of Ireland. Allow me to inform hon. Gentlemen that the word "vicinity" occurs, not merely in Clause 6, but also in the Preamble of the Bill, for the words are—A Bill to extend the powers of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland, to enable them to acquire, by compulsory purchase, land in the vicinity of congested districts in Ireland.Has the word "vicinity" in the Preamble the same meaning, or has it a different meaning to that in Clause 6? If it has the same meaning, it must mean in the immediate vicinity; and what becomes of the statement made by several Members that, this Bill is to enable the Congested Districts Board to buy land in any part of Ireland? I am not astonished that the hon. Member for East Mayo should have entreated me not to criticise the details of this Bill.
§ MR. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. I have no objection to his criticism of the details, but I pointed out that the time might be more usefully occupied in discussing the principles of the Bill.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
This Bill speaks of available land. That is a remarkable term, and I do not see any definition in the Bill of what is meant by available land. There is no hint of what is the meaning of available land. Does it mean land in the hands of the landlord only? If it does not mean that, but means land in the hands of a tenant, then we come to this position, that one tenant is to be turned out in order to put another in his place. The hon. Member for South Monaghan, who moved the second reading of the Bill, made a statement to the effect that the Bill contained every safeguard that even a Member of the Government could suggest, but I have failed to find them. It appears to me that the Bill compares unfavourably in this respect with the only Act that, so far as I know, bears any resemblance to this Bill—I mean the Crofters Act. But, Sir, the Crofters Act did not give power to take land compulsorily in any case. It did give power to lease land compulsorily, but at 1483 all events it put in safeguards in a very careful manner. For instance, in Section 12, it provided that the Commissioners must be satisfied that the people were able and willing to pay a fair rent and stock the land. That is a condition of a most important character. The hon. Member for East Mayo seems to think that you have merely got to purchase the land and divide it up among the tenants, and then nothing more requires to be done. Sir, that is not at all the case, as I shall presently show, for this safeguard in the Crofters Act is a most important one. Then, again, in Section 13, it was provided that the land must be contiguous to the holding, and I believe "contiguous" means that it must be absolutely touching. Sir, I only mention these safeguards in the Crofters Act in order to show that there is a distinct defect in the Bill we are now asked to read a second time. Not a single one of those difficulties has been provided for in the Bill. Then, Sir, the Bill proposes to give a power to the Land Commissioners to decide absolutely, and without appeal, whether the land should be taken compulsorily or not. I venture to say that there is no provision of that kind to be found in any English, Scotch, or Irish Act up to this time. There is an appeal to the Privy Council, but what is that appeal? It is not an appeal by a private individual, who may be aggrieved by the action of the Land Commission, but it is an appeal by the Congested Districts Board to the Privy Council, if the Land Commission fails to carry out the desires of the Congested Districts Board. And, Sir, I venture to think that the Land Commissioners are by no means the body whom it would be desirable, either in the interests of themselves, or of anybody else, to entrust with such a power. Well, now, Sir, as the hon. Member opposite says, the time is short, and I do not at all desire to shirk the question of the principle of this Bill. The principle of the Bill is, of course, compulsory purchase, and that claim for compulsory purchase proceeds on the assumption that migration or enlargement of the holding is the only way, or, at all events, by far the most important way, of dealing with the poverty of these districts on the west coast of Ireland; and, further, that that policy cannot be carried 1484 out unless these compulsory powers are given. I am not ready altogether to admit the first of those propositions, and I certainly cannot admit the second one. Migration, in the proper sense of the word—that is to say, the removal of the people from the neighbourhood in which they live to another district—was one of the methods of working the Congested Districts Board contemplated by the Act by which that Board was established. But, as a matter of fact, so far as I am aware, there is not one single instance in which it has been put into practice, and the reason is not any difficulty which the Board have found in the way of acquiring land, but in the unwillingness of the people themselves to move. Every man thinks his neighbour should leave, but he never thinks that he should be the person to leave, and the result is that the Migration Clauses of the Act of 1891 really never have been put in force at all, and I doubt whether they are practical or practicable in any sense. On the other hand, the policy of enlarging holdings for grass lands or large farms in the immediate neighbourhood of small holdings has been followed by the Congested Districts Board, and I think, up to the present time, with considerable success. But if the land available were treated in that way, and brought under this clause and divided, it would not, I think, have the effect desired by hon. Members opposite, while I admit that it might be a great benefit in some respects. Now, Sir, the Congested Districts Board has been doing its work for some time past, and the contention of hon. Members opposite and others supporting this Bill is that, unless the Board get these compulsory powers, it will not be able to carry out its policy satisfactorily. I will state very shortly to the House the history of the various proposals made to the Congested Districts Board for the purchase of land and the result of the offers they have made. The Congested Districts Board up to the present time have purchased eight estates, four in County Galway and four in County Mayo, with a total rental of about £3,000 a year, the purchase price being £33,400—not a very enormous price. The average number of years' purchase for which the Congested Districts Board acquired land for the purpose 1485 of enlarging holdings has been 11¼. Surely, then, the complaints we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is impossible for the Congested Districts Board to purchase land, except at an exorbitant rate, is not made out.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether these estates were purchased in the Landed Estates Court, or in the open market?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I think some of them were purchased in the open market, and some from private people. Now I come to the negotiations under the Act in regard to 12 other estates in Galway, Donegal, and Roscommon. In only three cases the negotiations failed because the owners refused to sell. In eight cases the owners were willing to sell, but not at the prices offered by the Board. So far as I can make out, in four of these cases alone was the price asked by the landlords in excess, or, at all events, clearly in excess of the fair market price, and in three of the cases the estates were actually sold by auction at prices beyond those which the Board were prepared to give, and in one case very much beyond the price. One proposed purchase failed because the tenant of three large farms would not sell to the Board his interest in a lease. Well, it appears from this list that out of 20 purchases attempted by the Board, there were only three cases in which the owners refused to sell, and four in which the terms asked were more than the land was worth. Is this a case on which to base a demand for compulsory powers? That is the question. I think a demand for compulsory powers has seldom been put forward on slenderer grounds. At the present time the Board are in negotiation for 20 other estates—four in Galway and 16 in Mayo—and my contention is that if the Board is prepared to give a reasonably generous price for the land it desires to acquire, there will be no such serious difficulty of acquiring that land as to justify a Bill of this kind. Now, I have stated to the House my view of the case, and I think I have shown that this Bill 1486 is unnecessary. But I would say more. I believe it would be positively injurious to the work of the Board. If such a Bill became law, the result would be that the Board, instead of being able to purchase estates by voluntary arrangement, would have in almost every case to resort to its powers of compulsion, and where land is taken by compulsion, the arbitrator, under such circumstances, invariably gives an unwilling vendor a high and generous price. The cost of the proceedings contemplated by this Bill, and such proceedings there must be, will have to be added to the price given for the land; and my firm belief is that the net result would be that the Congested Districts Board, instead of having to pay a lower price for the land it desired to acquire, would have to pay a higher price than they now paid. And, Sir, would it be really in the interest of the Board itself that these powers should be conferred upon it. At present the Board is viewed with favour by every class of the community, but if you give it these compulsory powers, you will at once embroil it in all those difficult questions and disputes between landlord and tenant, and you might expose it to the pressure, in my opinion the unfair pressure, of tenants who would naturally desire that their holdings should be increased; and that, Sir, would certainly not increase the power of the Board for good. Sir, as regards one matter, and that is the resources of the Board, I agree with a great deal of what has fallen from the hon. Member opposite. The Reports of the Congested Districts Board, which I have signed, have recommended that the resources of the Board should be increased. I agreed to that, and I myself made a proposal in that direction last year, and I have made a proposal in that direction this year. I do think that there are certain ways in which the powers of the Congested Districts Board might be usefully increased, but my position is this: I am quite unable to bring forward a Bill, dealing with the powers of the Board, while there is a danger that such a Bill would have to face the possibility of its progress being destroyed by Amendments in 1487 the direction of the proposals of the Bill now before the House giving the Board compulsory powers.
Motion made, and Question put,
That the Bill be now read a second time.
§ The House divided.—Ayes 137; Noes 223.1489
|Abraham, Wm. (Cork, N. E.)||Gourley, Sir Ed. Temperley||O'Connor, Jas. (Wicklow, W.)|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Allen, Wm. (Newc.-under-L.)||Haldane, Richard Burdon||O'Kelly, James|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Hayden, John Patrick||O'Malley, William|
|Ambrose, Robert (Mayo, W.)||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Philipps, John Wynford|
|Asher, Alexander||Hazell, Walter||Pinkerton, John|
|Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert Henry||Healy, Timothy M. (N. Louth)||Pirie, Captain Duncan|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Chas. H.||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Hogan, James Francis||Price, Robert John|
|Bayley, Thos. (Derbyshire)||Holden, Angus||Provand, Andrew Dryburgh|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Horniman, Frederick John||Redmond, John E. (Waterf'd)|
|Billson, Alfred||Jacoby, James Alfred||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Birrell, Augustine||Jameson, Major J. Eustace||Reid, Sir Robert T.|
|Blake, Edward||Joicey, Sir James||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Brigg, John||Jones, David Brynmor (Swans'a)||Roberts, Jno. H. (Denbighs.)|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Jordan, Jeremiah||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Burt, Thomas||Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt. Hn. Sir U.||Roche, Hon. Jas. (E. Kerry)|
|Caldwell, James||Kinloch, Sir Jno. Geo. Smyth||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Carew, James Laurence||Kitson, Sir James||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Lambert, George||Shaw, Chas. Edw. (Stafford)|
|Clough, Walter Owen||Leng, Sir John||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Colville, John||Leuty Thomas Richmond||Sinclair, Capt. Jno. (Forfarsh.)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lough, Thomas||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Crilly, Daniel||Luttrell, Hugh Fownes||Souttar, Robinson|
|Crombie, John William||MacAleese, Daniel||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||MacNeill, Jno. Gordon Swift||Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)|
|Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)||M'Cartan, Michael||Tanner, Charles Kearns|
|Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.)||M'Donnell, Dr. M. A. (Queen's C.)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Dalziel, James Henry||M'Ghee, Richard||Tully, Jasper|
|Dillon, John||M'Hugh, E. (Armagh S.)||Wallace, Robert (Edinburgh)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Hugh, Patrick A. (Leitrim)||Wallace, Robert (Perth)|
|Doogan, P. C.||M'Kenna, Reginald||Walton, Jno. Lawson (Leeds, S.)|
|Dunn, Sir William||Maddison, Fred.||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Ellis, Thos. Ed. (Merionethsh.)||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Wayman, Thomas|
|Engledew, Charles John||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorg'n)||Molloy, Bernard Charles||Weir, James Galloway|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel)||Whittaker Thomas Palmer|
|Fenwick, Charles||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmrthn.)||Williams, Jno. Carvell (Notts.)|
|Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||Morton, Edw. J. C. (Devonport)||Wilson, Jno. (Durham, Mid)|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Woodall, William|
|Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis||O'Brien, Jas. F. X. (Cork)||Young, Samuel|
|Gilhooly, James||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Daly and Mr. Davitt.|
|Gold, Charles||O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)|
|Allhusen, Augustus Henry Eden||Bathurst, Hon. Allen Ben.||Burdett-Coutts, W.|
|Ambrose, Wm. (Middlesex)||Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol)||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Beckett, Ernest William||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.)|
|Arrol, Sir William||Begg, Ferdinand Faithful||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.)|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis||Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Chelsea, Viscount|
|Bagot, Capt. J. FitzRoy||Bigwood, James||Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.|
|Baird, Jno. Geo. Alexander||Blundell, Colonel Henry||Coddington, Sir William|
|Baldwin, Alfred||Bousfield, William Robert||Coghill, Douglas Harry|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r)||Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn)||Cohen, Benjamin Louis|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. Ger'ld W. (Leeds)||Brassey, Albert||Ceilings, Rt. Hon. Jesse|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Colomb, Sir Jno. Chas. Ready|
|Barry, Francis Tress (Winds'r)||Brookfield, A. Montagu||Colston, Chas. Ed. H. Athole|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Bucknill, Thomas Townsend||Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Bullard, Sir Harry||Cooke, C. W. Radcliffe (Heref'rd)|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Holland, Hon. Lionel Raleigh||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Grhm. (Bute)|
|Courtney, Rt. Hn. Leonard H.||Howard, Joseph||Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)|
|Cox, Robert||Howard, Joseph||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Howell, William Tudor||Nicholson, William Graham|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Cruddas, William Donaldson||Hutchinson, Capt. G. W. Grice-||Northcote, Hon. Sir H. Stafford|
|Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.)||O'Neill, Hon. Robt. Torrens|
|Currie, Sir Donald||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Penn, John|
|Curzon, Rt. Hn. G. N. (Lanc. SW)||Jenkins, Sir John Jones||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Curzon, Viscount (Bucks.)||Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Ed.||Pryce-Jones, Edward|
|Dalbiac, Col. Philip Hugh||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Pym, C. Guy|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Johnstone, John H. (Sussex)||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Kemp, George||Renshaw, Charles Bine|
|Davenport, W. Bromley-||Kenrick, William||Richards, Henry Charles|
|Denny, Colonel||Kenyon, James||Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir Matthew W.|
|Dickson-Poynder, Sir Jno. P.||Kimber, Henry||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. T.|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||King, Sir Henry Seymour||Robertson, Herbt. (Hackney)|
|Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Knowles, Lees||Robinson, Brooke|
|Dorington, Sir John Edward||Lafone, Alfred||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Round, James|
|Doxford, William Theodore||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverp'l)||Russell, Gen. F. S. (Cheltenham)|
|Drucker, A.||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Lecky, Rt. Hon. Wm. Ed. H.||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Fardell, Sir T. George||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn- (Swn'sa)||Saunderson, Col. Edw. James|
|Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)|
|Finch, George H.||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Finlay, Sir Robt. Bannatyne||Long, Col. Chas. W. (Evesh'm)||Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew)|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Liverp'l)||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|FitzGerald, Sir R. U. Penrose||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)|
|Flower, Ernest||Lorne, Marquess of||Smith, Abel (Herts)|
|Forster, Henry William||Lowe, Francis William||Skewes-Cox, Thomas|
|Galloway, William Johnson||Lowther, Rt. Hn. Jas. (Kent)||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Garfit, William||Lubbock, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Gedge, Sydney||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Gibbons, J. Lloyd||Macdona, John dimming||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Giles, Charles Tyrrell||Maclean, James Mackenzie||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Gilliat, John Saunders||Maclure, Sir John William||Strauss, Arthur|
|Godson, Augustus Frederick||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Goldsworthy, Major-General||M'Calmont, H. L. B. (Cambs)||Sutherland, Sir Thomas|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward||M'Calmont, Col. J. (Antrim, E.)||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||M'Ewan, William||Taylor, Francis|
|Graham, Henry Robert||M'Iver, Sir Lewis||Thorburn, Walter|
|Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsb'y)||M'Killop, James||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Greene, W. Raymond- (Cambs)||Malcolm, Ian||Tomlinson, Wm. Ed. Murray|
|Gretton, John||Maple, Sir Jno. Blundell||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Greville, Captain||Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F.||Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. Howard|
|Gull, Sir Cameron||Mellor, Col. (Lancashire)||Waring, Colonel Thomas|
|Halsey, Thos. Frederick||Melville, Beresford Valentine||Warkworth, Lord|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.||Milbank, Powlett Chas. John||Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Rbt. W.||Mildmay, Francis Bingham||Wharton, Rt. Hn. Jno. Lloyd|
|Hanson, Sir Reginald||Milner, Sir Frederick George||Whiteley, George (Stockport)|
|Hare, Thomas Leigh||Milward, Colonel Victor||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Haslett, Sir James Horner||Monckton, Edward Philip||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Heath, James||Monk, Charles James||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks.)|
|Helder, Augustus||Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants)||Wodehouse, Edmd. R. (Bath)|
|Hermon-Hodge, Robt. Trotter||More, Robert Jasper||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Hickman, Sir Alfred||Morrell, George Herbert||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord Arth. (Down)||Morrison, Walter|
|Hill, Sir Edw. Stock (Bristol)||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Hoare, Ed. Brodie (Hampst'd)||Mount, William George|
|Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)||Murdoch, Chas. Townshend|
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
In moving that the House do now adjourn, it may be convenient to the House if I say that I shall take the Supplementary Estimates tomorrow, with the exception of that part of the Uganda vote, in respect of which 1490 papers have been asked for and promised. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to get them in time for the discussion tomorrow, and it would be impossible to discuss the Uganda vote without them. Under those circumstances, the Uganda vote was not to be included in the supplementary estimates to-morrow. The 1491 Civil Service votes are not included, and therefore it will be necessary to take somewhat earlier than anticipated the Army estimates, which will be taken on Friday, when I understand that the Under Secretary for War will make his statement on the motion that the Speaker leave the chair. If not concluded, the Army estimates will be continued on Monday.
§ MR. H. H. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
In reference to the Uganda vote, will not any vote be taken in respect of the missionaries in Uganda, or will that stand?
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREA SURY
I am not aware if there is any necessity to take that. It will all depend. I think, if we do reach it we shall be able to take it.
§ SIR C. DILKE: (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
Without pressing any objection, so far as I am concerned, it does occur to me that some difficulty may arise, if you take certain items out of a vote, because that may make it practically a separate vote.
§ DR. C. R. TANNER (Cork, Mid.)
May I ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if there is any truth in the rumours, which have come to us to-night, that the French have actually come into the Sokoto district, and whether it is not a fact that they have actually passed the parallel laid down on the lines which were supposed to be observed between this country and France?
§ [No Reply.]
§ MR. DAVITT
On the motion for the adjournment, may I be permitted to ask whether, in view of the statement made by Lord Salisbury yesterday in another place, the Secretary of State for the Colonies is prepared to say that the telegrams he read out to the House last Friday night, with such dramatic effect, were true reports or otherwise.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have paid great attention to the telegrams. There were three telegrams. The information given by Lord Salisbury last night had only reference to the third of those telegrams, and does not relate to the questions in 1492 the two telegrams I read on Friday. It does relate to the passage of French troops across the Niger, and is, I think, so far as that is concerned, satisfactory.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of the conflict of opinion as to the position of the French troops, any steps have been taken to obtain later information?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the place where the French troops are stated to be, is nearly 800 miles from Akassa, and over 500 from Lokoja, from which place Lieutenant Pilcher sent his communication?
§ MR. DALZIEL
May I point out that the right hon. Gentleman appears to have missed the point of my question. My question is whether the Colonial Office have taken any steps to communicate with our representatives in the matter to obtain further information. I presume distance is no bar to obtaining accurate information?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
No; but distance prevents us from speedily communicating with them.