§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith), CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, in the Chair.]
§ (In the Committee.)
Question again proposed—
That Clause 12 stand part of the Bill.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
When the Debate was adjourned yesterday I was dealing with the two main grounds on which I object to this clause. First of all, it does not fit into the Bill, and it has no analogy in English legislation. Now, Sir, when I appealed to the right honourable Gentleman to give his reasons for introducing this clause, he had to admit that there was no particular motive present in his mind for reproducing it except to throw some portion of the expense on the counties in the west of Ireland. Well, Sir, that is a most extraordinary principle to wrap up in a Bill for the better local government of Ireland. The right honourable Gentleman, in the speech which he made in defence of this clause, did not attempt to give one single reason why, if there is to be a rate levied for distress, that rate should fall entirely upon those counties which are the poorest in the whole of Ireland. Are we entitled to plead or to hope that the Treasury will make this grant. What makes me dislike this clause most of all is, that the greater the distress the less likely is it that the county will put it into operation. Therefore I do think that this clause is foreign to the scope of the Bill, and is, in reality, an attempt to place a further burden on a part of the country most deserving of relief and sympathy.
§ MR. JAMES H. M. CAMPBELL (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
I hope the Committee will excuse me if I, for a few moments, discuss on this particular section whether it will have the effect of substituting this local relief as the equivalent for Imperial assistance in cases of exceptional distress. We have in the first place, upon this point, the express declaration of the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland that that is not the intention of the law. But, more important still, while not in any way wishing to doubt the sincerity of that declaration, we have a much more important guarantee from the fact that the section itself fails to provide a complete relief, or anything in the nature of a complete scheme of relief, for exceptional distress. Anyone who reads the section must see this, that the object—and the primary object in the opinion of myself and honourable 431 Members from Ireland on this side of the House—is that it will enable the county in which this exceptional distress arises to apply relief at the time when it is most wanted—that is, at the outset of the distress, and it may very often happen that in a district where this distress arises, having the advantage of knowing it, and being there on the spot where the distress exists, they will be able to a greater or a less degree, by the immediate application of relief, to prevent that distress assuming an acute form.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL
Therefore it is that this section contains a most important ingredient—namely, the power that is given to the county council, if they so desire, to apply immediately, and at the very outset of the distress, that relief which may render subsequent aid unnecessary. But, further, I believe that this section affords—and will afford if only roughly—the means of testing the reality of the distress. Now, the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has said that in Ireland, when the opportunity arises to put your hand into the Imperial pocket, there is a strong desire on the part of Irishmen to plunge in as deeply as they can. Well, I do not think that they are singular in that respect. I think, perhaps, the same observation might apply to the inhabitants of this country and of Scotland; and certainly I think that if there is any indication of a desire on the part of Irishmen to indulge in that luxury more than the inhabitants of this country and of Scotland, to some extent the blame for that must lie upon the shoulders of Her Majesty's Government and her predecessors who, by permitting a system of land agitation, have placed a direct premium upon exaggeration in this country. But, apart from considerations of that sort, we upon this side of the House are in favour of the inclusion of this clause for the reason I have already mentioned, because we believe that it will be a very good test of the reality of the distress. I do not for a moment 432 intend to suggest by that, that distress does not arise at times in a very acute and severe form in these congested districts. At the present moment I am satisfied that there is in Ireland in many of these congested districts distress of a very intense and a very acute form. But, on the other hand, when the county council know that it is possible that they may be appealed to and asked to apply at the outset to distress of this character this exceptional relief, that will make them more careful to ascertain the exact facts as to the nature of the distress. And, above all, the clause provides what is most valuable and most wanted on the occasion when this distress arises, that is, it affords to those upon the spot, and who are, therefore, best acquainted with the distress, power to apply without delay a remedy which will check the distress, and which the Government is not in a position to supply so satisfactorily.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL
I wish to say, in answer to that question, that we all know that a Government department must necessarily move with a certain amount of slowness. The Government in Dublin Castle must satisfy themselves by local inquiry by their own officials as to the nature and extent of the distress. But in the case of the county council within the county it will have upon it members some of whom must necessarily come from the very area of the distress, and they will have in their own power more facilities and more means of acquiring a rapid and accurate knowledge of the nature and extent of the distress. And now there is just one other matter with regard to the argument used as to the unfairness of taxing remote parts of the country for the purpose of relieving distress at the other end of the country, It must be borne in mind that that observation applies, perhaps not with the same force, but it certainly applies with some force in the case of the poor rate. It also applies in the case of all those county charges, because they are contributed to by the ratepayers of the entire county for general purposes, consequently this proposal is more likely to directly benefit the isolated portions of the country. There must be some area 433 that will be liable for the burdens within that area, and until we can find something better, I can see no better definition of the area than the area represented by the county council. I hope the Government will see their way to retain this clause, which, I believe, for the reasons I have mentioned, will be found to work well and satisfactorily.
§ MR. W. S. ROBSON (South Shields)
It is claimed for this clause that it is designed to relieve distress in Ireland at the expense of the Imperial Exchequer. Now, Sir, if the clause had really that bent, and would produce that result without injustice to Ireland, I for one should be inclined to support it. But I confess that I am very doubtful indeed about the beneficial effects of this clause, and I am more doubtful still since I heard the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Now, I was struck with a contradiction in that speech. The right honourable Gentleman said that beyond doubt there exists in the west of Ireland a condition of things—a chronic condition of things—which was a subject proper for Imperial consideration, and which demanded an Imperial remedy. Now, that was an admission, but see what it amounted to. You have in Ireland a condition of things, and that condition of things is chronic. Now, I cannot see how anyone can agree with the Chief Secretary. If it be true that there exists in Ireland this dreadful condition of things, I do not think this House ought to shirk its duty. This condition of things is apart altogether from exceptional distress, and when that distress becomes exceptional we become excluded from blame. I do not think that any English Member on this side of the House, however anxious he may be to remedy this state of things, can possibly support this clause.
§ MR. THOMAS LOUGH (Islington, W.)
The point raised by the honourable Member on the opposite side of the House seems to be this: he said, very truly, that the county members of the council would have more knowledge of the distress than this House would have. But, the relief of distress is not a question of knowledge, it is a question of the purse, and these Irish counties have not got such good means at their 434 disposal as this House might have for the relief of distress. In bad times the county will suffer as much as the particular union affected. I think you will want a larger purse than the county can find to give adequate relief, and I think that disposes of the argument of the honourable and learned Member opposite. There is one point satisfactory in the promise of the Chief Secretary. The Chief Secretary said with the greatest candour and explicitness that this clause was not intended to relieve the Imperial Parliament of its duty in Ireland in regard to exceptional distress. I think that is a most satisfactory statement, but it puts the Committee into this difficulty: we have now to proceed upon a promise while there is a clause put into the Bill which appears to some extent to break that promise. Therefore I think we cannot absolutely accept this statement, although I am quite sure the right honourable Gentleman was perfectly serious in what he said when he stated that Parliament would not be relieved of its duty in this respect. But even that would not justify him in including this clause in the Bill. My honourable Friend who has just sat down says the object of the clause is to relieve this House of responsibility. Although that was denied by the argument of the Chief Secretary, yet I am sure that he will admit that this clause is, to some extent, to relieve this House. The way the law stands at present is that when a union has satisfied the Local Government Board that there is exceptional distress, then this House intervenes. But, as the law will stand in the future, this House will have a second barrier, and will say that the county has not given sufficient evidence that exceptional distress exists. It will fall back on the union, and then on the county, and so another barrier will be erected I think this law casts a most invidious duty on the county council. There will be a union in the county making a strong claim for relief. The county council will naturally wish to protect the other areas of the county. But, on the other hand, it will have certain sympathies with the distressed area, and this clause will create a cause of strife between one of the districts 435 and the rest of the county. I think the clause is bad in principle. It is bad in principle on two grounds, which have already been stated, but which ought to be repeated; and I believe if honourable Members opposite would only consider them, they would see that much weight is attached to them. It is bad in principle, because the principle on which we are proceeding is that we should follow the precedent set by the English Act. Well, there is no precedent for this departure in English and Scotch legislation. Therefore, as it is not in the English Bill, you should not put it in the Irish Bill. It is wrong in principle for another reason, because you have two statutory bodies—one is the guardians for poor law relief, and the other is the county council for local government—and you should not mingle the duties of these two bodies. I say that it is most undesirable that you should make one body trespass upon the ground which the other body has been constituted to cover. This clause is wrong in principle, because it is against the principles of our ordinary legislation, and for those two reasons alone it ought to come out. But, Mr. Lowther, this question of Irish distress is one in which this House cannot fail to take a very great interest whenever it is brought up, especially when it is brought up, as it is to-day, on a question of legislation. I may say, without the slightest hesitation, that Irish distress is the centre of the Irish situation in this House. It is desirable for us, when we consider the point which I have laid down, to define the word "distress." Now, what do we mean by Irish distress? I find a good deal of fault with some of the speeches, and I do not think my honourable and learned Friend who sat down a moment ago was quite sufficiently accurate with regard to the use of this word "distress." As we meet with this word in the Bill, what does it mean? The Chief Secretary has once or twice used the word as if it meant chronic poverty in the west of Ireland, or the low condition that many of the inhabitants of Ireland have to live in.
§ MR. THOMAS LOUGH
I hardly think the honourable Gentleman meant that, but he used words that might lead honourable Members to think that that was what he meant. It is not chronic poverty that we mean by Irish distress. What we mean by it is the situation that arises "where want outruns charity or local organization." Now let us bear that meaning in mind while I discuss it for a moment with the Committee. In this sense distress is not constant in Ireland, and it is not chronic. There was a period of 130 years, from 1690 to 1820, in which Parliament had never to interfere in Ireland in the way in which it has been constantly interfering during the last 80 years. The right honourable Gentleman smiles, but the Irish Parliament never did interfere during that period. I suppose he thinks it ought to have done so. During that period Ireland was prosperous and making progress, and she afforded the evidence then which every country gives of prosperity. Through the eighteenth century the Irish Parliament never had to relieve distress in Ireland as this Parliament has had to do, although it was not less humane than this Parliament.
§ MR. THOMAS LOUGH
It was because the Chief Secretary shook his head that I went a little more into detail than I intended, and I do not think you will have to call me to order again, Mr. Lowther. During that time there was a long period in which there was no distress existing in Ireland. The distress has been caused there by this House. When Ireland had a good Government the distress did not appear, and it is because this House manages affairs in Ireland that distress is caused. Twenty years after the Act of Union, when this House took charge of the affairs of Ireland, distress began to appear. Since 1821, including the one with which we are dealing now, we have had 13 famines 437 in Ireland—that is, 13 times in which the English Parliament has had to give relief. I do not think that any Parliament could be more reluctant to relieve distress than this Parliament. Well, that is my opinion. Mark the reluctance of the Chief Secretary. How much has he given to relieve the present distress? Only about £30,000; therefore I say that no Parliament that ever met could be more reluctant to intervene in these emergencies than this Parliament. I say that if this Parliament, which is so reluctant to relieve distress, has had to do so 13 times, then it is a fair argument that there is something in the policy of this Parliament which causes the distress. I cannot help suggesting one reason that may go to the bottom of this question, and which I will not go into at any length. We cannot leave out of the question the burdens which this House puts upon these districts. Now, I had a little table put in my hand yesterday, which sets out in a graphic way what these obligations are. There is at the bottom of this paper a statement of the financial obligations which this House throws upon every person in Ireland. They are figures, and, therefore, I am very reluctant to give them to the Committee. But I can put them in a simple manner before the Committee. I take them from a leaflet dealing with Ireland during the Queen's reign. There are about half a dozen facts which show conclusively these two great changes—that is, how much the financial obligations were which this House threw upon Ireland in 1837 and how much they are to-day. By the figures given here each family had in 1837 to pay, under the obligations of this House, a total tax of £4 per family; now, in 1897, the total tax paid is £13 10s. per family. Therefore, during the 60 years of Her Majesty's reign £9 10s. per head has been added to the contribution which each family has to make to local and Imperial taxation in Ireland. This leaflet also shows that this increase did not take place during the first 20 years of this reign, but was entirely made within the last 40 years. Every family of five in Ireland has been made 438 to contribute £9 10s. per head more than it formerly contributed.
§ MR. THOMAS LOUGH
If you rule me out of order I must desist, but I wanted to show that the distress had been caused in Ireland by the obligations this House placed upon that country, and, therefore, this House cannot escape its responsibility. During the last few years we greatly increased those burdens, and, as we are increasing them, we ought not to withdraw from helping the localities affected. While the present Government has been in office that burden has increased £1 per family. I know that it will be said that we have given some relief through the Congested Districts Board, but that is only 6s. per family. Within the past 10 years we have increased the burdens of Ireland £2 per family, and within the last three years £1 per family; and we keep on increasing these burdens. Now, what is the use of these trifling forms or relief? My argument, Mr. Lowther, is this—and I am glad that the Committee are patient enough to allow, me to put it thus—that, as this House retains in its own hands the power of laying these obligations on Ireland which cause the distress, it is most unfair that, at the same time, you should withdraw, by the provisions of this Bill, from the responsibility of assisting this distress after you have created it. That is my argument. I say that the distress in Ireland can be traced to nothing so clearly as to the burdens which this House puts on Ireland, and, therefore, this House ought to be ready to relieve the situation when it arises. There is one other point, which is not connected with any of these figures, which I would like to say a word upon, because the right honourable Gentleman has alluded to it in the course of this Debate. The right honourable Gentleman said, in reply to, I think, the honourable Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, that he was still of opinion that in many of the districts of Ireland relief could only be had by diminution of 439 the population Well, now, on that point I should like to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that during the last ten years the population has diminished 400,000, and during the last 40 or 50 years it has decreased 4,000,000. Now I put it to the Committee whether any relief can be found in the diminution of the population after what has already taken place. You do not get better as you diminish the population. You have greater poverty with the smaller population than you had when there was a larger population. The Report of the Royal Commissioners shows that since 1870 pauperism has increased by 46 per cent. in Ireland, while it has diminished by 26 per cent. in Great Britain. So that the more rapidly your population decreases your pauperism increases.
§ MR. LOUGH
They are taken from the Report of the Royal Commission, and I hope the right honourable Gentleman will give me the opportunity to show him the statistics presently. The whole subject of Irish distress requires treatment on broader lines than have yet been tried by the House, but do not let us forestall that opportunity by putting these clauses in the present Bill.
§ MR. E. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
I desire to protest against the retention of this clause in this Bill. I cannot but feel, Sir, that anything which will render less incumbent upon this House the consideration upon every occasion, until the permanent remedy is applied, of the condition of chronic distress which exists in the congested districts in Ireland is a misfortune for that country, and is a misfortune for this House and for this country too. Because for that chronic condition of distress, to which is due the periods of exceptional distress, it is admitted by the Government of the day frankly, whatever its causes, whoever may be responsible for its origin, they are responsible to-day in the sense that it is an Imperial matter, a matter for the House of Commons to master and to remedy. I care not whose fault it may have been, or upon whose shoulders the original responsibility is placed; the 440 state of things is one which, to the humiliation of this country has, in the opinion of the Government, justified the insertion of this clause in the Local Government Act of Ireland. And what is the condition this Act is designed to remedy? A state of "exceptional distress." They recognize a normal condition of distress; they recognize a chronic condition of distress as existing, and pass it by. But when the distress becomes so acute as to be failed exceptional, even for Ireland, then they proceed to provide not an Imperial, but a local remedy. Now, Sir, whatever you may account the causes—whether it be due in part to over taxation, as my honourable Friend said a moment ago, or whether it be due, as I think it mainly is, to the economic circumstances of the congested districts—that the population are herded too closely together upon unfertile soil, under circumstances in which it is impossible for them to live as in this civilized Christian country they should live—whatever, I say, the cause, we ought to see that the population are given the opportunity of living under conditions which afford them a reasonable opportunity to be provident and thrifty. For unless you give them the hope of saving you cannot expect that they will be otherwise than in the condition which has been described in those dull and dry blue books, which are yet among the most pathetic reading to be found. These show what the miserable lives are that these people live. The chronic circumstances are so low—the margin between these people and destitution and starvation is so slight—that the accident of a single less fertile harvest produces a state of exceptional distress. I say it is a shame and a blot, and a disgrace for the whole country for this great Empire, whose prosperity and wealth and general comfort were depicted the other day in the glowing language of the Budget speech, that the dreadful condition to which I have alluded should subsist and be acknowledged as chronic—that we should be told that the Imperial remedies must be slow, that we can only alleviate the condition of the people by degrees, and then that a condition of acute and intolerable distress—on one word, famine—or starvation, or next door to it, growing out of the normal state, 441 when a had harvest supervenes, should be dealt with in the manner proposed by this clause. Nay, Sir, let us not deal with the outcrop and fruit of the permanent and chronic condition of misery in this unjust and ineffective way, and let us rather leave it where it is as a reminder to this House and to this country, that they have not struck at the root of the evil, that they have not grappled with what is a shame and a disgrace to this Christian and wealthy country of ours. Sir, I cannot understand how those who take, and take in all sincerity, the Unionist view, and think that Ireland can only be governed well and wisely from this House, can propose this clause. It seems to me a recognition—supported as it is by the arguments of the Chief Secretary—of their inability to perform the task. I should like to see those who are responsible for the government of the United Kingdom grappling with this shame and disgrace. I say that the condition of the congested districts is one discreditable to any Christian and to any wealthy country; and for my part I protest against any clause in any Bill which shall render it easier to put aside that condition. Now, Sir, I have said that these conditions of exceptional distress grow out of the too-frequent misfortune of a bad harvest. There is no margin. The food that is lived upon is the coarsest and the cheapest; the conditions of life are the narrowest and the poorest. There is nothing to retrench upon. There is no lower state to which to descend. There is no accumulation by which to stave off the evil day of a bad harvest. That is the condition of those people. The right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary declared that it was not intended altogether to evade the duty of this Government, and of this Parliament, to take its part in case of exceptional distress. But he is going to make the county councils a buffer between the Government and their responsibility to the people in the distressed districts. Well, now, Sir, I object to the occasional outcries of acute distress being dulled or silenced in this sphere in which we can now make them heard when they occur. Again, Sir, does anyone suppose that the counties in which the congested districts are composed of two classes of 442 population, one of them of the very poorest, suffering utter misery, and the rest rich and well-to-do? Does anybody suppose that there is not a large margin in those counties, and, I am sorry to say, also, in counties which have not a single congested district, where the people are on the verge of utter poverty as well? Does anybody suppose that the poverty of Ireland is limited to the congested districts? It is not so; and when you propose, as you do in this case, to impose upon a county the duty of recognizing the existence of exceptional distress, in order to provide a fund which has to be contributed by the county at large, to the extent provided in the clause, you are practically proposing that a large number of those who in that very county are upon the verge of absolute distress, shall themselves out of their poverty contribute to those who are confessedly, permanently, in the humiliating condition already acknowledged in the congested districts. I say humiliating, because I do consider that it is a state of things which it is in the interests of this Legislature, and most of all of those who here maintain the Union, to remove. Now, Sir, what do you propose? You propose by this clause that it shall be the duty of the county council—you put the county council as the buffer between the Government and their responsibility—to determine that there is distress and provide for its relief. I hold that that proposition is a proposition unworthy of this Parliament. It is confessed that the state of the congested districts is one deserving of our attention, requiring a remedy, and a remedy which ought to be applied much more largely and by much more drastic and efficient methods than any which have up to this time been used. I hold that it requires very strong remedies indeed, but still remedies which would not tax enormously or to any very serious extent the resources of this Empire, and which have been partially applied with success in Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom. I feel that this clause is a clause which, as I have said, will act as a buffer between those who are responsible and the condition of things for which they are responsible. Because those who are responsible for the 443 permanent condition of the congested districts are responsible for the results of that condition which occasionally arise, accentuated by the too-frequent recurrence of bad harvests. Therefore it is, Sir, that I do appeal to the House not to put this clause into the Bill. It is not germane to the Bill. I congratulate English Members that there has been no occasion to introduce into the English Local Government Bill any such provision as this. Better leave things as they are until you find time to apply a permanent remedy. But until this national shame and disgrace is removed—for national shame and disgrace it is—you will, I hope, at any rate, take care to recognize your present responsibility that it shall not culminate in starvation.
§ MR. T. H. ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
The whole of this discussion appears to be based upon the assumption either that the whole of Ireland consists of one series of congested districts, or that this clause can only refer to those congested districts. I would venture to remind the Committee that only a fourth of Ireland contains those congested districts, and that the remaining three-fourths is just about as fertile and prosperous as most parts of England, and, I consider, in many cases far more so. Now, it appears to me that the clause may be of considerable utility. We have had several definitions of the words "exceptional distress," but I do not think that any of them are right. It appears to me that exceptional distress really means a state of greater distress than is usual in a particular neighborhood. But there is one great distinction in exceptional distress, although, of course, a hard line cannot be drawn—namely, that there is exceptional distress for which Parliament is liable, and these is exceptional distress for which nobody would think of coming to the Imperial Parliament. Now, I do not, of course, pretend that the Imperial Parliament has any special responsibilities to the west coast of Ireland more than it has to any other portion of the United Kingdom which is in great distress. Wherever distress exists it is perfectly clear that it is the duty of Parliament to relieve that distress, and it is a duty which they cannot get rid of. In the very nature of things, if you 444 get such distress that the locality cannot relieve itself, then it is certain that Parliament must relieve it. Now, Sir, in the particular part of Ireland where I mostly reside there is not the slightest probability of this exceptional distress occurring which is provided for by the Act. There is no more probability of it occurring in three-fourths of Ireland than there is of it occurring in the county of. Kent; indeed, I might say that there is less probability of it occurring there than in the county of Kent. But if exceptional distress did exist in my own immediate neighbourhood—and it is more likely to occur there than in the rest of the county—we might get a very considerable benefit under this clause by the provision which compels the whole county to come to the relief of any particular district. Now, there is hardly an honourable Member opposite who would not admit that if that was the sole object of the Bill—if it was simply for the purpose of relieving distress that was not so exceptional as to call for the intervention of Parliament—there cannot be a single Gentleman opposite who would oppose this clause. They oppose it because they say it will tend to take away from the Imperial Parliament that duty which it has in the case of exceptional distress, and which imperatively calls for the intervention of the Imperial Parliament. Well, as I have said, I have not the slightest fear of that arising, because, as I have said, I feel sure that Parliament cannot, even by direct legislation, free itself from that responsibility. We have, of course, heard the statement of what the views of the Government are in introducing this clause, but that, of course, is only the intention of the present Government. But I quite agree that we must see whether there will be any chance of Parliament being relieved in these particular cases of very great exceptional distress. I do not myself see how that is to be done. The clause refers not to specially acute exceptional distress, but merely to ordinary exceptional distress. I draw a distinction between exceptional distress calling for the attention of Parliament and exceptional distress in respect of which nobody would ever think of applying to this House; because, of course, there is undoubtedly exceptional distress 445 which nobody would ever dream of bringing before the notice of this House, though the distress in a particular locality may be greater than it usually is. There is no part of England in which there is not a certain amount of distress. That is undoubted. What we are dealing with is the distress which is over and above that. I may say, in reference to that, that I think the Chief Secretary has been a little misunderstood in one observation that he made. What I understood him to say was that there was occasionally a tendency to exaggerate "exceptional distress" into "exceptional distress" that ought to be relieved by this House. I am quite sure that there is no honourable Member of this House who wishes that distress to be exaggerated, and that being the case, I think the Chief Secretary has been misunderstood. What he meant by that observation was that it might possibly prevent applications to this House in cases where such applications ought not to be made; and that is a view which, I am sure, almost every honourable Gentleman opposite will accept. Well, Sir, I come to the question whether, inasmuch as this Bill will undoubtedly confer a benefit upon a considerable proportion of Ireland, that proportion ought to be deprived of the beneficial provisions of the Bill simply because some honourable Gentlemen in this House fear that it may lead to some evil result with regard to the flow of Parliamentary moneys into Ireland. I hold that it is impossible by this clause that the Imperial Parliament can be relieved from any responsibility which properly belongs to it; and I therefore trust the House will agree to the clause.
§ MR. LOUGH
I should like to be permitted to justify a statement of mine which the Chief Secretary has contradicted as to the relative pauperism of Great Britain and Ireland. The statement I made was that while in Great Britain pauperism had decreased 26 per cent., in Ireland it had increased 46 per cent., since 1870. The right honourable Gentleman said that it was not true. I find by the final Report of the Commission on Financial Relations, pages 207–8, that the exact figures for Great Britain are: between 1870, the earliest year 446 available, and 1894, the latest year available, population 34 per cent. increase; pauperism, 24.5 per cent. decrease. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that I said 26 per cent., and, speaking as I did from memory, I think it might be accepted as accurate. Now, turning to Table 4, we find on the next page a comparison of the same character, with regard to Ireland—viz., between 1870 and 1894: population 15 per cent. decrease; pauperism, 42.9 per cent. increase. I said 46 per cent.; it is 43. But I think for all practical purposes I have been perfectly accurate.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I am bound to say that, although the honourable Gentleman has quoted these figures, at the same time they are figures which, in my opinion, require very careful consideration. I do not know by what authority those figures are made.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Of course, I am not prepared to go into this question at the present moment, but I think at the same time, if these statistics are properly dealt with and properly inquired into, they will not show the results which the honourable Gentleman attributes to them. I am not in a position to make good or bad his statement at the present time, but I believe those figures, if properly inquired into, would not show that result. It is not worth while discussing the question; and therefore, although I do not think those figures represent the true facts, I must for the moment allow them to pass.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
May I draw the right honourable Gentleman's attention to this line in the Report?—These tables have been prepared by the Board of Trade for the use of this Commission.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
That may be so, but I think I should have attached a great deal more weight to them if they had been prepared by the Local Government Board. The Board of Trade has nothing to do with pauperism, and when you say pauperism has increased by so much you cannot attach very much 447 importance to the statement until you ascertain the true position of the facts. At the present time I can only say that, from my recollection of the inquiries which have been made into this subject, I am a little sceptical of the figures. Now, a distinction has been drawn in this Debate between chronic poverty and exceptional distress, and it is quite right that such a distinction should be drawn. It is a distinction vital and essential to the consideration of this subject. This clause does not profess to deal with chronic poverty. I will not follow the honourable Gentleman the Member for Islington in his statistical survey or in his account of the causes which have led to this state of chronic poverty in the west of Ireland. I will not follow him, I say, in those views, but at the same time I will say that he seems to be misled by some very obvious fallacies, while he has overlooked some very obvious facts. The honourable Gentleman pointed to the increase of population during the last century as a proof of the increase in the prosperity of Ireland. He forgot or ignored the fact that the population of Ireland very nearly doubled itself in the first half of this century. If the increase of population is a sign of prosperity in the one case, necessarily it must be equally so in the other. Therefore I may take it that the honourable Member's view is that Ireland has increased in prosperity from 1800 to 1847, but the honourable Member said that since that period there had been times of exceptional distress, in which it had been necessary for the Government to come to the assistance of the people in Ireland. That has been the case, but is it to be imagined for one moment that any honourable Member who professes to have studied this question seriously could have absolutely failed to remind the Committee that the reason Why these periods of exceptional distress and famine have occurred since 1847 is primarily due to the fact that the potato disease appeared in that year, and has more or less severely reappeared at other periods since that time? Since 1847 these periods of exceptional distress have been in every case associated with the failure of the potato crop. The honourable Member referred to a statement I made yesterday that there were spots in 448 Ireland where the population was denser than could be adequately supported in comfort upon the land which it occupies. I repeat that nobody who had studied the facts could deny that for one moment. The honourable Member met that statement by this argument: he said the population of Ireland had been diminishing for 40 or 50 years. Was it not clear, then, that every remedy which could be tried in the direction of the diminution of poverty has been tried and failed? Does not the honourable Member see that he drew his argument from the general population of Ireland? It is not a question of the general diminution of the population of Ireland; the only question here is whether there are not some spots in Ireland in which it would be more conducive to the general comfort of the people if the population were less dense than it is, that it would be more favorable to a permanent condition of comfort if these spots were more sparsely populated. I have not entered into the question of any remedy for that. There may be a variety of methods of dealing with it. There may be ways of supplying means of employment in those districts by establishing industries which do not now exist there. It may be possible to induce some of the people there to go away and take lands elsewhere in Ireland where they may live in greater comfort, or it may be that they may find that they can live in happier circumstances and under happier conditions in another country. Yes, in another country—in the United States, or in England, or in some other land. But it is not with chronic poverty, the remedy for which, as my right honourable Friend the Member for South Dublin has pointed out, must be very slow, and must take years to cope with, and must not be forced, that we have to deal with now. I will only add upon this subject that which seems to be always forgotten by honourable Members opposite; they constantly reproach this Government with being unable to remedy this chronic state of affairs. I venture to say a good deal has been done, and ft good deal is still being done in that direction, and more undoubtedly will be done by the Congested Districts Board That Board, I would point out, was not 449 established at the instigation of the gentlemen opposite. It was established by the Unionist Party, and when the proposal was first made, unless I am very much mistaken, it was met with great opposition from the opposite side of the House.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Now I come to the question of the exceptional distress. What is exceptional distress? One or two attempts have been made to define it this afternoon. Exceptional distress I take to be distress which calls for exceptional remedies. Now, what are the exceptional measures which this clause specially contemplates? There are two. In the first place there is the relaxation of the ordinary conditions of outdoor relief in Ireland. The law in that country with regard to outdoor relief is stringent, and rightly so, but Parliament has found it necessary on a variety of occasions to relax this law. We found it necessary to do so last year, we found it necessary to do so this year, and we found it necessary to do so in 1894. Now we desire to place upon the local authorities which we are setting up—namely, the county councils—the duty of taking upon themselves to determine whether such a state of things has arisen or not. In doing so I am told that I am introducing a provision which is not germane to the Bill. To that statement I do not agree. This is one of the duties we propose to place upon the county councils of Ireland, and I am told there is no precedent for that in the English Act. That is quite true, because there is no precedent in England for such a condition of things as arise in Ireland, which this clause is intended to mitigate. That is one of the exceptional measures which we are taking, and one which is only to be used when exceptional distress exists. The other exceptional measure is a provision for financial aid to those to whose care the administration of the poor law is immediately intrusted—that is to say, the board of guardians. The honourable Member for South Shields attacked me for having been guilty of inconsistency in what I said 450 yesterday. The honourable Member said—The Chief Secretary admits that the question of chronic poverty is one which should be dealt with as an imperial affair, and which should be relieved—to some extent, at all events—out of public funds.Then he said—If that is the duty of the Imperial Parliament, and if the money required for that purpose is to be taken out of the Imperial funds, why is not the same rule to be applied in the cases of exceptional distress as well.To some extent that principle has been applied in the past, and will be again in the future. There is no inconsistency at all, unless you are to obliterate and ignore the distinction between chronic poverty and exceptional distress. Just let us consider for one moment what that argument would mean. It would mean, with regard to the west of Ireland, that the ordinary administration of the poor rate should be a charge upon the Imperial Exchequer. Inasmuch as the condition of things in the west and southwest of Ireland is one of chronic poverty, and chronic poverty being an Imperial concern, and the charges for chronic poverty in a normal year is greater there than elsewhere, the argument of the honourable Member goes to show that the whole responsibility for providing for that chronic poverty should be taken out of the hands of the boards of guardians and placed upon the Imperial Exchequer. Now I am convinced that the proper administration of the poor law could not be carried out unless you are prepared to throw some responsibility upon the boards of guardians, and instead of paying out of the Imperial Exchequer the whole of the sums required for relief works, I have insisted upon the board of guardians bearing some share of that charge. It is merely an extension of that principle which we now propose in the Measure before the Committee. This clause merely throws upon the local authorities the duty of determining whether such a state of things exists, and whether relief shall be taken or not. Now, let us leave that point and turn to an argument which appears to have some weight. The honourable Member for East Mayo says the clause will be inoperative where exceptional distress actually exists, because the county 451 councils will not venture to take upon themselves the responsibility of a charge which might prove ruinous, and, therefore, they would not act.
§ MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
No; what I said was that if the distress was exceptional they would not put this clause in operation, because they would know that, so long as they did, they would receive no assistance from the Government.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The honourable Gentleman thinks the county councils might act if the distress was normal and little in amount, but they would not act in the case of exceptional distress. Now, I have already explained that it is not the intention of the Government that the clause shall relieve the Treasury of any obligation that may properly fall upon it, and it is not the intention to throw upon the county councils or the boards of guardians a burden greater than they can bear. It is said of the present Government, "so far as you are concerned you are pledged to that view, but some other Chief Secretary in the future may repudiate it, and would point to the clause and to the fact that the county councils had not put it into operation, and would say that that was a proof that the distress did not exist." To meet that objection I am prepared to consider, when we reach the Report stage of the Bill, the advisability of placing some limit upon the contributions which the county council should be called upon to make under this clause. I am prepared to put in a provision that they should not be asked to pay more than such and such a rate in the £. It appears to me that if that were done that the sole object of the Government would then be accomplished. We shall by that means give a satisfactory proof that our object is not to save the Treasury, or to relieve ourselves of any responsibility, but simply to improve the administration of the poor law.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I do not think the right honourable Gentleman need trouble the House with any such provision on the Report stage of the Bill. I do not think there is any necessity for introducing a provision that the contribution of the county council should be limited to 452 a shilling, or to sixpence, or to a penny. I think it will be a national duty on the part of the county council on the very first day after their creation to unanimously, all over the country, make a Standing Order, refusing to put this clause into operation. It will be a national duty, and will be done, except, perhaps, in parts of Ulster where the Nationalists are in a minority, where they may make a Standing Order providing that a year's notice must be given before putting this clause in motion, and that would stand very much in the same position as the other Standing Order. I am rather surprised that the Ulster Members of this House have not seen the principle which is involved in this clause. When the Home Rule Bill was under discussion Belfast was greatly agitated, by reason of the fact that the Irish Parliament would be able to enforce certain Measures, and this clause was the very thing which Belfast was the most afraid of, and they passed resolutions again and again to prevent it. I take Belfast and Cork. This distressed end of Cork would be the end to which I myself belong, but it has no more connection practically for the purposes of provisioning the people with the eastern end than Belfast has with Donegal. It is not so far separated in point of mileage as Belfast and Donegal, and the distance is farther in point of convenience and travel. I venture to say it is harder to get from Berehaven to Ben Carrick, and would take a longer time than it would take to get from Belfast to Donegal. The danger of this clause is that you start by getting a county rate, and you get from a county rate to a provincial rate, and, naturally enough, from a provincial rate to a national rate. I can see no reason why you should not do just as you did in London when you made St. George's pay for St. Giles. When you made the West End pay for the East, a thing which was so strongly opposed in the House of Lords; just as you had that provision in London, so you will naturally have a demand that wealthy Belfast shall pay for, we will suppose, impoverished Gwedore. I see no answer for it, and therefore let the Ulster Members remember that that is the position they have 453 come to. Why have they come to it? I could never understand why, in our general attitude, in our dealings with the Government with reference to this Act, there should be any difference between the Conservative Irish Members and ourselves. Is it to the interest of Orangeism or Protestantism or Unionism that you should have distress in Ireland neglected by a Chief Secretary, who can only give us the most callous phrases that have ever been used in reference to it? I do not think, in the annals of this House, more callous words have ever been used in reference to the distress prevailing in our country than have been used by the right honourable Gentleman the present Chief Secretary.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Has the right honourable Gentleman forgotten them? If he has forgotten them we have not: words which, I venture to say, caused a thrill and a pang to pass through the heart of every man of the Irish race at home and abroad. I refer to the right honourable Gentleman's words when he was being pressed by the picture of the emaciated condition of the little girls and boys in the west and south-west of Ireland, and when his reply to us was, That, of course he could not send them to the south of France and feed them on champagne."
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I have been violently attacked for the words I used on that occasion, but I venture to say the words I have used have been grossly misrepresented. I am glad of this opportunity of stating what I said, and of explaining it. I was using a perfectly general argument; I did not speak of giving champagne to the people of the west of Ireland, or of sending them to the south of France; I was merely illustrating a perfectly general argument that the command of luxuries would enable the sick to resist the ravages of disease. I said if you could give sick people champagne, or send them to the South of France, you might possibly save lives that would be otherwise lost. I had no intention of saying anything callous. I had no intention of 454 uttering a gibe or a scoff, and, I venture to say, that no one was more surprised than I at the extraordinary interpretation put upon my words, and the extraordinary manner in which they have been twisted in order to raise a prejudice against me.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Nobody would desire less than myself to misrepresent the right honourable Gentleman, or to say anything to his prejudice considering his action upon two Bills in this House, but that makes me stronger in saying, having read his words in the newspapers, not being in the House myself at the time, no words more ill-chosen or unfortunate could have been used; and if the right honourable Gentleman has been misunderstood by his own newspapers, by his own suporters in the Press, is it any wonder that words like those should have brought desolation and dismay to the hearts of the people in Ireland who were expecting succour at his hands? It is the business of the right honourable Gentleman, as the Chief Administrator of Ireland, not to be misunderstood, and not to use language that will be misunderstood; and, I must say, when you are dealing with a starving population, when you are dealing with a question of fever and of famine, I do think some other illustration, some better and more favourable illustration than that selected by the right honourable Gentleman might have been used in this House. If, at the time, we will suppose, of the Lancashire famine the Home Secretary of the day, when he was appealed to, had said, "We cannot feed the Lancashire operatives upon champagne, or emigrate them to the south of France," I wonder how long the Home Secretary would have remained a Member of this House? It is amazing to me that against the wish of the Nationalist Party of Ireland, the right honourable Gentleman has sought to introduce a clause of this kind, and I can only see one object for so doing and that is to afford an excuse to his successors when famines of this kind arise in Ireland. But, if I was the Chief Secretary of the present Government, I would let my successors invent lies for themselves. The British Government has never been at a loss to invent excuses in their dealings with Ireland, and to suppose that, by this system of trying 455 to feed a dog on a bit of his own tail, you are doing something to relieve these peasants is the greatest fatuity that has ever been perpetrated by any Government. This clause has one redeeming attribute—it has a touch of humour. I do think this final provision virtually contains a feast for the famishing people of Ireland. The sub-section says that the guardians may, with the consent of the Local Government Board, obtain for the purposes of this section temporary advances of such amount and for such period and repayable in such manner as that Board may sanction, and may mortgage their property and funds to secure such advances. That is, that they may mortgage the property of the poor people who are starving. What are they to mortgage? Stone-breaking shops or the Fever Hospital? Can they mortgage the poorhouse? Is there in the history of British finance anything like a provision of this kind? There was a Committee on Money-lending sitting here, and the honourable Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone was chairman of that Money-lending Committee. I should like to ask him how much would be lent on a poorhouse. Are there honourable Gentlemen who suppose that the Irish poorhouses have some enormous real property like the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in England, and that they can raise almost an Egyptian Loan? I have said in the Second Reading of this Bill that it is a good Bill, and I have incurred odium for so doing; but this provision is only another proof that the best intentions of English Ministers are utterly unfitted for relieving the distress of their so-called fellow-countrymen.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I think the Committee will see from these tables that there was between 1870 and 1894 a diminution in pauperism of 24.5 in England, whilst in Ireland during the same period there was an increase in pauperism of 42.9 per cent. Taking the figures from 1880 to 1894, it becomes apparent that the whole of that increase took place during the first ten years; because from 1880 to 1894, a period of 14 years, the diminution in Great Britain was only 1.5 per cent., and in Ireland, instead of there being an in- 456 crease in pauperism, there was a decrease of 13.8 per cent.
§ MR. DILLON
I venture to say that that will not hold water for a single moment. The right honourable Gentleman has selected the year 1880, a year of the most exceptional distress—the most widespread since the great famine. I rise to propose to the Committee a modification of the proposal which the right honourable Gentleman has put into his clause. It must be beginning to dawn upon the Government that a more unfortunate and ill-judged act than to introduce into the middle of their Bill a clause which raises the whole contentious subject of the relief of Irish distress could not possibly be imagined. The Government have entirely to thank themselves for this unfortunate state of affairs. The right honourable Gentleman sees now that the clause will not hold water. I shall suspend my final judgment until I see the Amendment, but I shall be very much surprised if he does not make the clause worse than before. What has been the chief difficulty about this clause? I conceive it possible that in the case of slightly exceptional distress the county council might possibly put this clause into operation; though I entirely agree that most county councils would hesitate to put into operation a clause so unpopular. The difficulty that presents itself is that under certain circumstances a county council would undoubtedly refuse to put the clause into operation. There might be raised a contest of endurance between the county council and the Chief Secretary on a large scale, and between the two these unfortunate people might be left in a state of starvation. What does he propose as a remedy for this objection? He proposes to insert into the Bill the limit beyond which the county council should not be called upon to contribute. The effect would be that unless the county council contributed to the extent of their limit it would be expected, as a matter of course, that the Government would give no relief whatever. What is the condition in these western districts? You have not got to deal with one class in a state of starvation and with another class in a state of wealth; but you have 457 got to deal with a population the great majority of which are on the verge of starvation. This clause should never have been introduced into the Bill; it introduces such a contentious subject. Up to now the Bill has proceeded with moderate smoothness, but I go so far as to say that if the Government is wise this mischievous and objectionable clause ought to be abandoned. The honourable Gentleman, who is fond of informing us that he has a residence in Ireland, says that it will apply to three-fourths of Ireland where there is no exceptional distress. Does not any honourable Member of the Committee know that the Government had in their mind in drafting the clause only those districts in the west where exceptional distress occurs periodically? The Chief Secretary throughout the whole of this Debate has not attempted to give a single reason, except one—that it might save the British Treasury some of the expense they might be called upon to incur. The right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary has said that when there is distress in Ireland there is a tendency to exaggerate. But if your sympathies are aroused in any subject, does it not create a tendency to exaggerate? I think there is far more evil on the part of Governments in minimizing distress than in Members exaggerating it. Of the two I prefer to be among the exaggerators than with those who sneer and use cold language in dealing with troubles of this kind. I feel that tendency to exaggerate myself, especially when I read descriptions in the Press of the condition of those districts. I read in the Freeman's Journal yesterday of a scene in which during the last fortnight several children fainted from hunger. That statement may or may not be true, but yet we must recognize these statements when they are made on the authority of public men, who have no reason to doubt it. There never was a kind of oppression in regard to which you did not have a great deal of exaggeration. Very few men can sit down, after being witnesses of great human suffering, and examine in a cold and critical light the things they have seen. I say we have quite a strong case for accusing the right honour- 458 able Gentleman of minimizing the suffering that exists.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said he promised the right honourable Gentleman not to deal with statistics, for he cared very little about statistics. The right honourable Gentleman said that statistics would have to be properly dealt with. Instead of dealing with statistics he was going to deal with practical things that he himself had witnessed. This clause was especially aimed at the congested districts in Ireland. The right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been accused by some of them with want of sympathy with the distress, but he [Mr. Swift MacNeill] did not think that that accusation could be justly made. It was true however that the right honourable Gentleman had not shown any exaggerated sympathy with those Irish peasants. In point of fact he had investigated the circumstances of that distress; but he had investigated it as an interesting, economical experiment—as interesting statistically. The right honourable Gentleman had shown his sympathy with the clause, but he had never shown his sympathy with the starving people of Ireland. That, he thought, was a pity. The right honourable Gentleman had defended the clause upon grounds which he put very candidly before the House. The right honourable Gentleman was very candid when he did not see the effect of his candour. His first point was that it would reduce the expenditure on Ireland to the Imperial Exchequer. He did not see that a saving to the Imperial Exchequer really meant misery and hunger to destitute people. He declared that this clause was a kind of charter of disgrace and condemnation of this Government, and he could not understand why the Government wavered, and why they went so absolutely against public opinion as to insert it. If the clause were struck out there need not be any single change or emendation in the Bill. A remarkable thing was that by this clause county councils had alone got the power over the administration of the relief of distress. I say that this clause is meant to put the people into such painful 459 circumstances that they will be forced out of their own country. This wholesale deportation of the people and the depopulation of the country the right honourable Gentleman seems to think is by no means a thing to be repelled, but that, if anything, it is a very useful thing. The right honourable Gentleman is not original in that view. It has been from first to last the steady policy of the English Government to procure the de-population of Ireland. There is no mistake about that; it can be proved. Mr. Lowther, in regard to the census of 1851, which was passed immediately after the Irish famine, and the then depopulation of the country, the Lord Lieutenant is congratulated upon it, in words which are almost exactly parallel with the speech made by the present Chief Secretary a few weeks ago, in which he said that the districts which are now so densely populated would be much better if the population were sparse. These are, as the facts show, not chance expressions, but the deliberate policy of the Government, which tikes the matter, in spite of the wishes of the country, into its own hands, and attempts to drive the people out of it. There are three lines to that effect, which the right honourable Gentleman would put into his speech without the slightest difficulty. In conclusion, the Commissioners of the Census of 1851, immediately after the famine, say, "We feel sure it will be gratifying to your Excellency that although the population has been diminished in so remarkable a degree by famine, disease, and emigration between 1841 and 1851, and has since decreased, the results on the Irish census of 1851 are, on the whole, satisfactory." In point of fact, Ireland was practically in the same state as was described a few weeks ago by the Chief Secretary in his celebrated Leeds speech, when he spoke of depopulation by emigration relieving the people from miserable pauperism. Now, there is one subject which has perhaps escaped observation in this Debate, and which is, I think, not unworthy of notice. Sub-clause or Sub-section 2 of this clause repeals Section 2 of the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act, 1862, known as the pauperization section. The right honourable Gentleman spoke with great delight of the repeal of that legislation, but I sup- 460 pose no Member of this House, who is not an Irish Member, and I am perfectly certain the right honourable Gentleman himself will not deny it, knows what produced that clause or brought it upon the Statute Book. That section is most extraordinary in this respect: it provided that no man who had one quarter of an acre of land could obtain outdoor relief. That section was introduced and carried into law with the simple object that the men should be driven by starvation into the workhouse, that when once they were there the landlord had a free hand to burn or knock down their house and secure their land. That is part of the legislation for which we are expected to be so thankful. The section of this Bill I must call a legislative fraud. It is outside the jurisdiction and provision of this Bill which is supposed to confer benefits. There is no proper sequence in it, as I have said before, and I cannot understand why it should be introduced, save for this purpose—that the cries and complaints of the Irish people should not be heard by the English people. I do not place the slightest reliance on the saving or curing benefits of the emendations which the right honourable Gentleman will propose in the Report. Those emendations are due, not to our representations so much as to the fear of feeble support of his own Party in Ireland; and, although the right honourable Gentleman has some legislative ambition, I think he ought to let this clause slide. Let it go; let it be buried almost at its birth. It is a misconceived clause in almost every line. It is not only the clause of a single man, but it is not in accordance with the spirit of the Bill. Evidently some single person wishes to try his "prentice hand" on legislation for Ireland. Surely the right honourable Gentleman ought to be satisfied. He says be is the Government of Ireland, and he may let this clause alone for the sake of the success of his own Bill. I tell him it will create an enormous feeling in Ireland, and accentuate a feeling against him in Ireland which has never before been equaled with regard to any particular man. In all my (experience I have never heard of such a consensus of indignation as was immediately created throughout the length and breadth of 461 Ireland by the right honourable Gentleman's champagne speech. Mr. Lowther, I can assure you I am always, as you know, careful in my language, but if I were only to read the comments on the right honourable Gentleman's speech which appeared in the Daily Express, the leading Orange organ in Dublin, and the Evening Mail, and give them as my own and not as quotations, I think I should probably get a holiday for at least a week from attendance upon this House. I do not wish to say anything more upon that matter than I can help with regard to the right honourable Gentleman, and I never like to attack him except on principle, but he has acted wrongly in bringing in this section—I call it his own—and I say, let him make a graceful retreat from his champagne speech by taking out this section.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
Sir, there is a certain amount of significance in regard to commentary upon this clause which we have been so long discussing, that within the last few days the very method which the right honourable Gentleman tells us is to be so beneficial has been exercised in Kerry by a coroner's jury, which found that the shameful condition of poverty there had culminated in a case of absolute starvation. Sir, there seems to run through all the arguments of the right honourable Gentleman a most extraordinary confusion, both of ideas and language, in regard to this clause. He talks of exceptional distress, whereas, I think, he ought to talk of exceptional districts. Then, I believe, that if we could quote the arguments of the honourable Member for the Southorn Division of Hackney with regard to Carlow, it would be found to refer to an odd district or an odd parish of the county of Carlow, and that Carlow was an exceptionally good district. There is no man in this House who does not know by this time that this clause is the legislative offspring of the right honourable Gentleman himself, of which he is very proud. It deals not only with exceptional districts, but with the exceptional distress that the country is passing through at the present time; and no matter how ingenious the gloss which may be sought to set upon the clause, 462 it will be found in the long run that this condition of things has been created in the west and the south-west of Ireland by the legislation advanced by this House, and introduced by Her Majesty's Government in the past. But now this clause seeks to relieve the Treasury of their responsibility, and to throw the duty and responsibility upon the shoulders of those who are in no way responsible whatever To that argument we have had no reply. This is supposed to be a United Kingdom. The Act of Union enacts as much, and, as to honourable Members opposite, this is supposed to be the strongest part of their political creed. This being supposed to be a United Kingdom, I ask, under what doctrine or what form of logical argument is a man in a comparatively poor part of the county of Kerry to be called upon to pay rates to support his poorer neighbour fifty miles away, when this burden is not cast upon the citizens of London, Edinburgh, or Glasgow? For no reason whatever, Sir, I cannot conceive any reason.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Under the Equalization of Rates Bill the richer parts of London contribute their share to the poorer parts of London.
§ MR. FLYNN
Irish Members are as well up in English legislation as Members opposite, and I can tell the right honourable Gentleman that the Bill to which he has referred was opposed by his Party as long as they decently could, so that it was only under the pressure of a Liberal Government and of strong feeling in the country that it was passed. Lord Salisbury opposed it, and spoke against it again and again, and there are Members here who can corroborate me.
§ MR. FLYNN
I am sure that is what the honourable Gentleman means, but that was not an observation to throw 463 across the House. However, I should not be in order in going into that; but this I take the responsibility of saying, that the bulk of Conservative feeling, up to a certain point, was against that very equalization of rates to which the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary has alluded. At any rats, there is no analogy whatever. London is a city in which, from time to time, there is great poverty, but it is nothing similar to that which exists in large portions of the west of Ireland at the present moment. London is the richest city in the whole wide world—the richest city, probably, that the world has ever seen; and the rich West End is only, say, half an hour's drive from the poorest part. I think the right honourable Gentleman will recognize that there is no analogy between the two cases. The position is this, Sir that I cannot conceive how anybody can get out of the argument. It is this: that the very poorest districts in Ireland—places where the normal level of existence is very low, where the people are wretchedly fed, clothed, and housed, and where you have people constantly living on the verge of poverty, if not in poverty itself—will be called upon to contribute towards the support of those who are suffering from poverty and destitution elsewhere at a distance.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
Perhaps I may interpose, for the purpose of saying that the Act for the equalization of rates in London was passed in August, 1894.
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
I must ask the honourable Member to address himself to the clause under discussion. His present observations are quite beside the mark.
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
Order, order! I must ask the honourable Member to speak to the clause, and not to refer to other matters.
§ MR. FLYNN
Well, Sir, with regard to this particular clause, the honourable Member for the Scotland Ward Division brought up the case of county Cork, which is divided into West Riding and East Riding, and pointed out how unjustly and unfairly this clause would operate as between the two divisions, west and east. Under this Bill the more prosperous part of Cork will not be called upon to contribute one shilling, while the western parts of the county, in which there are congested districts—
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
Order, order! The honourable Member is only repeating arguments which have been advanced two or three times already. It is disorderly to go on repeating the same arguments, and I must ask the honourable Member to bring forward some fresh arguments before the Committee.
§ MR. FLYNN
Well, of course, Sir, I shall at once bow to your ruling, and proceed to other points in the discussion. I was only speaking in answer to something which had been said on the opposite side. The honourable Member for South Hackney brought forward an argument which showed that the average Conservative in this country does not give close attention to this matter. He said that the clause would only apply to those parts of Ireland where the misery is conspicuous. But, Sir, the ordinary law can deal with that without any clause of this kind. The ordinary law would grapple with that and apply a remedy.
§ MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
Mr. Lowther, the Chief Secretary has referred to the equalization of rates in London, and his argument may be used hereafter to enable the East Enders to quarter themselves on the West End. That is, in effect, what this clause will do in Ireland, for it will quarter districts which are poor on districts which are much poorer. The right honourable Gentleman believes that this clause will be put into operation, and 465 can be successfully used; but I wish to refer him to a precedent. In recent Irish legislation there was a clause almost similar to this, but dealing with a different question, where it was introduced by the Government of the day, and was practically inoperative. It occurred in regard to the education question in Ireland in the time of Lord Beaconsfield's Government. Debates on Irish education were regarded as occurring too frequently, and I suppose the Unionist Members opposite thought they were as great a nuisance as they think debates upon Irish distress are now. They introduced a clause dealing with primary education, and the remuneration of Irish teachers, and they provided that, instead of coming before Parliament, they should be referred to local bodies in Ireland, giving power to the unions to tax themselves up to a certain limit, the unions to become contributory up to certain limits to the salaries of and the payments to the teachers in Ireland. Well, Sir, this is exactly what you are doing by this clause. You are referring to the people of Ireland the making of local rates to pay for what is practically Imperial work. What happened in regard to the teachers' question? The local rates were to be made to pay. It was considered a good means of getting rid of discussion in this House about Irish education, and honourable Gentlemen supposed that the local people would not contribute, and that, when the local people would not contribute their share, there would be nothing more heard about the matter. What happened in Ireland was that when the unions were asked by the teachers to pay their salaries, and to pay for the Imperial work of education, they very properly refused to do so In less than half a dozen cases they became contributory, but the rest of Ireland almost universally refused to become contributory to the Imperial work of education; and I say, Sir, that the same thing will happen in regard to this clause. The counties which are affected will refuse to become contributors, and the clause will be practically inoperative; and, although it may be clumsily devised to get rid of Debates on Irish distress, I do not think it will have that effect, but I believe that, as in the education question, it will 466 completely break down, and Parliament will have to do the work. I think that in the case of Irish distress, when it does occur, they will not get out of it by this device, and that Parliament will have to pay this expense. What are these exceptional districts? I happen to be a west of Ireland man. I come from a district where distress is not of an exceptional character. But what will happen? We who live in districts where there has been no exceptional distress will be taxed for the districts with which we have no connection whatever. The people who are driven into those places where exceptional distress exists are the harvestmen who come over here every summer to help the English farmers in saving their crops. They go back in the autumn and use the small patches of land at their winter residences, or winter quarters, to maintain them during the winter. Sir, why should we, who have nothing to do with those districts, who get no benefit from their earnings in England or their expenditure in Ireland, be taxed for any exceptional distress in those districts, while the people here—the people of Cheshire, Lancashire, and elsewhere in England—who get the benefit of the labor of these people, who keep them to save their crops, will escape any tax or charge for this exceptional poverty? These people are driven into the poorest parts. Under your legislation for Ireland they are to be concentrated, just as we hear that in Cuba there are reconcentrados who have been driven into certain districts for the purposes of military government. Now, I think this clause will certainly not be operative. It is a, blemish and wart on a Bill which is otherwise a good Measure that we should welcome. And, further, Sir, to show you how this Bill affecting the people of Ireland will not be operative, I will give an instance that occurred within the last few weeks. The Local Government Board sent down a circular to the unions which will be affected by this Bill. They asked certain unions in Mayo and Galway, adjoining Roscommon, to express their wish either to remain within their present boundaries or to be included in Roscommon. This Bill would have made them liable for distress, with which they have no connection, 467 and the people in the adjoining counties of Mayo and Galway have, in nearly every case, opted to go over to Roscommon. I think, Sir, that is as good an instance as could be given to honourable Gentlemen opposite to show that, so far from this clause being one which will be put into operation, it will be only used by the Government to save them from Debates in this House on distress in Ireland. The clause is conceived in a petty effeminate spirit, and it will never save the Government from these Debates. As I have said, the clause will never be used in Ireland, end I think it is a wart and a blemish on a Bill which otherwise would be welcomed.
§ MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)
I have not taken much part in the Debate up to the present time, but I wish to say a few words in support of the objection to this clause, because I believe it will have a very serious and injurious effect on the county, one of the constituencies of which I represent. I should like to place before the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary what will be the condition of the county of Kerry and the poor law unions in the county of Kerry under this Bill if this clause comes into effect. Take, for instance, the union of Cahirciveen. Under this clause that union will be compelled to provide for any of the distress which will prevail after this Bill becomes law. But the present condition of that union, Mr. Lowther, is that it is practically bankrupt. It is £100 in debt, and the average poor rate and county cess is about 10s. in the £. They have practically levied little or no extra rate to meet the distress prevailing in that particular union, for the simple reason that sympathetic friends throughout Great Britain and in several portions of Ireland have contributed money for clothing and food and the support of these people. If this clause is adopted, not alone in this particular union, which is not exceptional in Kerry—because the average rate this year, and I will go so far as to say that the average rate for the past six or seven or eight years throughout the whole county of Kerry, has been from 7s. to 10s. in the £, so that there has been little or no special levy for the distress prevailing in those districts—what will the rate become under this Bill? This clause is practically use- 468 less. I go so far as to say to the Chief Secretary that he will give no benefits whatsoever under this Bill. The counties in the west and south-west of Ireland which are regarded as congested districts come under the financial portions of this Bill, but what they are to receive in the shape of £1 or £2 or £5 from the Government will be practically taken away two, or three, or four-fold, if they have to provide for the distress which it is the duty of the Government to meet, but which the Government have so far refused to meet. Therefore I have felt it my duty, as one of the Members for Kerry, to say these few words in support of the proposal for the rejection of this clause, which I believe is most objectionable, and will cause serious injury to more than one county in the south and southwest of Ireland.
§ On the return of the CHAIRMAN, after the usual interval—
§ MR. COLLERY (Sligo, N.)
Mr. Lowther, I very seldom address the House, but I do so on this occasion because I very much dislike this clause of the Bill. This clause will, in my opinion, create many difficulties. I hope we shall not always have distress in Ireland, but I am very much afraid that in periods of distress this clause in the Bill will cause a good deal of friction between the two bodies about to be created if the clause is retained. I have been for a great many years—I am almost ashamed to say how many—connected with the Poor Law Boards, and I have always been in favour of giving outdoor relief instead of bringing people into the workhouse. I should have been pleased had I seen that the Chief Secretary, or the framers of the Bill, had introduced a more extended system of outdoor relief. I think it would be better if the restrictions on outdoor relief were somewhat relaxed. The habit of nearly all poor people is to take advantage of every privilege they can extract from the powers that be, and I fear the tendency of this clause will be to make one district force upon their representatives at the Poor Law Boards the necessity of making a representation that that district is a distressed district, or a distressed area. The result will be you will find constant friction between the two bodies. I think 469 myself that the Bill otherwise is well drafted, and I believe it will confer considerable benefit upon the people. At all events, it will get rid of the grand juries, of which I have been a member myself for many years. I am not at all sorry to abolish myself, so to speak. At the same time, I am not going to say that the grand juries—at least, I speak of the one of which I was a member—are quite as bad as has been stated. I think it is a great pity that this clause should be allowed to remain in this Bill, which removes a vast amount of disabilities otherwise. I do not see what good the clause can do. The Chief Secretary says it is not intended as a buffer between the State and chronic poverty in the country. If that is the case, what is the object of the clause? I cannot see any reason for it, and I hope the Chief Secretary will see his way to delete it. The fact of the matter is, this clause provides the way of giving more outdoor relief; but why not give outdoor relief, or allow it to be given, under the present system? This clause of the Bill is, in my opinion, obnoxious from beginning to end, and I simply rose to protest against its being retained in a Bill which I otherwise like very much. I believe the Chief Secretary is desirous of doing what is fair and reasonable, and of bringing in a Bill which will be of use to the country. I believe that it is from a mistaken notion of how it will operate and work in the country that he clings to this clause. I will not go so far as to say that he clings to the clause for the purpose of preventing Irish Members from coming before this House to raise a question of distress. I very seldom trouble the House with any observation; it is because I so much dislike this clause of the Bill that I rise, almost for the first time, to protest against it.
§ MR. M'GHEE (Louth, S.)
Mr. Lowther, this is the first occasion on which I have ventured to address the House, although I have been a Member of it for two years I only desire to do so now for the purpose of protesting against this clause. The right honourable Gentleman, when speaking a short time ago, stated that this clause was not to be found in the English Bill, because the conditions that obtain in Ireland do not 470 exist in England. But why was it not put into the Scotch Bill? In Scotland similar conditions do exist and have existed, and exceptional distress is found there Why should the right honourable Gentleman insist upon putting a clause in this Bill which is not in either the English or the Scotch Bill? I think I know the reason. I think the right honourable Gentleman has put this clause in for the same reason that this Government two years ago passed the Agricultural Rating Act. He has done it for the purpose of relieving the landlords of their responsibility. The right honourable Gentleman smiles at that I will try and show him that I am stating accurately what will be the situation if this clause is passed I think what I say will explain why we have not heard anything from the landlord party on the other side of the House. They have sat during the discussion of this clause, afraid to support it because they know their constituents would not support them in their action, and they have not spoken against the clause because they know that it will bring grist to their mill. What is the situation? At present, in the distressed districts rates are always high. Because they are poor districts, necessarily the rate must be high. It is only in the wealthy districts that the rates are low; but in these very districts where the rates are now high you are providing for a still higher rate when the distress becomes still greater. What does that mean? Surely it means that you are legislating to widen the area of distress in Ireland, and to bring within the number of distressed persons those who are now outside. Rates will be higher, and, consequently, poverty must be greater. The rates will fail, not, of course, upon those who are suffering from the exceptional distress, but they will fall to so great an extent upon those who are not suffering that many of them will be brought within the class of distressed persons. This clause will impose this increased rate exclusively upon occupiers, for you are providing another clause in this Bill to relieve the landlords. The right honourable Gentleman may say you are making a grant from the Imperial fund to meet that. You are not. You are: making a grant from the Imperial fund to relieve 471 a portion of the normal standard of rating. I ask the right honourable Gentleman, is that not a fair statement of the clause? Is it not in entire harmony with the policy of this Government in handing over Imperial funds to the landlords for their relief, and does it not explain why the landlord party on the other side of the House have sat so quiet during the discussion? Sir, it is not my intention, as I said at the outset, to occupy the time of the House very long upon this question. I am satisfied, first, that the clause is alien to the principle of the Bill. I am satisfied that the clause is a distinct blow to the poor districts of Ireland, that it is imposing upon those poor districts a penalty that cannot possibly fall upon other than poor districts, and that it is legislating for the rich at the expense of the poor. I protest against the clause because it is not in harmony with the principle of the Bill, and I protest against it still more because it makes the poor poorer and the rich richer in the distressed districts of Ireland.
§ MR. T. D. SULLIVAN (Donegal, W.)
Mr. Lowther, I am sorry that into a Bill otherwise so good the Government should introduce a legislative torpedo which this clause really amounts to. It is a clause which can work nothing in Ireland but harm. It is calculated, if not intended, to disrupt, to pauperise, and to depopulate the poorer districts of the country. I have not the slightest doubt, Mr. Lowther, that such will be its operation. It will tend to impoverish places that are already poor, and it will not hurt—it will scarcely touch—the better-conditioned parts of the country in which exceptional distress rarely or never makes its appearance. These poor and congested districts of Ireland need treatment. They need wise treatment and humane treatment. They need the application of statesmanlike remedies. There is no remedy for their condition in this proposal, which will really have the effect of reducing people who are now on the 472 borders of misery and starvation, and of working harm and injury all round. Now, Sir, the second section of this clause proposes the repeal of what is known in Ireland as the Quarter Acre Clause. This clause prevented persons in occupation of more than a quarter of an acre of land receiving relief otherwise than in the workhouse. That was a most cruel law. It was denounced, hated and detested throughout Ireland. It was, in fact, regarded as an instrument of murder. I have no objection to its being repealed. I am glad the Government propose to repeal it; but when is it that they propose to repeal it? This Quarter Acre Clause was kept up so long as the landlords had to pay a large share of the poor rate. When, however, the landlords are to be exempted the bowels of compassion of the Government are stirred, and they now propose to repeal this clause. This will widen the area of outdoor relief; it will inevitably bring increased charges, and the time selected for so doing is when the whole weight of these increased charges will fall no longer upon the Irish landlords, but upon people who are poor enough already, and who need assistance, help, and sympathy, rather than treatment of this sort. I regard this clause as having been smuggled into the Bill. I wonder, did the Government suppose that the Irish Members would not see the trick? If they imagined anything of the sort, by this time they have discovered that they were greatly mistaken. I would suggest to them not to calculate in future, in any of their Measures, upon any dulness of vision, or lack of appreciation, on the part of Irish Members in regard to matters relating, at all events, to their own people and to their own country. My view and my feelings in this matter accord with those of my colleagues. I should not like to go to a Division without having said these few words in denunciation of this provision, and in support of the Motion to leave this clause out of a Bill which is otherwise so acceptable to the Irish Members.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
Mr. Lowther, I must say that I cannot understand the hostility to this clause, because it must be valuable and useful that men drawn from all parts of a county should have some voice in determining the action of a small portion of the county in dealing with exceptional distress. I cannot myself think that it is anything more than just that this clause should remain part of the Bill. In the extreme western portion of Kerry there are economic conditions and circumstances that, until they are removed, must necessarily produce temporary exceptional distress. You cannot grapple with this question of distress in these congested districts by a clause in this Bill or in any other Bill. It is an economic problem. This clause is merely to deal with cases where, from temporary causes and temporary circumstances, it is necessary to relax to some degree the restrictions which Parliament, in its wisdom, has thought proper to put upon the administration of outdoor relief. It is certainly not intended to deal with any great visitation of Providence. This clause deals with temporary visitations of distress. In West Kerry, where the holdings are small and—
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
I think it is a great pity that the honourable Member should introduce the question of rents. I do not think it advances the interests of the country which he represents. The real question is whether or not the county ought to share the burden of the smaller districts in the event of distress. The honourable Member knows perfectly well how very varied is the prosperity of different baronies in the same county. There are baronies in Kerry which are rich, and there are some which are extremely poor. Why should not the poor get some assistance from the rich? On the whole, I must say that in the 474 interests of Ireland, and in the interests of what is just, fair, and reasonable, this clause is a desirable one. In dealing with such a clause the question of rents should not be raised, because landlords, as well as tenants, will be responsible according to their valuation.
§ SIR J. COLOMB
I do not think honourable Members opposite fully grasp the situation. They had so acted to the landlord—
§ SIR J. COLOMB
That may be so, but you must remember that the landlords who have land in their own hands will no longer have very much voice, at all events for the present, in the administration of the cess. And, after all, they will have to bear their share. I do not wish to enter into any question of that sort, but when you remember that you are dealing with a Measure that is to ignore any difference of class, you are dealing with it from a pure and simple point of view of cesspayers, and as cesspayers the landlords will have to bear their share according to their valuation. I think, when the whole situation is calmly looked into, this clause ought to stand. I speak with a full knowledge of the country I come from; my best hopes and wishes are for that county. I see steady progress and improvement going on there, and one of the worst things for that county is to raise up hopes that can never be fulfilled, and this clause, to my mind, is the only check.
§ MR. O'MALLEY (Galway, Connemara)
Mr. Lowther, there may be some differences of opinion on these Benches as to how far to the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary is due the beneficent clauses of this Bill, but we are all agreed that this particular clause is the pet 475 child of the right honourable Gentleman. The character of this clause is quite in keeping with his method in dealing with the existing distress, and I am inclined to think that its main object and purpose is to set the different bodies in Ireland against each other. We shall have district councils and county councils opposed one to the other, and the Chief Secretary thereby flatters himself that the responsibility for future distress will be removed from that House to the bodies created under this Bill. It has been stated by the right honourable Gentleman in the course of this Debate that the cause of Irish distress is due to over-population, and I am surprised at this time of day, with all the experience we have had of Irish emigration, that such an argument should be used in this House. Why, Sir, I can state positively that in my own time, within the last 25 or 30 years, the population of Connemara has considerably diminished, and I can assert that the people along the so-called congested districts in Connemara were much happier and more prosperous then they are to-day. What is the cause, then, of this chronic distress? Speaking for Connemara—and I think the same state of things partains to Mayo, Kerry, and West Donegal—the people after they had reclaimed their mountain holdings were evicted by thousands from those holdings, and forced to squat upon the worst patches of stony, and almost useless, lands by the sea coast. For these small holdings they have to pay, on an average, some £5 to £6 per year, and, although this sum does not seem large, to these poor people it is a fortune. If the Government want to abolish this chronic poverty, instead of inserting this clause for the purpose of setting county council against district council, they should buy out these landlords, enlarge the holdings of the tenants, and exact a nominal rent; for, Mr. Lowther, except the lands in possession of the grazier, and from which the rightful owners were driven after the famine, 476 there is no land in those congested districts worth more than a mere nominal rent. Economic rent is absolutely out of the question. Why does not the Chief Secretary rise to the occasion and devote a couple of millions of money in buying out these landlords instead of pursuing a policy that makes his name detested in Ireland? This is the only clause, Sir, that the Irish Members unanimously oppose; on other clauses we are divided, and I would therefore appeal to the right honourable Gentleman not to persist in pressing this clause upon the Committee, and if he will withdraw it he will, at all events, be showing some deference to Irish opinion.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I would not trouble the Committee after this protracted Debate were it not that I consider that this clause is so objectionable as to mar very much the effect of what I had hoped would otherwise be a useful and beneficial Measure to Ireland. I would again appeal to the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary to reconsider this question, and to withdraw the clause altogether. It really, when you come to consider it, is nothing but an excrescence on the Bill—an excrescence which disfigures the whole substance of the Measure, and which could be righted without the slightest difficulty, or in the slightest degree marring the otherwise good effect of the Measure. Now, before I proceed to discuss the clause itself, I should like, as my right honourable Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland is not here, to read a passage from the Parliamentary Report of some of his observations on the first introduction of this Bill by the Chief Secretary. I wish to call attention to the circumstance that at that time the Bill was not in the hands of Members. The Bill, in fact, was not printed, and the observations of the late Chief Secretary, the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Montrose, when carefully considered and understood, had reference 477 to the general question which appears to be union rating in contra-distinction to electoral rating, that at present prevails; but when the Bill was printed what does the right honourable Gentleman say on the Second Reading, as reported in the Parliamentary Debates of the 21st March of this year. What does the right honourable Member for Mont-rose say? "Under Clause 12"—I am reading now from the Parliamentary Debates," page 504—Under clause 12, wherever there is exceptional distress, as there is too frequently in a certain zone of Ireland, the guardians are to represent to the county council that they require aid or new conditions. The county council is then required to get the assent of the Local Government Board, and then the local authority is to be empowered, the conditions being satisfied, to grant outdoor relief for a period of two months.That is, so far, very approving, but let us see how the right honourable Gentleman criticises this proposal—Let us see what will happen; the House has probably already seen what will happen. I will take, as an illustration, the district of Lord Clanricarde's property, where exceptional distress may occur. That distress will be met by a larger allowance of outdoor relief; that extra relief will be provided for entirely by a population, a large number of whom, by this hypothesis, are themselves swamped in distress.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Do you, on behalf of the late Chief Secretary, say that he objects to the clause?
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
I don't understand that interruption; I protest against it. I am speaking here for myself. I would not presume to take the liberty of speaking on behalf of any of my right honourable Colleagues who sit beside me on this Bench. I was reading, when the right honourable Gentleman interrupted me, the passage which gives the very gist of the matter—They will have to provide this extra rate, and Lord Clanricarde, living, as I understand, in London, never seeing his own property, will be absolutely absolved from any part of 478 the burdens which he now shares. I think I am justified in making that point, and I am curious to hear what the answer to it will be!Now, here is the reported language of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Montrose, and I say his name has been brought unnecessarily into the Debate, for the purpose of giving weight and authority to the clause which has been introduced. But now let me pass from that, and again, speaking only for myself, as a Member from Ireland, call the attention of the Committee to this section. I take it for granted that it was introduced because the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary thinks it a good section. I will not go into an inquiry as to what his motives are. I will not go into the question as to who is the father of the clause. I am quite sure that the Irish law officers, whom I know to be thoroughly sympathetic and humane men, are not responsible for this clause, and I do not at all mean to say that the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary was himself the author of it. It is immaterial to this House who is the author of it, when it comes before the Committee with the imprimatur of Her Majesty's Government. No matter what views may be entertained as to the intention of the promoters of the Bill, we have to deal with the effect of it when it becomes law. And what will happen if this section becomes law? It is absurd to say it was not intended to meet the unfortunate state of things which so constantly crops up in Ireland. I can speak from the experience of many years, and I know that there has been recurrent famine and starvation from time to time in different parts of that country—famine and starvation which have been a disgrace to the British Empire; famine and starvation in the greatest and wealthiest Empire that the world's history has ever known. And that should be met by exceptional legislation according as the necessity arises. But under this clause what will happen? Assume 479 that a year or two hence there is another failure of the potato crop; assume that the wretched inhabitants on the west coast of Ireland are starving, as they have been Starving this year; and assume that there is an appeal to the British House of Commons to introduce some exceptional measure for their relief: this section will be pointed at; and what will be the argument of Her Majesty's Government? "In the year 1898 we brought in a remedial Measure to redress the grievances of Ireland; we brought in a Measure which was to satisfy the aspirations of the people for Home Rule; and in that Measure we granted a dole of hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to relieve the rates in Ireland." That may not have been the intention of Her Majesty's Government in introducing the clause, but whether it was their intention or not, the argument will be unanswerable. To show that it is unanswerable, I will just put it to this one test: are they willing to strike out of this clause the word "exceptional"? If they are prepared to strike out the word "exceptional," then the argument of the honourable and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth would perhaps apply, because then it would simply amount to an enlargement of the powers of guardians and of county councils to extend out-door relief in cases where they could not be relieved at present. But as long as the word "exceptional" remains in this clause it will always be used as an argument for relieving the British Government of the responsibility of meeting by exceptional legislation this state of poverty. It is a matter of history that in the time of the famine a coroner's jury in Ireland brought in a verdict of manslaughter—I think it was murder—against a Minister of the Crown, because the Government of that day looked on and saw the people starving. I am speaking in the presence of those who can contradict me if I am wrong, and of those who know that my statements are borne out by the facts 480 of history. I therefore deprecate altogether this clause. What is the effect of it? Now it has been argued that when the population are very badly off in one part of the county the other part of the same county might very well be taxed for the purpose of their relief. Well, we will take the case of Kerry. It has been stated—and I assume it is correct—for it has not been contradicted—that the rates in the Cahirciveen Division at present, or recently, amounted to 10s. in the £. Now, 10s. in the £ is a very pretty sum to face, and what is the feeling of the inhabitants of the electoral divisions of the whole of the county of Kerry when they come to deal with such a problem as that? Now what is the meaning of this clause? It is not only badly framed, but it is badly worded. Let us tear away the mask, and let Ireland know what this legislation really is. Do not treat Ireland like a poor relation. With a rich man who has poor relations his great object is, when he is entertaining his noble and wealthy friends, to keep the poor relations in the background, so that they shall not be obtruded on the world. And so the object of this clause, I say, is to prevent, year after year, the grievances and the poverty and the starvation of Ireland from being ventilated in Parliament. Now, what is the effect of this clause? It provides that—One-half of any expenditure incurred in pursuance of an order under this section shall be levied off the country at large.That is where the people are starving and you have to feed them. There you have to feed men, women, and children, and that will cost a pretty large sum. Now, half of that is to be levied on the county at large, but where is the other half to come from? Why, it must come from the affected district, for I do not find any provision that the other half is to come out of the Consolidated Fund. Were that so, I could very well appreciate this 481 clause, but the meaning of it is this: there is a certain district in Ireland where the inhabitants are paying rates at 10s. in the £, and half of the people there are starving. In this case you feed the starving half of the people at the expense of the other half, and that is what is called British generosity. There is still in force the Poor Relief Act of 1862, which prevents outdoor relief from being given where the applicant occupies more than a quarter of an acre of land. Now that check is removed, and the Local Government Board may sanction the administration of outdoor relief in the case of occupiers of 10, 12, or 15 acres, who may want it very much; and what a burden that will be upon an impoverished district council and the county at large! There, again, you see the effect of this clause. You see that the burdens created by this clause are almost without limit, and I regard with grave suspicion the confusion of circumstances which the able and learned men who are responsible for the framing of this clause have introduced. I regard it with great suspicion, when I recollect that every penny of that burden must be borne by the occupying tenant. This Bill is absolutely without precedent and without parallel in the history of British law. It is without parallel in the history of any community that I am aware of, because the effect of it is to relieve landlords, whether they are absentee landlords or whether they are resident landlords who have not the land in their own hands, but for whom the money is made by the hewers of wood and the drawers of water. This clause exonerates the landlords from any contribution to the expenses of the county for the maintenance of the roads, to the keeping up of bridges and court-houses, or the maintenance of the workhouses, but it throws the whole burden on to the occupying tenants, and thus may fasten such a millstone round the necks 482 of these tenants as may, perhaps, carry out the theory of the honourable and learned Member for Down, whom I am sorry not to see in his place, whose argument seems to be that the people who have to exist on the crags and shores of the Atlantic in the west of Ireland have no right to exist at all, and that there is nothing left for them to do but to throw themselves into the surging waves, or go to another and a more generous country.
§ MR. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)
I am sure, Sir, that the Committee, or any of them who have listened to the speech of the right honourable and learned Member who has just sat down, must have been deeply affected by the graphic description of Irish life which he has drawn. I should very much have liked to have followed him in the arguments he has brought forward, but I have only risen for the purpose of explaining the reasons for my vote upon this Amendment if it goes to a Division. I do not, however, agree with many of the arguments put forward by my right honourable Friend, or with the arguments of many honourable Members opposite. At the same time, from the view that I take of the section, and the probable effect of its working, I feel bound to vote in favour of the Amendment. Now, Sir, in the first place, everybody who knows anything of the different parts of Ireland, where exceptional distress dealt with under this section is so constantly occuring, knows that those are the very places which at the present moment are most heavily taxed. In some places the taxes are so high as to make it almost incredible that the people of Ireland can possibly pay them. Well, Sir, if these people are to be told that it is their duty whenever this exceptional distress arises to add further burdens to the rates, and that that is to be the only hope of the people, then, Sir, I can only say that you are telling them that they may be hopeless in the 483 future. Sir, I believe there are many places where it would be impossible, without terrible calamities, to increase the rates for these purposes. In these very districts, Sir, what is the reality of the situation? The reality of the situation is this: that the parties who pay the rates, or the greater portion of the rates, will be perhaps three, four or five, or up to 10 per cent. of the whole of the electors of the division, and the consequence will be that by giving this power to the county councils in many places you will be having on your register of electors the very men who are perpetually suffering from this recurring starvation. I am told that the Members who usually act with me, or with whom I usually act, differ from the view which I take upon this question. Well, Sir, let me ask them this: looking at the question from a practical point of view, what do they think is likely to be the result of the electorate being the men who want the very relief which the county council are to vote, and which is the only remedy for the distress which arises? It must be, from point of fact, that the men who are suffering from the distress will be practically voting relief to themselves. Well, Sir, but do honourable Members who sit here on this side of the House think that this will only operate on those in occupation? Sir, I know very well that every recurring distress in Ireland in any part must more or less militate against the landlords and the owners of the tenements from which these rents are to be paid. It is all nonsense to tell me that if a tenant is mulcted in the necessary rates which must arise under the system that you want to set up by this section—it is all nonsense to tell me that when those rates are raised to the extent that will be necessary to meet this distress the tenant will be in exactly the same position for the purpose of paying his rent to the landlord. In the long run I know what will happen, and that will be 484 that the very limitation or protection you are putting in now for the owners of the land as compared with the occupiers will become so burdensome in these distressed districts that you will have in a year or two the whole of the Party opposite agitating the country, and saying that it is intolerable that the rates should be borne only by the occupiers, and not be shared in by the owners or landlords at all. I will tell you, Sir, what will happen, and that is that, what ever Government is in power, when it comes to be a question of merely sacrificing the landlords, the Government will be perfectly ready to do it. Therefore, Sir, being bound to look ahead in these matters—and matters move rapidly in this House—I say that I am speaking in the interests of those with whom I usually act, and of those whom I deeply sympathise with in Ireland, when I say that this is one of the most mischievous sections in the whole of the Act. I have merely risen for the purpose of stating the reasons why I intend to vote for this Amendment, and if it goes to a Division I shall certainly support it.
Motion made, and Question put—
That clause 12 as amended stand part of the Bill.
§ Committee divided.—Ayes 179; Noes 104.—(Division List No. 88.)