Another Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,—
And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the frequent recurrence of severe distress in certain districts of Ireland is the source of much suffering to the population of these localities, and calls for the speedy application of an efficient remedy for this social misery and privation by the introduction of legislation during the present Session for the enlargement of holdings, and the carrying out of feasible schemes of migration, in accordance with a resolution passed by the Congested Districts Board of Ireland in 1895, asking for compulsory powers to acquire suitable lands with which to provide increased opportunities of employment for the victims of this chronic distress."—(Mr. Davitt.)
§ * MR. DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
Sir, I hope that whatever views honourable Members may take as to the expediency of moving this Amendment, no honourable Member will be found in opposition to the object which the Amendment seeks to promote. That object is, Sir, to have an effective remedy applied by this House to the great and growing evil of recurring distress in the West of Ireland, and also, by the application of such a remedy, to prevent the evils flowing from the application of public moneys to the relief of distress amongst an industrious people. Sir, it will, I think, be admitted on all sides of the House that this chronic evil of distress in the West of Ireland is doubly injurious to the people of those localities—injurious to the moral, as well as the material, welfare of thousands of the industrious population, and that the remedy which will relieve or ameliorate that condition of things will confer a corresponding benefit upon both people and country. Sir, it may be in the recollection of some honourable Members who were present this time last year, that I felt it my duty, as one of the Members for Mayo, to move an Amendment to the Address asking for adequate measures of relief for some 1348 30,000 or 40,000 of my fellow-countrymen who were the victims of a bad harvest, who had had land and small holdings as a primary cause; and money had to be voted by this House, appeals had to be made to public charity in Ireland, Great Britain, and America, in order to save some 30,000 or 40,000 people of those districts from starvation. Now, Sir, that is a condition of things which I venture respectfully to say to the Chief Secretary we are resolved to do our best to alter, and will take every available opportunity which presents itself to press for a remedy. It will be found that there is practically no difference between the leading Members of the Ministry and the Irish Nationalist representatives with reference to this remedy. I will deal with the remedy I propose, but I think I must help honourable Members to form some idea of the extent of the chronic character of this evil before I come to deal with the remedy which we seek in this Amendment. Now, Sir, I have already referred to what we felt it our duty to ask this House to do last year, in order that tens of thousands of our people should not be face to face with starvation. Public money had to be voted by this House, and I have already mentioned that large sums had to be obtained from a benevolent public in order to relieve these poor people. Well, Sir, in 1890 and 1891 much larger sums of public money had to be demanded from this House in order to erect something like a barrier against this recurring evil in the congested districts of the West of Ireland. Going back a little farther, in 1886 this House voted, I believe, £40,000 or £50,000 in order to relieve the distress in these very districts in the West of Ireland. Going back still farther, to 1879 and 1880, a much larger amount had to be asked for, and was voted by this House, in order to deal with a similar condition of things. Now, Sir, I could go even farther back still—right back to the last 50 or 60 years—and show how, at recurring periods of six or seven or eight years, this evil came along in these very districts, and this House and the public had to be appealed to in order to avert starvation from hundreds and thousands of people along the West Coast of Ireland. Sir, the one terrible lesson which this experience of the last 20 years—going no farther back—ought to teach 1349 this House is, that so long as this condition of things exists in these congested districts we have to look for a small famine every five or every seven years. Now that is not in any way, Mr. Speaker, exaggerating the condition of things which I respectfully ask the House to consider in connection with the discussion of this Amendment. But, in order to give to the House some idea of the actual social condition in which these people are compelled to live year by year, generation after generation, I will read a brief extract dealing with this phase of the question from the first report of the Congested Districts Board. This extract also deals with the area over which this recurring distress is felt. The population of the congested districts, so called, is in round numbers, 500,000—about one-eighth of the total population of Ireland. The inhabitants of these congested districts are distributed as follows, according to the report to which I now refer:—Donegal County, 20 electoral divisions; Leitrim, 5; Sligo, 4; Mayo, 21; Galway, 16; Roscommon, 7; Kerry, 13; Cork, 6. Possibly a few other electoral divisions have been added to the area of the congested districts since the first report of the Board was printed. Altogether, Sir, we have 84 electoral divisions in eight or nine Western counties. The area of the districts amounts to 3,500,000 acres, and the poor law valuation to £500,000, or £1 per head of the population. The general social condition of these people is described in the same report, and I prefer in discussing this question to adopt the language of the Board than to give the House my own intimate experience of these districts in the West of Ireland. This report says on page 8—Even in the most prosperous of these districts the standard of living is low, the diet being altogether vegetable, with the exception of salt fish at times, which is used more as a relish than as an article of food. The houses, furniture, and bedding are too often unhealthy, mean, and comfortless, and the week-day clothing is frequently ragged and scanty. Very many families are on the same low level with regard to their resources. The farms or holdings are small in extent, and from two to four acres are planted with potatoes and oats.Now, Mr. Speaker, this is a terrible state of things to obtain in these districts in the West of Ireland among a population of 500,000 of my fellow-countrymen— 1350 one-eighth, or one-ninth of the total population of Ireland—100 years after this House has taken from Ireland the rule of that country. I venture to say that it is a state of things that reflects no credit of any kind upon the responsible rulers of Ireland. Well, Sir, I have given in official language one picture of the condition of things we wish to deal with, but side by side with this class of stinted and stunted industry there are extensive grazing tracts embracing the very best land, and giving bracing the very best land and giving industrial population to which I am referring. To these economic conditions of life and labour the term "congested districts" has been applied, and to show how ludicrously inappropriate that name is with reference to my own county, I may mention that in Mayo at the present moment there are 560,000 acres of the best land devoted entirely to grazing purposes. Well, Sir, the extent of similar pasture land as compared to industrial population would be about the same in the counties of Galway and Roscommon, the result being that you have the land-workers of these three of the largest counties in Ireland cooped up in small patches of the poorest soil, while vast areas of richer soil lay before them with all the potential requisites for industrial redemption and social comfort—if they could be helped to share with the sheep and the bullocks this natural source of labour and livelihood. Now, Sir, these are the main economic features of these congested districts. The condition of the people is a disgrace, as I have said, to the Government, which boasts, now particularly, of its good intentions towards Ireland. The state of these people is that of one degree above actual want, a state of social existence which becomes one of pauperism or famine, as I have already pointed out, once every five or every seven years. Now, this description of these localities will certainly not be denied by the Chief Secretary, because I find in the report of the Congested Districts Board for 1879—and I would respectfully call the right honourable Gentleman's attention to this fact—seven years after the work of the Board began, an even darker picture of these localities, drawn, I believe, by the hand of the Chief Secretary him- 1351 self. Speaking of the normal state of these localities, the report says—The poverty and, in some cases, the destitution prevalent in these districts is undeniable.And it goes on to say that opportunities should be afforded to the Board to help these people—I again quote—To raise themselves out of the chronic poverty in which they have been sunk for generations.The "chronic poverty in which they have been sunk for generations"—to use the language of the responsible ruler of Ireland—is the justification, Mr. Speaker, for this Amendment, and the reason why we have resolved on these Benches to press him in season and out of season, until the remedy we ask for is granted by this House. Now, Sir, there are other circumstances in connection with this life in these congested districts to which I could refer if I cared to detain the House, I will only mention one of them. It is the migratory labour to England and Scotland. Every year hundreds—sometimes two or three thousand—of peasant girls go from Achill, Donegal, and the North-West Coast to Scotland to work in turnip fields during the hoeing season in order to add a few pounds to the family earnings, and those girls have to sleep in barns during this labour exile. Well, I need not dwell upon the risks that are run by those girls in having to go once a year to Scotland to do this work. I say that the remedy we ask for is one which, when applied, would enable those girls to find better and fuller employment at home. Then, again, some 15,000 or 20,000 labourers have to cross to Scotland every year to seek employment in the harvest season, and to earn a little money with which to keep their families at home and pay the rent. Well, Sir, I hold that it would be better for them, it would be better even for the interests of your Government in Ireland, if you could give opportunities for employment to those Irish workers at home. They would then be saved from entering into needless competition with the labourers of England. Well, Sir, I shall doubtless be met with the argument, to be put forward, I am sure, by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for South Dublin (Mr. Plunkett), that much 1352 has been done already in the right direction; that the Congested Districts Board has been called into existence for the express purpose of ameliorating the lot of the people in these localities, and that it is part of the policy of the present Government to help to develop the industrial resources of Ireland. I admit that something has been done, that more has been attempted, and that we have, in connection with this question, at any rate, the great advantage of possessing the active sympathy of the Leader of the House. All this, however, strengthens the case we put forward, because we are virtually asking the Government to proceed along the road upon which it has already entered, and to deal with the evil which it acknowledges exists, in a way that is consonant with the views of the whole of Her Majesty's Ministers. The First Lord of the Treasury, speaking in the House on the 9th of August last on this very question, made his view as to the evil and the remedy very plain when he said—and I would ask the attention of the Chief Secretary to these views—Unless we can increase the size of the holdings, I do not see how it is possible altogether to prevent the recurrence of these periodical seasons of distress when the potato disease makes its periodical visitations.And then he went on to say—Much may be done, but still it is obvious that if a holding be too small to support a family in comfort, year in and year out, no mere improvement in the method of agriculture would afford a sufficient remedy for the evil.That is a point which I respectfully submit to the consideration of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for South Dublin. I will continue to quote from the First Lord of the Treasury—I hope, therefore, we may gradually see in the West of Ireland, especially those districts of it to which I have referred, such gradual growth in the size of the holdings as may ultimately make these recurring diseases more and more rare in their occurrence, and in time, it may be, finally to disappear altogether.
§ * MR. DAVITT
The 9th of August last, just before the adjournment of the House. This, Mr. Speaker, is the case 1353 for my Amendment, clearly and convincingly stated by the right honourable Gentleman, my only objection being to the reservation as to a gradual growth of a remedy which, if it is to be effective at all in its purpose, must be assisted and hastened in its operation. That, of course, is the view of the right honourable Gentleman himself, who I am glad to see in his place, and whose sympathy and support I claim in connection with this Amendment. But, Sir, con tinuing my argument that there is virtually no difference between her Majesty's Government and the Irish Members as to the remedy we want applied, I will quote briefly from the last report of the Congested Districts Board, namely, that for 1898. The words are probably those of the Chief Secretary. They say:—We regard the improvement and the enlargement of holdings, through purchase and re-sale of estates to the tenants, as likely to prove, if wisely and prudently carried out, the most permanently beneficial of the measures it is in our power to take for bettering the condition of the small occupiers in certain of the congested disricts.We have, therefore, the evil and the remedy recognised on all sides, and the question which the House will probably want answered is this: Has not a good deal already been done in the direction indicated, and cannot the task be left safely in the hands of the Congested Districts Board of Ireland? Well, Sir, a few facts and figures from official sources will be the best reply to tha question, and I would kindly ask the Chief Secretary's attention to them. The total operations of the Congested Districts Board in the enlargement of holdings during the eight years of the Board' existence amount to the purchase of 12 small properties, situated mainly in Mayo, Galway, and Roscommon. The total amount of land thus acquired is about 15,000 acres, having a combined poor law valuation of £3,000. Now on the improvement of these few estates and holdings the Board has expended, according to the figures given on page 86 of the last report of the Congested Districts Board, £13,200, a sum equal to four and a half times the valuation, or to one-third of the entire purchase money, about £40,000. Now, I allude to these figures, not to criticise the wisdom or otherwise of the expen- 1354 diture, but to make them emphasise the character of the land on which the people were compelled to live before the land was purchased by the Congested Districts Board and this amount of money expended upon it. Summed up, Mr. Speaker, the work done in the enlargement of holdings by this Board up to the present moment amounts to this. In the course of eight years some 200 out of, say, 50,000 cottier tenants have had their holdings enlarged; and land of an annual value of £3,000 has been purchased out of an area valued at £500,000 a year. Now, Sir, at this rate of progress the 50,000 small tenants in the congested districts to which I have referred will have their plots of land enlarged and improved by the operations of the Board if they can only manage to live for the next 2,000 years. Well, Mr. Speaker, that is a trifle too long for the Irish peasant to live in the expectation of having his condition improved. The work that has been done in this direction is, I venture to say, the very best work which the Congested Districts Board has in its hands. I think the Chief Secretary will agree with me when I say that wherever the holdings have been enlarged, and reasonable assistance given to the poor tenants, their condition has been materially improved. During the last year, when money had to be devoted out of the public purse for the relief of the distress of Ireland, none of those 200 tenants to whom I have referred were recipients of that relief. Now, Sir, this work will, I trust, be increased in the future, and will be made, as far as possible, the chief occupation of the Congested Districts Board. What is wanted is increased means to enable the Board to do this work speedily, and in a more satisfactory manner. Money is not required for the necessary purchase of land, because under the provision made in the Land Act of 1896 the Congested Districts Board can have this land purchased through the Land Commission. What the Board stands urgently in need of is more assistance—and adequate assistance—at the hands of this House in order that this work of placing this effective barrier against the evils of recurring distress can be pushed forward more satisfactorily and more speedily. Now, I venture to say, Sir, that when a demand of this kind has been made upon this House for practical 1355 work of this description, it cannot be refused. The demand for increased powers for acquiring additional lands by compulsory means may not be readily agreed to on the opposite side of the House; though one fails to see why, when the public good is the object sought for in the West of Ireland, this objection should be made to the application of compulsory powers. The interests that stand in the way have purely a monetary value, and can be bought out; and I have every reason to believe, Mr. Speaker, that if the Government show themselves anxious to push forward this work in this way, they will experience very little difficulty in the West of Ireland in acquiring the necessary amount of land for the enlargement of holdings. On this important phase of the question, a resolution of the Congested Districts Board, which was passed four years ago, marks out the right way in which to facilitate the work of that body. In the annual report for 1895, the Board say [page 10]:—The following resolution was adopted by the members of the Board and transmitted to the Chief Secretary for Ireland then in office: 'That the Congested Districts Board is in possession of information through their Inspectors, that there are large tracts of land that could be used to enlarge the holdings of small occupiers, and promote schemes of emigration in congested districts. The Board are, however, of opinion that it would be impossible for them to give due effect to this important department of their work unless more funds are placed at their disposal, and compulsory powers given to them to acquire such lands at their just value.'Well, Sir, that is our view, and I believe that it will be found to be the view of many Members, at any rate, on the other side of the House, if they would only give a brief study to this question. I may mention that in a series of able articles contributed by the Colonial Secretary to the "Birmingham Daily Post" in 1888, called "A Sketch of Unionist Policy for Ireland," he advanced a similar remedy. He says:—For the sake of showing how the treatment of congested districts might be worked out, we assume, for the moment, that it is undertaken by County Boards (to be established throughout Ireland for purposes of local government). The nine cases should be scheduled as containing congested districts. The County Boards of such counties should cause an examination to be made of 1356 such lands within their respective counties, in pasture, or mostly pasture, to which tenants in congested districts in those counties could be most advantageously removed. Certain lands must, of course, be exempted from the range of selection.And then he goes on to particularise those lands. He says:—Schedules of such land examined and found suitable should be published, with notice to tenants, owners, and agents. An appeal should be allowed as to the exemptions above mentioned, the appeal to be to the Land Court, whose decision should, be final. Subject to such appeal, the County Boards should be empowered to acquire scheduled lands by compulsory purchase; in case of disagreement as to price, the County Board and the owner each to appoint an arbitrator, and the Court to appoint an umpire. Compensation for disturbance, in accordance with the terms of the Land Act of 1870, to be allowed to tenants removed under the operation of the proposed measure.Now, Mr. Speaker, what I ask in conclusion is no visionary or revolutionary reform, but an extension, an enlargement, of a work which the Government are already carrying on in Ireland—a work which can bring nothing but credit to themselves. To improve the industrial status of the poorer labouring classes, to give them a helping hand in efforts to uplift themselves by hopeful means of food cultivation, and keep them from crowded cities and emigrant ships, is a work recommended by all parties as a duty of enlightened and responsible Government, and I, therefore, plead for these people of the West with all the greater confidence to both sides of the House. There is a strong feeling abroad on this matter in the counties comprised in the congested districts. That is not to be wondered at, Mr. Speaker, when the sufferings and trials of such a life as these people live are keenly felt; increased education and developed intelligence must necessarily beget impatience at the tardy application of remedial measures. Popular feeling on this and on kindred questions in Ireland is seldom rightly understood by English rulers. They forget, in condemning strong language or heated expressions, that these words are born of the knowledge that land is life in Ireland—is home, and food, and raiment—in a sense which does not obtain, Mr. Speaker, in England, or in countries 1357 favoured with varied industrial opportunities. Those, too, who speak in hot, strong terms of reproach against systems and laws responsible for the perpetual poverty which leads either to the workhouse or to labour exile, have felt the experience of the past 20 years, with their relief funds and public doles, and all the other degrading circumstances belonging thereto. They know their grievance, and speak it as it is felt; they know that the remedy which they demand is admitted to be practicable and just, and they would not be the people they are if passionate feeling did not play its part in the work of seeking amelioration at the hands of unsympathetic and un-Irish rulers. I ask the Government, therefore, to say whether this feeling shall be allowed to grow in intensity, or be calmed down by assurances that the redress which we seek in this Amendment will not be long delayed. The time and the circumstances are favourable to a message of hope from this House to the West of Ireland. The country is peaceful, there is no agrarian crime; the people are watchful and expectant; and I urge Her Majesty's Government not to deny these yearning hopes. I conclude my appeal, Sir, to the Ministers and to the House, in the words spoken by the First Lord of the Treasury on this very question in this Assembly on the 9th of August last, when he said:—That the Irish of the West of Ireland should be put far above the necessity of appealing for public assistance is my most earnest desire, and as far as the Government can further that object, I can assure the honourable Member that they will do so. … I, for my part, fully concur with the honourable Member in the object he has in view. I think he has put his finger on the evil with which we have to deal, and I should be glad to give him, or any other person, every assistance in my power to carry out this object.Mr. Speaker, I look with confidence to the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House to redeem that promise.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ MR. R. AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
Mr. Speaker, this ground has been so well travelled over by my honourable friend the Member for South Mayo that it is 1358 not my intention to keep the House very long.
§ [At this point attention was called to the fact that there were not 40 Members present. House counted; 40 attending, the speaker resumed.]
Mr. Speaker, as I have said, this Amendment has been so ably gone over by my honourable Friend the Member for West Mayo, that it is not my intention to keep the House very long. He has informed the House that the population of these congested districts—but perhaps the House is not aware of the definition of a congested district. A congested district in Ireland is one in which the poor law valuation is 30s. per head of the population. But, Sir, I find that the average valuation of the congested districts in Mayo not only comes within that description, but is only £1 0s. 3d. per head. I could mention other districts, extending over about three-fourths of the county of Mayo, where the valuation is as low as 18s. 3d. Well, Sir, within a late period Distress Acts have been passed for the relief of these people. There is the Act of 1880, by which £750,000 was voted from that good old milch cow for the relief of distress, the Irish Church Fund. But, like other Acts passed in this House for the benefit of Ireland by the Government of the day, it was found by the succeeding Government that its predecessors did not understand the cause for which the Act was passed. It consequently amended the Act immediately afterwards, so that in the very same year the Relief of Distress Act was passed, the Relief of Distress Amendment Act was also passed, by which £1,500,000 was borrowed for the same purpose. Again, in the same year, the Seed Supply Act was passed, and also the Relief of Distressed Unions Act, under which a sum not exceeding £50,000 was allowed to be borrowed from the Land Commission; and last year we had that happy-go-lucky sort of thing—I cannot call it an Act—from the Chief Secretary, by which Boards of Guardians were allowed to levy rates on the people whom they were supposed to relieve. Well, Sir, I think we had an admission from the Chief Secretary last year that those people were in a state bordering on chronic poverty. Surely, if the Government 1359 admit that, it is fully time for them to wake up to the fact that the time is ripe to do something to relieve the distress in those districts. A resolution was passed in 1895 by the Congested Districts Board, in which they admitted that without compulsory powers their endeavours to relieve the distress were greatly hampered. I have been reading the report of the Congested Districts Board, and I find that in 1897 and 1898, while they did not exactly pass resolutions, I think, reading between the lines, it is pretty clear that they came to the conclusion that even in those two years, without compulsory purchase, their efforts would be futile. Indeed, if the Chief Secretary would only look over the files of "Hansard" in the library, he would see that for a number of years it has been found necessary to bring before the House the question of the relief of distress, not only in the West of Ireland but in other parts of the country. I think he would be ashamed of himself if he were not in a position to stand up to-night and say that the time has now come when the present Government, at all events, will do something to relieve the distress in the West of Ireland. I find that from 1831 to 1898 it has been necessary to bring the subject of the distress in the West of Ireland before the House 27 years, which means a great many more than 27 times, and this being the case we have a right to expect some promise from the Government that they will remedy this state of things. I can assure the House that in other parts of Ireland—even in Ulster—I could quote figures to prove it—the population has dropped one half, while the poor rate has doubled. Well, Sir, what ought to be the duty of a wise Government in the face of these facts? Is it not to take into consideration the suffering of these unfortunate people? Surely it is not by talk about champagne and the South of France, or by making Connaught a prairie, that this question is to be settled. A wise Government ought to raise these poor people out of their state of poverty and put them in a position to find proper scope for their energies.
§ * MR. HORACE PLUNKETT (Dublin S.)
Mr. Speaker, there seems to be a complete agreement on both sides of the House, among those who know anything 1360 at all of the West of Ireland, as to the conditions with which it is now sought to deal. The honourable Member for South Mayo very accurately stated that there is an absence of industrial pursuits, and that the people are dependent upon agriculture alone; and I suppose he will admit that, through no fault of the people, such agriculture as theirs is necessarily of the most primitive description. The only difference of opinion that there will be in the House is not so much as to the remedy to be applied, but as to the way in which we are to proceed to apply it. The honourable Member based his Amendment upon a resolution passed by the Congested Districts Board in 1895, a resolution with which I heartily concurred. I cannot speak, of course, for every member of the Board, but I can say with certainty that if such a resolution were to be proposed to-day, it would be negatived, and for reasons which were stated very fully last year, and which I am quite ready to repeat. At the time that the resolution was passed, I was very much impressed with the fact—as I believed it to be—that compulsory powers for the purchase of land had been given to the Crofters Commission, and that the powers were utilised by them. I found subsequently, however, that the powers that were given were not to purchase land at all, but only to take land for the purpose of leasing to tenants. In any case the powers have not been utilised in dealing with the problem in Scotland, and I do not believe, at present, at any rate, that they are needed in Ireland. In the first place, as explained last year, there are several large negotiations on foot which we hope will lead to the allocation of a very considerable amount of land, and I may say, in passing, that the honourable Member was not quite fair to the Board in the figures which he gave to show the very small progress we have made. By elaborate calculations, exaggerating the time the Board has been in existence, and still more the period during which it has had an opportunity of dealing with a problem such as this, he said that it would take 2,000 years before we could give all the holders in the congested districts enlarged holdings. I do not think they all require them, but that is a detail. I believe the honourable Member was actively engaged in another scheme for enlarging 1361 holdings some years ago. If I were to apply the same argument to his scheme, I could prove that he would never migrate a single family nor enlarge a single holding.
§ * MR. PLUNKETT
At any rate the honourable Member's friends were. I do not, however, want for a moment to criticise the promoters of this scheme—I do not blame anyone for its failure; but the honourable Members who did promote that scheme ought to know the extreme difficulties that are to be met with in any scheme of the kind. I am quite sure that my right honourable Friend the Chief Secretary will deal with the subject, and, therefore, I will not pursue it further. I will only say this, that since we passed that resolution the utmost difficulties have been met with in working out the scheme, and even when you have got the land it is an extremely slow process to re-settle it. I would ask the Chief Secretary to explain it to the House, because I think the honourable Members ought to know the difficulties that have to be encountered. However, the matter stands this way, that all parties are substantially agreed that the holdings have got to be enlarged, and the only difference between us on the point is as to whether compulsory powers are required now to carry out that object. I think myself that a very large majority of the Congested Districts Board, if not all the members, hold that at the present time these powers are not required. I wish, however, to pass to another aspect of this question. It is always assumed by Nationalist Members from Ireland that the whole problem of the congested districts would be solved if only we could put into operation a large scheme of migration and enlargement of holdings. The whole question of peasant proprietorship is an extremely difficult one. I am not going to discuss the relative advantages of large farming and small farming. We all know that in favour of large farming you have improved appliances, a smaller capital per acre required, and much better facilities. On the other hand, in favour of small cultivators, you have the greater personal interest of the owner in his holding, and 1362 the greater value of the owner's labour as compared with hired labour. But it must be remembered that the lot of the peasant proprietors in Continental countries is not an enviable one. In industrial countries, where there are large centres of population, the system, no doubt, succeeds. But I have read that in France and in several other countries, even with methods of cultivation of a high order, the peasant proprietors have a terrible struggle for existence. In Ireland we have not the advantage at present, although I hope we may have, of advanced methods. The people, through no fault of their own, are in a very backward condition. They have had no educational facilities, and the Congested Districts Board consequently find great difficulty in carrying out any scheme of peasant proprietorship. Then, again, I do not myself think that the instincts of the Irish people are agricultural; I think they are much more pastoral than agricultural. They are an extremely adaptable people, but I could not help noticing in my travels about the world that agriculture is the very last pursuit that Irishmen, especially those from the poorer parts of Ireland, take to.
AN HONOURABLE MEMBER
I have met them on the goldfields, and they always say that they have had such a scalding from agriculture in Ireland that they leave it severely alone when they get away from Ireland.
§ * MR PLUNKETT
That is true, perhaps, but the great emigrations from Ireland to America have been coincident with the greatest opportunity that has been offered to an agricultural population to acquire cheap land of great fertility in rapidly rising countries. I think it is generally admitted that the instincts of the Irish are more pastoral than agricultural.
§ * MR. PLUNKETT
The honourable Member does not admit that that is so, but a great many people hold that opinion. Professor Goldwin Smith is no mean authority on the subject. The establishment of a peasant proprietary is not to be brought about by simply making the peasants proprietors of land. You have to do a great deal more than 1363 that. I hold very firmly that if this House in its wisdom were, in this Session of Parliament, to pass an Act dividing up all the land of the congested districts among the inhabitants of those districts so that each head of a family had an economic holding—and by an economic holding I mean a holding on which a man could live in decency and comfort, and bring up his family, but not a holding large enough to require hired labour—in 10 or 15 years you would have a worse state of congestion than you have to-day. Everybody knows what would happen. Of course, the sons of these farmers would marry, and then they would be faced with the alternative of either emigrating or living in the one house, which we know is not a satisfactory arrangement, or else of dividing their holdings. The last state of the congested districts would then be worse than the first. On the other hand, I firmly believe that, while an isolated peasant proprietary is not in these days an economical possibility, a carefully created and well-organised peasant proprietary is quite possible; but it must be of gradual growth. The land must be gradually obtained. But quite as important is the improvement and entire reorganisation of the agricultural industries by which the land must be made profitable. The people must be taught to get more out of the land; they must produce more cheaply, and that means that they must have improved appliances. Honourable Members, I know, will laugh, but to do this it is absolutely necessary to have a system of agricultural co-operation. The whole distribution of agricultural produce duce must be reorganised, and industrial combination is absolutely essential for that purpose. [AN HONOURABLE MEMBER: Does not the same apply to England?] I think that applies to England, though not so much, because England is not so dependent upon agriculture as Ireland. The farms are so much larger in England that combination, in order to give the small holders the advantages obtainable by the large holders, is not so essential as in Ireland. Then there is another extremely important factor—namely, the getting of capital into the farming industry. Honourable Members sometimes argue as if, in spite of what economists tell us, that there is 1364 only one element in agriculture—namely, land, and labour and capital count for nothing. But I consider that to make labour effective and the acquisition of capital upon reasonable terms easy is just as essential, and perhaps more so, than the acquisition of land. I cannot honestly argue that very much good would be done in Ireland by State aid unless it is accompanied by a self-help movement in the country. All these things I have been mentioning are necessary to the improvement of agriculture, but they cannot be brought about by the State for the simple reason that in a constitutional sense that would involve interference with trade. Some countries do not look upon the organisation of farmers for the improvement of their business as interference. France, for instance, has Government instructors going round the country doing exactly the work which the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society is doing in Dublin. However, I admit that that cannot be done here, but I would wish honourable Members opposite to understand that while we are in entire sympathy with them in asking the Government for further aid, there are a great many of us in Ireland, and a large number of men who do not belong to either the religious or political creed which I profess, who hold very strongly that self-reliance is far more important in Ireland to-day than State aid. We have set before our minds an ideal condition of these congested districts. We desire to see a peasant proprietary with a higher standard of living, and educated so that they can maintain it. We believe that this is the only possible way of preventing sub-division and a disaster on the small holdings in these poor and remote districts. The honourable Member who moved this Amendment referred to what he described as the not unnatural excitement which existed and the heated words which had been spoken recently in the west of Ireland in reference to the inaction of the Government. The honourable Member has himself been a great deal in these districts organising a movement which apparently has this object.
§ * MR. PLUNKETT
The honourable Member says he will do it again. I 1365 think it is rather misleading to the House to speak of this feeling as spontaneous and natural when such an extremely able organiser, and one of the most powerful out-of-doors orators of the day, have been going about among the people advocating economic doctrines which, apart from their political aspect, are absolutely disastrous for the reasons I have tried to explain.
§ * MR. DAVITT
Will the right honourable Gentleman inform me what reforms have ever been obtained, even in England, without a popular movement?
§ * MR. PLUNKETT
I quite recognise the political object of the honourable Member, but from an economic, social, and moral point of view, it would be wiser for him to give support to those who are promoting the self-help movement. In August last the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, when speaking on the question of chronic distress in the west of Ireland, described it as one of the most perplexing problems which the State of this country or any other country had had to face. I welcome such an utterance from such a statesman because the right honourable Gentleman has not only helped these districts by legislation and administration, but he has, by public appeal, by private charity, and by personal investigation, shown an interest in the subject which has seldom been equalled. I am very glad to find that my right honourable Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland is equally interested in this problem, and, whatever may be thought of a man who does not largely advertise himself, I wish to testify to the fact that I have never seen anyone work harder upon that problem than he has worked since he has held his present position. I apologise for having taken up so much time of the House, but my only excuse is that this is a subject in which I am deeply interested.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
Mr. Speaker, I have heard the speech which the right honourable Gentleman has just delivered three or four times. It has been slightly varied, perhaps, but it is the same speech over and over again—the same lecture on economic doctrines. Anyone would think that the right hon- 1366 ourable Gentleman is the only man who has read John Stuart Mill or has given any attention to the other economic writers. I do not know whether the attitude of the right honourable Gentleman towards the Members on these Benches may be considered patronising; it is certainly too well-meant to be offensive. But we are told that the Irish people are sunk in deplorable ignorance, and are utterly unacquainted with what has gone on in the world for the last century or two. How, in the name of Providence, are these people to learn any of these lessons in improved agriculture if you do not give them sufficient land to cultivate? These people in the west of Ireland are calling out, in the same way as the Scotch crofters, for an enlargement of their holdings, and for that enlargement to be brought about on fair terms. Only a few days ago, on the Address, we had the Scotch crofters' grievance, and one honourable Member pointed out that it was the duty of the Government, in the interests of the locality in which there was so much chronic poverty, to enlarge the holdings by means of purchase. This is the meaning of the Amendment of my honourable Friend the Member for East Mayo, and it is the only real and genuine remedy for dealing with the present wretched condition of things. The creameries which the right honourable Gentleman refers to have been established in some of the most fertile portions of Ireland, but, notwithstanding outside aid, I challenge the right honourable Gentleman to say how many of them have paid. How many of them publish balance-sheets?
§ * MR. PLUNKETT
Every one of their balance sheets may be seen by the honourable Member, because they are all registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, and the honourable Member has only to go to the Registrars office.
§ MR. FLYNN
I understood the money was given to keep the movement going, and to keep it alive, and I have been informed by people who know more about it than myself or the right honourable Gentleman. They informed me that the bulk of these creameries never published their balance sheets, and that if they did the balance would be on the 1367 wrong side. I again challenge the right honourable Gentleman that these balance sheets are not published, because we know they are not.
§ * MR. PLUNKETT
Of course they are public property if anybody likes to go to the office of the Registrar in Dublin.
§ MR. FLYNN
Well, perhaps that will throw a light upon the question when we come to see them. But, Sir, surely the right honourable Gentleman knows very well, whatever else may be that those creameries are not suitable for the place. The land is too poor, and you want really, Sir, as we contend, to enlarge the holdings of these people. Before you give them lectures on economic doctrines, and lessons upon improved methods of agriculture and production, you ought to give them the land on which they can carry out your lessons and instructions. How can a poor, wretched man, cultivating four or five acres of rock, from which his forefathers were driven by these landlords—how can he possibly derive any benefit from improved methods unless he has sufficient land to cultivate? The whole thing is a contradiction of terms. These poor people live in a chronic state of poverty, always in misery, and oft-times on the verge of starvation. We see these hundreds and thousands of the population in this condition in Ireland, and nobody who knows their condition will hesitate to say that it is a disgrace to this Empire, and a reproach to any Government. If that condition of things had been brought about by the misconduct of these unfortunate people themselves, perhaps there would not be so much to say about it. But no, Sir, everyone who knows the history of that country knows that these people have been driven to it; and that they are the descendants of people who were driven from the fertile land of their forefathers on to these wretched plains. It is not a mere question of congested districts today, but it is as much an historical question as can possibly be. How great is the futility of trying to close your eyes to this state of things. These unfortunate people go from Mayo and Galway, and other parts of Ireland, across to England and Scotland—and they are strong, able-bodied men—in order to earn the rent to keep these 1368 wretched holdings going. That condition of things is a matter of reproach to any Government, and it is enough to stir the indignation of any feeling man to see these unfortunate men going hundreds of miles away, to work in the land of the stranger, for a small pittance in order to keep their little holdings going. There is a lot of these unfortunate people who might as well be Chinese coolies, for their condition is quite as bad. Sir, I thought the right honourable Gentleman the Member for South Dublin was more sympathetic in his view of this question, but I am very much afraid that the danger pointed out by the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland, in connection with this congested Districts Board, has affected the right honourable Gentleman. When that Board was being formed the Irish Members put forward the argument that there should be some popular representation on the Board, and we still adhere to that opinion. I do not deny that there are several gentlemen on that Board who have a sympathetic spirit, and who are doing most useful work for these districts. But our contention then was that some of the representatives of the congested districts—some Parliamentary representatives—ought to be put upon the Board, because they would be in touch with the people, and would be able to guide that Board in a proper direction. What, Sir, was the reply? The reply of the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, when he was Chief Secretary, was that it was not advisable to keep that Board free from all political tenour, and that no politician sitting in this House should be upon that Board. I regret to observe that, although in many ways and upon many 'occasions the right honourable Gentleman has expressed himself in a sympathetic way towards Ireland, there is a distinctly reactionary tone about the right honourable Gentleman's remarks. In 1895 he agreed in passing that resolution calling for compulsory powers, and now he discovers that compulsory powers are not only not needed, but he contends that they would be dangerous. And, what, forsooth, is his explanation? In 1895 he was in favour of compulsory power, and he said that the Board would not per- 1369 their work in a large and useful way without having compulsory powers to acquire the land in the West of Ireland. Now, nearly four years after, the right honourable Gentleman has changed his mind, and what do I find is one of the very curious reasons given by him for changing his mind? Why, that he was under the impression that the Crofters Commission had compulsory powers, and he finds now that he was mistaken, and therefore the Irish Board must not have them.
§ MR. FLYNN
But they have not got those compulsory powers. The Scotch Members have declared that the Crofters Commission has not got these compulsory powers, and surely they cannot be wrong, for they must know something about it. If they have these powers, why have they not used them? I feel myself walking in a kind of maze, for the right honourable Gentleman gives one version, and the Scotch Members give another. Let me state the proposition as fairly as I can; the right honourable Gentleman gives as one of his reasons for going back and withdrawing from his decision to support compulsory powers that the Crofters Commission had never exercised those powers, but the Scotch Members tell us distinctly that they have not got these powers. Surely the Congested Districts Board—a body composed of intelligent men, the Chairman of which is the Chief Secretary of Ireland—would not adopt a resolution of that kind without due consideration of the circumstances. Now, the Chairman of the Board is, to some extent, responsible, unless he repudiates such action. Even if it was the Chief Secretary for the time being, there is supposed to be a kind of continuity of administration even in connection with Irish affairs. Surely it is not feasible, nor can it be put forward before this House as a fair argument, that the Congested Districts Board can pass a resolution which is printed in their report, a copy of which is sent to the Lord Lieutenant, and which is read here in Parliament, and then we are afterwards told, "We did not mean it at all." Surely the right honourable Gentleman has been too long in public life, and is too keen a judge of public affairs, to 1370 expect public opinion in Ireland or in England can be met fairly by a statement of that kind. In 1895 the Congested Districts Board passed that resolution, and they meant it or they did not, and the Members who passed it must have known more about the condition of Ireland than the right honourable Gentleman. I do not say this as any disparagement of the right honourable Gentleman's administration, or of his keen grasp of public affairs, but these members are continually on the spot, and I take it that they are better informed, or quite as well informed, upon this difficult and perplexing problem as is the Chief Secretary, or the Member for South Dublin. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for South Dublin concludes his speech with an expression of thanks to the First Lord of the Treasury for his speech of last August. Now, we would like to see that translated into action this Session; hence the necessity for this Amendment. The right honourable Gentleman quoted a portion of the First Lord of the Treasury's speech, in which he said this question was, perplexing and embarrassing. Of course it is perplexing and embarrassing, and the Congested Districts Board, with its present limited powers, cannot grapple with it, and they cannot and will not do so until this House gives them sufficient powers to enlarge the holdings of these poor people. When these holdings are enlarged, and the people placed upon them, they will then be in a position to receive all the useful and valuable lessons which the right honourable Gentleman or the Agricultural Board can give them. The present system is like trying to make bricks without straw, for it is no, use giving them these instructions unless you give them the land upon which to carry them out. We hear a lot about self-help and State aid, but we should want no State aid if we had the management of our own affairs. A Home Rule Government would deserve to fail if they could not have worked this question out better than you have done. The figures, to my mind, in the last report of the Congested Districts Board, are absolutely conclusive as to the necessity for compulsory powers to purchase land. You give public bodies compulsory powers; 1371 you give private companies compulsory powers to acquire land for the building of their lines, and the enlargement of their stations, and all other necessary powers. You will do all that for a private company, and yet you are reluctant to give to the Congested Districts Board, formed under your own administration, the necessary compulsory powers to carry out a scheme for the enlargement of these holdings. Why should that be. We do hope that the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury will see his way to take his courage in both hands and to grapple, if the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary of Ireland cannot do so, with this question, which is a reproach to the Empire and a sad disgrace to Ireland herself. The honourable Gentleman for South Dublin gave some figures some time ago which were very suggestive with regard to the operation of the Congested Districts Board; but in working out this problem I have ventured to take the liberty of investigating other figures, and I find that of the 12 estates that have been purchased in the last six years, and which comprise 14,400 acres odd, the poor law valuation is £2,784; but I also find that out of those 12 estates purchased at a total cost of £36,386 that two of them, Port Royal and Clare Island, comprised two-thirds of the entire amount of land purchased; so that it has taken practically all these years to purchase two estates in the very poorest portion of Ireland. At that rate of progress, of course, it would take many hundreds of years before the scheme could be worked out, but I also observe that the total sum expended by the Board is actually less than one year's revenue. Surely, we are justified, in view of a condition of things like this, in coming to this House and impressing upon the Government the necessity of arming the Congested Districts Board with compulsory powers to purchase land, so that the system of planting these people on their holding should be done with rapidity, and some attempt made in our own generation to settle this embarrassing question. It is better for us to ventilate this question at this period of the Session, and I wish that more time had been allowed for this purpose, and that this Amendment had been placed earlier in the proceedings than later on, 1372 because this is a question of very great interest to Irishmen, and, however long the Debate may last, it is easier for Irish representatives, who respect themselves' and their country, to come here now and urge the Government to deal with this perplexing and crucial question, and far better than that they should come 12 months later appealing for alms and money to keep the body and soul together in these unfortunate people, in the way in which we have had to do year after year in language which self-respecting Irishmen find difficult to use in this House. It is hard to do so, but your finicking remedies will not assist Ireland; the relief which she requires must be given in the direction of an amendment in the law; and before the Session draws to its close I sincerely hope the Government will recognise the necessity of dealing with the question in a statesmanlike spirit.
§ * MR. DRAGE
I have always taken a great interest in Irish Labour Questions, and I venture to interpose in this Debate, as I have just returned from the West of Ireland. I think we must all admit on this side of the House that the evils to which the honourable Gentleman who moved the Amendment referred are very great, and that we should support any Measure likely to mitigate them. The whole population of Mayo and Gal way is actually on the verge of starvation, and the slightest failure of the potato crop would produce great physical suffering among them. The population of the present time no longer live on the wholesome food which they had a generation ago, and when they come to England for the purposes of seeking work it takes a week or two of good English food to give them proper health and strength in order that they may be able to compete with English labourers. Now, the condition of their cottages is pretty well known in this House, and I have ventured on more than one occasion to ask the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary to extend the operation of the Labourers Housing Acts. The circumstances under which these people live are so well known that I need hardly refer to the fact that it is a common thing for cattle and pigs and human beings to be herded together in one room. Irregularity of work is, no doubt, another 1373 cause of distress in Ireland, and honourable Members of this House who are acquainted with the irregularity of employment in England know that it is almost impossible for a man whose employment is irregular to exist without getting into debt. The general condition of the West of Ireland is well known, and everyone must regret to see that little change for the better has been made there during the last 20 years. But there are other difficulties besides those which were enumerated by the honourable Member for Mayo. There are circumstances which very greatly increase the difficulties with which the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary has to deal. Illiteracy is one. The figures show that 18 per cent. of the whole population of Ireland are illiterate; while in Galway and Mayo the figures show that no less than 33 per cent. of the population are illiterate. Then there is another problem to be solved, and one which is most important to the Irish people, and that is the migration of labour and the conditions under which that is done. A recent return published shows that no less than 18 per cent, of the adult members of Galway and Mayo are obliged to come to England to labour, and I should just like to call the attention of the House for one moment to an examination of these figures. I find that the labour returns, as published in the Labour Gazette, showed that no less than 40 per cent. of the adult labourers of Mayo and Galway come to England to labour. That is to say that 27,000 of the adult labourers of those two counties migrate annually. That is not the worst of it. What I call attention to is this, that whichever percentage is correct, the Irish official returns or those of the Labour Gazette, whether you take 18 per cent. or 40 per cent., three-fourths of this large number of persons when they return to Ireland in the winter are landless. I have no doubt that the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has an answer for that, but these figures, conflicting as they are, show that the Irish labour problem is a very serious one, and one which requires to be dealt with immediately.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Of course these people, in all probability the whole, but certainly the majority of them, are 1374 members of the families of small landowners, and, therefore, a very large number of the labourers who migrate to England on the West of Ireland are naturally landless.
§ * MR. DAVITT
The right honourable Member will admit that a very large number of these small tenants also join their sons in their migrations to England.
§ * MR. DRAGE
My point is this, that these landless labourers come back for the winter to Ireland whether they are landless members of a small landowner's family or not, and that circumstances render it more difficult for them to obtain work—the regular agricultural work they are best fitted to perform. There is another circumstance connected with these districts, and that is the indebtedness of the population; partly owing to a bad system of accounts, partly owing to payment in kind, and in labour, a large proportion of this population is indebted; and it is certainly borne in upon us that if the tyranny of the landowning classes has been bad in the past, there is growing up in Ireland a system of tyranny, or at any rate, supremacy, of the debt-owning shopkeeper, in some respects more terrible than that of the landlords in the past. That is another problem with which the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary has to deal. The remedies for this state of things were set forth by the honourable Member for Mayo, and are well known and recognised on these benches. First there is the enlargement of the holdings of the small landowners, and there is the settlement of the landless upon the land. On those two points the honourable Member for Mayo and both sides of the House agree; but where we differ is in the space of time in which these changes can be carried out. Those who have visited the Trench estate are acquainted with the practical difficulties involved. Each tenant must have a patch of arable land, a patch of pasture, and a patch of bog. These patches have to be connected by a right of way. The holdings on existing estates are already much subdivided. You have 1375 therefore so to subdivide the land as to prevent a recurrence of present evils, and you have to content the people, and prevent litigation over rights of way. Honourable Gentlemen opposite, and those interested in Irish affairs, know well the great love the Irish tenants have for litigation. You have this additional problem to solve: the education of the people to avoid litigation between tenants. But, once these difficulties are met, there is another question which I think has not altogether escaped the attention of honourable Members opposite—the evils of money-lending. Few people are probably aware of the amount of interest which the poor tenants have to pay on small loans. I have been assured by priests who have spoken to me on the matter that the smallest rate of interest which is current is 26 per cent.
§ * MR. DRAGE
No, of the village money-lenders. The common custom is to borrow £1, but the borrower does not get a sovereign—only 19s., the other shilling being retained as interest—and the loan being paid back at a shilling a week. Of course, honourable Members will see how that works out. At any rate the interest on these loans is found to be not less than 26 per cent.
§ * MR. DRAGE
Well, then you have got to bring agricultural and technical education more home to the people; for if, under present conditions as to education, the farmers fail on a small scale, they will fail on a large. Last of all—and on this point honourable Members opposite will bear with me—there is the necessity, as the priests admit, of a change of character. Everyone interested in the Irish peasantry will ackowledge that we have to encourage in them a greater spirit of self-reliance and independence. These being the difficulties, what has been done by the Government in the last three years of its administration? In the first place, there are the State grants and the efforts of philanthropy. The Chief Secretary will probably agree that for the amounts so lavished in the past no adequate re- 1376 suit has been obtained. It seems to be the opinion of all really interested in the peasantry that such grants have produced the utmost demoralisation, although it was our good fortune to find that all the districts in the very poorest parts of Ireland had not been affected by this demoralisation. A second remedy provided by the Unionist administration is that of labourers' cottages. The Labourers' Cottages Acts did not apply to the districts under consideration, but in other parts of Ireland a great deal of good has been done in the way of fresh housing of the labouring classes by the authorising of 15,000 cottages and an expenditure of £1,909,000. The small holders in Mayo could qualify for a share of this expenditure, but the unions are poor. Then we come to the comprehensive policy of the Congested Districts Board. Honourable Gentlemen opposite must admit that a mere examination of their report shows that, so far as it goes, a great deal of good work has been done. The Board has encouraged agricultural education; it has introduced the spraying of potatoes; it has established experimental plots; it has done much to improve the breed of horses, of cattle, of sheep, and even of bees. It is engaged in the reorganisation of the fisheries, and in introducing improvements in fish-curing. Then you have the institution of factories and home industries; I quite admit on a small scale, but that is no reason for refusing credit to the Government for what has really been done. Further there are the repairs on the bridges on important main roads which were a danger to traffic. New railways, new roads, have been built, holdings have been enlarged, and something has been done for the settlement of the landless, and the encouragement of improved methods of agriculture. I quite admit that, with all the Government have done, sufficient has not yet been done to meet the demands and the necessities of the people. Another point on which I venture to think sufficient credit has not been given to the Government, is the new Poor Law system introduced by the present Chief Secretary. It constitutes a really great reform, and is pretty much on these lines: The Government has agreed to pay 75 per cent. of the relief where the unions are embarrassed on the condition that the labour test is employed, with the workhouse as an alter- 1377 native. I believe that 11 unions in the districts under discussion have adopted the system already, and that they are satisfied with the new conditions, although the system has only been in force for one year. Next, there is the new Department of Agricultural Industry and Technical Education, and, last of all, there is the Adulteration Bill which the Government propose to introduce this Session. I am quite at one with those who say that, though much has been done, a great deal has yet to be done. I have been going to Ireland for the past nine years, engaged in inquiring in every part of the country into the social condition of the people, and it is a pleasure to come back to England and to be able to tell this House that there is a new movement in Ireland of extraordinary power and promise. This movement has been initiated and promoted by the Agricultural Organisation Society, which seeks to solve the problems of social Ireland on the principles of self-help and self-reliance. It is a movement founded by Irishmen and led by Irishmen on principles which are dear and intelligible to Englishmen, and which promises to solve many difficulties in the economic field, but most of all in the agricultural field where the English movement has hitherto failed. Honourable Gentlemen know that trades unions, friendly societies, building societies, and the like in England have built up practical answers to the most difficult of social problems, but all these associations have failed in dealing with agriculture. This movement, as I have said, conducted by Irishmen, began by recognising that the evils from which Ireland suffers are economic, not political. Its success in a few years has been remarkable. It has now no fewer than 37,000 members, with a turnover of three-quarters of a million sterling, and branches of it are to be found everywhere throughout Ireland. Honourable Gentlemen opposite are not altogether fair in their attitude towards this movement, nor to those who are making a special study of social problems in this direction. It is, I hold, one of the most remarkable movements which this century has brought forth. Irish agriculture suffers, like agriculture elsewhere, from competition and from the transition which is going on from production on a small scale to production on a large scale. Very well, the first 1378 thing the Organisation Society has done is to organise production so as to obtain a regular supply at a uniform standard of quality, and then, by co-operative agencies, it establishes a regular connection between the producer and consumer. It has established creameries, it has arranged for the sale of the produce, it has provided the means by which the best machinery and manures can be obtained at cost price; it is giving technical instruction of the highest value to the farming classes; and it is bringing Irish produce into close connection with the English and Scotch markets, with their demand for 40 millions' worth of such produce. Where the English capitalist and Government failed in the economic field in England, the organised working classes solved many problems. Now, a most remarkable fact which has struck the student of the reports of trades unions and Friendly Societies is, so far as Ireland is concerned, these societies outside Belfast and the North have been a failure. An examination of their accounts by representatives of English trade unions or friendly societies showed extravagant recklessness and mismanagement, and that they were seldom able to make revenue and expenses meet. A further point in this movement which has made it so remarkable and so extraordinary in the history of Ireland is the knowledge that it is giving to these working men, who are, as the House will remember, for the most part brought up under circumstances of the utmost misery, and with the utmost disregard of sanitation and the ordinary principles of civilisation. It is giving them a knowledge of business certainly not surpassed by any working men with whom I am acquainted; it is giving to them a knowledge of how to manage their own affairs, and it is teaching them the value of foreign trade, the value of markets, the facilities they have for entering into the English market; and last, but not least, it is bringing all classes in Ireland together in a way in which, at any rate, in the West of Ireland it has never yet been done. Why, at one meeting which I had the honour to attend, in a Catholic clergyman's house, we found a Protestant clergyman taking the chair, and the audience included two Unionist Members of Parliament and others interested in this great work. I am told by 1379 those who are acquainted with the West of Ireland that this union of all creeds and all classes—for there were representatives of the landlord interest as well as working men—has not been known, or at any rate, has never been marked by such cordiality within their recollection. This seems to me to be a great sign for good in the present condition of Ireland. It seems to me that honourable Gentlemen, opposite have, in attacking the Government, to deal, in the first place, with the legislation to which I have referred; and in the second place, they have to show that they have a movement which can do the work which the organisation to which I have referred is now doing in Ireland. I hope they will allow me to assure them that if I were an Irishman I should be only too proud to take part in the good work which is being done by the society, work unequalled in the nineteenth century, and which, whatever its results, whether it ultimately succeeds or fails, will always be regarded as one of the most remarkable attempts which have ever been made to reorganise Irish social life and bring all classes and creeds together.
§ MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)
Sir, we recognise the spirit in which the honourable Gentleman who has just addressed the House has approached this very complicated problem, and it is a relief to us to recognise that spirit, because it is not the spirit in which Englishmen, as a rule approach this topic. Now, Sir, a part of the right honourable Gentleman's speech was taken up in enumerating the difficulties there are in the way of carrying out the scheme that, the honourable Gentleman for South Mayo advocates. We are all aware that there are difficulties in connection with this problem, as there must be with every other problem. None of us pretend that cottars till their land perhaps as well as it might be done; but we all recognise that not only is a change of seed desirable for the production of a good potato, but a change of land is necessary as well, and that the existing state of things in Ireland does not allow the people to have that change of land which is necessary to produce a good potato. It has often been asserted that the Irish Members dwell on the poverty that exists on the seaboard in the West 1380 of Ireland, and are inclined to exaggerate that poverty. On my own behalf, and I am certain on the behalf of my colleagues, I think I may say no duty is more disagreeable to us than to parade the poverty of our land, and to go round year after year, not only in our own country but in many cases to go into distant lands, asking for something to keep the people from starvation. It is, I maintain, one of the greatest condemnations of British rule that after you have engaged to manage Irish affairs the present state of things should prevail, a system that brings untold woe and poverty on the residents of the western seaboard, and a system, I maintain, Mr. Speaker, which is a standing disgrace and humiliation to a great and rich country like this. Why, what is the present state of things? If you get one summer a little more wet than is customary in an ordinary summer on the western seaboard you will have the people, not on the brink of starvation, but actually starving; and it has always been the habit of the Minister who is accountable to this House for the government of Ireland to minimise these famines, and to try to persuade the people of this country that these famines do not exist. Within 12 hours' journey of this great capital you will find a state of things prevailing which I say is not only unhappy for us, but is a downright humiliation for this country. I do not mean to say that there is not to be found in this capital of yours great poverty side by side with great wealth. The honourable Gentleman who has last spoken has alluded to the illiteracy that prevails in these congested districts. Well, Sir, this would not be the time to go into that subject, but if the time were proper I think we would be able to show that a great deal of the illiteracy which he deplores, and which we must all deplore, is a direct result of the system of government which you have forced upon the country, and which for generations, owing to our conscientious convictions, has prevented the people from having that education which we all recognise is so necessary in the battle of life. The honourable Gentleman has likewise alluded, and alluded in a sympathetic tone, to the labourers who come from Donegal and Galway and Mayo to eke out an existence, or try to do so, in the 1381 harvest fields here. I can imagine no greater proof of the poverty of the people than that these people do come over here with such regularity. These Irish labourers I know have been regarded by English labourers in many districts as to some extent "blacklegs," interfering with their labour, and naturally their appearance was considered an intrusion. But I am happy to state that a better state of feeling now prevails. I had recently an opportunity of speaking to a number of these men who were-working in this country, and they told me that latterly the state of things had changed, and that now the labourers of this country recognised that the land system in the West of Ireland has been the cause of these people being compelled to come over, and that they are no longer recognised as "blacklegs." I was told that until recently on many large farms in Scotland the house in which these men were lodged was known as "the Paddy house," a term of humiliation, a term of opprobrium, because these poor people were sent to live under conditions that the English labourer would not put up with for one night. And I say that people who will endure the humiliation and ill-treatment that these people receive must be driven by keen poverty to do so. I believe that a better system now prevails; I believe that the English labourers now recognise that these men are compelled by their poverty to come over; and one of these labourers said to mo that the great change which had taken place on the part of English and Scottish labourers towards them was, to a great extent, the result of the labours of Mr. Gladstone on the Irish question. I am not in a position to say, but I am quite prepared to believe that there was a great deal of truth in that assertion. Mr. Speaker, the difficulties of compulsorily taking the land have been alluded to, and the difficulty of sub-division has been alluded to. Anyone conversant with Ireland knows that these difficulties have to be faced; but I ask, What are statesmen for but to face these problems and find a solution for them? And if you, with all the means at your disposal, your untold wealth, a great part of which has been filched from us—if you are not able to find some way out of the difficulty, I think it does not speak very well for your powers as statesmen. Now, even 1382 last year there was an inclination to pooh-pooh the poverty that prevailed. To my mind, the very fact that the Chief Secretary, who is responsible for Irish government, was able on his works to get able-bodied men in large numbers at from 3s. to 6s. a week to work at hard work, and to go long distances to and from their work, is proof that great poverty did exist. And I think it is gratifying to know, for those of us who believe that the people have a right to live in their own country and to give their labour to their own country—it is satisfactory for us to know that where emigration has had even a partial trial last year there was little or no cry of destitution. I am very glad to have listened to this Debate and to find that no one has advocated a system of emigration from Ireland as the solution of this question. Our population is spare enough, Heaven knows; and we say the solution of these difficulties is to be found, not in sending people out of their own country to seek employment in other lands, leaving their country as capable of improvement as the country to which they go, but in giving the people some of the lands from which their forefathers had been expelled, and enabling them to live in some decency and some comfort. That ought not to pass the skill of men who say they are able to manage the affairs, not only of their own country, but of every country in the world. What the result of this Debate may be I do not know. I heartily support the Motion my honourable Friend has brought forward, and in reply to the remarks made by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, as to the action of my honourable Friend and Mr. William O'Brien have taken in organising the United League in the West of Ireland, may I ask those who so very glibly criticise what is the duty of Irish representatives? This problem has been put before you again and again, and you have done little or nothing, and the Irish people would be mere slaves and serfs if they did not act on the wisdom they have learned. As long as the Irish people remain quiet nothing will be done for them, no matter how glaring the injustice they suffer under. It is easy to criticise my honourable Friend and Mr. William O'Brien for the action that they have taken. But, knowing what 1383 the people suffer, and believing, too, that they know what would cure them, they would be false to their position if they did not prove to the people that until they are united and coercive they will get no reform from this House.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The question which the hon. Member for South Mayo has raised, the real difficulties and character of which he seems very imperfectly to have grasped, had been for some years past the subject of experiment by the Congested Districts Board. Migration and enlargement of holdings were, in fact, two of the objects to carry out which that Board was founded, and it is worthy of note, in view of the Motion which is now being made, that little or no assistance was rendered to the Government of that day, and to my right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Treasury when he brought forward his proposals for the Board to carry out work with which it is now occupied. It is only when the labours of the Congested Districts Board are beginning to ripen that honourable Members come forward in order to reap where they have not sown. The honourable Member for East Mayo, in particular, is constantly calling the Government to task for not dealing with the various problems which arise in connection with the government of Ireland; but the honourable Member himself has been absolutely barren of any useful suggestion for the government of Ireland since I have been in the House. The honourable Member has criticised, where anything has been done; but he has never made a fruitful suggestion, and in connection with the work of the Congested Districts Board the honourable Member has been found, not among those who helped, but among those who endeavoured to hinder.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It seems to me that there is some misconception in connection with this question. The evil is one which we all admit. It is the miserable poverty which undoubtedly exists over a large portion of the West of Ireland—a poverty which during years of scarcity culminates in something approaching famine. That is, of course, a real and serious evil, and we would be the last persons in the world to deny 1384 the reality of its existence or the gravity of it. What are the remedies proposed in the Amendment? They are: first, migration, and secondly, enlargement of holdings. The House is called upon in the Amendment to provide legislation of the present Session for the enlargement of hoi dings, and to carry out a feasible scheme of migration. Now a distinction must be drawn between migration and the enlargement of holdings. By migration is meant the removal of the peasant occupiers or of the cottiers from the place where they are now living to some other place at a distance. The late Mr Parnell made an experiment in migration, and the House knows that it was an absolute failure. The Congested Districts Board have also made experiments in the direction of migration. I cannot say that up to the present time their efforts have met with any considerable measure of success. Those who have read the latest report of the Congested Districts Board will see that it is mentioned that three persons were migrated from one locality in the district of Carragh to another district of Carragh, and they seem to be well satisfied with the change. The report added that this is the first successful experiment in migration which they have been able to carry out. It is an important fact that migration is an excessively difficult operation. It is hampered in every possible way, but particularly bj the extreme reluctance of the people themselves to remove from their homes. The honourable Member spoke of compulsion, but I do not believe that such a scheme would be successful, unless it was made compulsory on a large scale to establish persons in a new locality. I do not know whether the honourable Member is prepared to support legislation which will give to the Congested Districts Board compulsory powers to migrate the inhabitants of the west from one locality to another, but without such powers the idea of carrying out immediately any feasible scheme of migration seems to be absolutely out of the question.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think that the honourable Member has had so much experience in this matter 1385 as I have. I have been watching the operations of the Congested Districts Board ever since I have been Chief Secretary, and I say that the greatest possible difficulty is experienced in connection with any scheme of migration. But what does this bring us to? I do not say that migration may ultimately prove to be impossible. Attempts are being made to renew the experiments in that direction, and if they are successful so much the better. But if the Government should introduce a large scheme to deal with poverty in the west, migration is out of the question. That reduces our consideration of the subject to the second proposal of the honourable Member—the enlargement of holdings—that is to say, the enlargement' of holdings by adding to them other land contiguous, or land in the immediate neighbourhood. It is immediately evident to anyone who has studied the question that we can no longer have a remedy of anything like universal application; and for this reason, compulsory powers or no compulsory powers, we cannot find throughout the congested districts a sufficiency of land to make any really appreciable difference in the size of those holdings we wish to increase. Take, for instance, the congested districts north and south in County Donegal, and especially in its most congested districts, there is not sufficient land materially to add to the holdings of the peasant farmers at present living there. It cannot be done, whether you have compulsory powers or not. In County Mayo there is land available in Castlebar, Westport, and other districts, but there is not sufficient land in East Mayo to carry out this operation on a large scale. In Roscommon and Sligo, too, it would not be possible to apply a remedy on the last scale which the honourable Member desires. I need not deal with the cases of Kerry and Cork. The honourable Member for South Mayo told the House that migration and the enlargement of holdings are the only possible remedies in the major portion of the congested districts; and yet in the greater part of them it is no remedy at all. I have given a great deal of attention to this subject. I will not say that it is not possible in these districts to increase the holdings to some slight extent, but it is impossible to do so to such an ex- 1386 tent as would provide the remedy for which the honourable Member looks. Therefore it is necessary to fall back on the other remedies of the Congested Districts Board, on which the honourable Member for South Mayo poured such contempt.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The honourable Member referred to them with contempt in comparison with certain Measures which he suggested. There is, in connection, with the operations of the Board in relation to the purchase and re-sale of the estates, another operation besides migration and enlargement, to which I think attention should be called. When the Board buys an estate, before re-selling it to the tenants, it has been found necessary in the cases of which we have had experience, to spend a very considerable sum of money in improving the estate—in the re-allotment of the holdings, in the erection of fences, in drainage, in improved dwellings, in roads, and in cattle-sheds. Reference has been made to a speech delivered by the First Lord of the Treasury in August last. I was unable through ill-health to be present on that occasion, but I make no complaint of the statement the honourable Member has made. I wish, however, to call the attention of the House to some other speeches which were made in the same Debate. The honourable Member for South Mayo made a speech from which it would appear he was under the impression, which I have endeavoured to some extent to correct, that the principal object of the Board in purchasing estates was the enlargement of holdings. That is not the case. Enlargement of holdings is only one of the operations of the Board, and perhaps not the most important of them. To show how little the honourable Members for South and East Mayo have studied this question, I will refer to the case of Clare Island. In the Debate to which I have alluded, the honourable Member for South Mayo said that no distress had prevailed in Clare Island where the Congested Districts Board had purchased land and enlarged the holdings. The honourable Member for East Mayo, in the same Debate, said that whereas those who had 1387 studied the question knew perfectly well that in the past the first cry of distress had always come from the islands of Clare and Achill, now that the land was being distributed among the people, not a single application for relief had come from those islands. The honourable Member for East Mayo professes to have made a special study of this question? Will the House believe that there have been no operations in connection with the enlargement of holdings in Achill at all? As to Clare Island, what are the real facts? The report of the Congested Districts Board shows what was the condition of things there and what has been done. It states that the wall has been finished at a cost of £1,600, and that the Board is engaged in making arrangements which have for their object an increase in the size of the holdings, and new houses are to be built. Only a very small amount of land is available for division—less than one-fifth of that already occupied. What, therefore, becomes of the contention of the honourable Members for South and East Mayo, that the improved condition of the island is due to the enlargement of holdings? That improved condition is due rather not to the enlargement of the holdings, but almost exclusively to the numerous improvements which have been carried out by the Board. This is a very important matter. We can do an immense amount of good by processes such as I have described. We do enlarge the holdings whereon land is available.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Yes, but there are numerous operations which require a great deal of time, and they cannot be carried out in the rough-and-ready method suggested in the Amendment of the honourable Member.
§ * MR. DAVITT
The Amendment is founded almost word for word on the resolution of the Congested Districts Board.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I have not the words of the Resolution before me, but at all events I am speaking with three years' fuller information and experience of the work of the Board, and all the careful and patient work during that interval is ignored by the honour- 1388 able Member for South Mayo. He calls by his Amendment for some speedy, rapid and superficial way of dealing with the problem; he wants to compulsorily expropriate the landlords.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I am almost tired of saying that the fact of my name being attached to that report does not imply my adhesion to it. It was passed before I joined the Board. Now the honourable Member has on the present occasion made a speech of very great moderation, and, although I am unwilling to introduce into the discussion an element of controversy, I cannot help comparing the kind of language used in this House with the language employed by the honourable Member and his friends in the West of Ireland. The fact is that this demand is part of a movement to renew agrarian agitation in Ireland, and it has a political object. To show this it is only necessary to read a few extracts from speeches made in the West of Ireland by the honourable Members for East and South Mayo and Mr. W. O'Brien. If necessary I can repeat these extracts indefinitely, but I think it well that the House should hear some of them to be able to contrast them with the statements made in this House with bated breath and whispered humbleness.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
In a speech which he delivered on 30th May last year the Member for South Mayo said that henever troubled his mind or conscience about the rights of the landlords. They were the rights of the robber.He went on to say that the fight wasgoing on under overwhelming odds—they were fighting against the landlord garrison and the might of the English Government across the water.Then there is a speech made by the honourable Member for East Mayo on the 14th December last year, in which he said that the object of this meeting was to enable them to distribute the rich lands amongst the people of the country, 1389 and that it was within their power to force that distribution. He added that there were many there who took part in the old Land League movement, and that the example set by that league would enable them to carry out the work easier. He further asked them to remember the methods adopted by the Land League, and that they must practise the same methods now. Then next was the speech of Mr. William O'Brien, made on the 18th December last at Roscommon, who said that the movement was growing. Their first cry, he said, should be "Down with the grabber," and that the grabber ought to be put down by the good old methods adopted in County Mayo. He continued that, whether the farmers liked it or not, if they were to keep their heads above water the time would come when they would have to reduce the land question to such a question of resistance and turbulence, if need be, that the landlords would jump at any great measure of compulsory purchase that would make every farmer in Ireland master of his own holding, and would, at the same time, sweep away the last barrier of the landlords' resistance to Home Rule. I have quoted these speeches, which might be easily multiplied, in order that Members of this House might understand that when the honourable Member for South Mayo comes here and makes a quiet, sober, and plausible speech in favour of his Amendment, he is using very different language indeed when he gets amongst the people of the West of Ireland.
§ * MR. DAVITT
I should use the same language if I had the honour of addressing Mr. Speaker in County Mayo.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I can quite believe that in using very different language in this House the honourable Member is wise in his generation, but he is making an appeal to the Government to extend the opportunities of migration and of the enlargement of holdings in the West of Ireland, and it would be indeed too absurd if he came down to make that appeal by saying that his real reason was to sweep away the landlords and bring about an era of Home Rule.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It would not be in the mouth of the honourable Member for South Mayo or in the mouth of his friends to complain if the Government, in consequence of the action which he had thought fit to maintain in Mayo and Galway, should refuse to give further assistance in the direction in which he desires us to go. I do not see how he could possibly complain if we were to say that his action prevented us from advancing in that direction. But as we were not indebted to him for the policy which the Congested Districts Board has followed, so neither are we going to depart from that policy, because, while he pretends to encourage us, he is really doing his best to prevent us from pursuing the same. Let there be no mistake. We propose to carry that policy out in our own way and not in the way of the honourable Member. The honourable Member's methods are not our methods; he has frankly admitted that he has a double object in view. He is not merely a philanthropist who desires to see the position of the people improved. He is a politician with a politician's principles, and his real object is to stir up an agitation like that which devastated and disgraced Ireland some years ago.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I will not deny that the honourable Member and his friends desire to see the condition of the people of the West of Ireland improved, but they are politicians as well, and that is the meaning, I believe, of their cry for the compulsory expropriation of the landlords. Now, Sir, what is the Government intending to do in connection with this question? The honourable Member for South Mayo himself has pointed out that the Congested Districts Board has no difficulty in acquiring land for the purposes which I have described so far as mere want of funds is concerned. 1391 By a provision introduced into the Land Act of 1896 the Congested Districts Board is enabled to purchase land from the Land Commission, and it has practically the resources of the Land Commission at its back, and therefore we have money enough to carry out any operations we may desire, and also, so long as we are able to do so, we shall have no difficulty in acquiring voluntarily all the land which, at all events, will be necessary for the carrying out of its operations for a very long time to come. The honourable Member has referred to the resolution of the Congested Districts Board. This Act was passed nearly four years ago, and surely the opinion of the Congested Districts Board at the present time must be taken as of more value than its opinion when it had three or four years less experience. The question has not been raised in that specific form, and if it were now proposed to the Members of the Congested Districts Board that they should pass a' resolution in favour of obtaining compulsory powers of purchase, that resolution would be rejected by the Board. The truth is that in the earlier days of the Board our resources were straitened. In the first place, we had not that power given by the Act of 1896 of purchase, and one result of that was that, having to purchase entirely out of income, we naturally tried to get estates at the very lowest possible price, and such estates as did come to us were purchased at a very low price indeed. I think it was during a Debate some time last year upon a Bill brought forward by one of the Members opposite that I stated that the average price of purchase was ll¼ years' purchase of the entire rental. This is obviously a very low price. One of the estates purchased by the Board was purchased at the unusually high price of 13½ years' purchase, but, generally speaking, I have not the slightest doubt that the Board has endeavoured to get land at less than its nominal value, and it is not surprising that they have found very great difficulty in finding vendors. But since that time they have had no difficulty in purchasing estates, and they have at the present time a very large number of estates ready for sale. It all points to this—that we are not to be embarrassed by any difficulty in finding vendors who are ready to sell suitable land. It may be asked why we have not done more. In the first place, it must be 1392 remembered that the work is difficult work, that it required a great deal of experience, and that we were unwilling during the first period of its existence to make experiments on too large a scale. Then there is another difficulty, and that was that, in order to carry out the process which I have described to the House, a very large staff is required, and you cannot form such a staff in a month or even in a year. Such a staff requires experience, and until we have acquired that experience by dealing with one or two estates, and not until then, it is no use attempting to enlarge the sphere of our operations; and, in order to do so, it will be necessary to increase the resources of the Board, not for the purpose of purchase, because we have ample resources, but in order to provide for the large expenditure which is necessary to be made upon the estates between the period when it is purchased by the Board and of resale to the purchaser This question of resources has been the subject of considerable anxiety to the Board, and, as honourable Members know the Board has more than once indicated that in their opinion it will be desirable that, if this work is to be carried out on a large scale, their resources should be increased. In the latest report of the Board we have suggested a method by which these resources might be increased without adding to the income proper of the Board. I will explain how that is. The improvements which are made, and the expenditure which is incurred on the lands purchased by the Board between the original purchase and the resale to tenants, of course have the effect of increasing the value of the lands concerned. A large portion, and in some cases practically the whole of that increase, is represented, when it is resold to the tenants, by an increase in the purchase money given by the tenants over that originally given by the Board. Now, let us suppose that in that way the whole of the expenditure of the Board was recouped. In the cases of the Ffrench estates and Clare Island, I believe that the Board has got back, if not the whole, almost the whole of the money exepended on the estate, and what that means really is that these improvements, in three years' time about, get back the amount that was spent in improving the estates, and, therefore, it is clear that expendi- 1393 ture of this kind is properly employed and legitimately employed as floating capital. That is the suggestion made by the Board in this report, and it practically means this—that the Board shall be able to borrow floating capital to an extent which would allow it to carry out these improvements upon a larger scale. The fund will be a growing fund, and in a few years will repay the expenditure incurred. I have, on behalf of the Congested Districts Boards been in communication with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am glad to say that my right honourable Friend has met me to this extent—that he has consented to allow the Congested Districts Board to use floating capital for this purpose, and under certain conditions, to the extent of £60,000 a year. Now, taking three years as the average time required to improve an estate, that means that the Board will be enabled to spend£20,000 a year upon improvement of estates alone, and that without any actual increase of the income of the Board. But my right honourable Friend has met me further than that. He has consented in addition to give an actual increase to the income of the Board. At the present time the income of the Board is derived, to the extent of about £40,000, from Church funds, and about£6,500 is paid to the Board annually for the votes of the Imperial Exchequer in aid of administration expenses. My right honourable Friend has consented in lieu of the sum now paid, amounting to£6,500, to give, under conditions which I need not state here, a fixed grant of£26,000 a year to the Board, which in other words means an addition annually of£20,000 a year to the funds of the Board. The facilities which we shall enjoy by being enabled to use floating capital, together with the income of the Board, which I have just mentioned, will enable the Board to spend, so far as my calculations go, from at least£30,000 to£40,000 a year upon improvements upon estates alone, and as our resources for the purchase of estates are practically inexhaustible, I think the House will will see that the Board is sufficiently equipped with resources to carry out those operations in the way of the purchasing and reselling of estates upon a sufficiently large scale for all practical purposes. I think, Sir, that I have now explained to the House what the Congested Districts 1394 Board will be enabled to do under the new condition of things, and the operations it proposes to carry out. Let me just conclude by saying that I listened with great interest to the speech of my right honourable Friend the Member for South Dublin, whose name, I believe, in spite of the laughter and jeers of the honourable Members opposite, will be remembered with gratitude in connection with the work he has done to solve the agricultural problem in Ireland. I quite agree with my honourable Friend the Member for Derby when he says that no doubt it is an important thing—an essential thing—that we should improve the condition of those small holders in the West of Ireland, but that alone is not sufficient. My honourable Friend has pointed out that in addition to increasing and improving their holdings, it would be necessary to increase their agricultural skill and their knowledge of the processes of agriculture. It will be necessary, so far as we are able, to raise the standard of living amongst them. It will be necessary to stimulate amongst them a sense of self-respect, and a spirit of self-help. The methods which have been pursued by the honourable Member for South Mayo are not calculated to bring about these results. The only spirit of self-help which they have encouraged in the West of Ireland is a desire of the small holders to help themselves to other people's property. It is not from methods such as these that any real progress can be made. I am firmly persuaded that the policy of the honourable Member, and all those who are connected with him—that the arguments which the honourable Member uses, not in this House, but in the West of Ireland, and the methods which he, and his friends encourage, are not likely to improve the condition of the people, and are not likely to raise them, but rather to demoralise them; and for these reasons I ask the House to reject the Amendment of the honourable Member.
§ * MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I do not wish to trespass on the patience of the House for any lengthened period, but as an Irish Member, I feel bound to express my opinion upon this Amendment. There was only one portion of the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary which will be received in Ireland with anything 1395 like satisfaction, and that was the announcement which he made that he has induced the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give a fixed grant of £25,000 a year to the Congested Districts Board, in addition to the existing grant. We have also had the satisfaction of hearing from the right honourable Gentleman that the resources of the Board, under the Act of 1896, for the purchase of land are unlimited for all practical purposes. The right honourable Gentleman admits that there are ample funds for carrying out what is sought to be carried out by this Amendment, and I will, very shortly, touch upon the Amendment itself, and endeavour to explain to the House, that every observation of the Chief Secretary is quite consistent with the carrying of this Amendment to the Address. Before I come to that, however, I wish to express on my own part the satisfaction which I have felt at hearing the sympathetic speech of the honourable and learned Member for Derby. What Irish Members are most anxious for is, that Englishmen generally should visit Ireland and judge for themselves the state in which that country is. The evidence of a disinterested witness, like the honourable and learned Member for Derby, who has travelled through the counties of Mayo and Galway for several years, and has had an opportunity of seeing the misery and degradation of the people of those counties, is of the greatest possible value to those who are supporting this Amendment, and I thank him very heartily for that testimony. I also thank my right honourable Friend, if he will allow me to call him so, the Member for South Dublin, for an admission that he made to the effect that we are all agreed that the holdings in the congested districts should be enlarged. In that he gives away the whole of the case, because the rest of his speech had reference to a Bill with regard to a Board of Agriculture. We are not expressing any opinion upon that Measure—I think we know what it is; but the right honourable Gentleman seemed to me throughout the whole of his speech, and in the whole of his arguments, to be putting the cart before the horse; his argument was, that you should teach these starving peasantry who have an acre or two of land to support themselves and their families the art of agricul- 1396 ture, and that you should instil into them the principles of self-help and self-reliance; ana, when you have done that, the right honourable Gentleman thinks that it will be advisable to enlarge their powers. I should like to know how many years the right honourable Gentleman thinks will be necessary to carry out that scheme, difficult in all cases and with all people; it seems to me quite absurd, and, if I may use the phrase, it is the merest nonsense to suggest that this wretched peasantry, living under conditions already described, should be, in the first instance, taught the principles of agriculture and farming, and of self-help. I suppose the right honourable Gentleman will next suggest that they should purchase the famous work of Samuel Smiles. The suggestions of the right honourable Gentleman seem to me to be extremely absurd, but, at any rate, I thank him for admitting that the holdings should be enlarged, and I thank the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for admitting that everyone is agreed that the people are in wretched poverty—nay, on the very verge of starvation. I regret that the experience of the last twelve months does not seem to have added to the stock of sympathy in the breast of the right honourable Gentleman. I am aware of the difficulties with which he has to contend, but, having admitted that the people are in that desperate state, having admitted that they are on the verge of starvation, knowing, as he must know (because he is a man of great culture, and studies these subjects), that these people are the worst housed, the worst fed, and the worst clothed people in Europe, or, perhaps, in any part of the world, he yet hesitates to give them that relief which their dreadful condition demands. I would ask any honourable Members opposite in what part of the world they could show a population more wretched and more miserable in every respect than the inhabitants of some portions of these congested districts. The right honourable Gentleman does not appear to me to have read the Amendment, because, while opposing it, his whole argument is consistent with carrying it; because he says that the labours of the Board are being directed to enlarging the holdings, 1397 and arming the Board with compulsory powers would not in any way interfere with, or interrupt, what the Board is now doing. What the Amendment seeks, and what we want, is not to leave the acquiring of these lands merely to a contract. It may have happened that the proprietors did agree to sell at 11½ years' purchase, or 12 or 13 years' purchase; but that is not enough. If it is necessary in the case of railways and the case of working men's cottages, and in the case of the Labourers' Dwellings Acts, to give compulsory powers, it is necessary equally to give compulsory powers to the Boards who are to carry out these improvements in Ireland; and it is no argument to say that the Board has enlarged the holdings. What we want is to enable them to do so whether owners of land are willing to sell or not. It is not advisable, in my opinion, that the right honourable Gentleman should ignore the finding of that Commission to which his name is attached, and which was issued to all the world on his responsibility. Whether his mind went with it or not, we have the solid fact of the findings of that Commission of 1895, and the right honourable Gentleman cannot get rid of his responsibility. I appeal to this House as men of sympathy, of feeling, and of humanity, I appeal to them as members of this great Empire, that they ought to blush to have any portion of the Empire, especially a portion within 15 or 16 hours' reach of this great metropolis, in the dreadful condition described by the learned Member for Derby, and admitted by the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary. I appeal to them to endorse the views as expressed in this Amendment, and to say that the Board should be armed with those compulsory powers which will enable them to carry out the policy of the Act, and will enable them to enlarge these wretchedly inadequate holdings on every fitting opportunity. The right honour able Gentleman the Chief Secretary also appears to me to support other portions of this Amendment. Of course there may be a difficulty in inducing some of the people to migrate even from their wretched holdings to other and better places. That is another matter. We only want that legislative facilities should be given—compulsory powers—
1398 to enable the Boards to offer these wretched tenants an opportunity of migrating. If any of them were such fools as to refuse such an offer, it would be their own faults, and neither the Government nor this House could be held responsible for such folly. What we want is that they should go and migrate to places where they can live with more contentment and comfort. It has been suggested that, possibly, if you get peasant proprietorship you might get sub-divisions, but the whole tendency of modern legislation is to ensure a peasant proprietary, and I am glad that I have found the honourable Member for South Dublin holding forth that the panacea for all the evils of Ireland was the Land Purchase Act; which means a peasant proprietorship. All this Malthusian doctrine will equally, and in the same way, apply when you have conferred peasant proprietorship, which I think every humane man looks upon as the infallible cure for the evils on the West Coast. Now, there is only one topic more on which I wish to touch, and I beg to say that I do not wish to stand in the light of any honourable Member below the Gangway for any length of time, and that is this: That I think the right honourable Gentleman, in his reply, made a rather unfair use of those speeches that have been delivered since the Land Commission. The right honourable Gentleman seems to have forgotten the history, or, at least, the recent history, of Ireland and Irish land legislation; he seems to me to have forgotten that it was to an agitation like that; of the United Land League that the Irish are indebted for the Land Act of 1887, which was passed by the members of the Government to which the right honourable Gentleman now belongs; that it was to a like agitation that they were indebted for the Act of 1896; and, going further back, it was to agitation in the country by the mass of the people that they were indebted for other previous beneficent legislation. But, for my part, I would not ask my honourable Friends below the Gangway that in delivering these speeches they should keep within the law, because we know full well from previous experience that if they do not keep within the law there are in the Castle of Dublin means in readiness to make them do so.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
The Chief Secretary has introduced into the Debate an element of bitterness which was entirely unnecessary. He opened his speech by delivering a ferocious attack upon myself, which appears to me to be entirely and absolutely out of place, as up to that time I had taken no part in the Debate. He levelled against me three charges, all equally false and all equally preposterous. He said that I had offered his brother, the present First Lord of the Treasury, no assistance when the Congested Districts Board was founded in 1891. He also said that I had sat in this House for many years, and that I had never offered a fruitful suggestion towards the government of Ireland; and, further, he accused me of having a most absolute ignorance of the work of the Congested Districts Board, and of the needs of the poor people in the West of Ireland. In reply to his first charge, I have to remind the right honourable Gentleman that I was under lock and key in Gal-way Goal when the Congested Districts Board was started, and therefore it would have been rather difficult for me to afford him any assistance, but I have on many occasions since expressed my sympathy with the Board, and given what I consider to be a very conscientious appreciation of the work which it has done. Now, with regard to the second of these charges, that I have never made a fruitful suggestion towards the government of Ireland, how is it possible for us to make suggestions in this House, when every suggestion we do make is treated with contempt, and not infrequently with insult in addition? Sir, in order to make a fruitful suggestion for the government of Ireland, you must have some influence, and that is an attribute and a power which no Irish Member can exercise, excepting by resorting to such proceedings as those announced by the right honourable Gentleman to-night. When the right honourable Gentleman goes out of his way to charge me with ignorance of the condition of these people of Ireland, amongst whom I have spent my boyhood, and whom I have represented for 15 years in the House, I think I ought to remind him that he came to Ireland only three years ago.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not accuse the honourable Gentleman of ignorance of the condition of the people. What I did accuse him of was ignorance of the work and actions of the Congested Districts Board.
§ MR. DILLON
I have to say in reply to that that I have read and re-read every line of the Congested District Board's reports as soon as they are issued, and, notwithstanding the fact that Nationalists are not allowed to have any insight into the operations of the Board, I have acquired as accurate a knowledge of its operations as can be procured from the published reports of the Board. I see an honourable Member laughing as though that answer was not to the point, but the Government has packed that Board with Unionists, and that is one of the very-points we complain of. My statement is perfectly true that no Nationalist Member of Parliament is a member of that Board, whereas Unionist Members of Parliament for Ireland are members. Now, Sir, I shall be obliged, in consequence of the assault made by the right honourable Gentleman not alone on me, but upon my Friend the Member for South Mayo, and upon Mr. William O'Brien, to refer very briefly to the observations he made; but before doing so I think it would have been in better taste, and far more wise, if the right honourable Gentleman had left such matters as he dealt with in his speech to be dealt with on some other occasion when controversy entered into the Debate, and have allowed this Debate to continue, not introducing the topics he has done in a Debate which has been most interesting, harmonious, instructive, and useful. In language of menace and, if I may venture to say so, of insult, he contrasted the language used by my honourable Friend the Member for South Mayo, when speaking in Mayo, with the language he used when speaking here to-night, and in making that contrast he forgot to give the context. He forgot to tell the House the circumstances under which the honourable Member for South Mayo speaks here to-night, and the circumstances under which he endeavoured to address his constituents. When he went down to his 1401 constituents last autumn in Ballinrobe he was met by an army of 400 policemen, and the grossest conduct was pursued in regard to the honourable Member which, if pursued with regard to any Member of Parliament pf this country, would have convulsed the country with indignation. The town in which he was to speak was cordoned by a huge force of policemen. The ordinary traffic was interrupted; doctors, priests, and the ordinary population were turned back upon the public roads, and the honourable Member was not only prevented from addressing his constituents, but he was not allowed to go within three miles of the town. The honourable Member for South Mayo was right in the language he used; the language was the result of the tyrannical measures adopted by the Government to prevent him from addressing his constituents after a long, troublesome, and toilsome journey; and so long as the Government of Ireland is conducted in such a spirit, so long will strong language be used. Is there a Member sitting on any of the penches in this House who, if called upon to address his constituents under similar circumstances, would not use similar language? The right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary, in referring to the speech which I made in Galway, charged me with referring to the Land League agitation. I referred to the fact that the example of the Land League ought to be followed, and I advised the people to do likewise in regard to the present movement, and I advised them not to cease from the present movement until landlords were entirely abolished. I think that was most wholesome and excellent advice, and I repeat it now to the House. The policy of the Land League in regard to the abolition of landlordism was said, on both sides of the House, to be a policy of confiscation and revolution. Within three years of that being said, the late Mr. W. H. Smith stood up at the Table and announced, after a short tour in Ireland lasting 48 hours, that he was converted to the policy of the abolition of landlordism. The abolition of the policy of landlordism and the establishment in its 1402 place of an owning and occupying pro prietary is accepted now universally throughout the land, and it has been part of the policy of the Tory party. The right honourable Gentleman comes here to-night, and gives a very feeble imitation of the denunciations of the late Mr. Forster and others, which we remember in those more stirring and violent days, and he said across the floor of the House, at the commencement of the speech, that the United League in Mayo would not affect one hair's breadth the policy of the Government. We have been long accustomed to threats of this kind. We were told in 1879 and in 1880 that nothing would be done until-peace was restored in Ireland, and that then only the position of the Irish tenants would be considered. These threats were as idle as the winds that blow around us, because we judge our position from the experience of the past, and the facts of history, and because we know full well from past facts that all this vapouring is mere pretence, and that when the people made an organised demand a Home Rule Bill was introduced. I must tell the right honourable Gentleman that it is not by language of that character that he will maintain—I will not say order, because order has not been broken in Ireland—but content, and he will not stop organisation from going on by using language of that description. He has got to turn over a new leaf in the government of Ireland. He has got to teach the people of Ireland that their representatives will be listened to when they bring forward reasonable demands in a reasonable way, and that they will not be met by insult and by threats. We Irish Members of Parliament do not enjoy agitation, because we would much rather get our reforms by the same means as the people of this country; but the people of Ireland have learned the lesson from long experience that without violent agitation it is impossible for them to obtain any reform whatever. I desire to call the right honourable Gentleman's attention to a passage in the last report of the Congested Districts Board, which will be 1403 found at page 20. It is the first time that I have come across anything in the report which is of a distinctly partisan and political character, It says—We do not therefore intend to permit our desire to assist one class to lead us to countenance injustice to another class"—and, after explaining some other matters, it says—We hope it will be clearly understood that any attempt to bring undue or unfair pressure to bear on landlords or tenants in order to induce them to sell their property will only defeat its own object.Let me ask the honourable Gentleman whether that ill-judged paragraph is not in fact an attempt to turn the Congested Districts Board into a court of criminal inquiry? Who is to judge what is unfair? Are these speeches we are making to-night unfair and undue, and what machinery has this board got at its disposal to find in any particular case whether undue or unfair pressure has been exercised? I say that paragraph has been inserted with the intention, and certainly with the effect, so far as I am concerned, of turning the board into a political weapon, and I say it is impossible to carry out, or to attempt to carry out, that paragraph into effect, because by so doing you are turning the board into a court of criminal inquiry. Now, let me call the attention of the right honourable Gentleman to a most important speech by a man whose authority will not be questioned in this House—I refer to Dr. Healy, the Bishop of Clonfert, who said, referring to Mr. Horace Plunkett—I want a man like him to tell Mr. Balfour, and to tell other leaders of the Unionist Party in England and Scotland, that never will there be peace and happiness and prosperity in the country until a radical cure is effected, that is until the grazing lands are distributed amongst the people.I want to know, would that be considered undue pressure? How is it possible for the Congested Districts Board to decide what is undue and unfair unless they have the machinery to inquire into the matter? What is the meaning to be put on that 1404 passage in the report? Unless it is to be interpreted as an attempt by the Chief Secretary to make the board's work unworkable. Now, Sir, I turn to the speech of the Chief Secretary himself, and I notice that he proceeded to a long and elaborate argument to show the impracticability of adopting this Amendment. He said there were large areas of these thickly populated districts in which nothing could be done excepting migration, and he pointed out the enormous difficulties which surrounded the question of migration. Now, I followed that part of his speech with the keenest possible interest, because it affects Mayo to a greater extent than most other parts of the district. In many of the districts of East Mayo there are no large grazing parts suitable for division amongst the people, and that is the reason why the greater portion of the congested districts of East Mayo demanded or required the possession of enlarged holdings.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.