§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.
§ Clause 55.
Another Amendment proposed.
In page 29, line 35, at the end, to add the words, (8) In all cases in which the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues are parties to any proceedings in the High Court or the Land Commission, the Court or Judge shall have power to award costs to or against said Commissioners."—(Mr. Butcher.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said the question of whether the remainder in fact could be proved must depend on a large number of circumstances. Some of these remainders had been created by deed as far back as Edward III., and were dependent on certain individuals of clans, tribes or families. Take the family of Butler. In Ireland there were tens of thousands of Butlers. The reversion expectant on the death of a Butler would involve enquiry as to whether that Butler was the true Butler. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests, sitting in an office in Dublin, were the persons to determine the value of the reversion expectant and whether a suit should be launched in respect of it. He put it to the Chief Secretary, was it fair or reasonable that they should begin legislation of that kind, and put the parties who were owners in presentee to enormous expense, and when they were beaten, as he hoped they would be in every case, that they should escape scatheless from the burden which was imposed upon the humblest of litigants? He put this from the point of view of the dignity of the Crown itself, in whose name so much unnecessary litigation was commenced. If it had been a landlord question he should have no interest in it, but he looked at it from the tenant's point of view. Take the case of a 1466 solicitor selling an estate. He would have to make copies of an enormous number of deeds, some of which would be written in Latin or old Norman, which would be very difficult to read, which the Commissioners of Woods would not be able to read, and which he did not believe even the Chief Secretary, with all his attainments, would be able to read. In fact, there was only one person who could read them, and that was Mr. Wale, who had just been raised to the magistracy of Dublin. And while all this was being done the tenants would be waiting to have the fee-simple vested in them. This would not occur only in one case but in tens of thousands of cases, because everyone knew that the tendency of a family in Ireland was not to perish, and the question of a family having perished would not arise, and it was not fair that the burden and the intolerable delay involved should be thrown upon the people. The right hon. Gentleman had said he would consider this matter on the Report stage, but it could not be put off till then. It was a matter of finance, and the right hon. Gentleman knew very well that if he attempted to deal with a matter of finance on Report, Mr. Speaker would rule him out of order. It was a matter that must be determined here and now. It could not be raised in the House of Lords, because it was a matter of Commons privilege. He therefore suggested that the rules should include a rule as to the awarding of costs. Up to now both the landlords and tenants had treated the Government very fairly. They had not pressed their objections unduly, and it would be deplorable that a division should be taken at this time when the Government had not their forces behind them. This would rest like the mildew of delay upon the whole process of the Irish Courts, and if these actions were started at all they ought to be started under a penalty for costs.
§ THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. JAMES CAMPBELL,) Dublin University
thought the hon. and learned Member attached undue importance to this question. It was an absolutely insignificant matter. It would be impossible for the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to start a number of actions as the hon. Member suggested they might. The Commissioners of Woods were not a 1467 corporation, and had no power to pursue in their own name. They had a power to appear in the Land Judge's Court to protect the interests of the Crown, but it was always open to the Judge to order the question to be determined by action at law; and in that case the action must be entered by the Attorney-General, and in the event of its being unsuccessful there was the ordinary litigant's liability for costs. In 99 cases out of 100 the claim of the Commissioners in the Land Judge's Court was admitted, so that the whole matter was really unimportant.
§ *MR. BUTCHER
said the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman had only proved that the position of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests was more untenable than he had thought, because it came to this, that if they indulged in litigation outside the Land Court they had to proceed through the medium of the Attorney-General, and were liable to costs if unsuccessful; whereas in any proceedings before the Land Court or the Land Judge they were to get off without costs at all. He asked that they should be placed on the same footing in the Land Court as they were in other Courts. He understood that the subject was under consideration, but he thought it would be unwise to allow this question to go. They had now an opportunity, as he understood, of putting the Commissioners of Woods and Forests on an intelligible basis. They could put them in a reasonable position to-night, and he hoped they would do so, and that the Chief Secretary would allow them to put an end to the peculiar and unreasonable position in which they now found these Commissioners.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said to some extent the hon. and learned Gentleman had met the position. He thought the best way to deal with the matter now would be to provide at the end of the clause that no proceedings should be taken under this clause by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests except in the name of the Attorney-General. He did not see, after what had been said, that the right hon. Gentleman could object to that.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he was far from saying that anything the hon. and learned Gentleman had urged was unreasonable, but he would ask him to listen while he replied to the hon. Member for York who had urged that they should not allow this question to go now that they had got hold of it. It might be a possibly harassing element imported into land purchase in Ireland, but in spite of his best endeavours he had not been able to deal with Crown rights in this Bill. They would all agree on Report to recommit the Billon this point when it could be adjusted. When the Bill had become an Act, and experience had shown the exceptional position of these reversionary interests, it would be easy to convince Parliament of the necessity of dealing with the matter in an exceptional way. To pursue the controversy now only retarded the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said if the right hon. Gentleman would undertake to recommit the Bill on Clause 55 he would not pursue the question. He accepted the position which the right hon. Gentleman had taken—viz., that he would, on the Report stage agree to the recommittal of Clause 55, if it was necessary to argue this question of Crown rent.
§ *MR. BUTCHER
said that after the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman, he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 56.
In page 30, line 6, at end to add the words—'(3) The trustees of any estate sold under this Act or the Public Trustee may, after liquidation of all liabilities, on the application of the landlord or his representatives, advance out of the purchase money to the landlord a sum not exceeding one year's purchase.'"—(Dr. Thompson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
said he was not quite sure whether this Amendment 1469 was really an Amendment to the clause, or whether it ought not to come as a separate clause. Perhaps the hon. Member would elucidate?
§ DR. THOMPSON
said he was not quite sure himself whether the Amendment was relevant. The object was to further induce, if possible, the landlord to sell by enabling the trustees or the Public Trustee to give him a year's rent out of the money at their disposal.
§ MR. ATKINSON
said that the landlord would get any balance that was left after all the charges against the estate were satisfied; but the idea of the trustees paying away one year's rent out of trust funds which did not belong to them was absurd, and it was perfectly impossible to authorise anything of the kind.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 56 agreed to.
§ Clause 57 agreed to.
§ Clause 58.
In page 30, line 28, to leave out the words 'Land Commission,' and insert the words 'Judicial Commissioner."'—(Mr. Butcher.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'Land Commission' stand part of the clause."
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said he could quite understand the Judicial Commissioner going in where there was a question of law; but this was a question of price, and what had the Judicial Commissioner to do with that?
§ MR. ATKINSON
pointed out that the price was to be determined by the Land Commission or the Land Judge.
§ MR T. M. HEALY
said that the most ignorant man would have to yield to argument. He suggested to the hon. and learned Member to leave things as they were. In his opinion, it did not matter a button whether the price was determined by the Land Commission or the Judicial Commissioner.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid)
moved:—In Clause 58, page 30, line 29, at end, add 'and in no case shall the redemption price of the superior interest to which any holding is subject (including the cost of proving the title to such superior interest) exceed the amount of the purchase money advanced in respect of such holding, exclusive of any percentage payable to the vendor under Section 43 of this Act'He said that when the middleman landlord and the occupying tenant came to adjust their respective interests the head landlord would in many cases get all the benefit, and the middleman landlord, without whose consent the sale could not be carried out, would get nothing. If the middleman agreed to sell, he would be subjecting himself to an immense amount of cost, and trouble and in the end would have the mortification of seeing the owner of the superior interest quietly pocketing the whole of the money given in respect of the tranaction. Human nature being what it is, it was very certain that in these circumstances many middlemen landlords would decide to hold on to their land, if the clause were carried in its present form, and a very large number of tenants would be debarred from becoming the owners of their holdings. He was desirous that the same facilities should be given to occupying tenants who held under middlemen landlords as were granted to tenants who held under other tenures. But the clause as it stood practically asked the middlemen landlords, who had been very hard hit by the two reductions of rent which they had had to make to their tenants, to bear the whole of any loss resulting from the scheme of land purchase. That, in his judgment, was unfair. If the purchase advance, apart from the bonus, was insufficient to meet all the charges on the land, then the various interests concerned, including that of the head owner, should bear a proportionate share of the loss connected with the transfer of the land.
In page 30, line 29, at end, to add the words, 'and in no case shall the redemption price of the superior interest to which any holding is subject (including the cost of proving the title to such superior interest) exceed the amount of the purchase money advanced in respect of such holding, exclusive of any percentage, payable to the vendor under Section 43 of this Act.'"—(Mr. Lonsdale.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he could not accept the Amendment, which, in his opinion, would be absolutely unworkable and wreck the whole Bill. Land tenure in Ireland was already sufficiently complicated without introducing another complication. Perhaps his hon. friend meant to take a general bird's eye view of the whole estate, but the words he proposed to introduce were unnecessary, because they could not take more out of the purchase price than there was in it.
§ *MR. LONSDALE
said that what he wanted was that the middleman landlord should not bear the whole cost of the transfer.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that the Amendment did not state that. There was a great inducement to the middlemen landlords to sell, irrespective of all matters connected with the redemption of the superior interest.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
confessed that he could not see how the case raised by the hon. Member for Mid Armagh was to be met. When the redemption price was more than the advance, what was to happen then? Where was the money to come from? The question would have to be grappled with when the Trinity College estates came up for review.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he admitted that the Trinity College case was more unique and complicated than any other, and it would come up later on. It had been said that under the Ashbourne Act the proceedings had gone on perfectly well, that under that Act the superior interest was taken out of the purchase money, but that occurred very rarely.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that under existing procedure it was clearly a case for arbitration; but under this Bill there was an appeal to the Land Judge, or Judicial Commissioner. He knew of no case of the redemption of the superior interest for more than twenty-five years. No doubt there were difficulties, and that was the main reason why he proposed to give the bonus to the vendor. The proposal in the Bill was, on the whole, a vast improvement on the existing procedure.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that the answer of the right hon. Gentleman practically amounted to this, that they could not meet the difficulty that had arisen, and that the cases were not numerous. But such cases did exist. The Chief Secretary had hinted that when the amount of funds was limited, they should cut their coat according to their cloth, but that did not solve the difficulty.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
pointed out that the number of cases in which the redemption money would be insufficient would be very few indeed.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
suggested that the clause provided a rough-and-ready solution which would go far to meet the difficulty raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid Armagh. If, after the Bill had been in operation some years, cases of exceptional difficulty arose, they could be dealt with by their successors should Parliament see fit to do so. No doubt there were difficulties, but the general plan of giving the bonus to the vendor would, in his opinion, afford the best solution—if a rough-and-ready one—in ninety-nine cases of difficulty out of every hundred.
§ MR. FLAVIN
referred to the action of Trinity College, Dublin, in raising the rents of the middlemen by 45 per cent., whereas the rents had been reduced by 40 per cent. through the operation of the Land Act. These middlemen would not be induced by this Bill to sell, especially as Trinity College was holding out for a redemption of the head rent at twenty-seven years. Some 7,000 tenants were affected by this, and it was, therefore, a very serious matter.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he could only repeat that the case of Trinity College was one of great complexity, but he did not see how the Amendment would solve the difficulty.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
We had better defer this discussion till we come to the question of Trinity College.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)
asked how the head rents were to be dealt with. The tenants, as a rule, were prepared to give from sixteen to eighteen years purchase, while the landlords were demanding twenty-five years purchase. The result would be that sales would be blocked all over Ireland. Were the Estates Commissioners empowered to make any terms on this point? He had heard of a case in his own constituency in which the landlords were asking thirty-three years purchase! How was such a case to be dealt with?
§ MR. ATKINSON
was understood to say that disputes as to superior interests would have to be dealt with by means of arbitration. That was provided for under existing Acts.
§ MR. KENNEDY (Westmeath, N.)
said he had some personal experience in this mutter, as he was an unfortunate middleman. He wanted to sell to his tenants, but he did not know what price his head landlord would get for his head rent. He got 40 per cent. of the whole rent. How was he to determine at what price he could sell to the tenants until he knew what he was himself to be allowed. The head landlord having a superior interest might be entitled to 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. more than the middleman, but the proportion ought to be settled in the Act itself, otherwise the middleman might be in a very unfortunate position for the tenants.
§ MR. BUTCHER
asked as to the tithe rent-charge. It was suggested that in no case would more than twenty years purchase be allowed for that. He hoped that that would be altered, and that the question of redemption would be adjudicated upon in a proper way.
§ MR. DILLON
said the owners of tithe rent-charge had only their own brutality to thank for the position in which they found themselves. It served them right.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
reminded the tithe owners that they reaped an enormous advantage under the last Local Government (Ireland) Act. Trinity College alone gained at least £1,000 a year under that Act. The middleman also reaped great advantage, and now they found themselves between the upper and nether millstones, and would be ground to powder. The sooner they made up their minds to a speedy death the better it would be for them.
§ Clause 58, agreed to.
§ Clauses 59, 60, 61, 62, and 63 agreed to
§ Clause 64.
§ *MR. HEMPHILL
moved to add that the determination of any such questions should have the effect of and be subject to the same right of appeal as a final order of the High Court. His object was, he said, to secure the right of appeal from the decision of the Divisional Court to the High Court. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have no difficulty in accepting the Amendment.
In page 32, line 7, at end, to add the words 'and any such determination shall have the effect of and be subject to the same right of appeal as a final order of the High Court.'"—(Mr. Hemphill.)
§ Question proposed, "That those word be there added."1475
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause 64, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 65,
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN (Cork)
moved to amend the proviso in the second sub-section by altering seven years to two years as the period after which sinking fund payments should be made for land not disposed of. He expressed the opinion that without compulsory powers there never would be a satisfactory settlement of Connaught; but even with the powers at present possessed by the Congested Districts Board they ought to have effected at least ten times as much as they had done in the way of getting people on to holdings of a decent size. It was a matter of supreme importance that the Committee should give serious attention to this part of the Bill, which affected at least half a million of their people. He was afraid that the congested districts clauses of the Bill were its weakest part. Had it not been for the congested districts difficulty they would never have had that Bill, and it could not be too strongly stated that if the principal object of the Bill was the peace of Ireland it ran a serious risk of failure unless these clauses were very materially altered for the better, and unless above all the Congested Districts Board could be in some way stimulated and spurred on to more rapid progress. They were now in this position. They knew what was wrong and what was the only complete remedy, and yet year after year, since 1890, the Congested Districts Board had only done for a few score of tenants what it ought to have done for thousands. In thirteen years, out of an income of something nearly approaching a million of money, they had only succeeded in migrating some sixty or seventy tenants, while, in the same period, from 80,000 to 90,000 of the cream of the young men and women of the country had gone abroad. There must be something wrong which induced such a finicking policy. He was afraid that if the present Board had compulsory powers the results would be almost 1476 equally insignificant. It was necessary in his opinion to completely revolutionise their present methods. In his humble judgment, the moment the Congested Districts Board got possession of an estate they ought to divide it into holdings of a reasonable size, hand it over at once to the new purchasers, and make any necessary advances to them for rebuilding their homes or for fencing; but let the people do the work of improvement themselves. Let them give the people possession of the land for the same money which the Congested Districts Board paid to the landlords originally. Under the present system, a single official, no doubt very competent—Mr. Doran—was first required to inquire into every particular of every estate to be purchased. After it was purchased he was required to settle everything as to the re-arrangement of every particular holding—questions of boundaries, turbary and every little village dispute. After that, the Congested Districts Board began to undertake an elaborate series of building, fencing, draining and other works, which went on for years; the Board all the time retaining the land in their own hands and obliged to employ an enormous staff of officials in carrying out works which, without offence, he might call grandmotherly improvements. After all those years, when at last the land was re-sold to the tenants, they had to buy the improvements as well as to pay the purchase money originally paid by the Board. He did not wish to say anything harsh about the work of the Congested Districts Board; but this work of model cottage building, this benevolent despotism as to the affairs of every particular tenant, might have been advisable at the beginning of these operations by way of experiment, but he submitted to the Chief Secretary that it was intolerable that that sort of thing should go on any longer. Life was not long enough. While the Board was spoon-feeding—he did not wish to put it offensively—a few score of show tenants, the population was flying and the country was losing the very cream of its young men, who would really make migratory schemes a success if they got a chance, and would regenerate the country. What the Board 1477 was doing was re-colonising the country, just as if it were a new country. It was, however, a richer country than most of the colonies, and it was certainly not by tedious methods of experiment, such as were practised by the Board, that the colonies were made populous and prosperous.
He would give the Committee some particulars of the monstrous snails-pace at which the land purchase and re-sale operations of the Board were carried on. The Clare sland estate was purchased in 1895, and was not re-sold to the tenants until five years afterwards; and the tenants were obliged to pay £10,000 purchase money where the Board had only paid £5,000. No doubt the tenants had the benefit of the balance in improvements; but they could have done tolerably well without such expensive improvements. One of them was a sort of Great Wall of China built right across the Island from one end to the other; and during all the time that work was being carried out, the money and energy of the Board were lost to other estates in just as great need of assistance as Clare Island. The Port Royal estate was purchased in 1898, and after five years' delay has not yet been re-sold to the tenants. There again a large sum had been spent in improvements; but the tenants did not ask for them; and they would have to pay for them in addition to paying the purchase-money that the Board originally paid. In another estate there was also a delay of five years, and the tenants did not yet know how much purchase-money they would have to pay. As long ago as June, 1899, Lord Sligo announced that he was ready to sell half of his enormous estate; and the Board had been for four years nibbling at negotiations for its purchase. He believed—the right hon. Gentleman would correct him if he were wrong—that more than a year ago the bargain was practically completed; and yet from that day to this the Board had not taken one practical step which would enable the tenants to know what their fate was to be. He would give a still more glaring instance of how the system had failed to work. On Lord Lucan's estate there were eighteen families living on twenty-two acres of worn-out land, and outside the fence there was a rich grazing tract, large enough to give them comfortable farms, which was in the hands of a 1478 broken-down grazier who might be very easily dealt with indeed. Fifteen months ago the right hon. Gentleman complimented Lord Lucan on his unselfishness in having consented to sell his estate. He need not tell the right hon. Gentleman with what delight those poor people learned, on the right hon. Gentleman's own authority, that that estate had been purchased by the Board, and that they would have a glorious chance of getting their holdings enlarged; yet not a single step had since been taken in that direction, and those poor people, even to this day, were left in miserable doubt as to whether the estate was purchased or not. There was no earthly reason, if the operations of the Board had only been carried on with proper expedition, why the bargain should not have been completed, and why the tenants should not now be raising their first crop on their enlarged holdings, instead of being obliged to cross over to England for the harvest, and instead of the poor girls being compelled in greater numbers than ever to go to America. The Dillon estate was the one considerable operation the Congested Districts Board had to show for thirteen years work, and even then they had failed to stop the exodus of labourers to England. The Board had failed to provide the people with economic holdings simply because they had failed to purchase the magnificent grass tracts that bounded the estate and extended for twenty or twenty-five miles away to Claremorris and Ballinrobe.
The cases he had mentioned were all cases taken from the one single county in Connaught where the Board had anything considerable to show for themselves. As to the other congested counties in Connaught, and still more outside Connaught, the operations of the Board had been merely a drop in the bucket; and they did not even attempt to deal with this problem. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman it was not in any mere faultfinding spirit that he had quoted those instances. He knew the difficulties, and did full justice to the good intentions of the Board, to the ability of Mr. Doran, and to the very remarkable insight that the right hon. Gentleman himself had with reference to this question. He undoubtedly knew more about it than any other English statesman had ever learned; but 1479 the right hon. Gentleman would perhaps excuse him if he spoke with some little heat on the subject, because he lived amongst those poor people and it was heart-breaking to see year passing after year without anything substantial being done, until the people were absolutely sick with hope deferred and grasped at the opportunity of a passage ticket to take them to America. They must be cruel to be kind; but he would tell the Government that they would be living in a fool's paradise if they thought they were going to save Connaught by peddling transactions of that kind. The Amendment he proposed was only one means, and a very imperfect means, of remedying those delays—namely, by putting some sort of penalty upon the Congested Districts Board for this system of retaining land in their own hands for an unconscionably long period. The clause seemed to contemplate that seven years was not altogether an abnormal period for land to remain in the hands of the Board; and if that were the theory to be acted upon, they would simply be dragging along for another century, no doubt carrying out a certain number of interesting and well-meant experiments, but failing utterly to do what the Archbishop of Tuam once said was the sovereign scheme—namely, to give the people the land, and "Give the people meat," he said, "and they will cook it." This Amendment was only one means of hastening the operations of the Board; but his hon. friends would propose other Amendments. Some stimulus was wanted to put an end to a system which had really reduced the whole operations of the Board to a nullity, and to a complete fiasco and failure in the congested districts of Connaught. Section 3 proposed to further empower the Board to charge the tenant with the cost of those expensive improvements, but he believed the first thing the Board should do was to abandon those costly fiddle-faddles, if he might be excused for so describing them. He would repeat that even with the powers at present possessed by the Board, at least ten times as much land could have been bought up by this time, and distributed among the people. He begged of the right hon. Gentleman to let the people make their own improvements. Let them not be too pedantic about insisting that everything should 1480 be in apple-pie order; let the people be given the land without delay, and at cost price, and as fast as ever it could be bought; and they might safely trust to the good sense and enterprise of the people to make necessary improvements, which they could carry out at one-tenth of the cost that would be incurred by the Congested Districts Board. He begged the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether the Amendment would not be giving a hint which was badly wanted to the Board, that they ought not to dally over this work, that they ought to hurry on what was necessary and inevitable, and let the ornamental take care of itself. He would impress on the Chief Secretary that in this matter he could do, practically speaking, what he pleased, without the slightest difficulty or controversy. There was no conflict between landlord and tenant, and he begged him to take advantage of the present opportunity.
In page 32, line 22, to leave out the word 'seven,' and insert the word 'two.'"—(Mr. William O'Brien.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'seven' stand part of the clause."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he agreed with the hon. Gentleman as to the great importance of the subject, but he would find it rather hard to reply without travelling outside the scope of the Amendment, and showing some of the difficulties with which the Board had to contend. He would, of course, deal with the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said then they started on the same basis. The great difficulty of the Board in dealing with congested districts was generally the want of money, and nothing else. The hon. Gentleman instanced the case of Lord Sligo's estate. The reason why that estate was not bought was not because the Congested Districts Board were dilatory in their operations; it was entirely a question of money. Land stock fell, and neither party would accept 1481 the consequence of that fall, and they had been beating the air ever since. Then the hon. Gentleman instanced the case of Lord Lucan's estate; again the difficulty of the Board there was a money difficulty. The purchase of Lord Dillon's estate exhausted all the available funds of the Board for the counties of Mayo and Roscommon; and when they tried to deal with Lord Lucan's very patriotic offer, they could not do so because their funds were exhausted. The delay had been great, and the disappointment had been great. Under the Act of 1896 the Board were allowed to borrow up to the capital value of the Irish Church Surplus Fund; but that was a comparatively small sum, and when it was divided up between the different counties it only amounted to a few hundred thousands for each county, which was not sufficient to enable the Board to go in for any large scheme of migration. At last a blow was struck, and the Dillon estate was bought. It was the first big practical effort made by the Board, but it swallowed up the whole of the credit of the Board in Mayo and Roscommon, so that nothing more could be done in those counties; and it threw such a stress on the means of the Board then available for carrying out all such operations, that it was impossible for the Board to act as boldly as they otherwise would have acted. He was very largely in agreement with the hon. Gentleman when he said that it would be unnecessary in the future to act so exclusively as a paternal Government. In saying that, however, he did not criticise the action of the Board in the past. The standard which the Board had set up had been imitated elsewhere. It was necessary to have a working model; and he thought the Board were right in supplying it. The Board were right in pursuing that course, because the work that was achieved proved to be the main lever which he had in his hands to persuade the House of Commons and his colleagues that it was proper to give the Board further credit facilities and further capital. Unless he could have shown that the standard of life was being raised, that the houses were better houses, that the cattle were being taken out of the houses, and that the hopeless forms of land tenure, such as "rundale," and holdings in mixed plots, were being abolished, he could not have persuaded 1482 his colleagues that the Congested Districts Board were a proper body for dealing with these large credits and large cash balances every year. A great part of the work of experiment had now been done. Where a model dwelling had been set up, persons on property which had not been bought by the Board were trying to imitate the standard put before them, and one such house on a hill was a beacon to all who lived within sight of it. The work of the Congested Districts Board in altering the standard of house accommodation had not been thrown away. He did not desire to press the matter too far, but he wished to show that there was great force in what could be urged on behalf of his colleagues on the Board.
The hon. Member for Cork City now proposed that if the Board failed to put an estate in proper order for re-sale within two years they were to be penalised by having to pay out of their income, sinking fund as well as interest. Nobody was more keen than he that the Board should re-sell at the earliest possible moment, but it was his duty to say that there were parts of the West of Ireland which could not be re-sold until the people on them had done something on their own behalf, aided by public funds. If it were true, as the hon. Member had said, that all that was necessary was to give the ownership to the people, there was no need for the intervention of the Board at all: the people could buy under the ordinary methods of purchase. But there existed parts which had been derelict for the best part of 200 years, without boundaries, with scarcely a road, and no fences. In such cases as he had in mind, three or four years of paternal Government—if it took the form, not of setting up the last new-fangled idea, not of trying to raise the people at one bound to a much higher standard of civilisation, but of building one model house, and giving facilities for building more, showing how land could be reclaimed, carting sand up to a certain point, and allowing the inhabitants to carry out their own improvements—was not a curse, but a blessing. The people had the assurance that they could become the owners of the soil, that their rents would never be increased, that they would never have to go into Court; and if they worked in, not so much with the officers of the 1483 Board, but with their local leaders, the priests of the parishes who were in full sympathy with the ideals of the Board, they would become the owners of the soil—and of a soil which was worth owning—and debtors of the State in regard to whom to a large extent no loss whatever would accrue. The hon. Member asked that this penalty should be imposed if the Board failed within two years to improve these hopeless morasses to a point which would justify their being sold in perpetuity on the credit of the general taxpayer. He was convinced that the slowness of the past had been due to inadequacy of resources, not to lack of zeal. He was prepared to admit, however, that it would be necessary to drive ahead more zealously in the future, to divest the Board of much work which ought now to devolve upon the new Department, and for the Department to apply themselves more and more as an expert body to the problem of congestion in its worst forms, using all their credit and cash facilities for that object. Generous aid had been supplied by his right hon. friend by giving them the whole of the pool of the guarantee fund, by placing at their disposal a sum of nearly £1,250,000 for the purchase of untenanted land, altogether outside the ordinary transactions of purchase, and by increasing the income of the Board to £90,000 a year. Having these resources, with the firm intention of making this the chief work of the Board, he asked the Committee that they might be allowed to go on with their duties unfettered by the monetary penalty proposed by the Amendment.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
said it was satisfactory to find that the Chief Secretary was not much more pleased than they were themselves with the rate of progress made by the Board. He did not desire unnecessarily to find fault with the Board, or with the gentleman who really had to bear the whole burden of this work. Mr. Doran was a most competent official, but too much had been thrown upon his shoulders; he had been a sort of Atlas, bearing the whole western world for the last ten or twelve years, and it was no disparagement to say that he had not been equal to the burden. The Board had undoubtedly carried out many works of considerable advantage in their small 1484 way, but nothing was more certain than the fact that unless the operations of the Board were hurried up, years and decades would pass without anything really being done; the Board as a land-purchasing department might as well be dissolved. Unless the Chief Secretary took strong measures to impress his views upon them they would go on as they had done, spending five-sixths of their income in excellent, but extremely circumscribed, philanthropic projects. The great point was not merely to get possession of the land in derelict districts, but to take the people out of the morasses, and buy for them the magnificent plains that were waiting to be colonised. That was the only real remedy for the present state of things. For this work three or four Mr. Dorans would be necessary, confining themselves to the broad lines of migration schemes, and not concerning themselves with every minute particular of the work. At least £50,000 of the present income, in addition to the £20,000 provided by the Bill, should be set apart for the special work of migration. Above all, the people concerned should have some voice in the management of the Board. With the exception of Dr. O'Donnell and Father O'Hara, there was not a single member of the Board who had any intimate knowledge of the question. It was simply indefensible that the people or the people's representatives in the County Councils should have no voice whatever in the matter. He accepted to the full the statement of the Chief Secretary's own views and intentions, but he felt bound to warn the Committee that up to the present the Board had been a complete failure in the matter of migration and the purchase of land. The work of the Board, if properly carried out, would form the greatest monument the Prime Minister could desire. He appealed to the Chief Secretary, if he could not accept the Amendment, at any rate to be as generous in this part of the Bill as he had been in others. By proportionate concessions being made here a greater work would be done towards the settlement of the land question than would be accomplished by forty Land Acts such as they had had in the past.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said the intentions of the Chief Secretary were excellent: he had gone to the root of the 1485 question, he sympathised with the people, and he desired to apply a remedy to their difficulty. But the position was this: the present Bill was imperfect, perhaps not to the same degree as previous Bills, but still imperfect, in that it would not settle the great problem in the West of Ireland. They were now dealing with a part of the country where revolutions were made. There would have been very few Land Bills had it not been for this area, and he felt convinced that in leaving this question unsettled they were leaving the Irish land question unsolved. He had never said that this Bill would settle the Irish land question. What he had said was that it would put everything in the way of settlement. He was not very sure that it would put the congested districts even in the way of settlement. There were three things essential to any settlement of this question. First the reorganisation and strengthening of the Congested Districts Board itself. For all practical purposes Mr. Doran was the Board at present. The Board was possessed of excellent intentions, but they did not know the lives of the people, and more men on the spot like Mr. Doran were wanted, not in one centre only, but in all the centres. Secondly, the Board ought to be given the right of pre-emption in all these cases. There were, say, twenty or thirty small holdings of a couple of acres each huddled together, and round them were large grazing tracts. Were they quite sure that these grazing tracts would not be grabbed by the graziers? One of the things that ought to be done was that the Congested Districts Board ought to get the right of pre-emption. Thirdly, the Congested Districts Board ought to have the right of compulsory acquisition. If these three things had been done they would have seen daylight upon this problem. How were they to get possession of these great grazing tracts? The only way to do it would be to grant what the Congested Districts Board had asked for, and that was the right of compulsory acquisition of these grazing tracts. The right hon. Gentleman meant well, but he would have to face these difficulties, and he would have to grant the right of pre-emption before he could finish his scheme. Just as Acts had had to be amended in the past, so it would be found that before many years had 1486 expired, in order that these poor people might be redeemed, it would be necessary to get the right of pre-emption and compulsory acquisition of these grazing tracts.
§ MR. DILLON
said that this Amendment had brought them to one of the most important parts of this Bill. In connection with this matter, vital as it was to the lives of the great mass of the poor people, but for whom no Land Bill would ever have been introduced, they were not making any claim that would cost the landlords one sixpence, and therefore the landlords had no interest in opposing these Amendments. They had just heard from the Chief Secretary for Ireland a very remarkable speech, and a most sympathetic and exceedingly well-informed speech; and, whatever their differences might be with him, he thought they would all agree that upon this question of congestion in the West he applied himself to understanding and understood the gravity of this question. In regard to the Amendments which the Nationalists had put down to this clause, the British taxpayer was not concerned, and his security would be rather increased than otherwise. Everybody ought to be agreed in bringing this vital part of the Bill to a successful conclusion. A few points had been mentioned in the Chief Secretary's speech upon which he should like to say a few words. With the general tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech he felt himself in sympathy. He agreed that the Congested Districts Board had done a very useful work notwithstanding all their failures. The Board was badly constituted in the beginning, and was composed of men who did not understand the work. Consequently for many years their operations were "cribbed, cabined, and confined," not only for want of money, but for want of the actual machinery necessary to carry on the work successfully. A great deal had been accomplished on the Dillon Estate by the little encouragement which the Board had given to the tenants. He believed that it would be greatly to the advantage of the tenants, and more expeditious if the 1487 Board in the future would make the tenants a grant or a loan and let them build the houses themselves according to certain specifications. By adopting this course the houses would be built for about half the cost. He gave credit to the Congested Districts Board for what they had done, and although the money had been expended somewhat extravagantly it had gone into the pockets of the people themselves.
The real difficulty in regard to this problem was that the machinery was entirely deficient. Mr. Doran had worked mostly on the Dillon Estate which had absorbed nearly all his energies for the last three years, and the settlement of that estate had been a gigantic operation. A good deal still remained to be done on the Dillon Estate although 2,500 acres had been divided amongst the tenants. That, however, was only a very small amount, and there were still some 10,000 acres of land lying derelict on the borders of the Dillon Estate, all of which ought to be bought in order to spread out these people, and this course would increase enormously the prosperity of the country. It was impossible to bring home to the people of this country the multitudinous benefits which would flow from this policy. Although the people were poor in Mayo and Roscommon, accordingly as they gave them economic holdings the towns there would thrive and expand, and he expected to see all the towns of Connaught double in population within the next ten years. While he gave the Chief Secretary for Ireland the fullest credit for good intentions, and while he admitted that some of the clauses were a substantial advance upon the present state of the law in Ireland, this portion of the Bill was still very defective. Now that they had 1488 got into a non-contentious part he asked the Chief Secretary to make this a really effective clause. He wished the House to go to the root and source of all the trouble, which was the congested districts question. If they could convince these poor people that they were making an effort to elevate them it would make a great difference. If they held out some hopes to these poor people they would not be unreasonable, nor would their leaders or advisers be unreasonable so long as they were convinced that Parliament was doing the best it could to bring within their reach the means of making a living by hard work. He knew one parish in Ireland in the very centre of which there were about 1,000 acres of the richest grass land belonging to a grazier who also owned seven or eight other great ranches. He never lived upon any of them, but he used them as grass farms. What hardship would it be to say to that man "We are willing to give you all the value of your interest, but you must give up this land to enable us to carry out this great operation for the benefit of the poor people of this locality." There were numerous cases in Ireland where the grass land was right at the very door of the poor people, and the Chief Secretary ought to provide some machinery to carry out operations of the kind he had suggested. If this Bill passed into law without giving greater powers to the Congested Districts Board it might have a very bad effect upon the settlement of this problem by facilitating the passage of these grass lands into the hands of graziers. He asked the right hon. Gentleman not to close his mind against proposals to give compulsory powers, which would not inflict a single hardship upon the landlords of 1489 Ireland. He wished to point out that under Sub-section 3 there was a most objectionable procedure which would have the effect of considerably blocking the work. In some cases the tenants were being asked to pay as much as £100 fine in addition to their instalments. He thought that was a mistaken policy, because to ask a man to start in life upon a farm after paying £100 fine was very dangerous because they stripped him absolutely clean of his capital and put him into a holding that required a fair amount of capital to start with. In his opinion they were endangering the success of the whole system which was intended to provide homes for very poor people. They were also endangering the security of the State, because it was no use giving a man land unless they gave him a chance of using it to advantage.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he desired to take that opportunity of replying to the questions which had been put to him. The hon. Member for East Mayo had asked whether the Congested Districts Board would have the same financial facilities as the Estates Commissioners. His answer was that they would in all respects, and on probably a much greater scale, because, for the smaller part of Ireland with which they had to deal they had just as much credit at their disposal as the Estates Commissioners. They had a guarantee fund of £1,250,000 to buy untenanted land. What the hon. Member had said with regard to the Dillon Estate was true, but if the Board had had money to buy additional land in the neighbourhood they could have made a better and quicker job of it. He thought they would be able to work on 1490 a larger scale now and to meet the many criticisms which had been raised. As to the imposition of money fines on tenants, this Bill had been drafted to get rid of them. The very worst preliminary in starting a man on a new career was to take a fine from him.
§ MR. TULLY
said anyone who had considered the conditions of the congested districts could see that these districts were scamped by the Bill, or at all events not adequately dealt with. The Chief Secretary had spoken with apparent sincerity and with eloquence, but there was something more than generalities required. They must apply themselves to the actual working details in the congested districts. The Congested Districts Board said they were hampered by the restrictions under which they worked. They said they could not force people to take the lands. He knew there was something in that complaint, because he was himself connected with a Board which erected sixty houses, but they could not get the people to leave the slum districts to take these houses. That was a serious difficulty, and he thought there should be something in the nature of a dictatorship in such cases, to compel people to leave their miserable holdings and to force them to take other lands. It was a curious fact that the statistics of migration showed that it was not from the congested districts that migration went on at the greatest rate. It was from richer districts in Ireland that migration took place. When they found that condition of things they should be careful as to putting restrictions in the clause which would prevent the people in the congested districts from being adequately dealt with. If the Congested. 1491 Districts Board had power by which they could compel people to migrate it would be a very useful thing. He thought the Amendment now before the Committee, instead of effecting the object they all desired, might have an opposite effect. It provided that these lands were to be sold in two years. He should like them to be sold in two months. There were in the Bill inducements to the landlords to sell. The landlords, in his opinion, were a worthless class who should not get any inducements. Why should they not give inducements to the people in the congested districts to migrate? If they could not have compulsion let them have inducements. There should be no fine charged on these poor people, and he hoped the policy of the Congested Districts Board in asking for a fine would be abandoned. In his opinion the congested districts were boycotted by this Bill, and the clauses dealing with them were not worth the paper they were printed on. Owing to transactions which had recently taken place the price of land had become inflated in Ireland, and the landlords had such an exaggerated idea of the value of their land that they would never sell at a price which would give a reasonable prospect that migration and resettlement could be carried on. So long as they had that difficulty to deal with there would be a very serious obstacle to encounter in approaching this problem. He held that the work hitherto had been clogged by the efforts of officials whose desire seemed to be to prolong it in their own interest. It was intolerable that these lands should be five or six years in the hands of the Congested Districts Board and that nothing should be done to distribute them among the people. He was anxious that these clauses should 1492 be made compulsory, for he believed that until that was done there would be nothing of a practical nature done for the relief of the congested districts.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
thought everybody must wish success to the Chief Secretary in his efforts on the line which he had indicated to-night in his speech. He would only say this with respect to the suggestions of this, that, and the other, with the view of producing a total change in the West of Ireland in a short time, that he knew no case where work of this kind had been accomplished rapidly. He did not know a case on record where, by the action of the State, colonisation had been a complete success, and that was a warning to those who wished to see this matter really settled. It was better to do a little well than to attempt to do too much and produce failure. It was impossible to effect a great revolution in a short time. Hon. Members from Ireland often said that the wrongs of that country had sprung from the mis-government of seven centuries. Do not let them expect to undo the work of seven centuries in seven weeks, or seven months, or even seven years.
§ MR. O'KELLY: (Mayo, N.)
said the Chief Secretary would agree with him that it was absolutely impossible for people to eke out an existence on certain estates in the congested districts. He referred to what had occurred in the case of the O'Ryan and Digby Estate where there was a desert of heather but no tillage land of any kind, and said he did not understand how the Congested Districts Board had been lured into purchasing that estate. He complained that the work of the Board was intolerably 1493 slow. It pleased no one and it dissatisfied everyone, and unless the right hon. Gentleman made a change in the methods of working they could never hope to see that Board solve the problem of congestion. He urged that the County Councils in Connaught ought to have a representation on that Board in the same way as on the Agricultural Board. The Congested Districts Board were as much in need of local advice and guidance as the other Board. He understood there were to be two vacancies on the Board, and he sincerely hoped that the Chief Secretary would fill these vacancies with men who were acquainted with the problem of congestion. He was not using exaggerated language when he said that it was a thorough scandal that land should be kept in the hands of the Congested Districts Board instead of being made available with the greatest possible speed for the poor people who required it. By satisfying Connaught the Government would have one of the best guarantees for public peace in Ireland, but if they had a dissatisfied and disaffected Connaught, they would find that this Bill, instead of producing peace, would leave behind it a record of disappointed hopes.
§ MR. O'DOWD (Sligo, S.)
supported the Amendment. He urged that the question of the congested districts must be seriously considered by the House of Commons—
§ And, it being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.