§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the chair.]
§ Clause 65.
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. O'DOWD (Sligo, S.)
said this particular stage of the Bill was of the most supreme importance to the people of the congested districts in Ireland. This and some subsequent Amendments dealt with the question of congestion in the West of Ireland, and in his opinion, if the subject was not satisfactorily and courageously grappled with by the Government, the Bill would prove a disappointment and not a boon to the inhabitants of the western provinces. These people were agreed on one thing, and that was that unless some principle of popular representation was introduced into the constitution of the Congested Districts Board, and unless additional and compulsory powers were given to that body to acquire land, it would be impossible to enlarge the existing small holdings, the tide of emigration would not be stemmed, land could not be procured for landless people, and the land problem would remain unsolved. As to his own county of Sligo, that knew not the Congested Districts Board, it was divided into four unions, all of them being partly congested. In Boyle No. 2 Union there were thirteen electoral divisions, nine of which were unscheduled. The valuation of the unscheduled portion was £22,507, while that of the grazing farms was £4,560. The holdings under £8 in the unscheduled portion numbered 1,381. In two of the unscheduled divisions the gross valuation was £7,414, while the valuation of the grazing farms in the same division was £2,523 or over one-third of the whole. In the scheduled divisions the valuation was £8,557, and the number of the holdings under £8 was 1,059. These figures were characteristic 1536 of the state of the whole county, and clearly showed that it ought to be scheduled as a congested district. In the whole county of Sligo there were 9,117 holdings under £10 valuation, or nearly 70 per cent. of the whole, and it was safe to say that nearly 60 per cent. of these holdings were under £7 valuation. They had in Sligo county a population endeavouring to eke out a miserable existence on tracts of the reclaimed morass, while on the other hand they had deserts of the grazing lands in the hands of land jobbers and absentee landlords. Here was ample work for the Congested Districts Board, and unless some such scheme as that suggested by the hon. Member for Cork was accepted by the Government, how could the problem of the West be settled? He believed the right hon. Gentleman was sincerely desirous of securing a speedy settlement of the land question. They thanked him for his efforts, and for meeting them in the conciliatory spirit he had done. They thanked him also for the sympathy he had shown in the case of the evicted tenants and of the large farmers, and they now appealed to him to tackle this problem of the West boldly and courageously by granting the concessions asked for—concessions which could injure neither the Government, the landlord, nor the British taxpayer, but which would bring peace and happiness to the people of the congested districts.
§ MR. THOMAS O'DONNELL (Kerry, W.)
agreed that in the opinion of those who represented the congested districts this was the most important part of the Land Bill. On the preceding evening they heard a good deal about the slow rate of progress made by the Congested Districts Board in Connaught. He thought there was still greater cause of complaint to be found in the South and South-west, where there had been an absolute and total neglect of large congested districts. What had the Board done in the county of Kerry during the last twelve years? With the best and most philanthropic intentions, it had done practically nothing. True, it had built piers around the sea coast which had been a help to fishermen in plying their dangerous calling, but 1537 beyond that, there had been no really useful reproductive work initiated or carried out by the Board in that county. It had been suggested that the Board had purposely confined its operations to one particular district because it was really experimenting, but, so far as he could gather, the people of that district even had not been satisfied with the work done. The inhabitants of Kerry, however, could not accept that explanation as a satisfactory reply to their demand. It had been said the condition of Kerry was not so bad as that of Connaught, but he ventured to say that the condition of Kerry was something which ought not to be tolerated in these days when science was progressing and when the state of the people in every civilised country was improving. It was a hopeless condition, which was driving the people out of the country. The population of Kerry was returned at 165,000; yet in the last fifty years no fewer than 211,000 had emigrated from that county alone. How were the people housed? According to a recent Return, no fewer than 333 families of five persons were living in one-roomed hovels; 271 families of six were similarly housed, and the same observation applied to 180 families of seven. And this state of things existed notwithstanding the fact that no fewer than 1,000 cottages had been erected under the Labourers Act. This was a deplorable state of things which the Congested Districts Board had power to deal with, and yet they had done absolutely nothing in Kerry to remedy it. What did the Poor Law Returns disclose? In Donegal one person in every 151 was supported out of the poor rate; in Mayo one in fifty-eight, and in Kerry one in thirty-five! Was it not time that something was done for Kerry? He might be asked what remedy he had to propose. His reply was that in many parts of the county there was land now going to waste. He knew of one particular tract of marsh land which forty or fifty years ago was growing wheat, but which, for want of an embankment, could not now be used for that purpose. All along the verge of that land were poor people huddled in small holdings, and among these this land might well be divided with great 1538 advantage. But Lord Ventry refuged to sell it, although an offer was made with a view to having it embanked and divided up. He had heard that day that the Board had made a start in Kerry by purchasing an estate of 100 acres; but what a poor show was that for eleven years labours! If the clause were passed in its present form, enabling the Board to hold farms for seven years, the inhabitants of the congested districts would have little to hope for from the Bill, and the tide of emigration would flow on uninterruptedly. They could not hope for good results until the people were represented on the Congested Districts Board. He held that the work could be more effectively performed by the County Councils, the members of which were drawn from the people and knew the needs of the people, and surely the House of Commons, which prided itself on its representative character, should be prepared to give to Ireland that slight extension of the representative principle.
§ *MR. ROCHE (Galway, E.)
said that according to the Returns recently issued there were only three counties in Ireland in which there were electoral divisions, in which the valuation was below 10s. per head of the population, and Galway was one of them. The average valuation of that country was only £1 0s. 4d. per head, and it was the third lowest county in Ireland in that respect. In the district in which he lived there were four electoral divisions scheduled under the Congested Districts Board, and yet so far nothing has been done to relieve the poverty of these districts. Within the four divisions there was not one solitary acre of grazing farm, whereas in the division which he represented there were at least 100,000 acres of the best land in Ireland occupied by graziers. As the Bill now stood there was no hope for the people of the poverty-stricken district to which he had referred. Generation after generation the manhood of the county had been driven to America and other countries in order to get a market for their labour which was refused them at home, and he told the Government that they were living in a fool's paradise if they thought the Bill as it stood would 1539 remedy the present terrible condition of things. The grazing system was in his opinion a greater curse to their country than landlordism, and he would never cease agitating until the rich grazing lands now practically lying idle were made available for dealing with the difficulty of the congestion. A curious anomaly in connection with this question was that unless the valuation of a division was below 30s. per head of population the inhabitants could get no benefit under the Congested Districts Act. There was the parish of Fahy and Queens borough in the Portumna Union which had 20,000 acres of land. The population consisted of about 150 families, and the Committee might well imagine that they were provided for as far as land was concerned. They were not, and why? Between 7,000 and 8,000 acres were, however, in the possession of seven or eight graziers, scarcely one of whom resided in the parish. In consequence of these large grazing tracts the valuation was assessed above 30s. per head; and the families he had mentioned, who lived in the bogs and morasses, were deprived of any benefit whatever under the Congested Districts Acts. Was there any provision to be made for bettering such a district as that? If not, how in the name of goodness could the Government expect those families to remain squatted in their miserable plots, while 7,000 or 8,000 acres were in the possession of graziers. The Committee might wonder how it was possible that there were such vast tracts of grazing land in that parish. He would inform them. Forty or fifty years ago, a Scotch gentleman named Pollock bought a large tract in Galway which extended along the Shannon and Suck from Banagher to the lower end of East Galway. Pollock alone evicted over 1,000 families who did not owe a penny of rent, and their comfortable farms and happy homes were turned into sheep walks and bullock pastures, the people being driven into the bogs and morasses. The attention of the right hon. Gentleman was called to the condition of the district by priests and people before he introduced this Bill. The same condition of affairs obtained in the parish of Eyrecourt. Forty years ago Eyrecourt was one of the most prosperous and thriving towns in the West of Ireland, 1540 with a population of about 1,000 inhabitants. To-day sixty or seventy houses were roofless—a standing monument to the work of the evicter—and the population had decreased to a fourth of what it was. They had heard a great deal about the little that was being done for the towns. He admitted that very little had been done; but the best and most beneficial work that could be done for the towns was to plant the people around them; and not until then would the towns be either prosperous or thriving. He spoke with great heat on this matter, because he lived amongst the people and saw their condition. He trusted that for the sake of the peace of the country and the preservation of the remnant of their race, the Chief Secretary would be equal to the occasion, and would hold out some hope for the future. Otherwise the right hon. Gentleman might rest assured that he would have to face in the future the same state of things that he had had to face in the past
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN (Cork)
said he was as anxious to expedite the discussion as he was to expedite the operations of the Congested District Board. He thought, however, that he two hours had been better spent in not whole course of the debates on the Bill than the two hours that had been spent on the discussion of the Amendment, if only for the declaration that the discussion had elicited from the Chief Secretary last night. If they could only embody in the Bill a report of the right hon. Gentleman's speech they really need not trouble themselves very much more about endeavouring to amend the clause. It was a very remarkable and important declaration. The right hon. Gentleman recognised as fully as they could desire that up to the present the operations of the Congested Districts Board had been disappointing, and worse than disappointing. The right hon. Gentleman said, as well as he could remember, that the Board would have to drive ahead in the future under different conditions and he recognised that the time for experiment and for elaborate improvement work had passed. He therefore presumed that the work of restoring the land to the people would now proceed rapidly and practically. That was a matter of the deepest satisfaction to all his hon. friends, and to the people in the 1541 West of Ireland; and undoubtedly it marked an epoch in the history of this great question. Unfortunately, the life of a speech in Parliament was very short; whereas the life of an Act of Parliament was very long. The Chief Secretary, as far as he understood him, did not indicate by what particular method he proposed to enforce his own very vigorous views as to the action of the Congested Districts Board. Now, while this Bill was under discussion, was his golden opportunity, and also their golden opportunity, for some practical action. He still felt very strongly that two years was a reasonable limit for the distribution of purchased land. The mere mention of seven years in the section was a sort of legal recognition that that period was not excessive. The Chief Secretary knew very well that if the Congested Districts Board could, so to speak, turn over their capital every year or two, progress would be very rapid; but if that were to be spread over seven years the result would be disappointing and the work would be kept going for another half century. The right hon. Gentleman himself named five years as the extreme limit that he thought necessary, even in the case of the poorest land. He himself thought that was an entirely excessive period; but if the right hon. Gentleman would even substitute five for seven in the clause, it would probably dispense with any further discussion on this particular Amendment, and would be accepted as an intimation that the right hon. Gentleman meant to have the views expressed in his speech last night translated into action by the Congested Districts Board. He hoped the Chief Secretary would see his way to accept that suggestion.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
said he agreed that the time spent in this discussion had not been wasted. It was only a narrow question, but it was a very important one. It was difficult to deal with any single matter in this Bill without some reference being made to a great many other matters interwoven with it, and on this subject they had had something resembling a Second Reading debate He had a good deal more to say upon this question which, however, could be 1542 more appropriately said upon an Amendment which appeared on the Paper lower down, when other speakers had taken part in the debate. He was not eager to accept this Amendment, even in its modified shape. He certainly hoped they would not take so long as five years, even in the most difficult cases, but the purport of this Amendment was that if they failed to carry through a transaction in five years they must expend their working capital which was now being engaged in other ways. They would have to sacrifice their working capital to the sinking fund of the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman thought it would have a stimulating effect on the Congested Districts Board, but it might have another effect altogether. They had a budget for their small circle just as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had for the Empire, and they could not take any risks. If the Congested Districts Board should submit a balance to the Treasury, and they were £15,000 or £20,000 out, what would happen? The credit of the Congested Districts Board and the work they wished to put forward would both suffer. If they restricted this financial elbow-room they risked the advantage they would have in buying large estates. With this seven years elbow-room they would go boldly in and buy almost all there was in the market forthwith; but if they had to consider that if they bought an estate they might not be able to complete their purchase in time, they would have to be more cautious. He thought they would be able to go forward in a better manner if they had not always to consider what the financial position would be in three or four years time. He hoped to see these things done within the five years, but if they could not be done in that time he would like the two years freedom to be given to the Board. He deprecated putting this unnecessary restriction upon the Congested Districts Board, but if the hon. Member thought it was necessary he would not take up time in contesting it.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
said be should not care to press strongly his view in opposition to the right hon. Gentleman's own expression of opinion upon this subject. At the same time one of his chief objects in proposing 1543 the Amendment was to give the people of Ireland an assurance that the present slowcoach rate was going to be changed. He was satisfied the change in the time limit would have a very wholesome effect, and, as the right hon. gentleman was himself of opinion that five years would be the limit within which all reasonable negotiations would be brought to a conclusion, he would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would accept the Amendment.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he had often appealed to hon. Members not to persist in Amendments which would affect his Report. This affected his Report, but if it was desired that he should lead his colleagues on more rapidly he would agree to it.
§ *MR. CHARLES DEVLIN (Galway)
—who rose amid cries of "Agreed"—said he rose because he had pledged himself to his constituents to bring this particular subject before the Committee, and when he made a pledge he did his best to carry it out. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take into consideration the condition of the district which extended for five miles right round the city of Galway. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman knew that district, but he questioned whether in the whole world there were spots where there was greater misery, poverty, or distress owing to the congestion that existed there than at Barna, Castlegar, and other points. They had been told that if the Government bought up the magnificent grazing lands there the people would not migrate to them, but the one outlet for these people was emigration, and if they would emigrate surely they would migrate. His constituents had wondered why the Congested Districts Board, which had done so much good for other parts, did nothing for them. But the answer was quite simple This particular district was outside the scope of that body. He asked the Chief Secretary to take this district into special consideration and have it scheduled as a congested district.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
also appealed to the Chief Secretary before leaving this question to consider 1544 the advisability of scheduling the whole of Clare as a congested district.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ DR. THOMPSON (Monaghan, N.)
said the Amendment he now proposed to move sought to allow the County Councils of the congested districts to come together and elect two members to sit on the Congested Districts Board. They had done so in the past two or three years and had done good work. There was a great consensus of opinion in favour of such a change as was proposed by this Amendment and that of the hon. Member for North Louth which followed it, and he saw no reason why both Amendments should not be accepted. The Congested Districts Board would be greatly strengthened, and its proceedings would be more appreciated by the public. The Chief Secretary had steered this Bill almost into safe waters, and if he would adopt this Amendment, or something like it, it would add to the importance of the Congested Districts Board. He trusted most earnestly that the right hon. Gentleman would accept the Amendment, amended by the alteration of the word "and" for "who."
In page 32, line 33, at end, to add the words '(4) The County Councils of the congested districts shall have the power to nominate two representatives to sit on the Congested Districts Board for three years, who shall possess the same rights and privileges as the other members of the Board.'"—(Dr. Thompson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said he desired to bear independent testimony that the scope of the operations of the Congested Districts Board had been beneficial. When that Board was first established they did not pay very much heed to its 1545 composition. At that time the name of Mr. Horace Plunkett was a strange one to them, but surely now the time had come for some reconsideration of this question. The hon. Member for Cork had spoken of the sluggish character of the operations of this Board. He was not sufficiently acquainted with the congested districts to speak with authority, but the assertion made by the hon. Member for Cork in regard to the small number of persons who had been migrated by the Board was a very remarkable statement. The Government had no answer to this question. The Board consisted of a number of very admirable gentlemen, and if they desired a non-elected Board he did not think they could obtain better men. The criticisms which had been made upon this clause showed that there was a demand that an element of popular representation should be added to the Board. At the present time they could not detect whether the action of a particular gentleman had led to unjust discrimination in the allocation of these funds or not, but if the county Members of Parliament or the County Councillors were sitting on that Board they would act as a counter check, and it would be some assurance that undue expenditure in regard to one district or too little in regard to another would be prevented. It was inevitable that complaints and jealousy would arise where they had only the nominated element. He would like to see some of the ecclesiastics of all denominations sitting on this Board, for they had been shut out from the County Councils and the District Councils by unjust legislation and they had also been excluded from the boards of guardians. If there was any Board on which these gentlemen were entitled to sit it was some such Board as the Congested Districts Board. He did not allude merely to Catholics but to Protestant representatives as well. He thought the Government had now arrived at a time when a change could very well be made. There was a precedent for this in the year 1900 when the scheme forming the Education Board came up for discussion. Upon that occasion he moved an extension of the numbers on the Board, and that was 1546 agreed to by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, who was now the President of the Board of Trade.
§ *MR. O'KELLY (Mayo, N.)
said he could not understand why the Chief Secretary objected to this Amendment. It had been frequently acknowledged by Mr. Horace Plunkett that his Board had received the greatest assistance from elected colleagues, and surely the Congested Board was in as great need of such assistance as the Department of Agriculture. He did not care what powers they gave to the Congested Districts Board, because they would not prove beneficial if the constitution of the Board was not altered, for without an alteration no real progress would be made. Not long ago he asked the Attorney-General for a Return in connection with these congested districts, and he was informed that they did not possess the information he desired. The various District Councils prepared those Returns, and if the Chief Secretary had read them he would get from them a better idea of the nature and extent of the congested problem than he would get from any Returns in possession of the Congested Districts Board. What had the Board done if they left out of consideration the Dillon Estate? Unless the personnel of the Board was either altered or strengthened it would never get out of its old ruts. Month after month large grazing lands were passing into the hands of private individuals through the neglect of the Congested Districts Board. ["No, no!"] Oh, but I say "Yes." Take, for example, the estates sold in Claremorris, which contained 700 acres of the finest grazing land in the country. The Congested Districts Board were asked to buy this land.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
The hon. Member is leaving out of consideration the fact that the Board had no credit and no cash.
§ *MR. O'KELLY
said that was not the excuse which had been made to him. The Board were now going to have increased cash and credit, but that would be of no avail until the 1547 Congested Districts Board was made stronger. If the Chief Secretary wished to popularise the Congested Districts Board in the West and secure public confidence in it—something it wanted rather badly—he could not do better than ask the hon. Member for Cork and the hon. Member for East Mayo to come to his assistance and join the Board.
§ DR. AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
said that upon one occasion the Congested Districts Board sent a large staff down to Achil Island to teach the people how to grow oats. They told the fishermen that it was very foolish of them not to grow oats. They found a bit of ground and planted oats and he was told that they waited to see the crop growing up. When these officials got back to Dublin and inquiries were made about these experiments, the Congested Districts Board issued a circular stating that they did not approve of any communications being made to the Press upon this subject, as it would be contrary to the general regulations of the Board. If they had had on the Congested Districts Board representatives of the County Councils did anybody imagine that such an act of lunacy would have been tolerated. Unless they improved the constitution of the Congested Districts Board all its work would be of no avail.
§ *MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
said he must disagree with the hon. Member for North Mayo when he stated that the Congested Districts Board had practically done nothing in Ireland. There never was a public Board established in Ireland by Parliament that had done more to justify its existence than the Congested Districts Board of Ireland. The greatest amount of credit should be given to the Leader of this House for having established that Board. A good deal had been said about the operations of the Board in Connaught and the way the Board had neglected its duty in carrying out the various schemes which had engaged its attention from time to time. He wished to point out to hon. Members who made those complaints that migration was not the sole duty of the Congested Districts Board. He represented a constituency which was scheduled as a congested district under the Act, and in his constituency the question of 1548 migration did not occur at all. There were such questions as the development of the fisheries, the draining of the land, the making of roads, and other matters which were just as important to the people of his constituency as the migratory schemes were to the people of the West. There were congested districts in Ireland outside Connaught, and there were other problems which affected the people just as much, and which had to be grappled with by the Congested Districts Board, He did not complain of the composition of the Congested Districts Board except to the extent that he agreed with the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Louth that they should have an Advisory Board, composed if not of a number of County Councillors of each congested district, at any rate of Members of Parliament representing the congested districts. In Donegal it had been said that they got more than their fair share of the loaves and fishes distributed by the Board, but hon. Members should remember the results that had accrued, not only to the people of Donegal, but to the Irish nation at large, from the operations of the Congested Districts Board. No less than £30,000 or £40,000 per annum was earned by the fishermen through the herring and mackerel fisheries established by the Board. This good work had not cost the Board one halfpenny, because they had been recouped by the money earned and that money had been taken away to Mayo to experiment upon the mackerel fishing there. A good deal had been said about the popular element being represented to a certain extent upon this. Board. Reference had been made to the men who should be upon this Board in whom the Irish people had confidence. So far as he was concerned he believed his people had the fullest confidence in the Board as at present constituted. The most Rev. Dr. O'Donnell Ford, Bishop of Raphoe, had rendered yeoman service for the people of the Congested Districts of Ireland and his services never would be forgotten. [Mr. WYNDHAM: "Hear, hear!"] There was also a man who enjoyed the confidence of the people of his constituency and he was a young nobleman belonging to neither political Party. He was a philanthropist who had come over to Ireland to devote his ability (which was of no mean order) and his services to the Congested Districts Board, and he assured his hon. friends from 1549 Connaught, from what he knew of Lord Shaftesbury, that there was not a member of the Congested Districts Board who had grappled more thoroughly and successfully with this question of congestion. He had known Lord Shaftesbury for some years, and he only wished that the other Boards in Ireland were as well manned. He had no fault to find, nor had the people whom he represented any fault to find, with the present constitution of the Board. If the Chief Secretary would adopt the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Louth and have an Advisory Board like that which existed in the case of the Board of Agriculture or the Technical Instruction Board, then they could bring before the permanent members of the Board their views, and he thought that would go a good distance towards making the Board more popular still. He appealed to the Chief Secretary when he replied to give them some assurance that this suggestion should be given effect to.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said he thought that all classes in Ireland desired to see the work of the Congested Districts Board extended. The principal objection was not in regard to the personnel of the Board but to the slowness of its work. The reason the work had not gone on faster was that the Board had never had enough money. Now £1,500,000 had been added to its funds, and they might expect the work undertaken would be done with much more celerity. One argument used was that there was nothing of a political or sectarian character in the conduct of the work of the Congested Districts Board. He could not, however, conceive anything more likely to bring that political element in than a proposal to introduce the knights of the shire. He did not wish to say a word against the congested Members of Parliament.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said what they wanted on the Congested Districts 1550 Board were people who were likely to carry on the business with success. He could conceive no reason why a Member of Parliament, if on the Congested Districts Board, should not be endowed with the mental faculties which would qualify him to be a successful member of that Board. He would ask the Committee what would be the position of a Member of Parliament on that Board when dealing with congested districts largely populated with his own constituents. He should not envy him his life. The hon. Member for Louth said that the Board wanted driving power. He ventured to say that any Member of Parliament who sat on that Board and who had a congested district in his constituency would have plenty of driving power. He did not say that the Board might not be reinforced, yet he could conceive no worse way of strenthening the Board, or trying to improve it, than by placing among its members gentlemen who must of necessity be more or less actuated by political motives. Therefore, whatever solution might be found for this subject, he earnestly hoped it would not be the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Louth.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said he thought this debate was an exceedingly important one and represented the great difficulty they had in carrying out any department of administrative work in Ireland. Unless something was done to alter and improve the constitution of the Congested Districts Board and to bring it more in touch with popular feeling, the Bill in that respect would miscarry, and the work would not be done satisfactorily. He would like to say at the very outset that for once in his life he found himself in hearty agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh. Although he could understand that the adoption of the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for North Louth would bring the people of those districts more closely into touch, with the Congested Districts Board, and bring the real sentiment of the poor people more effectively under the notice of the Board than could be done by County Council representation, he thought for his own part—and he spoke 1551 as a "congested" Member—it would be intolerable that any member of the Board, which had the distribution of large sums of money, should be at the same time a Member of Parliament. How could a Member of Parliament feel himself free from the suspicion of favouring his own constituency when sitting on the Board which had for its function the distribution of large benefits to the people who sent him to this House? It was for that reason that he objected to Members of Parliament being on the Congested Districts Board. He thought the Board ought to be held apart from Members of Parliament, and therefore, so far as he was concerned, nothing would induce him to sit upon it, although he felt intense interest in its operations. It was essential to take some step to bring the popular wants to the knowledge of the Board. This Board, with all its sins upon its head and all its faults of omission, had undoubtedly done some excellent work for Ireland. Why had it done such good work? Because it was the only Board ever set up in Ireland that was cut adrift from the Castle, and from the constant interference and dictation of the Castle. That at least gave the Board a chance, and although the criticisms levelled against it were fully justified, still he must say that looking over the dreary waste of misgovernment in Ireland, when every Department was engaged in destroying the country, he could not help feeling a sneaking regard for any Department that had done any good at all.
This Board with all its faults had done an enormous work for the fisheries of Ireland. Formerly there were people living in absolute starvation with the sea full of fish all around them. The Board had done a great work for the unfortunate fishermen, and deserved credit for that. He quite agreed that the work of migration was enormously larger and more important What they had now to address themselves to in connection with this particular Amendment was—What is the organisation of the Board that gives us the best hope of two things which are equally important and absolutely necessary? First of all, they should have a Board in touch with popular feeling, with some machinery 1552 by which it could be kept informed of what were the real wants of the people, and which would have applied to it the pressure of popular representation. Secondly, they wanted a Board which would be an efficient administrative instrument. He thought a Board dominated altogether by popular representatives was not one to carry for ward continuous administrative work successfully unless they had some paid members who were efficient administrators on the Board. In order to make the Board an efficient instrument they wanted certainly popular representation of the various districts requiring its care. The only way of getting that was by representatives of the County Councils—representatives, not of the congested districts, but of the counties in which the congested districts were. Consequently they wanted some nominated members. Thirdly, they wanted one or two men, efficient administrators, who were paid for their work. He assured the Committee that one of the difficulties at present was that they had no continuous administration. The main work which would in future have to be done by the Board was an enormous work, and it would require more administrative machinery than was at present possessed. The only man who understood anything about it was Mr. Doran, and he had been engaged almost entirely in the County Mayo for the last two years. There was nobody at headquarters who gave any continuous attention to the work. There was nobody paid to do it. The secretary of the Board was a good man, but he had no power to act on his own initiative. There was absolutely nobody at headquarters who was capable of superintending, or looking after continuously, the work of migration and the re-settlement of the land. What was the result? The Board worked by fits and starts. The Board met once a month, and, as anybody who knew the complicated nature of the work was aware, a purely unpaid body, meeting only once a month, must go slowly. One of the great obstacles of the work of the Board was removed by Clause 65. That was a most valuable clause. The credit and money necessary to carry on the work had been provided, but if they had not got effective machinery the machine 1553 would not go. Therefore, he would press upon the Chief Secretary that the time had come to overhaul the machinery and put it in order, so that it might effectively carry on the work which was now to be vastly larger than it had been. If that was not done the Irish representatives would come to the House next year or the year after, pointing out that while Parliament had provided the money, it had not provided the necessary machinery.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
said they had gone away from the Amendment into a general discussion of the administration of the Congested Districts Board. He would ask the hon. Member who moved the Amendment whether he had not succeeded in his purpose in having this discussion. The hon. Member had proposed the election of two members of the County Council, but he did not say how they were to be elected. He suggested that they should now pass on to the discussion of more practical matters.
§ MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
said he did not think they had got hold of the right end of the stick when they were confining their criticism to the composition of the Board. The real fault was that the Board had not compulsory powers, and until it had such powers, though composed of a choir of archangels, it could not do the work it was expected to perform. He supposed the hon. Member had advocated Members of Parliament being on the Board for the purpose of silencing criticism. If they wished to get rid of a critic they should always put him on a Committee, and that would shut him up. He urged the Chief Secretary to boldly face the question and go in for compulsion. He would like to see the Board consisting of only three members, namely, the Chief Secretary, Mr. Doran, and the Bishop of Raphoe. He thought that in two years that would go a long way to settle the difficulty with which they were dealing. He did not think the suggestion of his hon. friend the Member for North Monaghan, that two representatives of the County Councils should be placed on the Board, would meet the difficulty.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said it was only natural that hon. Members should wish to express their views on the Congested 1554 Districts Board and its work in all its bearings. He felt it was impossible to absolutely focus all the Amendments referring to the congested districts problem because the questions of the constitution of the Board, of finance, and of the work which the Board ought to do, were all so closely interlaced that it was impossible to touch on one without trenching on the other. As to the constitution of the Board, he should like to say what he thought, and how much he thought, of all his colleagues on that Board. He could not, however, single out any of these men, but he would mention the fact that during the years he had had the privilege of working with them they had never once had a division. He might point out that entrusted as they had been with what, to Ireland, were comparatively large sums of money to administer for twelve years, it was to the credit of this Board that no one had accused them of having used these funds for any political or personal purpose. Whatever criticism might be passed on their particular efforts, it was generally recognised that they had worked hard and had done much good. There were inherent difficulties in reconstituting such a Board in a Land Purchase Bill. One speaker suggested that Members of Parliament should be added to the Board, and another representatives of the County Councils; but if they were to bring in an electoral element, which he was not prepared to do, he would be inevitably driven to redefine the scheduled districts, and the scheduled districts had no relation to any division represented by either members of the County Councils or Members of this House. He hoped the Committee would not think he was making a small point in saying that. It went to the root of the matter. If they were going to make this Board elective, then they must alter the areas over which it was to exercise its influence and on which it spent the money with which it was charged. Some hon. Members might reply that they had Amendments on the Paper advocating a new scheduling of the congested districts. Again, he hoped they would not think he was making a small point when he said that to re-schedule the congested districts would necessitate the recasting of all the 1555 finances not only of this Bill, but of all preceding Land Bills, and that there was a physical limit to what was possible in the matter of negotiations and arrangements on these questions of finance and local government. A year ago he did proceed upon the basis of attempting to re-schedule the congested districts, but after months of effort along that route he found that the present scheduling of the districts and the financial arrangements that had been built up in these districts, were so rooted and embedded in Acts of Parliament that it would take years before any advance could be made. The financial difficulties of re-scheduling were overwhelming, and would make the Board of quite another character from that which it now bore.
Then some hon. Members in the speeches which they had made, while they preferred no criticism on the Board of having acted in an unfair way, said that this or that county had not received such attention from the Board as this or that other county. If that were looked at a little more closely it would he found that some Members had been thinking more of land purchase than of relief of congestion or of works. But he could show that in the early years of the Board a great deal of money had been spent on works, say in the county of Kerry. As to works he thought a great deal more might be urged in favour of a representative element on the Board than in respect of land purchase. There was sometimes almost insuperable difficulty in handing out money for a bridge here or a pier there without being responsible to public opinion; and he himself thought that if they were to make the Congested Districts Board truly effective for the purpose of dealing with land purchase in that part of Ireland, which it was most difficult to deal with, then less time and money should be devoted to works. When he was told that the Board had failed in dealing with land purchase, he had two replies. First, that the Board had done nothing because it had exhausted all the credit it had for the particular county in question. And second, when the Board was first constituted under the Act of 1891, its duties were not solely or mainly connected with land purchase. They were dealing with the 1556 problem of congestion, which could only be dealt with on the basis of population. The Board very properly took up the question of fishing; and all those who had visited the fishing grounds of Donegal, for instance, would admit that something had been accomplished which was of great, and he hoped and believed, of lasting value. There was another branch of work to which the Board had devoted a great deal of attention—he meant the introduction of artistic hand industries into the West of Ireland, such as the making of carpets and curtains. They knew that in Bavaria and other peasant countries on the Continent, under some paternal encouragement, large trades had been built up which gave, during the winter months, work which commanded a price in the market. The demand for hand-made goods was a growing demand which could only be satisfied from districts in which there was a peasant proprietary who had the artistic instincts which the Irish people possessed in a high degree. He should be sorry to see the Congested Districts Board, acting as they did in co-operation with Messrs. Morris, who were not only leaders of industry but great artists, abandon their efforts to develop these industries in the West of Ireland. But if the fishing, and the development of these hand-made artistic industries, were kept on at too great a cost to the funds of the Congested Districts Board, then the ordinary work of road-making, or building a bridge ox pier here or there, or providing a bull for a certain locality, might be all transferred in the near future to the Agricultural Department, and the balance of the funds of the Congested Districts Board might be devoted to coping with this problem of congestion. But an arrangement of this sort between Departments could not be effected except as the result of long and thoughtful consideration; and although he would have wished to carry this matter further he had not been able to do so.
They had been considering a great measure of land purchase in Ireland. That had put a great tax on his Department, and if he had concentrated his efforts on the congested problem they would not have got so good a Bill drafted as they had 1557 now got. He admitted that the congested portions of the Bill had suffered at the expense of the main provisions of the Bill, and it was physically impossible, in the month of July, to co-relate the different finance and staff arrangements of the Congested Districts Board in the direction he had indicated. But when this Bill became an Act, and when they had the greater facilities and the greater working capital which had been so long needed, their interest in the work of laud purchase, to deal with congestion, would be so great that they would only be too glad to put on the shoulders of others work which they were better able to deal with than they themselves were. The point of all he had said was that it was not possible for a Minister in charge of a Bill of this magnitude to elaborate every part of it in order to meet the wishes of hon. Members, however reasonable they might be; and having achieved what all his colleagues on the Board had long desired—viz., the power of buying land when it came into the market, and of applying working capital to that land in order to cure congestion, all he asked was that they should be allowed during the autumn and winter to take up those facilities and turn them to the best account. After all, the members of the Board were the repositories of some experience; and he thought it would be unwise on the part of the Committee to advocate a great constitutional change at this moment, and to bring in persons with whom the Board had not previously worked. He put it to the Committee that the Board, as at present constituted, had better be left alone until it could be seen what they could do with their new resources. He thought the Board would be very much strengthened in respect of land purchase, and that its operations would fit in more harmoniously with the whole of the land purchase scheme, if he were allowed to make the Under Secretary a permanent member of the Board. He would explain why. Their plan for dealing with the problem of congestion was scattered all through this Bill. He had given some reasons which guided them in not defining particular areas to be treated as congested. One was that it would need the recasting of all the financial proposals of this Bill; the other was that congestion was scattered, on a much smaller 1558 scale, but still scattered sporadically over the whole of Ireland. They might deal with it by scheduling all those districts; but if they did that it would mean postponing the Bill for two or three years until a roaming Commission had discovered where congestion existed and needed special legislative treatment. Or they might say that the Congested Districts Board should deal with it wherever it arose; but they felt that the officers of the Board, although they might be able to work well in congested districts in the West, might, if sent further afield, not be able to work as effectually. Therefore, they had given the Estates Commissioners similar powers to the powers enjoyed by the Board for dealing with congestion; and the Commissioners would be allowed to exercise those powers all over Ireland. The Congested Districts Board would still retain those powers and exercise the larger facilities which had been given to the Board in congested districts.
Several hon. Members had stated that just outside the limit of a scheduled district there was untenanted land which might be bought for the relief of the congestion in the scheduled district. That was provided for in this Bill. Nearly £1,250,000 could be used for buying land anywhere in order to meet congestion in a scheduled district. In this Bill he had also extended a useful provision, as he had known it to be, contained in the Congested Districts Act of 1901, namely, that where untenanted land was bought outside a congested district for the benefit of that congested district, they should be able to use some part of that land to assist the neighbouring fringe of persons, who, perhaps, would be as miserably situated as the inhabitants of the congested district itself That way the principle which governed the whole of Clause 2, which was received with general assent. Both the Estates Commissioners and the Board would be able to buy untenanted land to relieve congestion, and, at the same time, to relieve congestion of a mitigated character in the immediate neighbourhood of a congested district. That was a necessary provision. If it were not introduced jealousy would be created; but, apart from that, they would be forced to 1559 undertake expensive works in the way of accommodation roads for the benefit of the new occupiers. If, however, they could make the whole transaction one, it would be for the general enjoyment and advantage of all. If that were so, and it was so under the Bill, why, in prosecuting their work in the matter of land purchase and the improvement of estates, should the Congested Districts Board be of a different character from that of the Estates Commissioners? No one had suggested during the whole of these debates that the Estates Commissioners ought to have the aid of representative members. Even if it were suggested it was a suggestion which no Government could entertain. The use of public credit and the expenditure of public funds was a matter which must be left to a public body in which the Exchequer had confidence, not political or personal confidence, but in the administration of public funds. This House criticised expenditure; but even in this Assembly, the freeest in the world, no Member was allowed to put down a Motion involving the expenditure of one shilling of public money. Of course, the House of Commons might criticise public expenditure; but he did not think that the proposal to add to the Board representatives who would be urging the Board to spend money here or there, and on this or that project, could be incorporated in the Bill. The Congested Districts Board was like the Estates Commissioners, an administrative body which was to spend public money to cure the evil of congestion and to press on land purchase in the West of Ireland. Let them be called to account in this House if they neglected to show sufficient expedition, or if they were guilty of wasting public money. He did not know whether he need elaborate the matter further. The question of the constitution of the Board could not, he submitted, be profitably discussed at greater length; nor could any change be introduced into the Bill with reference to it at that period of the session. Having got the facilities they needed, let the Board use them, and let not the Committee ask an administrative body to work with a number of elected representatives, when that body were responsible to this House and the 1560 Treasury for the proper administration of the funds placed at their disposal.
§ MR. GILHOOLY (Cork Co., W.)
said he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the neglect of the fishing industry in his constituency by the Congested Districts Board.
§ MR. GILHOOLY
said that was his intention. When Lord Shaftesbury was appointed a member of the Congested Districts Board, some of the representatives of Cork and Kerry pointed out that the South of Ireland was entitled to representation on the Board. Since the death of the late lamented Father Davis, who represented Munster on the Board, very little had been done for the fishing industry, and they considered that as there was now a vacancy on the Board the right hon. Gentleman ought to consider the appointment of a representative for Munster. He had sent the right hon. Gentleman a few days ago some communications with reference to the neglect of the fishing industry at Castletown, Berehaven, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take them into his consideration. So much had been done for Donegal and the Arran Islands that the South of Ireland now wanted a representative to develop the fishing industry in the most important districts of Castle-town, Berehaven, Schull, and Baltimore. It was very unfair that the South of Ireland was not represented on the Board, whereas Leinster, Connaught, and Ulster bad representatives. They, in the South of Ireland, did not grudge what had been done in the West and North; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would, in future, pay some attention to the important fishing industry in the South.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he would suggest that the debate should not be carried further owing to the limited time at their disposal, although the occasion was worthy of a longer discussion than they could have, owing to other interests 1561 concerned. He desired to associate himself with what had been said by the hon. Member for West Cork as to the necessity of Munster being represented on the Congested Districts Board. There was now a vacancy on the Board, and he did not see why a representative of Munster should not be appointed to fill it.
§ DR. THOMPSON
said although he was not convinced by the arguments of the Chief Secretary that this was not a very advantageous proposal, still he did not wish to delay the progress of the Bill; and he would, therefore, ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 65 agreed to.
§ Clause 66 agreed to.
§ Clause 67:—
§ DR. AMBROSE
said if the present Chief Secretary were allowed to remain in Ireland there would be scarcely any necessity to propose the Amendment he now moved, but, unfortunately, no sooner had a Chief Secretary taken up his residence in Ireland than some apple of discord was thrown across his path, and he bade adieu to Erin and they had to teach his successor the first principles of the Irish question. In the county of Mayo, half the occupiers were rated at under £4 valuation. It was not because there was no land in the county. There was plenty of land if it were only purchased. In the Westport and Castlebar Unions there were many thousands of acres let to graziers, on eleven months tenancies, who only kept a herd and a dog upon them, and if that land were split up in tidy-sized farms and added to the holdings of the inhabitants of the congested districts, some use would be made of it. The only avenue of hope to those people was emigration, but if this Amendment were adopted it would go far to remedy the evils of the congested districts of Ireland. He begged to move.
In page 33, line 5, at end, to add the words, 'All untenanted lands which become vested in the Board shall be offered by them for sale
within two years after they shall have become so vested in parcels to tenants or proprietors of holdings not exceeding ten acres in area and £5 in rateable value each, on estates adjacent to, or in the neighbourhood of the said lands, or in case there shall be no such tenants or proprietors, then to any persons to whom the Board may lawfully sell land under the provisions of the Congested Districts Board (Ireland) Acts.'"—(Dr. Ambrose.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
pointed out that there was a precedent for this Amendment under the Land Clauses Act by which, where a railway acquired land and could not use the whole, they were bound to put the balance up for sale at auction within twelve months.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
said the objection to this Amendment was that it was hardly relevant to the clause it proposed to amend. Clause 67 put a limit on the untenanted land which the Congested Districts Board might have in its possession at any particular time. The object was to prevent it having more laud than it could pay the purchase money on at one time. He did not think if the hon. Member considered the matter fully he would find that the interests of all parties concerned were bettered by the Amendment. They would be better dealt with by leaving a certain elasticity in this clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 67 agreed to.
§ Clause 68:—
§ MR. TULLY
said he would formally move in Clause 68, page 33, line 8, after "thereof," insert "and any buildings thereon," to elicit some explanation as to what was included in the "parcels of land." If the buildings on the land were included in the "parcel" and the levy of fines on tenants were to be done away with he would not move it.
In page 33, line 8, after the word 'thereof' to insert the words 'and any buildings thereon.'"—(Mr. Tully.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said the buildings on the land would be included and the fines were already done away with.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. TULLY
said the intention of the Amendment he now proposed to move was to get rid of the restrictions placed on the Congested Districts Board. His idea was that they should be done away with because he found from the eleventh Report of the Congested Districts Board the migration was hindered by them in a way that never could have been anticipated. He thought there should be some compulsory powers to migrate the holders of large farms so that their holdings could be divided up amongst the small holders. His proposal was to leave out all these restrictions as to the number of acres and area, and that £20 should be the limit. A man whose rateable value was £20 might be migrated to another district. He noticed that since last night the right hon. Gentleman had put a new clause down. Did the clause mean that the right hon. Gentleman was going to take powers to migrate the class to which he referred.
§ He begged to move.
In page 33, line 10, to leave out the word 'ten,' and insert the word 'twenty.'"—(Mr. Tully.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'ten' stand part of the clause."
§ MR. DILLON
said perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would allow him to move his Amendment before he replied so that he might deal with both at the same time. He proposed to leave out acres and area altogether and raise the £5 limit to £10. He begged to move.
In page 33, line 10, to leave out the words 'acres in area and five.'"—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
, replying to both Amendments, said the hon. Gentleman 1564 who moved the first Amendment misconceived the purport of the section. The section did not deal with the migrants but the persons who lived in the neighbourhood of the persons who had migrated. The proper course in respect to both Amendments would be—not to go the whole length, but in line 10 to leave out the words ten acres in area and leave in the monetary limit.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
asked whether the word proprietors in this clause and, in fact, all through the Bill, meant proprietors under the former Purchase Acts.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he had no objection to the Amendments, but he wished to know what these poor people had done to suffer expropriation from the county in which they were born.
§ Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.
In page 33, line 10, to leave out the words 'ten acres in area.'"—(Mr. Wyndham.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. DILLON
moved to insert "or to any sons of such tenants." He said there were many cases in which the Board, if it had this discretion, would be glad to avail themselves of it. He had in mind cases of men who came over to England for nine months in the year, leaving their families at home, and who would undoubtedly have to emigrate altogether if they had no chance of getting holdings in the neighbourhood. Many of these men were of just that enterprising class which it was desirable to retain in the country. All he desired was that if the land was there and to spare the Board should be able to let the son of a tenant have it.
In page 33, line 12, after the word 'land' to insert the words or to any sons of such tenants."—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he would be sorry to oppose any proposal of the hon. Member, and he did not oppose this on 1565 its merits, but he wished to point out its bearing on the remarkable Amendment of the Chief Secretary. The proposal was that a farm, for which, perhaps, the man had paid a high price, should be taken away and given to the son of another tenant in the district. The insertion of these words would enable that to be done. He had never heard of such a proposition and he failed to see why one man should be injured for the benefit of another unless good reason were shown for it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. O'MALLEY (Galway, Connemara)
said he had intended severely to criticise the action of the Congested Districts Board in his constituency during the last ten or twelve years, but the speech of the right hon. Gentleman had disarmed criticism, and his apology rendered further remarks on that point unnecessary. Moreover, as the right hon. Gentleman had promised to do away with the system of imposing fines on migratory tenants to extend the operation of the migratory scheme under the Bill, it was unnecessary to do more than formally move the Amendment on the Paper—
In page 33, line 15, at end, to add the words'(3) When the Congested Districts Board, in exercise of any power vested in them under Section 44 of the Act of 1896, or otherwise, sell any parcels of land to tenants of small holdings or others, the cost of any improvements other than the cost of the building or rebuilding of houses carried out by the Board upon any such parcel of land previous to such sale shall not be included in the estimate of the price to be paid for the same, and shall not be payable by the purchaser thereof, nor shall any money be payable by way of fine by any such purchaser to the Board upon such sale. (4) The Congested Districts Board shall each year, out of the income provided for them by the Congested Districts Board (Ireland) Acts, set apart the sum of £40,000 for the purposes of migration and settlement, as mentioned in Section 37 and Section 39, Sub-secton 1 (a), of the Act of 1891, and for the enlargement of small holdings under the powers conferred upon them by Section 44 of the Act of 1896 and this section in such proportions as they may determine. And in case the sum of £20,000 a year referred to in Section 35 of this Act is paid to the Board such sum shall be applied by them to the like purposes only.'"—(Mr. O'Malley.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."1566
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said the Amendment would place too rigid a restraint on the action of the Board. Until the scheme of discrimination between the Congested Districts Board and the new Department had been arrived at, he could not agree to an Amendment laying down the amount that was to be expended on any given purpose.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
suggested that, as the two points covered by the Amendment had been substantially met by promises of the right hon. Gentleman the Amendment should be withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *MR. JOHN O'DONNELL (Mayo, S.)
said he desired to move the Amendment he had placed on the Paper, because he felt that the Bill was unsatisfactory in the respect there referred to. The only remedy for the existing state of things was to provide land for those who had an insufficient quantity on which to bring up their families. Congestion and its consequences constituted a serious social problem, which could not be overlooked or lightly passed over, as it affected the well-being of all classes of the community. Members representing all shades of political thought had expressed a desire to support the Bill, with the hope that it would put an end to the agrarian trouble in Ireland, but he would like to see practical effect given to that sympathy by sufficient land being provided for the people in the western counties on which they could live without the necessity of migrating or emigrating. The Chief Secretary was cognisant of the evil caused by the consolidation of farms during the last fifty years, and he would do well to take the advice of the representatives of the people on this point, as he had an opportunity which should not lightly be thrown away. Let the finishing touch be given to the policy of conciliation by giving the people the right to live on the land and putting an end to the system of grazing. Concessions had been made affecting the well-being of classes infinitely better off than the people for whom he was pleading, and he appealed to the right 1567 hon. Gentleman to deal with this matter once for all by enabling the people of the West to live in their own country. Unless the holdings were extended there could be no comfort or prosperity for the people, and a good deal of good, which would otherwise come by the passing of this Bill, would be lost. In various parts of the country there was more than sufficient land. His hon. friend the Member for West Mayo had given an illustration of the condition of things in the Westport Union, and the same might be said of other unions. There was one union where 44,000 people were living upon holdings at a less valuation than 18s. 4d. each, and 7,000 were under £8. It was little wonder that these should be described as slum holdings by the right hon. Gentleman. He was afraid that a number of graziers would come in for the benefits of this Act.
His hon. friend the Member for North Mayo had told the Committee that on one estate there were twenty-five small holders huddled together on the bog land which they had tilled and reclaimed, whilst on the other side of the road was the good land from which they had been driven, and which was held by three graziers, one of whom had thirteen large grazing farms, whilst his brother had six. The Land Commission advanced £2,739 to one of these graziers, to the second £2,241, and to the third £1,952, making a total of £6,922 which was given to these graziers. The poor tenants he had alluded to got considerably less than £4,000 between twenty-five of them. The conduct of the Land Commission in advancing so much money to these graziers was monstrous, and a continuation of that policy would not produce either peace or goodwill in Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman meant to settle this question, let him give an assurance that the poor cottier farmers of the west of Ireland would not be forgotten, and that the graziers, who had been a curse to the land, would be rooted out once and for all. If advances were made to these graziers what would become of the poor people who had been living on the fringes of those ranches? These poor people had been looking over the walls around these ranches with longing eyes, hoping for the day to come when they might inherit the land from which their fathers had been driven. Immediately 1568 the rumours of this Land Bill reached Ireland, these graziers, who never before either built a house or made a drain upon their land, began to do so. He hoped the Chief Secretary would give them some assurance that these gentlemen would not be able to get large advances from the Estates Commission, for by that course a good many poor tenants would be kept from obtaining possession of those lands. Within the past seven or eight years he had found it his duty to speak very strongly in regard to the action of these gentlemen. He had frequently spoken very hardly about graziers for taking these ranches; about landlords for letting them, and about the Government for allowing such a scandalous state of things to exist, and, if the occasion should arise again, he might have to repeat those utterances, no matter what the consequences might be. He did not say this to hold out any threats, but simply to convey to the Committee the earnest desire of the people to have the land and to show that there could be neither peace, nor contentment, nor prosperity in Ireland until these grazing lands were divided up into small holdings. He wanted an assurance from the Chief Secretary that no advance would be given to any man on an agricultural holding who held fifty acres outside that holding, or where the tenant did not reside upon the holding or within one mile thereof.
In page 33, line 15, at end, to insert the words—'(5) No advance shall be made under any of the Land Purchase Acts for the purchase of a holding situated within a congested districts county in any of the following cases—(a) Where the tenant does not reside upon the holding or within one mile thereof; (b) Where the holding comprises pasture land more than 50 acres in extent, which in the opinion of the Congested Districts Board is suitable for the enlargement of existing holdings or for any of the purposes mentioned in Sub-section 1 (a) of Section 39 of the Act of 1891.'"—(Mr. John O'Donnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said the administration of the Act in Ireland would not be successful unless it carried with it 1569 the assent of all classes of public opinion in Ireland. He was convinced that they would not only prejudice the chances of this Bill now, but the chances of its fair operation in Ireland if they took away absolutely from certain persons privileges which they now enjoyed. It might be held by some that they had already limited the rights to which persons in Ireland might legitimately aspire. But it would, in his opinion, be a fundamental mistake, and would militate against the object which the hon. Member had at heart, if they were to place in the Bill an invidious and exclusive enactment against a particular set of men in Ireland, and a set of men who were necessary to the prosperity of Ireland. He thought those who had listened to his speeches upon this question would admit that he had shown that he was fully sensible of the evil of congestion, and most desirous to mitigate that evil; but to legislate against graziers as a class would be an act of economic insanity. To whom were the smallholders to sell their calves if they did away with the graziers?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he was surprised if the hon. Member was in favour of withdrawing from a whole class of farmers any advantages under this Bill—(NATIONALIST cries of, "In congested districts only")—which they now enjoyed under earlier legislation. It took all sorts to make a world; and graziers would have just cause of complaint if these privileges were withdrawn, and many would take up cudgels on their behalf. It would be altogether a departure from the spirit which had animated the authors of the Bill, and from the spirit of the Land Conference, to say that a certain class should get none of the advantages. Moreover, under the Bill a grazier could only obtain one advance for the purchase of a grazing tract. Many of those persons were not so much farmers as men of business buying and selling cattle. To say that a man who might now pay up to £5,000 was by this Act to be deprived of the right of doing it would 1570 be, he was convinced, a great error of judgment, and he must resist any such proposal. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman had considered the way in which the various provisions of this Bill hung together. There were now the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners. But the Congested Districts Board would not go out of its way to buy a property for the mere purpose of reselling it to large graziers or farmers. That was not their province under the Bill. Their duty under the Bill was to deal with parts of the West of Ireland which required improvement. He would ask the Committee to consider the bearing of Clause 85 on the whole of this question. The Estates Commissioners would not consider a mere fringe of congestion and sanction the sale of that unless they did what the Bill put it in their power to do, namely, acquire other land in order to remedy that state of congestion. Nor would they sell a single large farm without regard to circumstances of congestion in its neighbourhood. There would be a good deal of elasticity and administrative resource under this Bill taken as a whole, and as the object of the Government was not, and never had been, to give large additional grants on public credit in order to enable people to buy property which they could buy for themselves, the hon. Member need have no alarm that the action of the Commissioners and of the Congested Districts Board would be to give large advances to those described as graziers. The graziers would enjoy their existing rights under the Bill. These were rights which ought not to be taken away by the Bill. If property was bought by the Congested Districts Board it was bought for the purpose of curing the evils of congestion. He thought that under this Bill the Congested Districts Board should have all the powers of landlords to deal with that property for certain objects. What were those objects? To cure on that property the evils of congestion, and turn those who were the debtors of the State into persons who had property which would support them for the next sixty-eight and a half years and enable them to pay the instalments. The Congested Districts Board would be abusing a public trust if they were to sell off the worst holdings without regard to being able to enlarge them, or if they were indiscriminately to sell 1571 all the untenanted land in the neighbourhood without regard to the fact that there was an amount of congestion there to be relieved. He thought the hon. Member would see that his fears were somewhat visionary. To introduce an arbitrary code against one class, and one class only, in Ireland would be altogether out of harmony with their proceedings, and the champions of that class would have something to say on the subject which would imperil the passing of the Bill At any rate, it was a policy which he could not accept.
§ *MR. KILBRIDE
said he acknowledged the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman when he extended the limit from £5,000 to £7,000. In doing so, he undoubtedly met his hon. friend the Member for North Kildare in a most generous way. He begged to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the farmers of County Kildare, who were mostly interested in this particular matter, would be mindful of him for what he had done. He wished to point out that the case brought forward by his hon. friend the Member for South Mayo did not come within the purview of this Act at all. The hon. Member was afraid, and he thought he was legitimately entitled to be afraid, that where there was congestion in the immediate proximity of a large farm, the tenant would not make use of this Bill at all, but that under the law which at present existed he would make a direct bargain with the landlord under the Land Purchase Acts, even in a congested district. If he was wrong, he hoped the Attorney-General would correct him. Under the law as it existed a bargain could be taken completely away from the purview of the Estates Commissioners, and the Congested Districts Board. The land could be bought direct from the landlord for a great number of years purchase, and the landlord would get a bonus.
§ *MR. KILBRIDE
said he was very glad to hear that. In such a case the landlord would get no bonus. This was not an attack upon the graziers of County Meath, or of the provinces of 1572 Leinster or Connaught; it was simply a proposal to safeguard in the interest of the congested districts all available land which was not necessary to the present occupying tenant for the purpose of making a living. He knew a case in the constituency of his hon. friend the Member for East Galway where a man who had made his money out of the halfpence and pence of the people living in a congested area, by keeping a wayside shop, and who, though originally he did not occupy ten acres of land himself, was now a grazier holding 5,000 acres of land. [An HON. MEMBER: His name is Rattray.] He was sure the Chief Secretary must be acquainted with this case. He assured the right hon. Gentleman that he had qualifications to deal with this question which no other man occupying the position of Chief Secretary ever had. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman in the frankest way that he would be met by the people not only of the West of Ireland, but of Kildare, in a way that no other man in the position of Chief Secretary ever was met before. They talked about sentimental reasons. Sentiment went a long way in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had the advantage of having the sentiment of the Irish people with him in a way in which no other man ever had before. He was quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman would take advantage of his opportunities and that he would do everything in his power as a member of the Congested Districts Board to see that the land which remained available for the enlargement of holdings and for the accommodation of people migrating would be used for those purposes.
§ MR. JOHN O'DONNELL
said that in view of the assurance he had received on the question from the right hon. Gentleman he did not desire to press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 68, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 69, 70 and 71 agreed to.
§ Clause 72.
§ *MR. O'KELLY
moved an Amendment dealing with the question of 1573 providing land for the people in the congested districts. He hoped the Chief Secretary would accept the Amendment as it did not go so far as the Congested Districts Board suggested in their fourth Annual Report. The Report had often been quoted before in the House, but he would quote it again in connection with this Amendment as he believed it was fairly apt. The hon. Member read the passage in the Report which stated that the Board were in possession of information from their inspectors that there were large tracts of grazing land which could be used to enlarge the holdings of small occupiers, but that the Board were of opinion it would be impossible for them to give effect to this important part of the work unless more funds were placed at their disposal and compulsory powers conferred upon them to acquire the land. He thought it was only reasonable that the powers of the Board to acquire land should be increased now that their credit was to be increased. Sooner or later compulsion must be recognised, so far as the congested districts were concerned, if the work of the Board was to be really satisfactory. He was content at the present time to ask Parliament to sanction pre-emption, which would not hurt the landlord because it would not compel him to sell if he did not want to sell, and would secure that whenever land was available in a congested district, the Congested Districts Board would have the opportunity of purchasing that land in order to carry out the object of the Board—viz., the relief of congestion. It would also prevent speculative transactions in land to the detriment of the poor people, because many graziers purchased land in the hope of re-selling it to the Board at an enhanced price. Take the case of the estate of Bone, situated in the very heart of the congested district of his own county. There were no fewer than 173 holdings there under £8 valuation; and everyone admitted that any holding under £8 was below the subsistence point for a family. On that estate there were 700 acres of grazing land which had fallen into the hands of three individual graziers, while the Congested Districts Board had to stand by without power to prevent it. Had the Congested Districts Board had the power of pre-emption, that would not have occurred. He would remind the right 1574 hon. Gentleman that when the Congested Districts Board was first formed, ten and a half years ago, there were 429 electoral divisions defined as congested divisions, and of these only 118 had been affected by the operations of the Board. He had in his mind several large grazing farms in Mayo which might be availed of by the Congested Districts Board for relieving congestion by settling the people on the land, but which, for want of the right of pre-emption, would pass into the hands of individual graziers. If the right hon. Gentleman did not accept his Amendment now, it was certain that, in a very short time, he would have himself to come down to the House and ask Parliament to consent either to pre-emption or compulsion. He begged to move—
In page 34, line 11, at end, to insert the words, '(2) Where any agricultural or pastoral land is for sale in a congested districts county, and the vendor is a person who may be dealt with as the owner of the land in accordance with the provisions of Part 1 of this Act or otherwise, the Congested Districts Board shall be entitled to a right of pre-emption of said land. No person shall sell any such land to any person or persons other than the said Board, or enter into any agreement for the sale thereof without first serving within the prescribed time, and in the manner prescribed upon the said Board notice of his intention to do so. On receiving such notice the said Board shall, in case they determine to purchase the said lands for all or any of the purposes of the Congested Districts Board (Ireland) Acts, serve upon the vendor thereof within the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner a notice of their intention to purchase the same. The said Board thereupon shall be entitled to purchase the said land for such sum as may be agreed upon, or, in the event of disagreement, may be ascertained by the Land Commission Court to be the true value thereof, and the sale shall, thereupon, be completed in the same manner in all respects as if it were a purchase by agreement by the said Board within the provisions of Section 72 of this Act. For the purposes of this sub-section, the true value of said land shall be ascertained by the Land Commission in the same manner as if it were a tenancy being sold to the landlord under the provisions of the Act of 1881, subject to such variations as the Land Commission may by rules direct. If the vendor fails to give the said Board the aforesaid notice of his intention to sell and proceed with the sale of the land to any other person or persons, the Land Commission may, if they think fit, upon application made to them within the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner, by the said Board, or by the County Council of the county in which the land is situate, declare the sale to be void
In case the said Board, having received the notice of the vendor's intention to sell, shall fail to serve the said notice of their intention to buy, then they shall be deemed to have waived all right of pre-emption under this section, and the vendor shall thereupon be entitled to sell the land as if this section had not passed.'"—(Mr. O'Kelly.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. DILLON
said that he had an Amendment on the Paper practically on the same question as that raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Mayo, but if the right hon. Gentleman saw his way to accept the latter, he would not find it necessary to move his. Their object was to secure that the grass lands necessary for the relief of congestion in the West of Ireland should not pass into the hands of proprietors who would hold them against the people for ever. Since the Congested Districts Board was founded in 1891 there had been seven amending Acts, and they had not yet reached the possession of perfect machinery; and he warned the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that if he allowed this portion of the Bill to pass without accepting any of the Amendments of the Irish Party, he would require another amending Act in the immediate future, and that further agitation would arise in the West of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech did not attempt to deal with the ordinary way in which the landlord sold these grazing lands directly to the tenants. He knew of cases where the graziers, being afraid of any interference by the Congested Districts Board with the estate on which their farms were situated, induced other graziers to join with them in buying directly from the landlord; but even supposing the other smaller grazing tenants refused to join, there was nothing to prevent the larger tenants buying direct. The only punishment which the Estates Commissioners or the Congested Districts Board could give in such circumstances would be to punish the poorer men for what the richer men had done in buying up the estate. He maintained that the discretion in the clause as it stood was no protection to the smaller tenants at all. He had listened to the right hon. Gentleman 1576 during the afternoon with ever-increasing admiration; he had never heard the Chief Secretary in such form; each succeeding speech was more eloquent than the preceding, and it was a perfect treat to listen to him. But the right hon. Gentleman was never more eloquent than when he did not mean to give the Irish Members any concession; and now, at the end of a not too long prolonged debate on this most important subject, there was nothing to show for their work except the modest Amendment accepted in regard to the sons of tenants. This was a very serious state of affairs; and he would read the unanimous resolution of the Bishops of Connaught on this subject, passed immediately after the Bill was introduced, in order to impress on the Government the importance of this Amendment. He might say that the Bishops of Connaught were an extremely moderate body of men; and he did not think that anybody could complain that these Bishops had ever been inciters of violent agitation or of violence in any way, or that they had shown themselves to be unreasonable or extreme politicians. The Bishops, who were all present, said that whilst recognising the immense value of the Land Bill now before Parliament, and earnestly hoping that it would soon become law, that they desired to record their fears that the proposals dealing with congestion were quite inadequate. Larger and more extensive powers should be conferred on the Congested Districts Board similar to the powers granted in Scotland, and above all no landlord should be able to purchase land except with the view of making it residential, and even under that condition not to a greater extent than £1,000. They were of opinion that the land question would not be settled in Western Ireland, nor would peace and contentment be restored until the grazing land taken from the people in the past was given back to those who were able and willing to work upon it for the support of themselves and their families. As the outcome of this discussion they had been able to obtain only the smallest modification in the provisions of this Act which were unanimously condemned by Bishops.
What was the difficulty which prevented the right hon. Gentleman from making some concession on his part? Previously 1577 there were great landlord interests of stake, but they had not heard the voice at a single landlord raised against these proposals. The British taxpayer had also disappeared. He had no interest in the discussion. On the contrary, he would be in a much more secure position if their proposals were accepted, because these poor tenants must become the debtors of the British taxpayer, and it was enormously to the latter's interest that the tenants should have such holdings as would make them solvent. These proposals would not add one penny to the burden which would be placed on the British taxpayer. What was the trouble in this matter? It seemed to him deplorable that in a great settlement of the land question, to a large extent they were going to leave out the most acute part of the question and the main source of agitation in the past. The right hon. Gentleman had made an appeal to them, and had said that the complications were so great that he could not be expected to deal with the reconstruction of the Congested Districts Board. That, however, ought to have been the first question to receive attention, and from the points of view both of urgency and merit that was really a question which ought to have occupied his attention before any other. He had admitted that in his negotiations with the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer he had obtained the promise for the Bill to be agreed to on the ground of pressing urgency because of the desperate condition of the people in the West of Ireland. That being so, why should these people be left out? and why should not this Bill be drawn so as to give reasonable ground for hoping that the case of the Western peasants would receive proper attention? Throughout this long debate they had had no solitary reason, from beginning to end, why their proposals should be rejected. This principle of compulsion had been sanctioned by the Prime Minister with regard to the West of Ireland. That right hon. Gentleman signed a report as a member of the Congested Districts Board by which report, compulsion, as a principle, was applied in Ireland freely and most urgently in connection with these land sales. The owners of head-rents, which property was more valuable than Government 1578 stock, and as valuable as any gilt-edged security, had to accept twenty-four years purchase, and yet they were told there was no kind of compulsion. It appeared to him that the Government had acted most arbitrarily. They had, in the present land legislation, given a most unjust right of pre-emption to the landlord, who could compel the tenant to sell his holding at two-thirds, or even one-half, of its value, and yet when they asked that a man should be compelled to sell his land at its full market value the Government refused to discuss the matter. That was an unreasonable attitude to assume, and no amount of eloquence on the part of the Chief Secretary would reconcile them to it. He warned the right hon. Gentleman that without this compulsion the Bill would not prove a success. He was perfectly aware that these clauses would do a great deal, and were an improvement on the law as it now stood. But more was the pity that the right hon. Gentleman would not complete the work. He could not blame them if they were obliged to go to their own districts and point out to the people that having got so much, and only so much, by agitation, they must continue to agitate in order to get the rest.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
thought the Bill would prove adequate if it had a fair trial, but he was afraid that this part, or any other part of it, would not get a fair trial in Ireland if they introduced the principle of compulsion. He desired to act by means of inducement and goodwill, and by appealing to all classes in Ireland to try and make a lasting job of the Bill. They had not had the money to buy those estates, and that was why they were not bought. Now they had the money they were told they would be beaten in the open market, but he could not see how that could be when they had a double bonus. He did not think they could be beaten in the open market, nor by isolated purchasers, in whose case there was no bonus against the double bonus. When the State was conferring fresh lights and creating credit facilities it meant to have a say in the conduct of a policy intended to level up the bad part of the country 1579 and to cure congestion. His opinion was that the policy would meet with success. He did not see how compulsion applied to the landlords would help at all. It would rather have the effect of spoiling the reception of the Bill in Ireland, and he could not give way on the point which had been urged.
§ MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)
explained that his intervention in the debate was due to the deep interest he had taken in this question. It seemed to him that anyone who had studied Irish questions must see that round the congested districts circled the whole question of the well-being of the Irish people. In spite of the fact that the population of Ireland was quite inadequate to the resources of the country, in the West there was a large mass of population in the direst poverty, and for that state of things a remedy must be found. If that remedy could not be found without compulsion then he felt very strongly that individual interests must give way to public interests. It would be unfortunate if it should not be possible to effect what they had in view without expropriation, but when one considered the enormous benefits that could be conferred upon a great number by a possible hardship inflicted on a few, then the public interest demanded that no individual interest should stand in the way. He knew how deeply sympathetic the right hon. Gentleman was in this matter, and how much he had the success of this measure at heart. If the right hon. Gentleman believed that without the principle of compulsion he could arrive at the result they all desired, then there was no reason to impress upon him the many considerations that had been urged in favour of compulsion. But he could not help feeling that compulsion would be a good weapon to fall back upon if the right hon. Gentleman did not succeed.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said the question of the congested districts was really the Irish land question in its most intense form. He had learned with astonishment from the Chief Secretary's speech that to create the right of pre-emption was the same thing as compulsion. Compulsion was applied to 1580 an unwilling seller; the right of preemption involved the willingness of a man to sell with the State stepping in to say that in order to carry out a great national policy it should have the first right to buy. The Chief Secretary in dealing with the grazing lands said that the landlord would not sell to the graziers because he got no bonus. But the grazier could give more money for his land than the poor tenantry, and the landlord would drive a bargain with the grazier. It was a moderate request to say that the Congested Districts Board, acting in the name of the State, should at least have the right of preemption in order to carry out the policy which it was founded to promote. He believed this was a vital question. Recognising the battles the Chief Secretary had fought to secure the provisions already in the Bill, he would not impede him with his work, but the right hon. Gentleman, if he remained in Ireland, would find that he would have to give either pre-emption or compulsion before this cancer could be removed.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said the Chief Secretary was in sympathy with the object Irish Members had in view, and no doubt, if he had to administer the Act would succeed in enlarging most of the holdings. But the right hon. Gentleman might not remain in Ireland, and if his successor proved to be of a frugal or easy-going disposition the claims of the small men might not be pressed on the Treasury. The Bill was very elastic, and a great deal would depend upon the manner in which it was administered. There were two classes of graziers in Ireland. In the case of those who took the land on the eleven months system the owner had to be dealt with. But there were also those who took the land altogether, and he hoped the Chief Secretary would be able in some way to see that a good deal of their land passed into the hands of the small people. If the hon. Member for East Mayo went to a division he would support him, as he thought the provision ought to be extended, not only to the congested districts, but also, through the Estates Commissioners, to other districts that were not congested. He hoped the Chief Secretary on the Report stage would be 1581 able to explain the bonus, and show that the Bill was calculated to achieve one of the two objects they had at heart—viz., to make the great bulk of the tenants I owners of the soil, and to extend small holdings.
§ MR. ATKINSON
said the hon. Member for South Tyrone had referred to preemption and compulsion in the abstract. The pre-emption referred to in the Amendment was to buy, not at the price at which the vendor desired to sell, but at the price fixed by the Commissioners.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that that was what took place in ordinary cases of pre-emption in Ulster now.
§ *MR. O'KELLY
said that, as he had no desire to disturb the millennium, he would withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
said that Clause 48 provided a certain remedy in the case of fraudulent tenancies created since 1st March last, whereas, by the Amendment he was about to move he proposed to extend the inquiry to all cases of bogus tenancies created since the passing of the Congested Districts Act for the purpose of defeating it. The power in Clause 48 would be really nugatory, because landlords and graziers knew the date fixed in the Bill. But if no mercy was to be shown in such cases, why should fraudulent transactions be condoned if they dated from a year, or two years, before, when they had the same object, viz., that of forestalling the Bill by tying up land which would be the salvation of the people? As the Chief Secretary was aware, this class of fraud had been one of the chief obstructions to the work of the Congested Districts Board. One farm had been the means of keeping half the county of Mayo in disturbance for two years. In that case an impudent attempt was made by a broken-down 1582 grazier to get possession of a large farm which he knew the Congested Districts Board intended to buy, and he succeeded in getting possession, not for any genuine agricultural purpose, but simply to levy blackmail by afterwards selling or surrendering the farm to the Board. He could give many cases of the most shameless fraud of that description, practised at the expense of the people, solely for the purpose of anticipating and defeating the Bill. Why should any mercy be shown to the people who committed these frauds? Why should public money be used absolutely to reward the perpetrators of these frauds, and enable them to filch away for ever this land from the people? The Amendment would involve no hardship on either landlord or grazier, as neither the Board nor the County Council would be in the least likely to make any appeal except in the case of some notorious scandal, while if they did raise a merely vexatious question the Court would give costs against them. The Bill confessed that some inquiry was necessary to defeat frauds of this kind, but the power ought to be made a reality by enabling the inquiry to go back at least five years.
In page 34, line 17, at end, to add the words '(3) In any case in which the Congested Districts Board, or the Comity Council having jurisdiction in a county comprising a congested districts county, shall be satisfied that a letting of land for the purpose of pasture or an agreement for the agistment or temporary depasturage of land within said congested districts county has been made since the passing of the Act of 1891 with a view to defeating the purposes of Part II. of that Act, it shall be lawful for said Board or said County Council to apply to the Laud Commission Court to have said letting or agreement set aside, and for this purpose notice of such application shall be served within the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner upon the parties to said letting or agreement, and the said Land Commission Court, after giving all the foregoing parties an opportunity of being heard and having considered all the circumstances of the case, may, if satisfied that said letting or agreement as aforesaid has been so made, make an order declaring same to be void as from the date of such order upon such terms as to costs or otherwise as to said Court shall seem just, and thereupon the Congested Districts Board shall have all such powers of purchasing the lands comprised in such order, freed and discharged from said letting or agreement, as are conferred upon them by the Congested Districts Board
(Ireland) Acts, as amended by this Act for the purchase of lands whether compulsorily or by agreement.—(Mr. William O'Brien.)
§ Question, proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said the Chief Secretary had admitted on another Amendment that this safeguard would have to go farther back than was proposed in the Bill, because he had said it must go back so as to deal with cases of tenancies created in view of the Bill of last year. But March of last year was when that Bill was introduced, and the right hon. Gentleman was publicly pledged for a year before to bring in such a Bill. Therefore, the safeguard would need to extend to at least a year prior to the introduction of the Bill of last year.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
, who said phrase "fraudulent tenancies" must not be attributed to him, explained that the position taken up by the Government was that tenancies created in anticipation of the Act should not be entitled to more than a certain advance. It was quite out of the question to go back five years, but he was prepared to go back to the date of the Queen's Speech of 1901, which he took to be the first official announcement with which he was connected pledging the Government to bring in a Land Bill. It would not be necessary to go even so far as that had not a certain discretion been admitted earlier in the Bill where some relaxation appeared to be necessary.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
said that, as the right hon. Gentleman appeared to have said the last word on the point he would withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 72 agreed to.
§ Clauses 73, 74, and 75 agreed to.
§ Clause 76.
§ MR. DILLON
, in moving to omit Sub-section 1, said that this part of the Bill had really no right to appear in the measure at all. Nearly every sub-section was open to criticism and objection. The particular proposal with which he was now dealing was that the Lord 1584 Chancellor should have power to add another Judge for the purpose of deciding fair rents. Their experience of Judges dealing with fair rents was that they were a public nuisance. The Bessborough Commission had laid down that if, and so far as, public opinion would allow, the proper men to fix fair rents were laymen, and not lawyers. While everybody would be compelled to admit that questions of law ought to be referred to a judicial tribunal, he had always held that on questions of value a tribunal composed mainly of lawyers was most inequitable. At present the Court of Appeal in these cases consisted of two lawyers and two laymen, but it was now proposed to get rid of both laymen and import a Judge, nominated by the Lord Chancellor, in their place. Such a proposal was outrageous. Lawyers had no special knowledge of land, and yet they were to adjudicate on business nineteen-twentieths of which was concerned with nothing but the value of land. The absurdity of the whole proceeding was shown with regard to the position of Mr. Murrough O'Brien. Mr. O'Brien had been one of the head Commissioners for a number of years, and was really the only member fitted by knowledge to adjudicate on these questions, and yet he was to be driven out and a Judge put in his place. A more monstrous proposition was never submitted to the House of Commons, and he could not allow it to without protest.
In page 35, line 3, to leave out Sub-section 1."—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ MR. ATKINSON
said the hon. Member was under a misapprehension as to the scope and object of this clause. At the present time there was a vast number of arrears. It should be remembered that under this Bill they had imposed very serious and important duties on the present Judicial Commissioner. He would have to decide on questions of law arising under the operation of the Land Purchase Acts, and it was perfectly 1585 impossible without repealing a section of the Act of 1881, and setting up a different procedure, to dispose of the vast arrears of fair rent appeals unless they found a Judge somewhere to act in conjunction with the two lay Commissioners. One of the greatest grievances was that there were still thousands of appeals undisposed of. The hon. Member had said that they should appoint a new Judicial Commissioner. It was obvious that a Judicial Commissioner would not be required as soon as the present appeals in arrear had been dealt with. It was for that reason that it was proposed to give the Lord Chancellor power to avail himself of the services of a Judge from the Superior Courts. That Judge would contribute the legal element to the tribunal. The hon. Member seemed to have no conception of the questions which would arise under this Act if it was to be a success.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said there must be a Judicial Commissioner to hear appeals in fair rent cases. Mr. Justice Meredith was to decide cases under the new Act, and therefore if the Court was to sit, there must be a new Judicial Commissioner. He thought it was a most unfortunate thing that they should import a Judge to decide appeals on the value of land which he knew absolutely nothing about. He had an idea how the cases would be decided.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that what happened was this. These gentlemen sent down a Court valuer, and though a party to a case might argue and give evidence for ever, the Court would stick to the value put on the land by the Court valuer. The Judge of the High Court would confirm the value given by the Court valuer, who would probably be a gentleman paid 30s. a week.
§ MR. DILLON
asked where the two lay Commissioners were to come from, and what was to become of Mr. Fitzgerald? Under Sub-section (4) it was proposed to turn that gentleman into a Judicial Commissioner. What was he going to do? His reading of a subsequent clause in the Bill was that appeals were to be heard in future by a single 1586 Judicial Commissioner. If that was correct, what was the meaning of the Attorney-General saying that it was necessary to bring in a Judge to constitute a Court with two lay Commissioners He wished a frank statement from the right hon. and learned Gentleman as to what was the necessity for the Judge, and what was the procedure in respect of appeals which it was proposed to set up under this most unfortunate part of the Act.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said Part III. of the Bill was necessary, unless he was to be endowed with the gifts of some god, and have unlimited time and money always at his disposal. The Exchequer of this kingdom would not allow the Chief Secretary to have as many Judicial Commissioners as he might consider needful. Something in the nature of Part III, was a necessary corollary of the rest of the Bill. He thought it was part of the scheme of the Bill as a whole that they should not create more and more Judicial Commissioners to deal with rent fixing, unless it should appear that this Act was a failure. If it should appear, as be hoped, that a great many people would abandon their appeals which had been going on for two years on questions involving 5s. on a £4 rent, he believed the provisions of Part III. would help to wind up some of the litigation, and help them to deal with matter's arising out of the distribution of the purchase money. All who knew Mr. Justice Meredith would admit that they would be very foolish if they did not take advantage of his assistance in the distribution of the purchase money. Unless they got competent assistance on that matter, this Act would be a most profound disappointment in Ireland. The position would be improved if he were to appoint another Judicial Commissioner, but he had not the resources at his command.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
suggested to the hon. Member for East Mayo that his purpose would be completely served by leaving out the words, "before the first day of January one thousand nine hundred and two," in the second subsection, because then no Judge could be appointed without his own consent, and, of course, no Judge would consent to take 1587 this work on. As far as he could make out, Mr. Justice Barton and Mr. Justice Wright might be nominated by their own consent. Were these men, who had been accustomed to large fees, to go down to Killarney and Donegal and pay their expenses out of their own pockets? And therefore the Treasury would be just as badly off as before. It was a most natural thing that no man wanted to go down and live in a country hotel in Ireland and sleep in damp sheets if he could possibly avoid it. And did anyone imagine that these gentlemen would go down there at their own expense, without some compensation, to save the Treasury? But suppose these two gentlemen refused to go, an Address would be required to be carried in both Houses of Parliament for their removal from the Bench on account of their refusal to obey the directions of the Lord Chancellor. That was absurd He did not know what really to do about it, and he shared the objection of the hon. Member for East Mayo.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said that according to all the information he could obtain the great bulk of the landlords of Ireland were against Part III. of the Bill. But when the Chief Secretary told the Committee positively that he could not give way on this matter, that the Treasury would not give way, and that the Government would not give way, he was compelled to withdraw his Amendments, although he was bound to say it was with great regret.
§ MR. DILLON
said that this was a most unfortunate end to the discussion. He did not want to have an even worse man brought into the court to take the place of Judge Meredith. The proposal of the Chief Secretary would revolutionise the whole system, and in his opinion would render the condition of the tenants desperate, because it would put this gentleman in absolute control of the whole machine. There was much talk about economy, but he maintained that to ram down their throats the proposal to make another Judge was not economy, but waste. The Judge would say, "If you are going to give me something more 1588 to do, you must give me an addition to my salary, seeing that Mr. Wrench gets an additional £500 a year for crossing, the street." He warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he would be called upon very shortly to grant an additional £500 or £1,000 a year to this Judge. He held that the sub-section was extravagant and unnecessary.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he really thought that a Judge should be appointed who had no interest in land A Judge who was a shareholder in a railway company would not sit in a case affecting that company. Whatever else might be said against Mr. Gerald Fitzgerald, he was not a landlord, although he had always objected to Mr. Fitzgerald as a member of the Kildare Street Club. The Government would not appoint a Member of the Irish Land League, or of a Land League club to do work of this kind. It would modify his views if the Government were to insert the words "not possessing any interest in land." In the Act of 1889, Mr. Gladstone was most careful to provide that the two gentlemen on the Commission to represent the tenants, and one agent to represent the landlords, should have no interest in land. When it came to this absolutely new proposal it was rather strong to appoint one of these gentlemen, who knew nothing about land, and another who knew too much about land, it seemed to him that it would be better to have a Judge who knew nothing about land than one who knew too much about land. The effect of Clause 78 would be rather to diminish the number of land appeals, and it was difficult to see what extra work these gentlemen would have to do.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.