§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £110,146, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1907, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Agriculture and other Industries and Technical Instruction for Ireland, and of the services administered by the Department, including sundry Grands in Aid."
§ MR. CONOR O'KELLY (Mayo, N.)
said that the Vote which was now before the Committee raised what he thought he could safely describe as one of the most important and urgent questions with which Parliament, in its Irish relations, could deal. This question had been before the House for many years and in many forms. It had been discussed in the Speeches from the Throne, on the Estimates, on Resolutions, and by way of Bills, whilst the attention of many Governments had been forced to it as the fountain and origin of most of their embarrassments and difficulties in the worst of Irish administration. And he ventured to think that the present Irish Secretary would admit that he would be saved many anxious hours at the Irish Office, that his task in Ireland would be shorn of most of its difficulty, if there were no Connaught problem with which to deal. This problem of the West was the Irish land question in its most tense and aggravated form, and until a really serious and courageous attempt was made to find a solution no Irish Secretary could answer for peace and tranquility in Ireland. Connaught had been in the past the storm centre of many Irish agitations; it was to that province that almost all measures of reform for Ireland, notably the Land Act of 1903, traced their origin. It was the people of the West, by their sacrifices and labours, that won that measure, that 1162 compelled the late Government to open anew the whole question of Irish land with a view to a settlement that would be lasting, and that would relieve the country of all those evils in which agrarian unrest was so abundantly prolific. It was the urgent need of putting an end to the unhappy conditions of life in Connaught that was urged as the chief reason why the Bill of 1903 should pass, and it was the most valuable recommendation of that measure to the support of all Parties at the time. Indeed, it was very questionable if that Bill would not have had a different fate if it had been then known that it would do but little to mitigate, let alone to remove, the burdens that pressed upon the people of the West. It was the cry of the people of the West that evoked the response of the Act of 1903, but in truth it must be now said that a great advance upon that measure must be made if one of the darkest blots on the social life of 1,000,000 of the population was to be removed, and if the people of this country were to put an end to conditions which remained an abiding reproach to their administration in Ireland. Connaught was responsible for the Act of 1903, but Connuaght, that deserved most, had derived least from it. As a remedy for congestion the Act of 1903 was a failure. When it passed this House the people were led to believe that it covered all the difficulties of the question, and that, through its operations, the evils of congestion would speedily disappear. Not unnaturally the hopes of the people ran high. The Act had been in operation for a considerable time, and those hopes had not been fulfilled, nor could they see any evidence of any immediate prospect of their being so; the expectations which the Act aroused had not been realised, and to-day in every county in Ireland where this question was acute there was profound and widespread disappointment, and the people asked Parliament again to intervene. Who or what was responsible for the breakdown of the Act in the congested counties? The shortcomings of the Act, its imperfections, made it all too easy for the Irish landlords, where they chose, to obstruct and to wreck its working. Some of them had refused to sell at all either tenanted or un-tenanted land; some of them had 1163 agreed to sell only the occupied land, that was those areas of sterile soil in which were included what the Member for Dover, perhaps not in the most felicitous language, described as the "agricultural slums" of Connaught, reserving the untenanted portions without which sales in the congested areas would be worse than useless; and some of them were demanding terms so ridiculously extravagant as to make purchase impossible. Others had been at pains to discover means by which when they did decide to sell the result would not have the most infinitesimal effect on the problem of congestion, and he should like particularly to direct the special attention of the Chief Secretary to this latest development of landlord policy in Connaught. It would give the Committee some idea of the kind of cooperation that was to be expected from some Irish landlords in making the Act a measure of relief to the small cottiers in the congested counties. These landlords, instead of selling their property as a whole to the Congested Districts Board—the occupied portions, the congested holdings, and the grass ranches —for improvement purposes, for enlarging and amalgamating old holdings and making them economic, and for creating new ones, as Parliament intended, proposed to proceed quite differently. They proposed to divide the grass lands into so many separate new holdings, and then to sell them by auction to the highest bidders. In this way ten or twelve years purchase, in the shape of fines, would be secured, tenancies would be created, and then the landlord would sell under the Act of 1903 at twenty-three or twenty-four years purchase, an additional three or four years purchase being added from the bonuses available when the transaction was completed. In all, this brilliant device would result to the landlord in thirty-five or forty years purchase for his property. But one might ask where would the small tenants on the congested parts of the property come in under this arrangement? They could not afford to pay fines—it was their poverty that led Parliament to pass the Act of 1903, they were the men it was intended to reach—and the conse- 1164 quence would be that the land would pass into the hands of men who could afford to pay fines; but it was not for those men that the Act of 1903 was passed through this House. This specious device of still further landlord exaction was attempted in Mayo, but it did not succeed. Public opinion would not stand it, and for a time, at any rate, the project had been abandoned. But, of course, no one could tell when it might be revived. It was bad enough that ten or twelve years purchase should be added to prices already extravagantly high—time would show whether these prices would not have ruinous results—but had this new plan of disposing of the grass lands succeeded, then congestion in the West, would have remained with them for al; time. For what would have inevitably happened was this. The landlords whose method of sale brought thirty-five or forty years purchase would soon find hosts of imitators, and auction would speedily follow auction on every estate in Connaught. The land needed to rescue the submerged thousands of the congested areas would pass into the hands of men for whom it was not intended, over 1,000,000 acres in the province would be filched from the people, and the Congested Districts Board, unable to stir a hand or move a foot whilst this process of defeating the intentions of Parliament was going on, might as well pull down its blinds and put up its shutters, for the days of its usefulness would be at an end. When the Act of 1903 was in Committee an Amendment was moved from the Nationalist benches that would have met this particular kind of case, but, like all other Amendments dealing with congestion, the Pre-emption Amendment had to be withdrawn after they had gone through the solemn farce of a discussion that no one took seriously and nobody believed to be real. There was only one remedy for this state of things. That remedy had been urged over and over again by the Irish Party, and by everyone who knew anything about the requirements of the West. The Congested Districts Board must be given compulsory powers. Had Parliament not sufficient justification for that step in the attitude of the Irish land lords during the past few years; and he asked, was it worthy of Parliament to give 1165 its adhesion to a great policy and to shrink from adopting the means by which alone it could be carried out? Although they were moving a reduction of the Vote for the Congested Districts Board it must not be inferred that the Irish representatives were attaching all the blame for the present situation to that body. Nothing of the kind. Whilst many things were done by the Board to which they took the strongest possible exception, it would be unjust to hold them accountable for what might be described as the deadlock that had overtaken the work of putting the people on the land. They held that defects in legislation rather than in administration were accountable for the failure of the Land Act in the West. They recognised as much as anyone in this House the sympathy and zeal which the Board brought to their labours, and they were not less sensible of the splendid work done by some of their leading officials. But they held that, despite the best intentions, which they freely acknowledged, far greater power than was now possessed by the Board must be given to them if they were to accomplish the task for which they were appointed. The members of the Board had for many years shared this view, and he was sure it was unnecessary to remind the Chief Secretary of the resolution passed by the Board on this subject a few years ago. He was aware that the Board demanded compulsion, although the great majority of the members of that body were, he believed, strongly opposed to compulsion, except in the congested counties, where they were convinced it was the only solution of the existing difficulty. And he might remind the Chief Secretary that the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the Opposition, when the Act establishing the Board was before this House many years ago, made it clear that if the neccessity for compulsion was proved he would not be unwilling to grant it. According to the Board, the necessity for compulsion had been conclusively proved by the facts of their own experience, and what better authority on the subject could there be? If the Leader of the Opposition, in certain circumstances in the special case of the West, would approve this principle, he could not, for the life of him, see what great objection the Chief Secretary could have to it, especially when they 1166 remembered that the Party to which he belonged voted not long ago in favour of applying compulsion not merely in the exceptional case of Connaught, but to the four provinces in Ireland. The voluntary principle had had a fair chance, and it had failed. As the landlords could not be relied upon to facilitate the work of the Board—they did not appear to be greatly moved by the daily thinning of the population of Ireland that was going on—and as this House had decided that congestion, with all its evil consequences, must be removed, there was only one course open to the Government which offered any hope of success, and that was the adoption of the compulsory principle. That was their first demand. He now passed from that question to another of very great importance. They asked that all the Connaught counties should be scheduled as congested. The Irish Party had always insisted, and they now insisted, that the counties should be scheduled as a whole, and he did not think there would be very much difficulty in convincing the Committee of the soundness and the reasonableness of their view. It seemed an extraordinary thing that the system of scheduling districts as congested, which everyone admitted to be absurd and misleading as a test of congestion, should have survived the many Acts passed in this House since the Congested Districts Board was first established. He was, of course, aware of a slight modification of one of the Clauses of the Act of 1901, but that really did not touch the question. In the early days of the Board, when its work was largely tentative and experimental, when it was necessary to proceed with caution, and when the Board was not the really important body it had since become, it really did not much matter what plan of scheduling was adopted— any rough and ready classification of areas sufficed; but that stage had long since passed, and to-day, when the Board, with its increased income and its large credit, was able and was expected to carry out transactions on a really large scale, it ought not to be hampered by the operation of a rule that confined its work within narrow and arbitrarily selected areas. It should be free to apply itself to congestion wherever it existed, but this it could do until the 1167 present definition was abolished. A district electoral division did not answer to the prescribed definition of a congested area unless the valuation per head of the population was under 30s. In the county of Mayo almost every single electoral division would come under the 30s. limit if the valuation was determined on the actual holdings of the people, a course that would seem fair and reasonable, but the Board must add the valuation of the great grazing ranches of thousands of acres with a population of half a dozen herds, with the result that the per head valuation was artificially raised far above the 30s. standard. The system excluded fifty electoral districts, nearly half of the total number, in the county of Mayo, and to his own knowledge they were all as deplorably congested as—many of them more congested than—the areas that were scheduled.! Let him give one instance to show how the system worked. In the Claremorris Union there were nineteen electoral divisions, of which eight were unscheduled. In one of these electoral divisions, Crossboyne, there were 3,437 acres, of which 2,000 acres were grazing land with a population of, say, a dozen herds. The balance, 1,400 acres, represented small holdings with a population of 675 people. The grazing valuation was £1,189, and the occupying valuation £884. The per head valuation including the grazing land worked out at £3 17s.; excluding the grazing land it dropped to £1 6s., well under the figure at which it would be entitled to be scheduled. He should like if some one would explain why it was not on the valuation of the actual holdings of the people that the calculation was made. But to show how utterly fallacious this system was as a test of the conditions of the people in the electoral division of Crossboyne, where the £3 17s. per head valuation would suggest some degree of prosperity, out of 137 holdings no fewer than 110 were congested and uneconomic, and in the eight unscheduled divisions of the Claremorris Union, no less than 1,114 holdings were uneconomic. In Ballina 42 per cent, of all the occupiers were excluded, in Castlebar 53 per cent., in Killala 70 per cent., and in Ballinrobe 77 per cent. As he did not desire to weary the Committee with these figures 1168 he would have done with them when he said that in the county of Mayo alone nearly half of the electoral divisions of the county, with 9,000 small occupiers representing roughly 45,000 people, were excluded by a provision for which no one could advance a serious excuse. There was no use in saying that because rescheduling would involve a recasting of the financial basis of former measures the work should not be done. Why should this unjust discrimination between the same class of small occupiers continue? Let him point out to the Committee the injustice that resulted from it. Under the Act of 1901 the Board could purchase land in unscheduled districts, but only for the benefit of the people in the scheduled districts. He had in his mind the case of a large grazing tract purchased by the Board in a non-scheduled district. Although not scheduled for a similar cause to that which he had just stated, it contained many small and uneconomic holdings. The local people not unnaturally thought that this land, which was practically at their doors, would be used to increase their small holdings. But the land was to be used by the Board for migration schemes and they would be shut out. When the land was thus disposed of they would find their congestion stereotyped, and all hope of improvement cut off. In this way the Board, while curing congestion on one property, were making it chronic on another. While this method of procedure was not businesslike or just it had also its serious-side. Could it be expected that the old tenants would welcome the newcomers with open arms? No; smarting under a sense of wrong, they keenly resented their presence, and good relations between them were scarcely possible; indeed, if public opinion were stirred upon the subject these migration schemes would not be possible, the Board would not be able to carry them out. But, after all, these difficulties could be got over. Let the counties be scheduled as a whole, leaving the Board free to deal with congestion whenever it found it; let the Board get power to acquire all the land it needed and these troubles would be avoided, for there would be ample to meet the requirements of all. There were many ether matters he would like 1169 to deal with, but as he had already rather heavily taxed the patience of the Committee he would let them pass. When they reflected on the obstacles that obstructed the work of curing congestion, the attitude of the landlords, their extravagant demands, their objection to parting with untenanted land in some cases, and in other cases their selling it by public auction or private treaty; when they considered the defective character of the legislation under which the Board was working, its limited powers, its general inequipment for the great task imposed upon it, the heartbreaking delays that attended its operations, the wrong lines upon which many of its schemes were proceeding, thus daily adding to the difficulties of an ultimate solution; when they remembered the thousands of occupiers excluded from any share in the results of it labours—he thought the time had come for a serious and exhaustive survey of the whole Western problem and a careful review of the Acts that related to it. In order that this might be done, they had a proposal to make to the Government; but let him say most emphatically that if they thought that this proposal would mean delaying legislation they would not dream for one moment of making it. When this proposal was first made, a few months ago, they knew then that there would be no legislation on the question this year, and it appeared to them that the interval between now and next session could not be better occupied than in a thorough inquiry into every phase and difficulty of this problem. So that when fresh legislation was attempted, as no doubt it would be next year, it would represent a clear understanding of what was required for a settlement that, unlike former "settlements," would be final. No doubt it might not be a popular thing to suggest a Royal Commission to inquire into an Irish question. Royal Commissions had a bad reputation in Ireland; they were regarded as an expedient to which all Governments had recourse for escaping difficulties and shelving questions. If they thought that that would be the result in this case, it was not likely that they would demand an inquiry. But this inquiry could not postpone any legislation this year, for, as they all knew before this proposal for a 1170 Commission was made, there was to be none. This inquiry could not prevent legislation next session because a Commission, if appointed, ought to have finished its task and issued its Report before Parliament met next year. Therefore, whatever else might be said of the proposal, it did not lie in the mouth of anyone to say that it could be used as an excuse for postponing legislation. The inquiry they asked for, proceeding on the lines of the Scottish Royal Commission on the Highlands and Islands, should not take more than four or five months. The Scottish Commissioners completed their task in five months, although the country in which they conducted their local inquiries had far less facilities for travelling than the province of Connaught and the congested counties outside that province. If such a Commission as they suggested got to work at once he saw no reason why its inquiries should not be concluded and its Report issued by the end of the year. This inquiry had been asked for by the representative bodies of the West; the Galway and Mayo County Councils had asked for it; so had all the district councils of the county of Mayo, and, he believed, of the county of Sligo; it had been asked for by executives and branches of the League throughout the province, and resolutions in its favour had been passed at many public demonstrations in Connaught during the last few months. They wanted this inquiry as a preliminary to serious legislation; they wanted it so that they might have a chance of proving that past Acts of Parliament really trifled with this great question; and that the case for a courageous and comprehensive measure might be made. When new legislation came they wanted it to err rather on the side of boldness of treatment than on the side of timidity of treatment, which had been the main defect of all Irish land legislation in the past. They wanted legislation that would oppose migration to emigration, that would at last impose some check on the frightful exodus of their people— the flower of the youth of their country —that was going on under their eyes, by throwing open the boundless plains of Connaught to re-settlement. They wanted it as a measure of social reconstruction in a ravaged province, a province that, after all, was not poor, that 1171 was capable of great things if only it got a chance. And in order that such legislation might be passed they asked the Committee by full and serious inquiry to familiarise themselves with every aspect of social life comprehended in the problem of the West. The right hon. Gentleman could not be unmoved by the sad spectacle of a land that might easily be prosperous becoming a derelict among the nations, abandoned by its own; and no higher and worthier task could engage his labours than that of stopping this tragic wasting of an already exhausted nation whilst there was yet time. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, '"That a sum, not exceeding £110,046, be granted for the said Service.—(Mr. Conor O'Kelly.)
§ MR. O'DOWD (Sligo, S.)
said that, in supporting the Motion of his hon. friend, he would not detain the Committee for more than a few minutes. Indeed, it was unnecessary that he should do so, for no words of his could add to the force of the case which had been presented to the Committee. But representing as he did a Western constituency, he felt that perhaps he might be deemed wanting in his duty if he did not intervene with a few remarks. The question of congestion in the West and elsewhere concerned every Irish Member. More especially, however, did it concern the Members representing constituencies in Connaught, for in that province the evil effects of congestion were felt more keenly than elsewhere. There it constituted the kernel of what was known as the Western problem, on the speedy solution of which depended the peace, the prosperity, and the contentment of a whole province. It was impossible to deal with this question fully unless they dealt with the working of recent Land Purchase Acts, and on the effects which these Acts might have on the economic conditions prevailing in Connaught. This he did not propose to do at any length. But he would like to say, in passing, what he thought nobody who knew anything of this problem would deny, that it was this question of congestion which was mainly responsible for the 1172 passing of the Land Act of 1903—an Act which, no matter how it might have worked elsewhere, had been a dead failure in the West of Ireland. It could never be too often insisted that the land question in Connaught was entirely different from the land question outside it, and must have a special remedy. It could hardly be denied that the clauses of the Act of 1903 dealing with congestion had become inoperative and that new methods must be found. The defects of these clauses had been made abundantly plain, and until they were remedied all hope of serious dealing with the West disappeared. What was the remedy that would put beyond all doubt and conjecture the ending of congestion? It was, and it must be, compulsion. The landlord who let vast grazing tracts on the eleven months system could not be induced to give them up, and if they did not devise some scheme by which he would be compelled to give them up on being paid a liberal compensation, how could land be secured for the landless people? Let him draw a picture of what congestion really was and what the circumstances obtaining in Connaught were. In that province there were nearly a million of acres of grassland mostly held by non-residential graziers—some of the finest land to be found anywhere—whilst the masses of the people were grouped together on uneconomic patches of bogland reclaimed from its original state by the labours of their fathers. What was the effect of this state of things on the commercial, industrial, and agricultural interests of the West? Their towns were decaying because bullocks and sheep required no clothing. Neither did they require groceries. One herd with his dog was sufficient to take care of a ranche of 1,000 acres, which, divided into moderately-sized farms, would furnish employment for forty labourers and their families. They in the West had been taunted with not having built more labourers cottages. Their critics seemed to forget that they had no labourers. The farmer who would go in for cultivation was seriously handicapped because in most of the districts of Connaught there was no set agricultural labouring community such as there was to be found in the other provinces. The 1173 men on whom the farmers must rely for labour were the small farmers and cottars, and these as a rule went as migrating labourers to England and Scotland, whilst their sons and daughters, the bone and sinew of the land, emigrated, to the loss of Ireland, and if he were an Imperialist he would say to the loss of the British Empire as well. Goldsmith, the great Irish poet, a century and a half ago, wrote these linesIll fares the land, to hastening ills a preyWhere wealth accumulates and men decay.Princes and lords may flourish and may fade,A breath can make them as a breath has made;But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,When once destroyed, can never be supplied.Well might he wail over the havoc wrought to his country by heartless landlordism, ruthless eviction, and British misgovernment. In Connaught they had 18,193 farms valued at £5 and under, whilst they had 12,000 migratory labourers who owned no land. Even in his own county of Sligo—and it was by no means the most congested county in Connaught—over 25 per cent, of the tenanted holdings were valued at £4 or under. In his own constituency of South Sligo he would be safe in saying that at least 40 per cent, of these holdings were valued at £4 or under. In two unscheduled divisions in the Union of Boyle, he found the gross poor law valuation to be £7,414, whilst the "value of grass lands in these divisions amounted to £2,523 more than one-third of the whole. This was typical of the state of affairs in a county by no means the most congested. Connaught had been brought to this position by the confiscations, persecutions, and evictions of the past. Their population had gone down by one-half during the past half century. They wanted to save the remnant of their population. They wanted the land for the people. In the beginning of this, the twentieth century, they came once more to this House, the majority of whose Members represented, he was glad to say, the enlightened democratic thought of Great Britain, to plead the cause of fair play for the congested districts in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had introduced a Bill which would, he felt convinced, settle the question of the agricultural labourers in Ireland. He 1174 congratulated him most heartily on the courage he had displayed in introducing that Bill, which it was to be hoped would settle the question once and for all. Might he be permitted to hope that the right hon. Gentleman would go forward in the path of reform, and push onward a measure which would settle for ever the agrarian problem in the West—a measure which would be the means of creating a new set of peasant proprietors to replace the herds who now roamed over the fertile hills and valleys of Connaught—a measure which would be the means of creating an agricultural labouring community for Connaught, and a measure which would be the means of handing down to posterity, amid the prayers of the Irish people, the name of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ DR. AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
said it was due to the condition of things in the congested districts of Ireland that the land agitation was started which had paved the way to the abolition of landlordism. The so-called farmer in a congested district was in a far worse condition than any other person in Ireland, because his holding, a mere patch of land, was generally of the worst character, and could not possibly support the burdens which were placed upon him. He therefore generally became a migatory labourer in England and in Scotland, and in the intervals between his migration devoted his time to reclaiming his holding. Yet up to the present little had been done to remedy the conditions of these farmers. A Board, it was true, had been established for that purpose, but at the rate at which the Congested Districts Board was dividing up the grazing lands among the farmers of the congested districts he was afraid nobody would be left to take the land when it came to hand. Leaving out of consideration the question of compulsory purchase, the only remedy he could see for this state of things was to put upon the Board men who were conversant with the conditions of the congested districts. Many serious allegations had been made in his constituency that instead of trying to relieve congestion the Congested Districts Board were acting the part of a large emigration agent. He had asked 1175 for and obtained a Return of the land purchased and sold by the Congested Districts Board in the county of Mayo during the ten years ended March 31st, 1906. He found that nearly 2,000 acres had been in the hands of the Congested Districts Board for six, seven, and eight years for grazing purposes. It was said that the tenants had refused to buy land, but if business men had been on the Board they would have themselves made inquiries into the reason of this refusal instead of leaving it to officials. When he was in Ireland at Easter he saw lots of young fellows at the railway station starting for America, and if the Congested Districts Board put agents at the railway stations they would find any number of young men who would willingly take up this land. Out of over 270,000 acres purchased by the Board only about a half had been sold to tenants, and of the half that had not been sold over 60,000 acres had not been vested in the Board. He wanted to know the meaning of the words "not vested." Was it for the want of proving title? If so, surely there should be some limit. If the landlord did not prove his title within three or six months the law should step in and take the right out of the landlord's hands. He found that amongst the holdings that had been kept in the hands of the Board for seven years were three estates in the parish of Newport in the Westport Union—he referred to portions of the O'Donel, the Stoney, and the Jones Estates, and the reply that he received to a Question the other day was that their lands were being held over until the Board could buy the fee simple of the O'Donel Estate at Newport. In the case of three townlands with fifty families in all, the average rent per family was £2 2s., some being as low as 10s. In fact, there were over 600 agricultural tenants in the parish of Newport the valuation of which did not average £3 a tenant, and yet there were 30,000 acres of grass lands in the same parish owned by about fifteen persons. He had been trying as long as he had been a Member of this House to get the Congested Districts Board to buy this land, but owing to the fact that they had no compulsory purchase powers the landlords would, not sell. It was the duty of the members of the Board themselves to 1176 inspect estates, and also to see the young men who were to be put upon the holdings. On May 3rd he asked a Question as to whether any members of the Board ever inspected estates that were about to be purchased, and whether they ever saw the intending occupiers with a view to their fitness for those holdings. The reply he got was that it was not the practice of the Board to interview intending occupiers of new holdings, † That reminded him of the story about Jay Gould, the famous New York millionaire, who, it was said, by touching a button could control the whole of the American railways. It seemed that the Congested Districts Board thought they could, by a similar method, tell who was fit and who was unfit for a new holding, and whether an estate was worth purchasing or not, and so forth. One of the chief causes, excluding the lack of compulsory purchase powers, of the non-successful working of the Congested Districts Board was that of inefficiency. He appealed to the Chief Secretary to insist that Judge Ross should sell out the O'Donel Estate. It was said in the Newport parish that the Congested Districts Board had bought out a lot of; small tenants at such exorbitant prices that they had been tempted to go to America. He had a list of at least twenty families who had been bought out since the Board came into possession of the land. As this was a serious statement to make against the Board's officials, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would grant a sworn inquiry into the charge that the Board, instead of endeavouring to keep the people at home by dividing the land amongst them, induced them to go to America by giving extravagant prices for their holdings. He wanted to know what had become of these little holdings that had been bought out. Would the right hon. Gentleman make a serious and honest attempt to find out the cause of the delay in the sale by Judge Ross of the O'Donel Estate, and having found out the cause, would he apply a speedy and effective remedy? Would the right hon. Gentleman also appoint practical men on the Board, men who understood the problem of congestion, namely, those from congested district committees.
§ † See (4) Debates, clvi., 702–3.1177
§ MR. HAYDEN (Roscommon, S.)
supported the suggestion, of appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the failure of the Congested Districts Board to deal with the question as it affected the West of Ireland. When the Land Act of 1903 was passing through Parliament it was admitted by all Parties that a settlement of the Irish land question was not possible unless the problem of Western Ireland was settled. The real difficulty of the whole question lay in that portion of the country, and, as far as a settlement there was concerned, the Act had proved a failure. Their wish now was to put on record the reason of that failure. When the Act was passing through the House of Commons there were two Amendments proposed from the Irish Benches; one was that compulsion should be applied in respect of all the untenanted land and congested properties; failing that, it was proposed that preemption should be given in respect of any untenanted land coming into the market. The Chief Secretary said that neither Amendment was necessary, as the inducements contained in the Bill were more than sufficient to bring all the land that was necessary into the market. But those inducements had not proved sufficient, and there existed throughout Connaught a regular conspiracy amongst the landlords and graziers either to prevent the land from coming into the market or to raise the price to such an extent as to make a settlement at the price almost as bad as the present state of affairs. They did not find fault with the Congested Districts Board, which so far as it was doing any work at all was doing it well. What he complained of was that the Board did not do sufficient work. It bought and sold estates exactly as he liked to see it done, but he wished the Board to be placed in a position to purchase all the untenanted land throughout the province. They wanted this work expedited, or else there was no hope for the people. He had heard the Chief Secretary declare how greatly affected he was in passing through a railway station in County Roscommon where he witnessed one of those scenes where friend was parting from friend for ever upon departing for America. That kind of thing was going on as much as and probably 1178 more to-day than it was in those days. In the county which he represented, the population had been reduced from 300,000 to 100,000, and yet in that county there were 100,000 acres of untenanted land, enough to provide a good living for more than halt the whole population that existed there sixty years ago. Instead of having 100,000 acres with nothing but beasts roaming over it, there ought to be cutlivating that land the people who were now ekeing out a most miserable existence in the bogs. It was from some of these estates that the agrarian trouble in Ireland arose. Hon. Members had heard of the De Freyne Estate. That estate had now been purchased by the Congested Districts Board, but owing to the slow-operation of the law the tenants had received very little benefit from it. He believed the desire of the Board was to hurry on the work, but all these delays about title and other things could easily be remedied by an alteration in the law. The Board were now the representatives of Lord De Freyne, and they were acting in his name until he was able to clear the title of the estate, which often meant going back for centuries tracing family history. When purchasing these estates the Congested Districts Board bought all the arrears. Some of the people found it very hard to pay those arrears, but the Board claimed a year's rent every year, which would be quite reasonable if only the rent was reasonable. Some of the tenants were quite unable to pay this rent, and then proceedings were taken against them. The Board was satisfied to get a year's rent within twelve months, but when it took proceedings it pressed for the whole rent due, which in many cases amounted to three, four, five or six years rent, and frequently decrees were granted against the tenants with costs. But, after all, the Board was still satisfied to take a year's rent together with the cost of the whole proceedings. He would suggest that the Chief Secretary should have these cases examined and reported upon before proceedings were taken, and then they would discover what was the condition of the particular individuals before they were sued. Some of them were not able to pay at all, and seeing that the Board were sometimes satisfied with one year's rent, 1179 surely an arrangement might be made by which they would only proceed for one year's rent, because the effect of proceeding for the whole amount greatly increased the costs. He had heard of cases in which the costs amounted almost to the year's rent, owing to the fact that the whole amount of the arrears were sued for. He had no doubt that when the right hon. Gentleman brought these facts before the Congested Districts Board the matter would be dealt with in a satisfactory and sympathetic manner. There ought to be some alteration in connection with the administration of the Board itself, because nothing could be done without its authority, and it met very seldom. He asked a Question a short time ago about a large grazing farm in his own constituency from which a few years ago some tenants were evicted. Since then it had been in the hands of a grazier, but recently it came into the market. The small tenants round about were anxious that it should be purchased by a public authority, and they wrote to the Congested Districts Board, but the parish priest, Father O'Hara, received a reply to the effect that the Board could not buy the land because it was outside the scheduled district, and that the matter could not be further considered until July, when the Board met. He (Mr. Hayden) then wrote and was told that the land was suitable. The land had since been sold to a butcher living twenty miles away. Yesterday another large farm was put up for sale in Dublin, a farm in Roscommon which it was understood two years ago was being acquired. But they were told that a grazier in the neighbourhood had a tenancy of three-quarters of the farm, which would be confirmed to him. The tenants then said it was not worth troubling about. Questions were asked in this House on the subject, but all the information they got was that this grazier had a tenancy. The negotiations fell through between the Estates Commissioners or whatever the body was and the landlord. His information was that the Commissioners desired to make the grazier owner for ever of three-quarters of this large farm. The landlord, who wanted to realise the land for ready cash, put it up for auction yesterday in Dublin. The announcement of the auction de- 1180 scribed a certain portion of the land as held by a grazing tenant under a grazing lease which could be terminated any year on three months notice. So far as the Congested Districts Board or the Estates Commissioners were concerned no real effort was made, as far as he had been able to ascertain, to obtain this land for the people, and it was left to Mr. Fitzgibbon, the chairman of the county council of Roscommon, and to the parish priest of the district, to go to Dublin at their own expense, and at great inconvenience, to do the work which some public body or paid official should have done. It was questionable as a matter of policy whether the Congested Districts Board ought to be represented at auctions at all, but still when land was for sale some effort ought to be made privately or publicly by one of these public bodies to get it for the people. In this case the land was purchased yesterday on behalf of the tenants by Mr. Fitzgibbon for £1,000 less than the amount at which it had formerly been offered by the landlord. He could not explain why the landlord let it go for £1,000 less than the public body might have given, unless it was that the negotiations fell through owing to the presence of this grazing tenant, or, as had been suggested, that he required ready cash down, and that neither the Congested Districts Board nor the Estates Commissioners were in a position to pay him cash for at least twelve months. If the Congested Districts Board had no ready money to deal with such urgent cases he thought the Chief Secretary should make some regulation by which it would have money on credit to enable it at once to plank down the money to any grazier or landlord who was willing to dispose of his land. Even with the present powers the work of the Congested Districts Board could be greatly expedited. The purpose was to unite the people with the land and to do it as quickly as possible, and that could not be done with the small staff now available. Nor could it be done until compulsory powers were conferred on the Congested Districts Board. There would be huge disappointment in the West of Ireland, and in the Irish Party, if in the earlier days of next session the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to produce a Bill which would at 1181 once settle this question for ever on the right lines. If the inquiry suggested by the hon. Member for North Mayo were carried out, it would enable the right hon. Gentleman to lay his hands at once on the spot, and to see the real cause of the past failure to effect the needed Reforms. It was not necessary to inquire into the condition of the west of Ireland, or whether a remedy was required for the state of things prevailing there. The condition was known, and that there was a grievance all parties admitted. The existing state of things was a standing menace to the peace of the country. The remedy was to capture "the large untenanted grazing ranches as quickly as possible, divide them up, and plant the people there. If the people once got a chance on the land from which their fathers and grandfathers had been driven there was not the slightest doubt that they would be amongst the most hard working and prosperous in the country. It was sometimes said that the Irish were idle and thriftless. Let the people who said so follow the poor fellows to the harvest fields of England and Scotland and watch how hard they worked, sometimes for eighteen or nineteen hours a day, in order that they might bring home the few pounds which were necessary to pay the rent of their little holdings and keep their families until harvest work came round again in this country. It was a slander to say that these most industrious people were idle and thriftless.
§ MR. DOLAN (Leitrim, N.)
called attention to the small attendance of Unionist Members during this debate, and asked whether that was to be taken as evidence of the amount of interest taken by English Members in Irish affairs. Throughout the debate they had been represented by a single ex-Cabinet Minister and about four lesser luminaries. When the Congested Districts Board was established, hopes were entertained in Ireland that in the course of a few years most of the grazing lands would be bought up in order to provide the means of subsistence for the occupiers of the miserable holdings on the bogs and moorlands, but those hopes had been disappointed. Like every board that had 1182 its root in Dublin Castle the Congested Districts Board had been a miserable failure. There were hundreds of people in his own constituency living on miserable bog holdings in houses of two rooms, and sometimes only one room. Side by side with these bog holdings there were vast tracts of grazing lands, but during the past fifteen years not a penny had been spent by the Congested Districts Board to purchase these lands and distribute them among the poor farmers. It was true that in his constituency the Congested Districts Board had advanced a sum of money to finance the parish committees and for the making of roads. Of course, these things were laudable in themselves, but the Board was making no effort to strike at the root of the evil there. He did not blame the members of the Board who were responsible for its administration. He blamed the constitution of the Board, and he blamed the British Treasury. Most of all he blamed the British nation which controlled the Treasury. It was a disgrace to the British nation, which received every year from Ireland in taxes £3,500,000 in excess of what was due from her, that they would not give a larger sum than £240,000 to solve the most acute and grievous social problem in the country. The people of England could spend £250,000,000 on an unnecessary war, but he supposed the representatives of the people thought it was better to spend that money in slaughtering Boers than in undoing, in so far as they could the wrongs which the nation had inflicted on Ireland. The Congested Districts Board had not adequate powers for dealing with the question of congestion. Until the Board had compulsory powers to purchase land at a fair price and to resell it to the tenants it could not possibly deal with the question. There was nothing harsh in asking people to part with land at a fair price when they were left with more than enough for their own purposes. Surely land was as necessary to the subsistence of the people as air and sunshine. It was quite as criminal and sinful to deprive people of the land which was necessary for their subsistence as it would be to deprive them of air and sunshine. To his mind the gravest defect in the Congested Districts Board was its constitution; it was not selected from the representatives of the Irish people. Until the 1183 whole country was represented on the Board no advantage would be gained, because the need of each particular district would not be brought before the Congested Districts Board, which was an organic part of the system of administration in Ireland, known as Castle Government. His trust was in the spirit of the people of Ireland. The Irish nation was still a young nation, but as it grew older it would grow stronger, and its power of helping itself would grow. He maintained that they would never have a satisfactory settlement of this question until they had a complete system of home administration.
§ MR. DUFFY (Galway, S.)
wished to direct the attention of the Chief Secretary to a few matters affecting particularly the parts of the West of Ireland for which the Congested Districts Board was responsible—matters which affected the peace, happiness, and comfort of the people whose interests he represented. His experience was that the working of the Board after purchasing some properties in Loughrea district had been so slow and dilatory in allocating land to the poor cottiers for whom it was intended that the impression had got on the minds of the people that it was intentional to keep the country in a state of disquiet and disturbance. He instanced the case of the Benmore Estate. Quite recently more of it had been disposed of to the tenants, but for a length of time the delay had been the cause of great commotion and disturbance in the West of Ireland. It was only within the past few weeks that the matter had been satisfactorily arranged, and he did not wish to rake up old sores. But the lesson to be drawn from the purchase of Benmore Estate by the Congested Districts Board was that the Board should not enter into negotiations for the purchase of any estate in future without first consulting the tenants and finding out from them what price they were willing to give. The tenants on Benmore Estate were actually in negotiation with the landlord for the purchase of their holdings when the estate, including the untenanted lands as well as the holdings of the agricultural tenants, was purchased over their heads by the Board. That was an act of great imprudence and un- 1184 wisdom which he hoped would not be repeated. However, "all's well that ends well"; and he was glad to say that perfect peace now reigned all over the district. There was a small property, Ballyfindon, on the De Freyne Estate, on which for the purchase of their agricultural holdings the tenants were in negotiation with Mr. Flannagan, the agent of Lord De Freyne, three years ago. Negotiations went on and everything in connection with the sale was practically settled. All that was needed was to sign the agreement and send it on to Dublin. But the first intimation that the tenants had in reference to other negotiations with Mr. Flannagan was an application from the Congested Districts Board for a year's rent. Part of the tenants' negotiations with Mr. Flannagan was that all the arrears of rent were to be wiped out with the exception of a small portion which was to be added to the purchase money. The tenants consulted him on the matter but did not take his advice; and he understood that they were now in the same or worse position than they were three years ago, when the Congested Districts Board bought the estate over their heads. Then there was the case of the Goodbody Estate, which was sold in the first instance to the Congested Districts Board. That estate consisted of 1,100 acres of land, but instead of devoting it to the relief of the congestion in the neighbourhood, the Board sold 500 acres of the fattest of the land to the Agricultural Board for the purposes of the Department; and the Estates Commissioners, having acquired possession of the balance of the land, including 20 acres of woodlands, sold 300 acres of it to the landlady of the neighbouring town of Athenry at a time when the unfortunate cottiers round about were asking for land for small holdings. Was that business? Then, in a congested parish at one end of South Galway—Mount Shannon—were to be found fifty families whose average valuation did not exceed £5. He had furnished the particulars to the painstaking secretary of the Board. Lying along side of these poor people were large ranches of beautiful land with virgin soil belonging to a Mr. Wakely, and this gentleman, evidently in a desire to 1185 destroy and evade the beneficent intentions of the Act as far as it related to congested districts, was selling out whole blocks of this grazing land to men, graziers and others, who already had an abundance of land. He asked the Chief Secretary to take a special note of this case and to make a strong representation to the Estates Commissioners to investigate closely the circumstances attending these sales, and on no account to leave these unfortunate holders of small patches of land to face the future with dejected and -broken hearts. He thought that steps ought to be taken to secure the grazing land around Mount Shannon for the inhabitants of the place who were living upon small holdings. If the right hon. Gentleman did not see his way to do that he would go down there and make it very warm for those people who were trying to oust from these lands the poor people who lived in the district. Nobody could say that in doing that he would be committing any crime, and he was prepared to take the consequences of his action. He apologised for having taken up so much of the time of the Committee, having regard to the very natural and laudable desire felt by so many of his colleagues to deal with matters local to themselves. He would conclude by impressing upon the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary the necessity of not modelling his action upon that of his predecessors in office, namely, listening to their complaints and letting them in at one ear and out of the other.
§ MR. THOMAS O'DONNELL (Kerry, W.)
thought that the case which had been made showed very clearly that after several years there still remained a condition of things in regard to the land question, especially in these congested districts, which did not redound to the credit of the English Government and which claimed the attention of the Chief Secretary and the Administration. He wished to deal with the congestion in the part of the county of Kerry which he represented. The poverty in Kerry was intense among the people living in the bogs and on the mountains, and the problem was complicated by the fact that, unlike Connaught where there were miles of rich and fruitful soil, there was very little untenanted land available 1186 for distribution among the people in order to relieve the congestion. The land which had been sold to the Congested Districts Board had not been very large in amount, but still in the limited sphere of their operations the Board had given satisfaction. He did not think the Committee realised the condition of poverty which prevailed among the people, and which must continue unless the Irish Government intervened on their behalf. The poverty, squalor, and misery which prevailed was quite under-rated. The population of the south and west of Ireland, especially in the congested districts, was largely decreasing. Emigration was going on to a great extent because there was nothing in the country to induce the people to stay at home. In the whole of the congested districts of Ireland the population was 490,000, and of these Kerry bad 80,000 or about one-sixth of the total. Kerry and county Cork, moreover, had about a fourth of the whole of the congested population in Ireland within their borders. He earnestly suggested to the Irish Government that the condition of the people in the congested districts south of the Shannon required attention. In Kerry the 80,000 people had to exist upon holdings the average value of which was £1 3s. per head, while in Killarney 7,600 people lived upon holdings the average value of which was 6s. 10d. per head. In his own parish there were 600 people living upon land the average valuation of which was 2s. 9d. per head. The condition of things which existed was a disgrace to the civilisation of our times. What were the people to do? If they were thrown entirely upon their own resources, their only chance was to send their sons and daughters away to the labour markets of the world. When, therefore, the children became of a suitable age they went away to endeavour to earn money to keep up the home. He thought it would be admitted that the housing of the people was one very important condition which had to be considered. Any person who had studied the social condition of any country must admit that where the conditions of housing were bad the nation as a whole sufferred. In Donegal, Kerry, and Mayo in many cases from five to eleven persons lived in one room. Necessarily the most insanitary conditions prevailed. The young men in 1187 the districts, therefore, realising that they could do no good in Ireland, and the young women also feeling the same thing, emigrated to America. The proper housing of the labourers was essential; if they wished to make for the future happiness and prosperity of these people they must make their houses sanitary, healthy, bright, and cheerful. The next test he would take was the sad condition of the peasant at the present time, and the number of the people in the congested districts who were supported out of the rates. Donegal supported one in fifty of its population; Leitrim one in fifty-seven; Galway, one in fifty-two; Mayo, one in fifty-eight; Sligo, one in fifty-six; and Kerry, one in forty-five. Those figures showed that the condition of poverty was worse in Kerry than anywhere else, whilst they made abundantly clear that there existed a condition of very severe poverty throughout the country. Another test was that there were in the county of Kerry 6,400 holdings the total valuation of which was only £12,000, or an average valuation of £2 a holding. And upon those holdings 32,000 people were striving to live. These figures taken with the others proved conclusively that there existed a condition of things in Ireland which called for the immediate and urgent attention of the Chief Secretary, and he hoped when the right hon. Gentleman considered the urgency of the question he would include Kerry in the scope of his operations. He regretted that so little land in Kerry had been dealt with by the Congested Districts Board, because regard to whatever land had been sold in the Congested Districts Board and its officers had given the fullest and most ample satisfaction. He was sorry to say very little of the land in Kerry had been made available. The Irish Church body had a considerable estate in Kerry, and for three years he had endeavoured to get the land purchased by the Congested Districts Board, but the Irish Church body had done everything in its power to prevent the purchase. The chief agent of the Board had made a valuation of the estate, and, upon that, made his offer, but the offer had been spurned. What was to be done with a body of that kind? Were the people to wait for years before something 1188 was done for them? He trusted that before long such bodies, if they would not sell their estates voluntarily, would be compelled to part with them for the benefit of the people. With regard to other estates in his consitituency he had advised his constituents to make an offer to their landlords to purchase at a price to be fixed by the Congested Districts Boards. He could not understand why that should be considered unfair and unreasonable. The tenants did not expect to be more favourably treated than the landlords. The tenants had no more votes on the Board than the landlords, and ought only to pay the price which this impartial body said was the fair price. Up to now the landlords had been disposed to sell and he hoped they would continue to be so disposed. But he hoped that one of the results from the Committee which was about to be appointed would be that if a landlord unreasonably refused to sell to a tenant the Congested Districts Board should have power to acquire the land for the benefit of the tenant. With regard to the suggested Commission he hoped the Chief Secretary would understand from the cases he had endeavoured to submit that Kerry and the adjoining counties required special consideration. The conditions of Con-naught and Cork and Kerry were-entirely different, because, while there was plenty of land in Connaught to relieve the congestion, in Cork and Kerry there was not. But there were other ways in which the congestion could be relieved, and therefore he urged the right hon. Gentleman, in order that this question might be thoroughly discussed, ventilated and understood, to appoint men on the Commission who knew the South of Ireland well. The conditions were pitiable, and those who lived among the people there felt that something should be done before the Irish race was drained of its best blood.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said during the whole afternoon they had had a succession of Irish representatives rising to tell the Committee of the state-of despair in which the people were-He confessed that after he had listened to-the case of hon. Members opposite and heard their reports he was almost reduced to a state of despair himself. But he 1189 ventured to point out with regard to the Commission that there was already a Royal Commission sitting in Ireland and affording unbounded amusement to the people. No one knew why it had been appointed, but it was travelling through Ireland very pleasantly and was collecting the most amazing evidence that had ever been collected by a Royal Commission in the United Kingdom. Hon. Members opposite had asked for a Commission and he was prepared to support their request, but he should have thought that this House of Commons fresh from the constituencies, with a great Liberal majority, and knowing this question as they did, ought to be prepared to act and not to inquire. They would not see the end of that Commission in two years. Had they any guarantee that this Commission would move quicker than its predecessors? None whatever. He said, with all respect to hon. Members opposite, knowing as he did the terrible state of their constituencies and the urgent need for immediate and drastic remedies, it was a perilous enterprise upon which they were entering. Something had been said about the difficulties. The whole question was full of difficulties. This was not the first time the matter had been inquired into. They had had a dozen Commissions within the last few years. They knew the disease perfectly well. They knew the remedy, but they were thwarted in its application. The Land Conference recommended in 1903—that counties wholly or partially under the operation of the Congested Districts Board or under districts of a similar character will require separate and exceptional treatment with a view to the better distribution of the population, and of the land, as well as for the acceleration and extension of these projects for migration and enlargement of holdings which the Congested Districts Board as at present constituted, and with its limited powers, has hitherto found it impossible to carry out on an adequate scale.The Land Conference had the whole case before it. The landlords agreed with the tenants' representatives that that would have to be done. The remedy lay there. Let them see how the thing was faced in the Land Act. Let him be just to the right hon. Member for Dover: he did make an effort to deal with it. Here was the clause in the Land Act which was to deal with this question. It would 1190 show English Members how this House was thwarted and beaten in all its efforts to deal with the problem. A sub-section of Section 6 of the Land Act, 1903, said—In the case of a congested estate as defined by this section, if the Land Commission certify to the Lord-Lieutenant that the purchase and re-sale of the estate are desirable in view of the wants and circumstances of the tenants thereon then the Land Commission may purchase the estate for a price to be agreed upon, and in such case the condition in this section as to the re-sale without prospect of loss may be relaxed to such an extent as the Lord-Lieutenant may determine.That was rather involved to English Members. What did it mean? It meant that the Land Commissioners were authorised by that section to negotiate with these landlords to purchase their estates and even to give a price that would involve a loss. The clause left the House of Commons in that condition. But the Bill had to go to the House of Lords. When it came back the clause read in this way—In the case of a congested estate as defined by this section if the Land Commission with the consent of the owner.…Those last were the magic words introduced in the House of Lords, and under that section not a congested estate had been bought. Why? It was perfectly plain. The Connaught landlords did not want to sell their estates to the Land Commission when they would only get the value of them. The estates would be inspected, their value would be tested, and they would only get a fair price. They preferred to haggle with these poor people, squatted on a few acres of bog with arrears hanging over their heads. They preferred to deal with them directly—a free bargain they called it. The words introduced into the section by the House of Lords absolutely destroyed the intention of the House of Commons. They did not want a Royal Commission to tell them that. They knew it. If the Estates Commissioners had been given the power which the House of Commons intended they should have, many a poor cottar tenant would be in a fair way to earning a comfortable living to-day. That was an example of how legislation had been thwarted. He had walked and driven over these districts. He commenced it twenty years ago, and he had visited them every year since. If any English 1191 Member wanted his pulse to beat a little more quickly he strongly advised him to take a holiday during the recess in county Mayo or county Galway. Let him go to Lord Clanricarde's estate, whose only amusement now was to evict his tenants. It Members wanted to realise what the west of Ireland was let them go to county Galway or county Mayo, and it would not take a Royal Commission to convince them. He hoped hon. Gentlemen below the gangway opposite would get some guarantees about this Commission. These poor people could not afford to wait. Sir Horace Plunkett's Department could wait till the crack of doom for all that the Irish people cared. These people could not afford to wait; they were in imminent peril every day. He hoped his hon. friends would have a guarantee of a two-fold kind in regard to the Commission for which they were asking. He hoped they would have a time limit on the proceedings. What about the personnel of that Commission? They had one lesson already in the Commission which was now sitting. So far as this question was concerned the men in Ireland with knowledge of the subject long ago made up their minds, and they had not an open mind to give to any Commission. There was not a man in the whole of Ireland who had given his attention to this terrible problem whose mind was not closed, and who did not know that the remedy was quite clear. There must be a re-settlement of Connaught. That was what was wanted. If these men were shut out they must take men with no knowledge. Did they think those men coming fresh to the question would be able to report in six months so as to deal effectively with the problem? Those were the dangers and the difficulties he saw. After the famine tens of thousands of people were cleared off the land. Fifty years ago around Ballinasloe there were crowds of people where there was now absolute silence. Those who did not die or emigrate were driven on to the bogs—on to those miserable patches, which were called uneconomic holdings, or they were driven up the mountains where it was almost impossible to cultivate the land. It was very easy to do that because the 1192 Government of the day stood behind the evictors—
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said the people could be cleared off in thousands then, but it is not so easy to put them back. If the Act of 1903 had been allowed fair play the Estates Commissioners would have done their best, and would have succeeded in doing a great deal to settle the problem. He confessed the Chief Secretary had almost driven him to despair upon this land question. He had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman had as kindly a heart and as kindly feelings towards these people as he himself had, but he was bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman's Answers to Questions rather sent him into a despairing mood. Yesterday he told them that nothing could be done on Lord Clanricarde's estate for the tenants where they were being sued for half a year's rent, and what happened? This was the cruel irony of the situation. Those who knew that estate were thankful for the era of peace it had enjoyed recently, but looking back ten or fifteen years they would recollect the state of things that existed at that time. The landlord held the whole peace of that province practically in his own hands. This landlord did not live in Ireland, and boasted that he had not been there for a number of years excspt on one occasion, and that was to attend his father's funeral. The case was so bad and hopeless that he was sure the proposal to grant a Royal Commission was only a counsel of despair. Unless they could guarantee that the Commission would act promptly and in time for legislation next session, and also that it should be composed of impartial persons and not Irish landlords, the latter end of these poor people on the mountain side would be worse than it was now. All the facts were known and everything was clear, and there was no difficulty about the matter which this House would not be glad to surmount. He believed if the Chief Secretary courageously introduced a Bill next session giving the Congested Districts Board 1193 the power of compulsory purchase and telling the other House of Parliament that they considered the comfort of the people was far more important than their land was to them—if the right hon. Gentleman would only tike his courage in Loth hands, and face this problem, he thought the Liberal Party and a good deal of what was best in the Landlord Party would be found ready to support him.
ME. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said they had had bitter experience in the past of Royal Commissions, and the delay which had ensued in consequence of them. They had an example in the Royal Commission established to inquire into the financial relations of Ireland and Great Britain, which, after a great number of years of exhaustive inquiry, reported, and absolutely nothing had been done in regard to its Report. The whole history of Ireland was strewn with Royal Commissions, and he thought the hon. Member for South Tyrone knew this sufficiently well clearly to understand that no Nationalist Member would be in favour of a Royal Commission on the lines of former Commissions to be used simply as a means and an excuse for postponement and delay. No such Commission could possibly be demanded by hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Irish Benches. The Nationalist Party had just as hitter an experience of Royal Commissions as the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and they had just as lively a sense of the uses to which they had been put by successive British Governments. But that was not what the hon. Member for North Mayo and others desired. The situation in Connaught was perfectly well understood by the Irish people, and by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and in fact by every Irish representative. They had not the slightest doubt as to what the remedy ought to he, and if they had a Government of their own in Ireland there would not be the slightest hesitation in dealing immediately with the grievance and applying the proper remedy. Unfortunately they had to deal with the Members of this House who were the sole authority and their last resort, and under those circumstances he thought it was a fair 1194 proposition that for the information of the new Members of this House—who, with all their sympathy towards Ireland could have but a limited amount of information in regard to Irish questions—there should be collected for their use and information within the next few months, in a correct and convincing and convenient form, all the facts and figures in reference to the state of affairs in the west of Ireland. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had invited hon. Members who wished to obtain information to visit Connaught during the recess. He only wished that they would do so, because he was sure the result would be highly beneficial to Ireland, and highly satisfactory to hon. Members themselves. But it was impossible for any such invitation to be accepted, and they could not expect hon. Gentlemen who had come fresh to Irish questions and politics in this House to be acquainted with those terrible things of which every Irish Member was convinced. They could, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Irish Government, whilst giving an undertaking that there should be nothing in the shape of unnecessary delay, to appoint certainly not Irish landlords or men who were prejudiced, but a body of independent, competent, upright gentlemen in whom the public at large would have every confidence, and request them without delay, and with all the advice and assistance which the Irish people would give them, to go to those districts which were particularly affected, get the information, put it into convenient form, and by the time Parliament met next session have it ready, so that they might go to the Government and say, "Here is a statement about which there is no doubt, because it is reported on by this Commission, composed of gentlemen in whom you have confidence, and it is a condition of affairs which we believe you will lose no time whatever in dealing with." That was the position which they took up with reference to the Royal Commission, and it was a reasonable one. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had worked hard and long and brilliantly for the Irish tenant farmers, and nobody recognised that more than the Irish Members. But he would not deny that before he 1195 gave the Irish cause that assistance the hon. Member for East Mayo fought strenuously for the Irish tenants and suffered in their cause. Therefore they were the last men to be blind to the danger of a long-delayed Report, but they were asking for something intensely practical that would be of the utmost assistance to the Chief Secretary and the Government in dealing with this question. That was the view which he took, and he thought it was the view taken by Irish Members generally. He would be somewhat disappointed if it was not also the view which would be expressed by the hon. Member for East Mayo, and others who were regarded as the leaders of the Irish Party. Probably some hon. Members might think he had no claim to interfere in this debate in view of the fact that he himself did not represent one of the congested districts. It was a mistake to imagine that this question of congestion in Ireland was confined to the scheduled districts. The Member for Kerry, and other hon. Gentlemen representing districts outside Connaught, could speak with equal certainty of the necessity for the relief of congestion in their own constituencies. He represented the county of Clare which was not, but in many districts it ought to be, scheduled as congested, At any rate, he knew that there were hundreds and thousands of holdings in that county, as well as in Kerry and elsewhere, which were uneconomic and where the people were living in a state of congestion under which there was absolute necessity for the enlargement of their holdings by the breaking up of grass lands. He appealed with great respect and confidence to the Chief Secretary, because he felt convinced that he intended if he could to solve those problems which he went to Ireland to investigate; and if he did not solve them he was sure that it would not be due to any fault on his part. He hoped that nothing would occur to alter that feeling towards the right hon. Gentleman. He appealed to him to give instructions to the Commission to inquire not only in what were called the congested districts, but wherever there might be congestion throughout the land. He asked that the large tracts of untenanted land, whether in Connaught or other 1196 parts of Ireland, should be given for the relief of the people in the congested districts. If that was done, there would be a satisfactory settlement of the question. English Members could have no possible idea of the state of affairs in Ireland unless they carefully inquired. It had no parallel in the world. The soil was fertile in the last degree, it was well watered, and the country was favoured by nature in every way; and, yet, what did they find? They found districts where there was more misery and squalor, more want, privation, and hunger, than in any other part of the world. The people were living in houses worse than pig styes, and side by side with those wretched, overcrowded, insanitary districts, they found large tracts of the most fertile land, where one might travel hour after hour, and mile after mile, without seeing the slightest vestige of humanity. These tracts were as devoid of human beings as the wildest prairie in America, or the most lonely stretch of bush in Australia, while here and there were marks of where human beings had lived not so many years ago—the broken gables and the ruined walls of the little homesteads of the people in days gone by, showing that, if allowed, people could live there again. Were Irishmen unreasonable if they came to this House and asked that the men whose ancestors had been driven from these most fertile tracts should be given an opportunity by fair and reasonable government to cultivate the land? Was not the state of affairs in Ireland the-most heartbreaking and miserable thing that could confront any public man? Week after week, and month after month, the flower of the Irish race, the bone and sinew of the people, the youngest and brightest, physically and intellectually, were going to America. Why? To look for land to live upon. They were going across the broad Pacific to New Zealand and to the backwoods of Australia for the same reason; and all the time their native country, with a soil far richer than that of any other country in the world, was in some parts as destitute of human beings as any part of Canada, the United States, or Australia. In God's name he appealed to the Chief Secretary not to allow any influence to dally with this question. He appealed to him to-recognise that what was wanted in Ireland was a readjustment which would 1197 enable the people to go back to the land and live upon the soil. That would be a relief to Ireland; and would it not be an untold relief to England? What consolation could English Members draw from the fact that last month and the month before something like 12,000 or 15,000 young Irishmen and women went away from their country? The continuance of the present state of affairs in Ireland was a constant danger and menace to England. The representatives of Ireland sympathised with the British people when in this House reforms were sought for the amelioration of their condition; but every week, every month, every year, they were found pleading in the same way that something should be done for Ireland. If the Commission to be appointed was properly worked, and if it reported promptly, evidence would be given that the Irish people had a real grievance: that in asking that they should be given an opportunity of living on the land they were asking something which was good and necessary for their country, and something which, when accomplished, would be a welcome relief and benefit to the British people as well. The people of Ireland said that nothing effective would be done unless compulsory powers to acquire land were granted. He did not deny that there were landlords who were willing to come forward and assist in the settlement of the land question under the Act of 1903, but there were others, like Lord Clanricarde, who could not be moved. He did not know their motive. Goodness knew how it was that they stood out from their fellows and insisted on getting their full pound of flesh under the letter of the law. It did no good to England, and it was a cause of misery, and sometimes bloodshed, in Ireland. For those men who would not act fairly there must be compulsion, and sooner or later it would come. Why should it be delayed? Last year he spent several months in Australia and New Zealand inquiring into the condition of affairs there. They had in many places there a system of compulsion under which lands were broken up and the people were put on the soil, reasonably-sized farms were established, and there was more progress, prosperity, and contentment in those portions of the Empire than in any other part of the world. No man out there would say that when land was 1198 compulsorily acquired for the benefit of the public at large anything had been done contrary to justice or repugnant to the British constitution. Those things had been done, and splendid results had followed. There was nothing to be frightened at in compulsion. There were in the county of Clare fifty years ago 260,000 people, no doubt, in many cases, poor, but fairly happy. Now there were barely 100,000 people. Every year a proportion of the young men and women of Clare emigrated, and how could he be otherwise than indignant at the conditions which caused this horrible and unprecedented depopulation? How could he be but indignant in appealing that in justice and in reason there should be no delay in removing one of the greatest grievances that existed in any of the regions presided over by the King at the present moment?
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BRYCE, Aberdeen, S.)
said that no one who knew the state of Ireland would consider that Irish Members had done unwisely in devoting the better part of that Parliamentary day to the discussion of this question. There was no subject which was more acute, none with which legislation and administration had been struggling longer, and none which it was more important should be approached in a practical spirit. He would not occupy time by explaining either the political or the economic forces which had produced what was called congestion in many parts of Ireland. This state of things had continued so long that it was a painful fact that the physical and intellectual character of the people had been affected by it. To him that was the saddest part of the whole matter. It was the part which was the hardest to cure, and it was the most difficult part of the problem for this reason also, that even when they brought about better economic conditions they could not at once have a generation of people who were fit to profit from the better economic condition created. Therefore, though much had been done within the last twenty-five or thirty years, they must not be surprised if the results had not altogether answered their hopes. But, above all, they must hope that that apathy, that want of hopefulness and vigour which had been the result of living under those 1199 deplorable conditions, would by degrees pass away in the new condition. What, substantially, was the problem with which they had to deal in the congested districts? A very large part of the people were living upon land which lay in most cases along the seaboard—and in most cases it was very poor land, consisting almost entirely of bog and stone, land which the poor people tried to render valuable by carrying little patches of earth to improve it. It was artificial land which had actually been created on the western coast of Ireland. They might see along parts of the coast of Connemara and the west of Galway, places made up of holdings not exceeding two or three or four acres. But it was also by some tragic fatality in the very places where the holdings wore smallest that the land was worst, and therefore to describe the size of the holdings was not to convey any adequate impression of the capacity of the holdings. Life could not have been supported at all in many of those places upon what the land gave —not even with all that patient industry which the people had given to endeavouring to improve their property. They had improved it. The people lived mainly—not on the barren land, but on the produce of the wages which their sons and their daughters earned when they went to work in Scotland. He had seen whole country sides in Ireland which lived almost entirely on what was brought home from three or four months work in Scotland. And there were other parts in the south where the people in the same way went to work in South Wales and brought home money from the mining districts there. But for that assistance the rent could not be paid. Rent in a great many parts of Ireland bore no analogy to those doctrines of economics of which they read at college. He would like to echo the request made by several Irish Members, that English Members should spend part of their vacation in visiting some of these places and islands in the West of Ireland, famous in legend and history. On the coast of Galway people were living entirely off fishing, and obtained practically no living off the land. Fortunately & sort of terrestrial providence had appeared off those islands in the shape of the Congested Districts Board, and as criticisms had been passed on the 1200 action of the Board, he would like to ask hon. Members if they found themselves in one of the most beautiful parts of that kingdom—Clew Bay—to make a voyage out to Clare Island and see what had been done by the Congested Districts Board there. There were three ways in which the problem of congestion could be dealt with. The first was by enlarging the holdings. The only way they could do that was by taking a large number of people to inhabit some of them. Secondly, to do that they must have migration, and to migrate people from the congested areas to other areas they must acquire other land. That had been the purpose of the Congested Districts Board. The third was to start other industries, and to give the people other ways of living than that which the soil alone afforded. That had been done with considerable success in some districts. Nothing was more hopeful in the state of Ireland than the improvement in the fisheries of late. He had seen in proof part of the Report for the present year, and hon. Members would find when they obtained it—as he trusted they would before the end of July—a good many interesting and even encouraging facts. They had done a great deal to diminish congestion. In many cases they had rearranged the holdings. That was a much more difficult matter than it might appear, because it would constantly happen that a tenant who had a holding of perhaps only six or seven acres, would have it scattered over fifteen or twenty different pieces of ground, and the first thing that had to be done was to take the whole tract of perhaps thirty or forty or fifty or sixty acres, which was covered with those petty bits of ground into which the holding had been divided, and to bring them together, to induce the tenants to have the land —scattered as it was in that form—and then to have some little attempt at draining and making paths and access between the patches. That was a slow process, and one of considerable difficulty. It was a process which wanted a good deal of tact, in order to persuade tenants to accept the re-arrangement which the Congested Districts Board made for them, and that was one of the causes of the delay which had inevitably arisen in the operations of the Board. Now that had been 1201 done, cottages had been improved, and in some cases new cottages had been built. Plans had been supplied for those cottages, and the tenants had been encouraged to build them themselves. Material had been supplied to them in many cases by the Board. The Board had a steamboat which brought cargoes of what was needed by the people, especially in the islands— cargoes of wood to make certain of their implements connected with fishing; and which took their cattle ashore at the time of the fairs, in order that they might be sold, and which also in many ways was able to do for the people—especially of the islands—things which they could never have done for themselves. Of course it was essential in order to relieve congestion that they should be able to migrate tenants. That was attended with considerable difficulty because a good many were not willing to migrate. It was a serious thing to ask a man to go thirty miles away from his own place. He might be told that they went to America. That was true, but they were taken there by their friends; and besides, America had been represented as a place where high wages were to be got, and a great many rents in Ireland could never have been paid, and a great many people could never have subsisted if it had not been for what they got from friends in America. Therefore, migration from one part of Ireland to another was less attractive than going from Ireland to America. Then, again, what was the use of taking a tenant and planting him down in another part of the country, forty or fifty miles from his old home, if they could not give him a house, a little stock, some tools, and a little capital? All these things the Board had to consider, and for that they required money. Then they must endeavour to secure the most promising people. They could not take the first man who offered himself. They must endeavour to search about. All these things, however, the Board had been trying to do, and they had done it, he thought—if with less success than was desired or expected, still it had conferred a great benefit on large classes of the people. A great deal also had been done in the development of the fishing and other industries. Within the last few years an immense fishing industry had sprung up in Donegal. Last year he thought more than £61,000 was the pro- 1202 duce of the herring fishing, and that was an industry which had been almost entirely developed by the exertions of the Board. In some parts of Cork and Kerry the fisheries, chiefly mackerel, had been very much aided, partly by the Board and partly by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Technical Instruction. Instructors had been sent down and efforts had been made to find markets-for the mackerel, which efforts in some quarters had been extremely successful. He had been along the coasts during the last two vacations and had found everywhere a more hopeful feeling among fishermen, and the prospect that this industry would continue to yield excellent results. Then they might take lace. There were places in Ireland where the value of the lace and crochet work sold was greater than all the rents paid in the district. The total value of lace made last year exceeded £21,000, and that was besides-that which was disposed of by private agents, not known to the Board. He wished to pay a tribute to what had been done not only by the Congested Districts Board, but also by the Estates. Commissioners. The Estates Commissioners had powers different from those of the Congested Districts Board in settling tenants upon estates, and in many cases they had succeeded in buying untenanted grazing lands and settling tenants on them. He gathered from what he heard, that in cases in which they had done this the results had been excellent. He believed that there were-places where a whole countryside had now been settled by a population. Formerly that land was used for grazing, and industry, peace and harmony had been introduced where formerly there were solitude, destitution and disorder. The Estates Commissioners had done a great deal of excellent work in that way, and if he had time he would like to read papers he had on the subject, showing the admirable work that had been done. It was most encouraging to go among these tenants and see the new spirit of hope and helpfulness which prevailed. The Estates Commissioners had purchased 25,500 acres of these untenanted lands in Galway and Mayo, they had created 220 new holdings, and enlarged 1,300 holdings. He might be told that this was paternal government. Well, it was in a way, but when people had been subjected to adverse and unwholesome conditions for almost two 1203 centuries, how could they be expected to stand alone at once, any more than they could expect people who had been kept in a dark dungeon and chained to the floor to stand erect under the sun when they were suddenly brought out. All the paternal work of the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board was being amply justified, and he hoped it would be continued. He must deal very shortly with some of the complaints which had been made against the action of the Board. He gladly admitted that the general tone of the discussion had been in no way unfair or unkind. Every speaker had recognised—it was impossible not to recognise—the public spirit, the zeal, and the sympathy present in the minds of the Board; and those who knew something of the men who composed the Congested Districts Board would know that there were no better men to be had in Ireland for the work than some of those men, and none with more desire to help their fellow-countrymen. There had been comparatively slow progress in the purchase and re-sale of estates, but that was partly due to the fact that the Board had had to make a great many experiments. It had been a great deal hampered by some provisions of the Act which called it into being. The Board had power to buy land, but it had no power to settle upon the land any tenants except those who came from congested areas, and the definition of a congested area was somewhat artificial. Speaking broadly, the definition of a congested area was by no means one that met the whole problem of congestion. There were a good many districts where real congestion existed, which did not come within the operation of the Board, and thus they were either left untouched, or to such assistance as the Board of Agriculture could give them. The hon. Member for West Kerry had complained with regard to the small services that the Board had rendered to Kerry and Cork as compared with certain other districts. He was not surprised to hear that from him, nor was he surprised to hear it from Members from Cork. It was true that the Board had done comparatively little for those counties. The fact was that there was practically no untenanted land available in Cork or Kerry. That applied also to Donegal. If the Board removed people from these districts to other parts of Ireland, further difficulties would arise. The people 1204 would find themselves comparative strangers in Connaught or other counties, and that was one of the reasons why so much could not be done for these people as might at first sight appear possible. The Board had, however, done what they could for the friends of the hon. Members in Kerry and Cork. The best thing they could do for them was to help them to improve their land and to get more out of it and to develop their industry. He believed that in this case that could be done. But the hon. Member must not suppose for a moment that the Board were not aware of what they owed to Cork and Kerry; they were anxious to do all they could in both those districts, but it was not quite so easy to apply the same remedy as that which they had begun to apply in Mayo and Galway. The hon. Member for West Mayo had raised a question about the purchase of land. He was satisfied that the Board had done the best they could for the district which the hon. Member represented, and that they had made most judicious purchases and arrangements. The hon. Member had also raised a question with regard to demesne lands in the county. There were a great many difficult cases with regard to title, and the staff in the office of the Estates Commissioners had not been large enough to grapple with the work. He hoped, however, that as the result of steps which had been taken, the work would proceed at a more rapid rate. The hon. Member had also asked him to give instructions to Judge Ross to sell certain land forthwith. He (Mr. Bryce) thought the hon. Member for West Mayo did not understand the conditions which prevailed. If he did, he would see that he was asking him to do something quite beyond his power. As to the De Freyne estate, the Congested Districts Board were not in the position of owners but of trustees, and they might be called upon to account for everything they did. They were therefore obliged to take proceedings for the recovery of more than they intended to exact from the tenant, but they did not intend to exact more than the rent admittedly due. The hon. Member must not therefore suppose that the Board intended to act unfairly in any way.
said he was informed by his right hon. friend who was a high authority upon this subject, that it would not be legal for them to receive rent only for the last year. As to the question of costs he hoped the Board would consider the subject, and that some relief might be given. The hon. Member had also mentioned the case of a sale in the county of Roscommon, where property was bought in because the Board would not buy it. The owner there afterwards sold to a private buyer at a lower price than he would take from the Board. The owner thought because he had the Board to deal with that he could make them pay what he liked, but the Board rightly resisted the attempt, considering that it was not right for them to give the landlord more than his land was worth. The hon. Member for South Galway had mentioned the ease of some property in Galway where he said there had been a sale made to the Board of Agriculture, and afterwards to the Estates Commissioners. He (Mr. Bryce) was informed that there was no sale to the Estates Commissioners. Part of the property was sold to the Department of Agriculture, and that was required for the purposes of experiments with model farms, and the Department had also to provide a place to keep bulls, and other stock for the benefit of neighbouring tenants. He thought the sale was perfectly justified. As regarded Mount Shannon he would direct the attention of the Board and the Estates Commissioners to the question of acquiring grazing ground in that direction. The Commissioners were always anxious to use their powers when they could to acquire land with a view to settling tenants. He was sorry to hear the hon. Member say that he would go down and endeavour to make it hot for them. That was not the way in which these cases ought to be dealt with, when they had the machinery to deal with them in a legal way.
said that whatever they did they were not to use violence, because 1206 they would injure the cause of Ireland by doing so.
was glad to hear that. The hon. Member knew that the Estates Commissioners were extremely anxious to get all the land they could for division among tenants. That brought him to another question of great importance, to which several Members had referred. There was a suggestion that a sort of plan of campaign was in operation by certain landlords in the West of Ireland to take advantage of the advantageous terms offered by the Land Purchase Act to sell their estates by auction, to create tenants, and then to get these tenants to buy through the medium of the land purchase machinery, and in that way get a bonus for themselves. That had been attempted in a few cases, but he was glad to say that the attention of the Commissioners was very soon called to the matter, which was what he should call an improper attempt to use the Land Act for purposes for which it was never intended, and which it would have been necessary to stop by legislation if the Commissioners had not found themselves in a position to stop it by administrative action. The Commissioners were doing their best in the matter and they had the means to prevent the Land Act being used in this way. Speaking generally, he would say that when they considered how many difficulties the Board had had to confront, how little experience there was when the Board started out, they had done a great deal of excellent work, and he did not think they deserved anything but recognition on the part of those whom they tried to serve. At the same time he admitted that there were features about the Act which established the Board, and administrative features of the Board's action, which deserved to be carefully studied, and before any request was made to him for consideration of the whole action of the Board, he was coming to the conclusion that the time was approaching when it would be necessary to see whether something could not be done to arm the Board with further powers, to strengthen the Acts under which it proceeded, and to enable it to be more useful to the country. He had done what little he could 1207 to see the districts in which it operated and to endeavour to understand the difficulties in its way. Those difficulties were great. The funds at the disposal of the Board did not seem to be sufficient for the discharge of the functions which Parliament had imposed on it. The other difficulties related to migration and the acquisition of land. He agreed with the hon. Member for East Clare that the country possessed nothing like complete statistics, figures, or data with regard to congestion. They ought to know the area and the population, and whether there were districts not now scheduled which ought to be scheduled. They wanted to know also how much more population there was in the congested areas than those areas could support; where the untenanted land existed; and on all these points he thought the information they possessed was very far from satisfactory, and he could not in the least degree agree with the hon. Member for South Tyrone that they had all the information they needed upon these points. Probably he knew all he wanted to know, and probably a large number of Irish Members knew all they had need to know, but English Members and the general public did not know, and when they came to legislation he wanted to have the support of British public opinion in order to deal with these problems. They wanted therefore more complete information, statistically and economically, with reference to the exact state of the country. They also wanted to know the result in a summarised tabulated form of all the experiments which had been so far made, and especially of the migration and the subsidising of industries. If they were to have a Board with greater powers in the future, and if they were to have the work the Board was doing in these districts done in others by another Board, much more complete information than they possessed would be required with regard to what had already been done and with regard to the lines that should be followed in the future. Therefore, he entirely concurred in the views put forward by the hon. Member who opened this discussion that there was a complete case made out for an inquiry. But he was disposed to go further. He did not think it worth while endeavouring to grapple with the problem of congestion here and there; they should grapple with 1208 it as a whole. No doubt by far the largest portion of the areas congested were those which came under the present management of the Board, but there were other areas and areas which they might not call in the strictest sense congested where limits, similar to those of the congested districts should be applied. They had at present three authorities dealing with this matter —the Congested Districts Board, the Board of Agriculture, and in a certain sense the Estates Commissioners. They felt it was a sort of patchwork to a large extent, where at one point the Estates Commissioners slipped in and the Congested Districts Board slipped out. Taking all these things together he had come to the conclusion that it was extremely important that they should have' an inquiry into the whole subject. The importance was even greater when they considered what was being done under the present Act. They were creating tenants who would become owners, and who were paying annuities for their land-It was suggested in some quarters that they were paying too much and that the investment they were making was not perfectly secure. If that were the case it was all the more important that they should throw any light they could upon the question by investigation. He might therefore say that His Majesty's Government had come to the conclusion that an inquiry into the problem of congestion in Ireland would be a very proper and seasonable inquiry, that it should be directed to the problem of congestion as a whole and be conducted by a Royal Commission. He heartily echoed the opinion expressed by hon. Members that the Commission ought not to be in any sense partisan, but should be one which would inspire confidence. It was not altogether easy, however, in a country so much divided by political Parties as Great Britain, to find people with absolutely open and dispassionate minds, and all he could say was that he would to do his best to find people who would inspire confidence. He thought the Committee would feel that it was necessary to have confidence all round. They must have a Commission which would inspire the confidence, not only of those for whom hon. Members had spoken, but also of those whose interests might be supposed to be adverse, and also of the large body of opinion both in Great Britain and Ireland and of the two 1209 Houses of Parliament whose concurrence was necessary for the passing of legislation. The composition of the Commission was therefore of the utmost importance, and the Government would give to it the most careful consideration. He might tell the Committee that he thought the reference ought to be wide and comprehensive, and he hoped the matter would not be one of political or economic controversy. He cherished the hope that there was growing up in Ireland a feeling amongst landlords and tenants that this question had got to be settled, and that the sooner it was settled the better. He thought they might rely upon that sentiment, and that it might be possible to find men from both sides who, on the one hand, would not endeavour to press for measures which would excite strong opposition on either side, and, on the other, would admit that the so-called sacred rights of property must give way to the general public convenience and necessity. That was their hope. In any legislation that might follow —and of course it was the hope and wish of the Government that legislation should follow—their desire would be to find a settlement. He did not know how long the inquiry would take, but the Committee might take it that when they appointed a Commission they meant business. He would fain express the hope that they would have support from all classes, and that those who would have to administer any legislation passed would have support, in the first place, from the people themselves by their endeavour to facilitate the Commission that was appointed, and, as he thought the tenants generally did, to put a little trust in the Board and to believe that they were acting for the benefit of the tenants themselves. In the second place, he hoped they would have support from the public spirit of the landlords, and there were many landlords who felt that they must recognise that the social order and peace of Ireland were involved in the settlement of this question, and that they must endeavour to facilitate legislation. Lastly, he hoped they would have the support of the leaders of the people whether they were lay or ecclesiastical—that they would feel that, if this question was to be settled soon and finally, it was of the utmost importance it should be settled in times of peace and tranquility. They were 1210 now favoured with these conditions. He hoped they would last, and he ventured to say to hon. Members that they could do nothing more to help a Government which earnestly desired to help them than by endeavouring to help to preserve in Ireland that peace and tranquility which would make it far easier to pass and to carry out the legislation which they hoped to introduce.
MR. WILLIAM O'BEIEN (Cork)
said the Chief Secretary had made an important and interesting statement, and he for one would be very slow indeed to throw cold water upon any proposal that might come from the right hon. Gentleman in the difficult position in which he was sometimes placed. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for South Tyrone as to the history of Royal Commissions in general in Ireland. But whatever might be the upshot of the Royal Commission that was now announced nothing could be worse than the stagnation in which this great question of the redistribution of the land to the population of Connaught had lain for the past two years. On the whole his belief in Royal Commissions was as little as that of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. Nevertheless, under all the circumstances, he for one was quite willing to believe that this Commission, inspired as it was by the present Chief Secretary, might by some possibility prove to be the exception. The whole thing would depend absolutely upon its personnel. He had some hope, and even a certain amount of confidence, that the Commission would be so composed as to give to their recommendations a weight which would ensure their being respected. In his opinion the remedy for the heart-breaking state of things in the West of Ireland was to be found in quite a different direction from anything that had been said: but he did not wish to press his own views too much at this moment. He entirely understood the able defence that the Chief Secretary had made of the Congested Districts Board. He entirely agreed with the high eulogium of the character of the persons who composed that Board, but, whatever services they might have rendered and undoubtedly did render upon a half dozen or so estates, and giving them every credit for their splendid intentions and public spirit, he for one 1211 was absolutely convinced from his experience of the West of Ireland that their function, so far as the land was concerned, was a completely obsolete one and that the money might as well have been thrown into the bog so far as a great and far-reaching settlement was concerned. He was convinced that the Congested Districts Board ought to be abolished, as it would be under its own Act in five or six years, and its revenue ought to be handed over to the Estates Commissioners for stocking and equipping small colonies of farmers' sons migrated from certain districts. If that transfer were made, if there were these additional powers, a repeal of the mutilation of the Act of 1903 by the House of Lords, and compulsory powers, then within two or three years, if they went the right way about it, there would be nothing to prevent the Congested Districts Board from buying up a million acres of untenanted land in the West of Ireland and setting the tenants to work instead of wasting another generation, as the Congested Districts Board had done, in buying up ten or fifteen estates and throwing away £100,000 a year. Under the circumstances, and knowing that the right hon. Gentleman was not making his proposal with any desire of procrastination, he for one wished him godspeed. He was delighted that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to extend the scope of the Commission to all states of congestion in Ireland, and he could only say that he hoped above all that he would pick out men for the Commission whose names would give weight to their decisions, and who would stand no nonsense, but go thoroughly into the subject.
And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.