§ 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 that Department, including sundry Grants in Aid."
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £110,046 be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Conor O'Kelly.)
§ MR. BOLAND (Kerry, S.)
said that after the speech of the Chief Secretary, it was not necessary to labour the subject they had been discussing any further: but he wished to take this opportunity of calling attention to some matters connected with the work of the Congested Districts Board in South Kerry in the hope that it might be to the advantage of Ireland. Owing to the rise in the price of copper, there had been a good many inquiries recently into the possibilities of copper mining in Ireland. There was one large estate upon which a prospector had been inquiring, and he believed from all accounts that there were very hopeful prospects, if the mines could be worked. Unfortunately, owing to the state of the law, there was no possibility of giving leases for the working of these mineral rights; and he urged upon the Attorney-General for Ireland the advisability of finding some means by which the Congested Districts Board might be able to grant such leases. The development of the copper mining industry in Ireland would provide not only considerable employment, but open up a great industrial future in certain districts. When the legal differences had been surmounted he believed that the profits to be derived should to some extent accrue to the benefit of the tenants there. He did not say that those tenants were to be actual participators in the mining rights; but whatever system was evolved something ought to be 1213 set aside out of the profits for the benefit of the whole district, so that when the tenants had become the possessors of J their holdings, the mineral rights would accrue to their advantage; and when the mines were being worked, a portion of the profits might go to assist in building up other industries in the district. One great difficulty in the constitution of the Congested Districts Board was that they had no direct representative from either Kerry or Cork; and, although there was no vacancy at the present time, he trusted that when one occurred they would appoint someone who possessed a direct knowledge of the local needs of both those counties. They wanted a man appointed from their own district possessing local knowledge. Some time ago Lord Shaftesbury was appointed, but he could never have that local knowledge of the fishing industry that was so necessary. It was of the greatest importance that some direct representative of those counties should be on the Board. He thought that most people would recognise, as regarded the industrial side of its operations the Board had done a great deal of useful work. Lace classes had been started in his district, and he knew of three girls who had their passage money sent them to go to America; but their prospects in the lace industry were such that they refused the money and preferred to remain in the lace trade. He thought the Congested Districts Board should endeavour to establish suitable industries in the rural districts. There was very great competition, and they felt this more particularly because of the great amount of imitation Irish lace that was put upon both the English and the American markets. It was certainly necessary for them to keep up the standard of Irish lace by good designs and of the utmost importance that they should protect Irish lace from being imitated and sold. The Chief Secretary knew the value of a trade mark and they were going to register a national trade mark for all Irish manufactures. He suggested that the Congested Districts Board would be of real value in this matter if it would instruct all its lace classes to take advantage of the Irish national trade mark and use it on every article of lace they turned out because, by that 1214 means they would protect a really important and growing Irish industry. He believed that purchasers both in this country and in America would then begin to demand as a proof of the genuineness of the article those goods upon which the Irish national trade mark was to be found. The same precautions also applied to the homespun industry. Once a cottage industry spring up and was successful, imitations were produced in other countries, and he thought it would startle many people if they how much imitation homespun goods were made in Yorkshire and Lancashire mills and sold on the English market. If in some way through the Congested Districts Board this industry could be protected by the national trade mark he hoped it would be done. He also wished to urge upon the Chief Secretary that they required for the development of Irish herring and mackerel industry what they had already got in Scotland, namely, a national brand which enabled Scottish herrings to be known all over the world. During the last twenty-four years by means of branding fees £50,000 had become available for the Scottish fishing industry, and if a similar system of branding was instituted in the districts where the Congested Districts Board had charge of the matter it would be of the greatest possible value to the fishing industry in Ireland. The big curers were able to obtain a sale for their fish because they were well known, but the claim for the national brand for cured herrings and mackerel was on behalf of the small curers and buyers who could not compete with the big men, and it would enable the Irish cured fish trade to be put in a better position than at the present moment. With regard to the land question there was an estate in his district in process of being sold to which he thought it would be well if the Congested Districts Board turned its attention immediately; he referred to the Glenbeigh Estate. He understood that there was some little difficulty as to the actual terms, and he urged that the chief inspector who had charge of the I negotiations should be sent down to the district to try and arrange an amicable settlement. He thought the misunderstanding was in regard to the arrears.
§ SIR THOMAS ESMONDE (Wexford, N.)
said he agreed with his hon. 1215 friends in all that had been said as to the Congested Districts Board. It was one of the best institutions of its kind in Ireland, and if it had not succeeded it had not been from want of will, but from want of the proper facilities which he hoped would shortly be given to it, or to some similar institution. The speech of the Chief Secretary would revive hope in the hearts of the Irish people, and give those in the congested districts some prospect of a satisfactory settlement of their unfortunate condition. Although he was not a great believer in Royal Commissions, he hoped that the one now to be appointed, under more favourable and happier auspices than some of those which had formerly inquired into Irish questions, would be followed by good results. It was to be appointed by an Administration which they believed meant business in the matter. It would be appointed to carry out a definite work of urgent importance, and he thought a stimulus towards the fruition of the work would be found this time in Ireland which had been absent, perhaps, in the case of other Commissions. The whole thing would depend, in the first place, on the personnel of the Commission. If proper people were appointed, determined that the work entrusted to them should be carried to a practical conclusion, it might be hoped that the inquiry would be attended with good results. A good deal would depend also on the terms of reference. If they were sufficiently wide to embrace the various matters germane to the question of the distribution of the land, and the question of the encouragement of industries in districts where new operations could be carried on, they might expect good results. He impressed on the Government the desirability of appointing a really good and practical Commission, consisting of men in whom everybody would have confidence and with terms of reference so wide as to give hopes of a satisfactory result. He tendered his congratulations to the Government on the appointment of the Commission.
§ MR. FARRELL (Longford, N.)
expressed the hope that the terms of reference of the Commission would be sufficiently wide to embrace an inquiry into the conditions in areas which were not at pre- 1216 sent within the definition of "congested districts." In his own constituency there were three parishes, not one of which would be regarded as a "congested district," but in which there were 500 holdings, the average valuation of which did not exceed £4, and from these places quite a considerable number of labourers went to England and Scotland to take part in harvest operations, thereby fulfilling the conditions which were applied in Kerry and Donegal. He hoped the terms of reference would enable the Commission to deal with such cases. He wished to point out to the Attorney-General that during the past few months the tenants had been trying to purchase their holdings on a number of estates, but owing to the excessive terms asked by the landlords it had been impossible to buy except in one case. He was perfectly certain that if this inquiry was fair and far reaching enough there would be discovered to be here and there throughout Ireland a considerable number of districts which were congested very seriously and where the people were living quite as badly as in the parts of the West so eloquently described by his hon. friends. There was hardly any county in the whole of Ireland which had suffered more from the drain of population than Longford. The population had fallen in sixty years from 112,000 to 41,000. There were large tracts of grazing land in the county which should be made available for enlarging the non-economic holdings. He hoped ample powers would be conferred either on a newly-created Congested Districts Board or on some other new body which would enable them compulsorily to acquire these grass lands or the benefit of the poor people who were now in bogs or on the mountain side.
§ MR. BRIGG (Yorkshire, W.R., Keighley)
said he was an old friend of Ireland. He had been to the country for the purpose of seeing the state of things which prevailed. As he was only a short time there his experience might not be of much value, but still some value might attach to the opinion of one who saw a country for the first time, and who had lived in other countries where the natural conditions were very similar. The part of England where he resided would be very like some parts of Ireland were it 1217 not for the advantages enjoyed from the manufactures carried on in the district. He went to Ireland as a Home Ruler, and when he came back he was more convinced in favour of Home Rule than before. Although a great deal might be done for Ireland by means of legislation, he was convinced that if the present laws were administered either by Irishmen or by those who were in sympathy with the people, the country would be in a much better and happier state than it was at present. There was a large amount of water power in Ireland at present unused which might be employed in the development of new industries. He knew a gentleman of substantial means who was quite prepared to start a new business with the aid of water power and give employment to a large number of people. That gentleman promoted a Bill in Parliament to acquire water rights, but when the Bill went to the House of Lords he was ashamed to say that one of the Peers suggested that it was a very improper thing to allow any interference with the landlords, a sentiment which was echoed by another noble Lord. The Bill was thrown out and the whole enterprise squashed. He thought also something could be done in the promotion of the manufacture of home-made woollen stuffs in Ireland. He had seen a good deal of this home-made stuff and he could say that it was very excellent. He agreed with his hon. friend opposite as to the inefficiency of Royal Commissions. Their common result was to shunt things indefinitely. He himself had gone through the congested districts, and had seen what the Board had done, and what they had not done. It did not require a Royal Commission to inquire into all these matters. He hoped that his hon. friends from Ireland would miss no opportunity of bringing the wretched condition of the people in the congested districts before the Government and the country so that everything should be done for their improvement, as a matter of common sense, and for the welfare, not only of Ireland, but of Great Britain at large.
§ MR. MURPHY (Kerry, E.)
said he spoke on behalf of the Irish Members when he thanked the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down for the sympathetic manner 1218 in which he had spoken of Ireland. He sympathised fully with the demands which had been put forward in connection with the condition of the West of Ireland at the present time, but he hoped that the Government would not forget that the condition of the South also required to be considered. He agreed with what his colleagues had said as to the personnel of the Congested Districts Board, but thought that the Board could do more than it had done to promote small industries in the congested districts of Kerry. For instance, in Killarney, beautiful lace was produced, which had won the first prize at the horse show in Dublin, and also in America. In fact that lace was regarded as superior to any which could be produced in other districts. Here again was an opportunity for the Board to encourage the carrying on of this industry amongst the poor people of the crowded districts. As to the land question, two farms had been purchased by the Board near the Lake of Killarney under very peculiar circumstances. During the administration of the Congested Districts Board by the right hon. Member for Dover, these farms were acquired for £150, but the tenants claimed that their interest was £2,000. An opportunity was afforded the Board of migrating people from the congested districts to these farms, but nothing had been done in the matter, and the farms remained practically derelict. That was a waste of public money, and he thought that the Board should negotiate for the re-instatement of the former tenants. He had put this case before the Members of the Board, from some of whom he had received the greatest sympathy and attention. He hoped that the new conditions of things would give new opportunities, and that this question, which if neglected, was bound to lead to unfortunate conditions for many people, would be dealt with by the Board in the same spirit that they had evinced in other cases. He also wanted to call attention to the fact that there was a considerable congested district in the county of Kerry, viz., that in which the moving bog disaster took place a few years ago. That disaster swept away a whole family of ten persons and caused much damage and suffering 1219 He believed that it originated in the fact that the outlet from the bog had not been kept in proper condition. What happened on that occasion might happen very shortly again. If the Board would send an inspector to examine the bog at the outlet it would be found that the statement which he had made was quite true. A considerable amount of employment might be given to the poor people in the district in making the repairs at the outlet so as to prevent any future disaster. In that particular locality there were a large number of small cottiers. He could offer no opinion at the present moment as to how those people could be best dealt with, but he knew that physically and intellectually they were equal, if not superior, to the people of other districts of Ireland. He thought the Congested Districts Board ought to have found employment for the young men and young women in the district before now instead of, through their neglect, causing them to migrate or emigrate. He had called the attention of the Congested Districts Board to the condition of things, but nothing had been done. The only large farm in the district was in the autumn put up for sale by auction, but the Board, although their attention was called to the matter, failed to negotiate for the purchase of the farm, and outsiders, shopkeepers and others, stepped in and purchased it and one certain form of relieving the congestion was stopped for ever. He believed that that was due not to the carelessness or the neglect of the members of the existing Board, but entirely to the absence of local knowledge of the necessities of the district. He believed that the members of the Board were sympathetic and that they wished to do their best, but it was impossible for them to take proper action without some local representation in the district. Therefore he put it to the right hon. Gentleman that means should be taken to give the South of Ireland some more effective representation on the Board than they had at present. He hoped the promised Commission would report speedily, and that its labours would be attended with good results. The success attained by the Congested Districts Board in the small undertakings in which it had been engaged would, he hoped, be the forerunner of larger successes in the future.
§ MR. BARRIE (Londonderry, N.)
said the present Government would go down to history as the Government of Royal Commissions, and he regretted that yet another Royal Commission was to be appointed to investigate the labours of the Irish Congested Districts Board. They had had some discussion as to the proceedings of that Board, and some of the criticisms had been adverse and some complimentary. The hon. Member who spoke last said he hoped the Board might in the future add to their successes, and it was cheering to know that some of their Nationalist friends thought that the Board had achieved any successes at all, because heretofore, nobody listening to the speeches of Members of that Party would have thought that it had done anything but squander a great deal of money without achieving any result. He was pleased that the Chief Secretary felt it right to pay his tribute to the work which the Board had done. The right hon. Gentleman had said that much good work had been done by it, and he hoped he might be permitted, as one who did not represent a district in which the Board conducted operations, but as one who knew Ireland well, to add his tribute in regard to the work. The Board, although its work might be slow, had done much for the betterment of the people of Ireland. He only criticised the appointment of a Royal Commission from the point of view that outside it might convey the idea that the Board had not done its work properly; but he did not object to the inquiry, because he ventured to predict that its report would be to justify the existence of the Board and to give increased confidence in regard to the discharge of the functions with which it was charged. Various direct and indirect attacks had been made upon the Agricultural and Technical Department of Ireland. He himself had probably criticised the Department as strongly as anybody, but he believed that, considering the short time it had been in existence, it had done very real and solid work of a high standard of excellence. He did not, therefore, desire to associate himself with the attacks which had been made upon the Department that afternoon, especially as a Royal Commission was going to sit 1221 in judgment upon it. In an important town in his own constituency, very shortly after the Department came into existence, and after repeated interviews with the officials of that Department, they embarked on an important enterprise of technical education. They started a school and it had been a great success. A Department yet so young was bound to make mistakes in carrying forward such matters as technical and agricultural education. It had been admitted that Ireland was exceedingly far behind in these important branches of education. In this connection he paid a tribute to Sir Horace Plunkett. For many years that gentleman had seemed to be casting his bread upon the waters, but finally the Government gave him a sympathetic ear.
said that such interruptions only showed that sometimes a man who deserved the best at the hands of his country was the last to receive it. Ireland had no more unselfish worker than Sir Horace Plunkett. In the early days of the movement they knew that he refused to accept the salary that his office carried with it, and he feared their Nationalist friends were unable to produce another public officer who had acted in a similarly unselfish manner; if they were he would be happy to add this tribute of respect to him also. When our honoured King visited Ireland some years ago he had testimony given from the day of landing until he left Ireland from all public bodies—no matter what their political complexion was—emphasising the greatness of the work which Sir Horace was doing for Ireland. He (Mr. Barrie) had only met Sir Horace once, and even then only in an official capacity, but he had been impressed by the unselfishness of his labours and the sincerity of his desire to raise the educational standard of Ireland. He hoped the result of the inquiry that was going on would be to place on a more permanent and enlarged basis this important work of technical and agricultural education. The Member for South Tyrone had been very sarcastic about the value of this Royal Commission. He differed from the hon. Member in that respect. He did not think the Chief 1222 Secretary would endeavour to mislead the House by the promise of a Royal Commission unless he desired to give some effect to the recommendations of such a Commission, and he desired to say, as representing an Ulster constituency, that if the Commission recommended that further facilities should be given to relieve congested districts the Ulster Members would not be the last to fall in with any reasonable recommendations. They had listened to the dismal tale, told in eloquent language, of the condition of the people of Ireland, but he did not think they had heard quite sufficient of the other side of the picture. Englishmen were too prone to forget that three-fourths of Ireland was more prosperous and happier than it was a quarter of a century ago. Whatever side they looked at it would be seen that the average condition of the people of Ireland was far better to-day than it was twenty-five years ago. Even in Ulster they deplored the gradual decrease of population, but he believed that that was caused not by the reasons stated by hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, but by the long-continued unprofitable character of the agricultural industry. He hoped and believed with all the remedial measures now being taken, the growing improvement in the condition oe the people would continue and increasef In conclusion he wished to refer to the remark of an English Member that he returned from a visit to Ireland a more confirmed Home Ruler than he went. He ventured to say that had he extended his visit a little further north and a little further south of the congested districts, to Belfast, Cork or Dublin, he would have found the people there just as prosperous and just as keen to take advantage of business opportunities as the people in any of the important towns in this country. The hon. Member for South Tyrone was from his speech to-night rapidly travelling towards hon. Gentlemen sitting below the gangway. He wished them joy of their new recruit. The Ulster Party had valued his association with them in the past, but they had now come to the conclusion that they would rather know for certain where he was than see him any longer suspended between heaven and earth l ke Mahomet's coffin.
§ MR. VERNEY (Buckinghamshire, N.)
said that twenty-five years ago he went to Ireland to look into this question for himself. He had then the great opportunity of going among the people themselves and of hearing their story told in their own way with a sincerity, truth, and eloquence born of experience which he could not forget. He went on to one of the largest estates in Ireland and heard from tenant after tenant how one by one the privileges enjoyed by their ancestors had been gradually taken away by landlords or their agents who hardly seemed to know what they were doing, until it became practically impossible for the tenants to live. He heard how in other days they had free turf, free seaweed, free kelp, free cattle runs, and how one after another these privileges had been taken away, privileges which taken each by itself meant so little in money, but which taken together meant all the difference between a happy and prosperous tenantry and the servile condition into which they had been driven inch by inch. He went to Ireland with an open mind and came back a confirmed Home Ruler—a believer in Home Rule not given all at once, but patiently and gradually acquired. The striping of farms had been referred to, and whilst he believed striping, if conducted under the supervision of some public authority, would be a perfectly harmless operation, he was bound to say he had seen farms striped by agents in cases where the rights of the tenants hid not been considered in any way and he came back indignant when he was made to understand what he had seen. Whenever the tenants rights' were taken in hand by the Government, he hoped these adjustments would be made with honesty, fairness, and with sympathy for the people. When on this visit, he had an opportunity of visiting an Irish landlord of the old type, and he could not fail to see that this Gentleman, Mr. Mahony, of Dromore, was really the keystone of the social fabric of the community in which he lived. The government of his estate was a paterna government of the best character, because the character of the man was good; he was a born Irishman and understood the needs of the people amongst whom he lived. It seemed to 1224 him that there was no country in which personality was so important as in Ireland; when the people trusted those who were their natural leaders they gave such loyalty as would not be found in any other part of the world. He was glad to hear that a Royal Commission was to be appointed. The efficacy of a Royal Commission depended upon the men who composed it, the subjects which were submitted to its examination, and upon the men who comprised the Government of the country the Royal Commission represented. He earnestly hoped that all Parties in Ireland had sufficient belief in the present Government to be quite certain that the men appointed on this Commission would be chosen, not because they belonged to a particular creed or Party, but because they were men who would do justice as between England and Ireland, and that their labours would result in permanent benefit to the country. One other matter he wished to refer to. As an Englishman he had no particular bas towards any particular one of the sections into which Ireland was from time to time divided, but he could not but admire the wonderful power of combination which had made the agriculture of Ireland at once the envy and admiration of many of our English farmers. The power of combination which during recent years had been aroused among the farmers of Ireland was an object lesson to the farmers of England. He need only mention the name of Sir Horace Plunkett in connection with that work of combination which had raised many thousands of Irish tenant farmers from the verge of starvation to a position of comfort and even prosperity which they had never before enjoyed.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said he would be expressing the feelings of his colleagues when he said they were exceedingly glad when an Englishman took part in these discussions, particularly one who showed such a great power of sympathy with the Irish people as the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He believed that if any Englishman went over to Ireland in the spirit in which the hon. Member had gone, he would return a strong Home Ruler. The debate that 1225 day had been a very important and satisfactory one. They wanted to have an inquiry into the whole problem of congestion. All over the country the people had been turned off the rich lands and on to the poor lands, in some counties on a larger scale and in others on a smaller scale. It was not only a Connaught problem. What about Meath, King's County, Tipperary, and a long list of counties where there was to be found desolation and loneliness over tens of thousands of acres of the richest land in the world? Leaving this kind of land, one would suddenly pass on to a bog or stony mountain, and there find a crowd of people. Those people had been driven off the rich land by the operation of long centuries of evil laws, which were more ghastly and complete in their irresistible power than any war. He had heard with amazement the statement of the hon. Member for North Londonderry, that the condition of things in Ireland was not so bad as they said, and that it was due to the unprofitable condition of Irish agriculture. Was there ever a more monstrous statement and one which indicated a greater ignorance of the subject? The clearances in Ireland were carried out during a time when agriculture had reached its utmost point of prosperity; therefore such observations only showed that the hon. Member was not fit to discuss the matter at all. A good deal had been said about the Congested Districts Board. It had been often criticised by himself as well as by other Members, but never in an unfair or an unfriendly spirit. The Board was set up in 1891 by the present Leader of the Opposition to deal with the dreadful state of things to be found in the West of Ireland. If hon. Members would look at the original clauses of the Act setting up the Board, they would see that a more preposterous set of clauses was never passed. The right hon. Gentleman felt that something had to be done, and the Board was given some money but no powers, and told to go to the West of Ireland and do something. The Board was faced with an enormous difficulty, and the result was they were able to do exceedingly little. It was not the fault of the Board, but the insuffi- 1226 ciency of legislation under which they came into being, and the whole history of the last sixteen years had been a history of new Acts smuggled through this House after midnight—somewhat in the way that the Musical Copyright Bill was now being tried to be passed through—by stripping off everything that was contentious, in order to aid the Congested Districts Board. With all these Acts the powers of the Board were quite inadequate for the work they had to perform, and therefore he had never lent himself to an ungenerous or a carping criticism of the Board, who had done their best. They had made mistakes, but they had had to travel an untrodden road. They were the first body that ever brought any practical sympathy or help whatever to this poor deserving population, and they had done a good deal, considering their resources. Therefore it would be the most unjust, foolish, and fatuous course to attack or criticise in a hostile spirit the action of these gentlemen. What they wanted was more power, more money, and re-organisation. They were asking the Government in point of fact to undo the work of two centuries, and it was impossible to resettle Ireland unless they were prepared to spend a million or two upon it. But was it not worth that, or a good deal more? It would be quite easy with proper machinery and a very moderate sum of money to turn this poor starving population, which had been the despair of British statesmen and the reproach of the Empire, into a prosperous and happy people. The Congested Districts Board was a Board of unpaid men, and they met only once a month. They had acted as pioneers and had shown what could be done. He did not share the somewhat pessimistic views put forward by the Chief Secretary as to the extent of the work, for in his opinion only the fringe of the task had been touched; In the spots where they had operated the Board had done admirably, but they had only touched the fringe of the subject. In the constituency which he represented they had done marvellously. If hon. Members came over to Ireland he advised them to pay a visit to East Mayo. The Congested Districts Board had bought an estate in Mayo, owned by an absentee landlord, who for about forty years had 1227 never spent one farthing on the estate, although he had been drawing from it about £20,000 a year in rents. On that estate there were 4,000 little tenants paying £4 a year which they earned by coming over to this country to work in the harvest field. The Board had spent £60,000 on improvements where £500 had not been spent during the previous century, and that money went largely into the pockets of the people for making roads and fences, and draining the land. By a proper system of drainage the Board had reclaimed and created some 1,500 acres of land for these people. It was hard to get an Irish farmer to admit that he had received any benefit, but one farmer had admitted to him that by this new drainage he had got thirteen acres of land for nothing. That result only proved what an enormous benefit it was to spend money in that way in Ireland. An additional difficulty in the solution of this question was that it was more difficult to get an Irish tenant to migrate distance of twenty-five miles in his own country, than it was to get him to go to Boston or Massachusetts or Philadelphia. In going to America they knew they, were going to their friends, but they had the greatest reluctance to migrate from one county to another, because they felt they were going among strangers. Was that not an additional argument in favour of instant action to solve this problem? Would it be believed that after fifteen years the law was in this chaotic and preposterous condition? Where the grazing land was close by the congested districts the Board could do nothing. They bought a farm in one instance, but on account of the state of the law the wretched little holders of land close by could not have any addition to their holdings, and the Board had to bring tenants from a distance, with the result that there was an agitation about the introduction of strangers in the district. The same thing was going on all over Ireland. All they had to do was to buy the grass lands, and without expense or difficulty of moving they could solve the problem by increasing the small holdings of adjacent tenants. That was one of the reasons why it was impossible for the Congested Districts Board to give satisfaction. It was no use for the Chief Secretary to say that they had now got machinery at work which was doing its best to solve the 1228 problem. The administrators of this policy must be furnished with sufficient powers to carry it out. On the Clanricarde estate tenants had been waiting in misery for three years to get the benefit of the Act of 1903, which, they were told, was to restore every evicted tenant in Ireland within a few months. Within a stone's throw of the Clanricarde estate there were tens of thousands of acres of the finest land in Ireland. He did not see why the Government should not deal with Lord Clanricarde now in the interests of law and order in Ireland. He agreed with his hon. friend in thinking that one of the good things which the last Government did was the appointment of the Estates Commission. They were honest men most anxious to carry out the policy of Parliament, but powers had not been given to them to do it. Their hands were tied. The Chief Secretary had made a strong appeal, almost given a warning, to the hon. Member for South Galway in regard to the preservation of order. He could quite understand the feeling which prompted the right hon. Gentleman to make the observation. But was it not hard to ask his hon. friend to be patient in view of the condition of the people? He was as a rule entirely averse to Royal Commissions in regard to Irish matters. He approved this one because it might conduce to keeping the people quiet during the summer. If there were no such sign of coming relief how could they say to their people "have patience"? For half a century the Irish people had been taught that if they were patient they got nothing, but that when there was plenty of disturbance and violence this House hastened to legislate. For heaven's sake let them not be taught that lesson again. He and his friends desired to keep the country peaceable, and their influence would be exercised in that direction. One of their strongest motives for supporting the appointment of the Royal Commission was that they could go back to the people and say that there was to be an inquiry. He believed that would help them to induce the people to have more patience, and to give the Chief Secretary a chance. The appointment of the Commission would give the people some hope that, in spite of their bitter experience in the past, there was really an intention to get at the facts of the case and to do something. He believed that this Royal Commission under the present 1229 Government would not be a mere postponing machinery, but that something would be done quickly. The Cowper Commission was appointed in the month of October on the motion of Lord Randolph Churchill, and it reported in January or February, and legislation took place that session.
§ MR. DILLON
said the Plan of Campaign was behind it. Bat did the hon. Gentleman wish him to start another Plan of Campaign? The very observation of the hon. Gentleman showed how strong his case was. They would do their best to keep the country quiet. The House of Lords, by the introduction of unfortunate words into the Act of 1903, destroyed that measure practically, but even without those words the Act would have been inoperative. Within his own observation estates which under the old Act sold at ten years' purchase had had twenty-four years' purchase offered for them. The Act of 1903 had enabled the landlords to raise prices between 50 and 100 per cent.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
reminded the hon. Member of the powers conferred by Clause 9 of the Act. Mr. Dillon said that that was the way in which the Act of 1903 had operated on these western lands. It had raised the price at least 50 or 100 per cent. In all those western states there was a deadlock at this moment, because the landlord was actually asking—and getting, too, he was sorry to say—twenty-four years purchase for his land. That was one of the chief obstacles, and until it was overcome by compulsory powers and a fair valuation it would be impossible to settle the question of the land. It was perfectly true that some of these little farms was not good security at twenty-four years purchase, and it would be dishonest of him not to tell the truth in regard to these matters. The British public had never lent money on better security than on Irish land, but it must be at a fair price. There was also the question of arrears of rent. For years the western landlords had let the land at a preposterous rent, which they did not expect 1230 to get and could not get. But they let the rent run on and took what they could and carried on the arrears. And there were estates in the west where there were seven or eight or nine years arrears of rent carried on for a period of twenty-five years. Were they going to shut their eyes and buy over for dishonest landlords at a fictitious price what was more or less a bad debt, and then undertake the invidious task of collecting those arrears? The first thing they ought to do with those landlords was to make them show their books and thus see what rent they really got. These were all matters to be inquired into. There was another point. The whole curse of Ireland had arisen from the practice of competitive rents and of trading on the fact that they had in Ireland an agricultural people with no other means of living. Seeing the time coming for the effort to settle the people, the landlords divided up their land into small sections so as to get the hunger for the land into operation. The result was that the land so split up was sold, it was taken by shopkeepers and others, and was gone for ever for the purposes of that Act. Thus they were setting up landlordism again all over the country and losing the possibility of settling this congested question. And by and by, when they had got the machinery for solving the congested problem, they would find that there was no land left. That was another reason why he wished to see this Commission constituted. He believed it would be a fresh declaration to Ireland of the policy of the Government, and that when people saw the Commissioners of this Parliament going round Ireland and mapping these lands for the use of the people, public opinion would be entirely too strong for any man to come in and take those lands. He believed that if the Commission was honestly and properly carried into effect, as he had no doubt the Chief Secretary intended that it should be, it would serve a double purpose. It would satisfy Ireland and aid them in preaching patience to their people, and it would place in a reliable form the facts of the Irish situation, and thus enable Parliament to bring to an end the present deplorable condition of affairs.
§ MR. HUGH LAW (Donegal, W.)
thought that they should be exceedingly glad that the Government had assented to the appointment of a 1231 Royal Commission, because they all believed that it was a forward and not a backward step as his hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone seemed to think. They believed that the Commission would work rapidly and accumulate materials for the working out of the real remedy for a state of things the finding of a remedy for which had for many and many a year taxed the ingenuity of statesmen of both countries. It was an unfortunate fact that in spite of all the legislation of the past quarter of a century the very people whose sufferings perhaps more than anything else contributed towards the starting of the land agitation had profited less by that legislation than any other class. He knew many estates in which the conditions which had been described had existed for generation after generation, and the people had been condemned to the same state of misery which they now knew. Unless something revolutionary occurred no change in their state for the better was possible. In the fifteen years that had elapsed since the Congested Districts Board was first started many changes had occurred in Ireland, and he would be the very last man to say that that Board had done nothing for the districts which it was charged to administer. On the contrary, he entirely joined with the Chief Secretary in praise of the admirable work which the Board had done in relation to many things and especially in relation to the affairs of the Western Coast of Ireland, although naturally Irish Members wished they would do more. As regarded the land, however, he was afraid that there was no question at all as to their action, and that there was really no answer to what his hon. friend the Member for East Mayo had said, that the Board was not equal to the task which was thrown upon it, viz., the resettlement of Western Ireland and the congested districts. He would venture to suggest, moreover, that even after the resettlement of the land had been accomplished there would remain other questions and problems to be settled, and he quite agreed that concurrently with the question of the land, which was of the greatest importance, the Government would consider those other questions which also were very important in connection with the congested districts. For instance, he hoped that the Govern- 1232 ment would consider at the same time as the land question the question of transit as it affected the West of Ireland, and that they would also consider the very difficult problem of local taxation. They had had some very remarkable evidence before the Royal Commission on Local Taxation showing the manner in which taxes pressed upon the poorest parts of the country, and anyone who had read that evidence would see that after the re-settlement of the land there would remain matter for further consideration in regard to the future welfare of the people. Having said that, he wished to express the pleasure which they all felt at the step which the Government had announced their intention to take. There was no question that the reason for the condition of the congested districts was a matter as well worthy of the attention of the Government as many a thing which made a greater noise, because they had got there really to undertake the uplifting of the whole of the people. They heard a great deal now-a-days about people being got back to the land, and he had recently read a report by the Commissioners who were appointed to consider some proposals made by Mr. Rider Haggard for migration from the cities to land in the United Kingdom, and those proposals were considered with a certain amount of favour. It was suggested that they should spend large sums in getting people back from the cities on to the land, but it would be much simpler if they began at the other end. In Ireland they had people who were on the land, and who would be only too delighted to stop there if the Government gave them a chance. They had a people who clung to the land with a devotion perhaps unequalled in any other part of the world. They were a people who asked for little; they had been accustomed for generations to hard living, and it would be difficult to find in all Europe, at all events in Western Europe, a people who were so brave and whose patience was so remarkable under hard conditions of labour. It was quite true that the standard of comfort was rising and that under the influence of America people were less tolerant of hard conditions than they had been in the past, but still, if the Government gave these people but half a chance they were only too willing to remain upon the land. He 1233 believed that no greater or more admirable task could be undertaken by the State than the raising of the status of the people in these districts. The conditions of the congested districts was a menace to our civilisation, because it violated that divine law that all mankind were bound together in one brotherhood, and that if one suffered the whole body suffered. Therefore this was not a matter which could be neglected by this country. He did not think that it was a question in regard to which any part of the House would be content to remain inactive, and to allow these people to continue in the condition in which they were. The Government, therefore, in any policy for the improvement of the conditions of these people were sure of the hearty support of the representatives of the Irish people, and so long as they had reason to believe that the Government intended to act honestly in regard to this Commission, that they meant business, that they meant legislation to follow, they could be sure that, so far as the Irish Members were concerned, they would receive their most earnest support. It was sometimes charged against them that they had really no desire to improve the condition of these poor people and remove the evils and poverty from which they suffered. It was suggested that the Irish Members were really averse to improving the material prosperity of their country, and that they were really fishing in troubled waters, and found in the want of prosperity of their country a considerable amount of political capital. Such a suggestion was absolutely baseless. He did not think those who knew how these people lived would have the heart to adopt such a practice. They had a much broader faith in the people than to suppose they would ever be led away by that means.
§ MR. EDWARD BARRY (Cork County, S.)
who was indistinctly heard, said that practically the work of the Congested Districts Board had been in-operative in the South of Ireland. It had been pointed out that there was very little land available for emigration but they had another field in the south—the sea. Useful work had been done as regarded the southern coast line in Father Davis's time, but since then nothing had been done. They could not expect that the necessary assistance would be forth 1234 coming unless there was some change in the Congested Districts Board. Father Davis only survived the creation of the Board by a few years, but during that time he did work that would live long in the memories of the people of the South of Ireland. He asked that a representative for the South of Ireland should be appointed to the Board to make its work effective.
§ MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)
said he rose not because he thought he could add anything to what had been said as to the misery and suffering of the people of Ireland, but because he desired to point out that this was an English as well as an Irish question. It was not only Ireland that suffered, but England as well, and what surprised him was that Members with Imperial ideas should treat this question with such scant courtesy. Colonial questions interested them; they desired to see the British flag flying in every part of the world, but they did not address themselves to the question of Ireland, where there were 4,000,000 of their own kith and kin who were disgusted by the misgovernment of their country. The debate to-day had been one continued wail of distress. When he first came into the House of Commons in 1892, how full they all were of hope for Ireland. It was to bring deliverance to Ireland that that Parliament was returned. Fourteen years had passed, and how much more forward were they now? Ireland was still more depopulated, and there was the same tale of ruin and woe from the representatives of the Irish people. Was the Parliament of Great Britain so impotent that it was unable to deal with this problem? Much had been done. Many good measures had been passed by the Tory as well as by the Liberal Party, but every inhabitant of Ireland who knew his country said that something more must be done, for the country was going to ruin and decay. He supposed there were not many lion. Members who even knew what a congested district was. They thought it was an overcrowded place like a slum in Salford. The problem in Ireland was due to people having been driven on to land where they could not get a living, whereas the fertile land was denuded of people. The Chief Secretary said that with a view to legislation he must have the support of English public opinion, and that was one 1235 of the reasons why he was prepared to appoint this Commission. He would not pretend to criticise the Commission, but he did feel a little in agreement with the hon. Member for South Tyrone when he reminded the House of the number of Commissions that had already sat. He should have, thought that in the archives of the Irish Office there was information enough about the condition of Irish land to have rendered another Commission unnecessary; but he would leave that. What the people of Ireland were asking for to-day was land. To keep them on the land was the problem before Parliament. If it were not for the landlords, and if Parliament had only the Irish people and the land of Ireland to deal with, the problem would be easy of solution. It was only the Clanricardes, the Sligos, the Dillons, and the rest of the landlords who were in the way. They had been told how Lord Dillon had been expropriated by purchase. He had seen some of the tenants on that land, and he had also seen tenants on the De Freyne estate, and whilst the latter tenants were nearly always expecting to be visited by the police owing to friction with their landlords the tenants on the Dillon Estate were as happy and contented as they possibly could be. If the Congested Districts Board were given the powers and facilities which had been suggested he thought that would be a solution of the difficulty. How long were they going to go on in this way? They had a new Parliament and he had every faith in it, and the House was well disposed towards Ireland. They had a Chief Secretary in whom trust had been expressed and he shared that trust. He hoped that the result of this debate in which so many of the troubles of Ireland had been laid bare would be that the germ of hope which they entertained would be brought to fruition.
§ MR. PAUL (Nottingham)
said his only excuse for taking part in this debate was that he was interested by a reference made by the hon. Member for East Mayo to Lord Cowper's Commission. How was that Commission appointed? Owing to a sudden fall of rents five years after the passing of the Land Act of 1881 Mr. Parnell introduced an Irish Land Bill which was rejected in the House of Commons. This was followed by the 1236 Plan of Campaign, and that was followed by the Commission over which Lord Cowper presided. He was a Unionist and a great Irish landlord, but he and his Commissioners were so much impressed by the state of things in Ireland that they recommended not only that judicial rents which had been fixed for fifteen years should be revised, but that leaseholders should be brought in under the Act. The Government of that day said through the mouth of Lord Salisbury that that would be not only impolitic but dishonourable. Some Liberal Unionist allies of the Government were not satisfied with that declaration and the Plan of Campaign was exceedingly successful. Before that Commission was over the leaseholders were brought in, and a great improvement was made in the social condition of Ireland. But the Government of that day made that change because they had entire control of the House of Lords. The present Government was exceedingly strong and had a very large majority and he hoped it would be able to do a great deal for Ireland as well as for England. There was, however, one suggestion he would like to make before he sat down, and it was that he hoped this Government, strong as it was, would not give any opportunity to the people of this country or to the people of Ireland, in connection with a Bill which he must not discuss, of saying that the Roman Catholics had to look to another place for protection.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.