HC Deb 13 May 1909 vol 4 cc2103-34

Postponed proceeding on Question, "That a sum not exceeding £4,750,000 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 31st day of March, 1910, for Old Age Pensions and Administrative Charges in connection therewith resumed."


I heard the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in his endeavour to show that the Old Age Pensions Act was being generously administered in Ireland, pointing to the case of a farmer with 100 or 200 acres who was in possession of an old age pension. The area of the farm is not at all germane to the question. It may be a poor mountainy farm of the very worst character, held at a nominal rate of £2 or £.3 a year, so that I was a little surprised to hear the Chief Secretary, who is usually so sympathetic to Ireland, giving us this case as an instance of the generous administration of the Act. When you come to the question of appraising the incomes for old age pensions of the occupants of farms I must say that, from my own personal experience and observation of the working of the Act, I wholly disagree with him, and I think this 100-acre farm is a very farfetched case indeed, and one of the very worst which the right hon. Gentleman could have selected. There is no doubt that the general principle which has been adopted by the pension officers in Ireland in assessing the incomes of claimants has been to take 2½ or 3 times the annual rent of the holding, when it is a farm held at an ordinary judicial rent, and in the case of a tenant-purchaser the figure is put at four times the annuity. That rule, although it has worked arbitrarily and has nothing to support it, and is a mere theoretic standard, has not created any great hardships in Ireland, except perhaps in one class of cases, and these cases in which the entire sympathy of the pensions committee and of the legislative body should be directed to endeavour to see that, above all, people of the particular class to whom I allude should have the benefit of the Act. I refer to those broken-down, worn-out, old occupiers of small farms. In these cases one usually finds perhaps a widow, whose children have all gone to America, or perhaps a widow who has had no family at all, and the same occurs in the case of some poor, old, broken-down man living alone. Here we have this poor man or woman, worn out after a life of toil, broken down, living upon a farm which does not yield sufficient to enable them to pay rent; they are unable to employ any labour, and are driven to their last resource, namely, setting up the farm to auction for grazing purposes or for conacre. I have one case in my mind of a little farm which, when put up realised £16 12s. 6d., and another £17. There was another case where the valuation was £10 and the rent was £5, and these were set up for auction for conacre and grazing. The entire means of livelihood to those tenants for the year was the produce of that sale. Yet the construction put on the regulations by the pension is this, that this is a case that comes within subsection (c), section 40, of the Act, and which enabled the pensions officer to investigate whether the farm was being profitably used. What right has he to lecture those unfortunate people about the profitable use of land? These are old people broken down in health and strength, and the only one means of living they have is of selling the farm or getting evicted, and having to go to the workhouse. What is the practice of the pensions officer in this matter in Ireland? If the pensions committee approves of these cases the officer appeals to the Local Government Board, and they hold that this is a farm which is not profitably used, and they assess the income of the claimant in that very case at three or four times the rent. The result is that you have people who may be confined to bed, or at any rate who are completely broken down in general health, living upon a farm which they cannot till, refused an old age pension because this construction has been put upon the regulations by the pensions officer. While I am on that point I should like to refer to something the Chief Secretary said upon the transfer of land by fathers to sons, the father preserving an annuity, or maintenance, and in some cases in lieu of maintenance, and in some cases also no support or maintenance whatever. In the ordinary everyday avocation which I follow in Ireland it has been my lot to have numbers of these pensions claimants come before me, and in many cases it is not a matter of a transfer effected immediately before the Act came into force with a view of qualifying for the pension. I am referring to cases of transfer effected years ago, where the farmer assigned the farm to the son to enable the son to get married, reserving to himself the right of support and maintenance and keep in the house given over to his son, and which was formerly his own house. The pensions officer comes along and says that was a good and bonâ fide transaction, but your support, maintenance and keep disqualifies you from an old age pension. I know that a valuation has been put upon support, maintenance, and keep the farmer, because under all these agreements the old man, knowing that he is coming near to the end of his life, and that he is practically in sight of the grave, seeing a young wife coming in, says: "I may yet have to make a home for myself and go elsewhere," and therefore a clause is put into the agreement that in the event of a disagreement turning up the old man shall cease to live with the married pair, and shall receive £10 a year if he goes out. In that case the pensions officer comes along, and says your support and maintenance and keep is worth more than £30 a year. He seizes on it as if it were an absolute transfer, whereas it is an unconscionable document and one that no court in Ireland would ever stand over. I see the Attorney-General for Ireland in his place, and I am sure he will tell the House that where a man divests himself of his entire property without intending to make proper provision for himself, and having regard to his circumstances, the court would revoke that document, and the Chief Secretary, I am afraid, afforded us an example of endeavouring to strain the argument when he brought forward as an illustration this class of farmer, who, he said, put their sons into their farms and tried to secure for themselves support worth £10 a year. It is straining the argument for the purpose of trying to show that the pension officer has to put a valuation of £30 a year upon the man's support, maintenance, and keep. Let me take another case. It is the case of a small tenant farmer who had £500 in the bank and who occupied a farm of the anuual valuation of £5, and had an annuity of £4 4s. The £500 was on deposit at 1 per cent., and brought in £5 a year, the annuity was £4 4s., and, accepting the maximum, his income was £16 16s. Added to that £5 you get £21 16s., which left the claimant qualified for a very substantial pension. Notwithstanding regulation 45 of the Instruction to Pensions Officers, what happened when this case came before the pensions officer? The Committee granted the man a pension of 4s. a week on the basis of an income of £21 16s. The pension officer appealed, and it went before the Local Government Board, and the Local Government Board disallowed the pension on the ground that the income of the claimant was outside the statutory allowance. How does that work out? Rule 45 says that the yearly value of money invested must be taken as the amount of income derived from investment. The only conclusion we can come to in this case is that the pension officer values the farm at seven times the annual rent, and that view was backed up by the Local Government Board. I think that is a very harsh and unconscionable view to take, and one that should not find the support of anyone interested in the proper working of the Old Age Pensions Act in Ireland.

I come now to the question of age. There is the case which has already been mentioned of a claimant whose name appears in the census of 1841, and also in the census of 1851, the former being favourable and the latter unfavourable to the claimant. In this case the pension was granted at first, but the pension officer comes down with a certificate from the 1841 census and disqualifies the claimant. A clergyman, who was a member of the pension committee, and who knew this was a case about which there could be no doubt, went to Dublin himself, made an inspection, and found that the claimant was qualified under the 1851 census, and produced a certificate to that effect. Had that clergyman not hunted up that certificate, no doubt, on the strength of the pension officer's report on the 1841 census, this claimant would have been disqualified. I would like to know whether, when these appeals on the ground of age come before the Local Government Board, they make any search themselves in the Census Office. Do they send a member of the staff to the Record Office? Have they ever considered? the many reasons and causes that govern the absence of names from the Census Returns?

I have made inquiries amongst some of the oldest inhabitants in my district in reference to the absence of the names of well-known families from the census. In one case in county Tyrone the officer said he had been to inquire in all the houses on the roadside, but he had not inquired on the mountainside where the old people had lived, and they were disqualified on the ground, that they could not produce any documentary evidence. Another reason why these census difficulties have arisen is that the Irish people are intensely patriotic and intensely national, and they cling to their old Irish names, notwithstanding the statutory obligation which requires them to take some English name. The result is that some members of the family get known by the alternative name. In another case the absence of a name from the register was found to be due to the fact that the mother hid her sons under the bed because she thought the census officers were soldiers looking for her sons in order to take their names for conscription.

These are all reasons explaining absence of names from the census, but all these difficulties could be got over by local evidence. These difficulties would not have arisen if the Inland Revenue office had stuck to the circular issued on 4th November, which stated that after carefully considering the matter the Board had decided that in cases where no documentary evidence could be produced, and where the pension officer had no doubt that the claimant was over 70 years of age, and the clergymen of the district where the claimant lived was prepared to state in writing that the applicant was over 70 years of age, further evidence might be dispensed with. On the 3rd February another circular was issued setting forth that documentary evidence must be produced. The hon. Member for East Mayo has described the circular of the 3rd February as fetter on the pension officer, but the Secretary to the Treasury has denied that contention. I can prove beyond doubt that that circular is a fetter which operated very effectively from a Treasury standpoint. In one pension committee's department, from 1st October to 31st December, 1908, 500 claims were sent to the old age pension committees, and only 6 per cent. were dis- allowed by the pension officer. From 1st January to 1st May this year 420 claims were received, and no less than 210, or 50 per cent., were disallowed, whereas in the previous period only 6 per cent. had been disallowed, as the result of issuing the circular to which I have referred no less than 50 per cent. were disallowed. I hope the Secretary to the Treasury will consider the position at the present moment. I know of cases of applicants for old age pensions in regard to whom census returns are not available, and although it can easily be proved they are a great deal older than 70 years, they have not been accepted as pensioners. I think all these instances show that the Act has not been properly administered. Surely we are entitled to know upon what principle the appeals are dealt with by the Local Government Board. I was delighted to hear the Chief Secretary undertake to furnish us with the grounds upon which many of these appeals have been dismissed. Without giving any names, I want the Chief Secretary to give us a Return showing the number of appeals which have been sent in. We want to know whether they have been disallowed on the ground of age, means, absence in America, or for having received poor relief. If he gives me this information he will go a long way to bear out what we are contending for, namely, that this appeal system is far from satisfactory. When these appeals are sent up do they go to the head of the Department or are they considered by a first or second division clerk? Are they rushed through in a hurry, and is the decision of one supervised by his superior? What I want to know is, who is responsible for these decisions of the Local Government Board? A more extraordinary tribunal never before existed than exists in these cases. I do not think you can conceive anything like it in the length and breadth of the British Empire. A man goes before the Local Government Board, and some clerk, I suppose, questions him as to his means, and the only evidence which can be adduced is the evidence of the accused man himself. I want to bring a serious anomaly under the notice of the Government. Under Regulation 14 subsection 5 when a claim for an old age pension is disallowed by the committee, the committee are bound to send notice to the claimant of their decision and the ground on which they have disallowed it. But they never send information to the Local Government Board if a claim has been refused. That practice leaves room for serious abuse. I think I can give an example which will convince the Chief Secretary that some alteration ought to be made in the existing laws. A case came before the attention of the committee. The pension officer agreed that he was entitled to a pension of 4s., but the pension committee held that he was entitled to a pension of 5s., and it was granted to him. An appeal was made to the Local Government Board, and they decided that he was to have no pension at all. I should like to suggest that the Local Government Board should intimate to a claimant their decision and the grounds thereof. It would obviate to a large extent the objections which I have made with regard to the decision of the Local Government Board. The greater part of the irritation and annoyance which exist in Ireland is due to the way in which people who are looking for pensions are treated by the pension officers and the Local Government Board. I remember in the early stage of the working of the Act claimants made out their cases, but the pension officers found reasons why pensions should not be given. We are told that no special instructions have been given with reference to Ireland. I maintain that there have been special instructions given in regard to Ireland. That is one reason of the annoyance which has been created by the administration of the Act in Ireland. A second reason is that slander has been levelled against Ireland. It has been stated in this country that there has been wholesale fraud. If so, clergymen of all denominations, business men, and others must have been concerned in it, for otherwise the wholesale fraud could not have taken place. It has been stated in England that tens of thousands of people in Ireland have carried out this fraud. You sent over your Commissioners. What was the result? It was proved that there were less than two thousand persons had to be struck off. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated in this House that the investigations of the Commissioners showed that there was appalling evidence of poverty in Ireland. You must amend the system of administrating the Act in Ireland. You must be more candid with the people. You should make it clear that anyone who is entitled to a pension will get it. We ask for no special consideration whatever. If you give the pension to all those who are entitled to it in Ireland, it will do something to take away that bitterness of feeling which exists at the present moment, and will establish in the affections of the Irish people the founder of old age pensions.


I can corroborate all that the last speaker has said on this subject, but I wish to confine myself to the question of the inaccuracy of the census. Every man knows from experience that the census is inaccurate. The Census Returns could not be otherwise than inaccurate, because every person knows how the Census Returns were obtained. I myself remember very well policemen going about the country and leaving documents in the houses of small farmers. As a rule, however, the Census Returns were taken by some small boy, and, therefore, the information which was obtained was such on which there could be no reliance. It is on a census such as that which the administrative body relies in order to refuse the aged peasantry of Ireland old age pensions.

It was in 1881, I believe, that I filled in the documents of which I have spoken, and if they were then inaccurate how much more liable are the Census Returns of 1851 and 1841 to be incorrect, and yet it is upon these later returns so much reliance is being placed by the authorities. It is a well known fact, I believe, that there is one case in which two brothers who are twins appear on the census, one as two years older than the other. That is one illustration of the inaccuracy of these papers. There is another case I have heard of, and I have every reason to believe the truth of the statement, that a person who appears on the census of 1851, and received a pension, belongs to a family another member of which is well known to be his senior, and yet that one by some unhappy accident or mischance has not his name on the census paper, and is deprived of his pension. Surely that is not a fair way to administer the Act! It is not the spirit in which it was intended to be administered, but that is one of the complaints which is causing so much bitterness in Ireland, because of the hardships which are known to result. I must say, from my own experience of the pension committees, that they are very careful indeed to see that no person who is not entitled to it gets a pension. They hear all the evidence and award a pension to the party who they think is entitled to it. The pension officer attends at the meeting, sits there with all the dignity and importance of a Treasury official, does not open his mouth to say a word, and leaves after the pension committee have made their award. But, having returned home, he writes to the Local Government Board intimating his intention to appeal against the decision of the committee. He gives no reason for his action, he does not state the grounds of his objection, and thus he prevents the pension committee from saving the poor claimant from the disaster that threatens him. This practice is being carried on to such an extent that in some districts the pension committees are threatening to resign, because they look upon it as a humiliation and an insult that the pension officer should treat their decisions in such a high-handed manner. The only reason why they do not resign is that they think they would be playing into the hands of the Treasury, and would thereby deprive these poor people, who look to them for advice, counsel, and assistance, of the benefits which the Act was intended to confer upon them. They continue to act, in fact, purely out of sympathy for these poor people, and under these circumstances I hope the Chief Secretary will give an undertaking that this practice shall not go on, and that the pension officer, if he determines to appeal, shall announce the ground of his appeal, and put the committee in a position to meet the objections he intends to raise. I am sure that the committees are as anxious as the officer himself to see that no person who is undeserving shall get a pension. I am a member of a pension committee myself, and I know that all my colleagues are most anxious to prevent pensions being granted to those who are not entitled to them. They do not wish that any person who is not entitled should receive even one farthing under the Old Age Pensions Act, and it should also be borne in mind that the great majority of the people are not either anxious or willing to get these pensions, but would prefer to be in a position to do without them. I only wish to say, in conclusion, that I appeal to the responsible authority to see that the two complaints which I have put forward are attended to. I want to ensure that no person as to whose age there is reliable evidence, even in the absence of certificates, shall be deprived of the pension because his name does not appear in the census; and, secondly, I ask that when appeals are made by pension officers behind the backs of the pension committee the officer shall state the ground upon which he bases his objection, and that the deserving applicants shall therefore not improperly be deprived of the benefits of an Act which has been passed for their advantage.


Being a member of a pension committee I also am anxious to make a few remarks with regard to the general administration of this Act. But in the first place I must say that every Irish Member who speaks in a Debate in this House has reason to complain that he is called upon to address empty benches. It is deplorable that some of the Members who have spoken to-night have dissociated themselves with the claim which we are making for a fair administration of this Act. We are told that the administration is the same in Ireland as in England, but I doubt if it be possible to make out a good case in that respect, because if the Act was administered in the same way in the two countries, why should the Government have thought it necessary to send a commission of experts to Ireland, to find fault with recipients of the pensions, and to substantiate the charge which has been levelled against them of having secured a pension to which they are not entitled? I quite agree that the Secretary to the Treasury made a courteous speech, but he does not appear to me to have any information about the administration of Ireland at all. He was asked as to the number of pensioners in the different counties in Ireland, and he spoke of the difficulty of ascertaining, but every county in Ireland has a council, which has, under the Act, a pension committee, which is paid by the Treasury according to the number of pensioners in that particular county, and instead of having any difficulty about getting the information, I think any clerk of ordinary competence could in one day give the information. If that is the amount of information that the Treasury has about Ireland, it must be with some hopelessness that we approach any question with which they are connected, and over which they have any control. In my own part of the country I had to fill up over 500 pension papers. I was very well acquainted with all the applicants for pensions, and I am bound to say, in regard to the early applications, the pension officers did their duty sympathetically and well, and in all cases which came before our committee pensions were granted, until it was found that Ireland was going to get a larger share than was anticipated—a share which the Secretary to the Treasury has to admit was justifiable and de- served, and in which there was no fraud whatever. It was only when the Treasury interfered that the pension officers felt, as all public officials would feel, that it was their duty to find objections to the granting of pensions, instead of acting within the spirit of the Act of Parliament, in order to give a pension to every man and woman who was in need of it, and had reached the age of 70. Not only have we to complain of the Treasury, however, we have to complain of our own Local Government Board, because, as has been pointed out by hon. Members, even in the cases where the pension committees themselves allowed pensions of 2s., 3s., and 4s., where the appeal went to the Irish Local Government Board they actually, without any reason, as far as we can see, interfered with the pension officers and the committee's decision as to the amount and set it aside

How did the English Local Government Board act when there was any question as to age, or any other matter? The matter was dealt with in the most sympathetic way, but in Ireland when there was any dispute about the age, it was documentary evidence that was found to be necessary, and if there was the least suspicion or excuse for doing away with the pension, the Local Government Board stepped in and did away with it. I am not personally disposed to make any particular claim for men with farms or with substantial sums of money to their credit, because in my experience on the pension committee one fact that struck me most forcibly in Ireland was that the people who are the most needy and the most deserving people, were those who failed to receive pensions. Of course, we all know that the relief disqualification did serious harm in Ireland, and I cannot for the life of me see why out-door relief should disqualify a person anywhere from receiving a pension. In Ireland many of the people who have received relief belong to the most hard-working and deserving portion of the population. In addition to that, there is another class of people who deserve the greatest sympathy, and who are also sufferers by reason of the new regulations and harsh conditions that the Governmental authorities have decided upon in reference to pensions—poor people whose relatives have died while they were away and were working as servants in different parts of the country for the last 50 or 60 years, and who are to a large extent illiterate, though not unintelligent. These people have lost sight of their family, and very often, though they can tell you their fathers' and mothers' names, they cannot tell you the districts in which they were born, probably with the result that no documentary proof, either from the census or otherwise, is able to be procured. In these cases—there are not many of them—the pension officers at the present time, owing to the new regulations of the Treasury, are leaving them to hang on, with hope disappearing day after day, some of them dying whilst they are waiting for a pension that has not come for months past. We hear difficulties put in the way as to the amount of business that has to be transacted in different parts of the country, but I do think that no Government Department in Ireland ought to allow a week to elapse without giving every person who is entitled to it a pension, that would make them happy and comfortable for the few years that they have to remain in this world. I think there is nothing more touching or more painful than to have men or women coming miles on some occasions, and always with some trouble, to attend a meeting of the pensions committee, and to be put back meeting after meeting, because the pensions officer cannot inquire into their cases. I know a good deal about my own country and my own locality, but I never knew as much about it as I learned in the course of filling up the forms and investigating the cases of old age pensions. I have filled up the papers of people ranging from 71 to 94 years of age, and when I hear people talking about the ease with which you can measure a person's age, as to whether he is 71 or 80, I cannot but treat their observations with contempt by reason of my own personal experience, because when a person goes beyond 65 years of age, it seems to me, that no man is capable of forming an accurate estimate within a year or two. Very often a man of 77 has more youth and vigour than a person of 73, and I filled up the form of a woman 94 years of age who had as much intellectual clearness and bodily strength, except for paralysis of the feet, as many of the younger claimants. Instead of quibbling and trying to find difficulties about the ages of these poor people, there ought to be the steady and ready desire that there was in the beginning to satisfy their hope and give them these pensions to which the good intentions of Parliament entitles them, and of which in Ireland they are in need at the present time. When one remembers and knows what the position of some of these poor people was before they received the pension, and when you observe the comfort and the happiness that comes to them after it is given it would make you do anything in your power to rescue them from the sorrow and the privation they suffer from, and to place them in the position they ought to be placed in. The regulations of the Treasury as far as the pension officers are concerned, and the actions of the Irish Local Government Board are hampering unnecessarily and cruelly some of the claims of these poor people in Ireland, and I would ask the Attorney-General that instead of bothering his head about Crown prosecutions he should assist the Chief Secretary and make an effort to bring the Local Government Board into true touch with the pension committees. This is a matter about which there ought to be and need be no quarrel, but we who sit upon pension committees in Ireland are practically only capable of performing the former duty as neither the pension officers nor the Local Government Boards in later days pay any heed to our opinions in reference to pensions. Of course we recognise the pension scheme has been a great and beneficial one, but at the same time we assert that as far as Ireland is concerned we do not look upon it as a charity, but as a right, and that we are entitled to it, and you will take very good care that we pay our share of it when it comes to payment as far as the British Treasury is concerned. Therefore, I would appeal to the Irish officers of the Government to be particularly active in this matter, and to remove the causes of complaint which undoubtedly exist in some cases, and whilst many are benefiting, whilst a great number of people are lifted up into a better condition in Ireland by reason of its operation up to the present, to remove all causes of complaint, and to give every single old man or woman who is in poverty a pension at the earliest opportunity.


I have followed the Debate fairly closely, and one thing is apparent, and that is that instructions have been issued to the officers and to the experts sent over by the Treasury in Ireland which were not issued in this country either to the experts or to the ordinary pension officers. I regret the distinction particularly as to some extent it confirms or tends to confirm the allegations which have been made in the British Press that the Irish people fraudulently made claims, and that in many cases the pension committees supported those claims, but making every allowance for the shortcomings of the Act no one can deny that it has conferred enormous benefits on the poor in Ireland. I remember when it first came into operation its opponents represented that we should have bear garden scenes at the different Post Offices, and that the people who got the pensions would spend the major part of it in drink. Mr. Gladstone once said there are some people who believe Irish men and women have been born with a double dose of original sin, and to those there is no use in speaking, but the admirable way in which the Post Office conducted its business reflected credit on the officials of that office and the manner in which the people conducted themselves reflected credit on them.

There is a pathetic side to this Question, though no doubt it confers enormous advantages on the poor. I in my own immediate neighbourhood am aware that in some instances the excitement of the people caused their premature death. I remember being asked to go to witness the signature of a poor woman. She would be satisfied with no one else witnessing her mark but myself, and though anyone could have witnessed it, of course I gave way to her wishes and witnessed it. It was painful to watch the intense anxiety of this good creature. One can imagine what a difference 5s. a week would have made to her. Here she was, a helpless old woman about 82 or 83 years of age, supported by her own son. They were extremely poor. She was hardly able to speak for anxiety. Her claim was recognised, but I am sorry to say she never received her 5s. She was taken away before she became entitled to it. There were two other cases in my immediate neighbourhood, one in which an old man whom I knew all my life only got it twice, and the other case only got it three times. I know miscalculations have been made, and the Treasury officials were somewhat annoyed that their estimate of the working of the Act in Ireland proved to be erroneous, but anyone who knows the conditions of the people of Ireland is not surprised at that. For my own part, I know the condition of the people in my own neighbourhood as well as most men. I was deputed many years ago, before I joined public life, to distribute relief amongst the poor by the Protestant clergyman of my own district, and I got into intimate touch with the condition of the people, and I say this honestly, that from my knowledge of the people it is to me a marvel how some of them have existed at all, and one thing has always struck me with regard to these poor people namely, their wonderful charity towards one another. I could not have believed it. When I was asked to distribute relief in my own neighbourhood, I knew the conditions of the people pretty well, and I suggested that we should give relief to a certain family whom I knew to be in dire distress, and, when we went to relieve them, the poor people said to us: "We know your means are limited, and there are persons further up the road who want help more than we do." That is a chivalrous state of things which reflects credit on the people. In another case we had a certain amount to dispose of, and some people, though greatly in need of assistance, assured us that they themselves had never received anything in the way of charity, or their fathers before them, and they were determined to go to their graves without receiving aid in a charitable way from this or any other organisation.

My knowledge of the poverty of the people is, as a rule, accurate for this reason. I happen to belong to a religious institution which is known as the Society of St. Vincent and St. Paul, a society whose ramifications have spread all over the world wherever the Catholic creed has spread, and it is the duty of the active members of that association to call upon people and personally make reports on their condition, and no one is relieved who is not worthy of relief. The most accurate information is received in all these cases, and, as I say, it is to me a marvel how some of the poor have existed and do exist. Whatever test you apply as to the poverty of the people you will find the poverty of Ireland is appalling, and consequently I am not surprised that the applications have been numerous—in fact, I am surprised they have not been more numerous. In this Parliament on three occasions the Government have been obliged to institute public works to keep the people from starvation in the West and some parts of the Southern coasts of Ireland, and the highest wages that any man got for working 10 or 11 hours a day was 6s. a week, without any food whatsoever, and for these starvation wages thousands of men were prepared to walk long distances to and from their work. The average wage, I believe, was 4s. 6d. a week for men, and if these starvation wages do not prove the poverty of the people, I do not know what greater test you could have. The whole seaboard of the West may be on the brink of starvation this summer. The district in which I live is by no means a poor district of Ireland. We are all poor, but it is not poor as compared with various other districts. You near a good deal about people misusing this Act and making applications when they should not make them. I know the people have their faults as well as any other people, and I know the temptation to get what is to a really poor man opulence may have in some cases induced him to make representations which were not clearly right; but at the same time, while I know that the Act has been abused in very few cases, I am also aware that in many cases, where the people who were upwards of 70 and in dire poverty owing to the trouble of proving their age and owing to the fact that the registration law which prevails in this country did not prevail in Ireland 70 years ago, these people have been left without their pensions. Last Christmas I saw a certain man working in a field whom I have known for 40 years, and whom I believed to be 70 years of age, and I suggested to him that he should make application for an old age pension. He said little or nothing to me, but the application was not made. I met his employer a fortnight afterwards, and said: "How is it So-and-So has not made this application?" He told me the poor old creature, who was decrepit and infirm, and who looked nearer 80 than 70, had told him he was only 67 years of age, and that he declined to make an application when he would have to state that his age was 70. Of course, you will not always find gratitude, but taking them all in all, the charity of the people towards one another in conspicuous to anyone who knows them, and this fact has been established. The administration of the Pensions Act has brought forward this fact to the credit of our people. With all their poverty, it has revealed that they acted towards their old friends and their old kinsmen with a consideration and a kindness which would do credit to people with forty times the means of these poor peasants.

The hon. Member for East Tyrone has made a speech pointing out the various shortcomings of the Act. We do not, as some people say, attribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer any wish to retaliate on the people of Ireland because the working of the Act has proved to be more expensive than he anticipated. I do not think it would be right to assign these unworthy motives to anyone, but, at the same time, I submit to him that whatever test he applies to Ireland as to her poverty, whether he takes the appearance of the people, the condition of the people or their holdings, the appalling poverty of the country must press itself on his mind, or on anyone's mind. I very much regret to say that he has promised to impose further imposts on the people which we are not able to bear. He may say they may not hit these people for whom we plead tonight, but anything which interferes with the prosperity of the country at large must to some extent interfere wih the poor and with the aged. I only regret that the Treasury, so far from supporting and making it easy for these people to receive what Parliament wished them to receive, has thrown considerable obstacles in their way, and I very much hope that the result of these Debates will be that the permanent officials in Ireland will approach the discharge of their duties in a more sympathetic way than they have yet shown. They were sympathetic and useful at first, but since then further instructions have been issued. I hope the result of the Debate will be that the Gentlemen responsible for the working of the Act will approach the consideration of their onerous duties with more humanity.

Attention called to the fact that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


I do not intend to discuss this matter at any length. My object is to direct the attention of those representing the Treasury to a few cases which happened in my district which call for some explanation. I desire at the same time to emphasise some of the points made by many of my hon. Friends here this evening. When the Old Age Pensions Act was passing through the House we were all of opinion that no trouble or difficulty would be thrown in the way of the old people in Ireland in their endeavour to benefit by the scheme. For some reason or another, whether on account of instructions issued to the pension officers throughout the country by the Treasury or not, undoubtedly a large number of poor and indigent people in the West of Ireland have unfortunately been deprived of the pensions to which they were en- titled. One or two cases occurred in my district which will illustrate fairly well the latter policy of the pension officers and the Local Government Board in their peculiar dealings with the poor people who apply for pensions under the Act. I would draw attention to the case of a man named Armstrong. This man spent the greater part of his life in the employment of the Protestant rector of the town of Loughrea. He is now very old and disabled, and unable to work. In the ordinary way he sent in his notice in respect of an old age pension in December last. It was considered by the pension officer early in January. The pension officer declined to give this man any pension. The matter was referred to the sub-committee in the district; the sub-committee, composed, as all sub-committees are, of men living in the neighbourhood who fully understood the position of this man, recommended a pension of 5s. The pension officer took on himself to appeal to the Local Government Board.

I presume the Local Government Board made some investigation into the matter, and took some trouble to ascertain the facts, but so far as Armstrong is concerned he never heard a word about the matter until some time afterwards he was informed that the Local Government Board had decided against him. What I want to know is what trouble did the Local Government Board take to ascertain the facts of the case? They did not apply for information to the Protestant rector of the town who employed the man for a number of years up to 1st January last. He was in receipt of 14s. a week, but on account of his disabled condition and his weak state of health the rector was obliged, or, rather, in an act of kind philanthropy, he gave him a pension of 4s. a week and a house, thereby enabling the old man, as he thought, to qualify for the pension which he would be entitled to. There is no dispute regarding the age of this man. I hold the certificate in my hand, and the pension officer admitted the age. I have also a certificate from the doctor stating that owing to his age and his crippled condition he was totally disabled and unable to do any work, and I also hold an explanatory letter from the Protestant clergyman of the district to the chairman of the sub-committee explaining all the circumstances in reference to the matter. In that letter he says he was never asked for any explanation by the Local Government Board in respect of the claims of Armstrong, and the Local Government Board took upon themselves to refuse the pension to this old man. I think this case calls for explanation.

Another case in the neighbourhood of Loughrea calling for explanation is that of an old man named Pat Hoban. He is admitted to be from 80 to 85 years of age. He is living in the district of Kilmihil. The committee awarded him a pension of 5s. a week on 7th January last. He is living in a wretched state, yet up to the present day he is awaiting the decision of the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board have never sent word to this man intimating what they are going to do. If the Local Government Board say in the course of a week or a month or two months, determine that this old man Hoban is entitled to a pension, will the pension date from 1st January? That is a very important matter to know, because the matter has been in the hands of the Local Government Board since the beginning of the present year. Surely it should not take them a whole month to find out from the Census Returns in Henrietta Street, Dublin, whether this old man is over 80 years of age as he represents himself to be. Another old man named Mitchell for 50 years served as a baker in Loughrea. He can bring forward overwhelming proof that he is 78 years of age. He sent in an application last December, and he was granted a pension in January of the present year by the committee. I had a letter from him a few days ago complaining that up to the present time he has heard nothing in regard to the action to be taken by the Local Government Board. There is another man named Tighe, an old man living in a mountain district. He also is very feeble, because he has gone beyond 82 years of age. His wife is 74 years of age. He holds a farm of land rated at £5 a year. To my knowledge the man is in desperate circumstances, absolutely unable to make both ends meet. I believe he has very little stock, if any on the farm. The Local Government Board, upon investigation, decided that this man was not entitled to a pension. On what grounds? Not on the ground of age, because that is admitted, but on the ground that he had too much means—a man with a rated qualification of £5 a year, living in a mountain district. The fact is, if the means of that man were ascertained, it would be established that his gross income does not exceed 3s. or 3s. 6d. a week; yet the Local Government Board has excluded him from the benefit accruing from the operation of this Act, of which we have heard so much.

I have also been written by an old lady of the name of Moran, who lives outside Loughrea. She applied in the ordinary way for the pension last December. She furnished evidence in regard to her age, and she satisfied the sub-committee in the district that she was 82 years of age. These are cases where there was no dispute in regard to age. All people of the locality know the different people who reside in it, and they were perfectly satisfied with regard to this case. This lady also satisfied the subcommittee and the pension officer that she was over 80 years of age. The parish priest had no difficulty whatever in certifying in regard to her age, because this lady brought collateral proof before him that she was over 80 years of age, but as her age did not appear from the Census an official was sent down and she was actually deprived of her pension. This is one of the most extraordinary things that ever we heard of in the management of our affairs. The Chief Secretary this evening stated to the House the case of a large farmer who applied for a pension. I have here the truthful budget of a poor man who applied for a pension, and he is prepared to swear to every detail of it. From it I see that he has a gross income of £15 13s. 6d., on which he has to maintain his house and family. On the one side of the statement which he forwarded to me he states that his annual rent is £9 odd, and then he sets out the payment for rates, horse hire during the season, planting the crops, and other items, bringing the total to over £19. The receipts from oats, turnips and other produce amounted to £35, leaving a balance, as gross income, of the amount of £15 odd. Yet the Local Government Board, for some extraordinary reason, excluded this man from the benefit of a pension. The ground they gave was that his rent disqualified him, and they also objected on the ground of his means, simply because his annuity was close upon £10 a year. Does it not seem an extraordinary thing that while this man is prepared to furnish sworn evidence to the correctness of his statement, the Local Government Board should never take the trouble or pains to satisfy themselves as to the actual means of the applicant. These are some of the cases which I wish to bring under the notice of the House. I do not desire to follow the arguments of my hon. Friend in regard to a number of other matters on which my own information confirms all he has stated.

In the part of the country from which I come—Galway—there are many complaints in regard to the working of the Act in respect of holders of land, who are old enough to claim the pension, who are beyond the patriarchal age, but who, by reason of the fact that they live with their families, and that the old man simply reserves for himself the right of keeping a corner in the house during his lifetime, is told by the pension officer and the Local Government Board: "Well, because you retain in your old age the right to this small plot of land, you are deprived of the pension?" It is an extraordinary anomaly, and gives cause for grave consideration on the part of those who have to administer this Act, which otherwise undoubtedly would bring great advantages to the people of Ireland. On some other occasion I am sure I shall be able to produce to the House a large number of cases which will go to disprove the statements made here to-day, and made outside in the Press, that the Irish people have entered into a conspiracy for the purpose of defrauding those in charge of the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act. Instead of the Irish people having entered into a conspiracy, there can be no manner of doubt that steps have been taken by the Treasury and by the Local Government Board in Ireland, I do not like to use the word cheat, but undoubtedly to deprive a number of the people in the West of Ireland of the pension, though on every ground they are entitled to it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will take notice of the cases to which I have alluded, and see whether anything can be done to rectify the harm and injustice which is being experienced.

Mr. J. J. O'SHEE

I regret that the Chief Secretary was not in his place when the hon. Member for South Monaghan addressed the Committee. The complaints of the hon. Member about the Local Government Board indicated that it is a body which is not so immaculate as the Chief Secretary sought to make out in relation to this question of old age pensions. The Local Government Board have not a very good reputation in Ireland. I am not referring to the present President of the Local Government Board. That Department is a body of evil repute in Ireland, and the Irish people have very little confidence in any decision at which it may arrive on any subject whatever. Though the Chief Secretary sought to cast the mantle of his own good reputation over the members of that body, I am afraid that we cannot consent to his depriving us by that means of our immemorial privilege of attacking the Local Government Board. In this matter of old age pensions, I think that body has exceeded itself in many respects, evil as its reputation has been in the past. In my part of the country there have been a great many complaints about the decisions of the Local Government Board in a large number of cases. We are blessed in my locality with an exceedingly acute pension officer, who is very hard to get over in respect of any applications, but even this pension officer, in some cases, consented that a particular applicant whose case was being considered was entitled to a pension, we will say, of 3s. a week. This applicant appealed against the decision of the pension officer, and the Local Government Board not merely concurred in the decision of the pension officer, but cut off the pension which he had been willing to allow. The old age pension committee dealt with the case of an inmate of a charitable asylum, which contains 20 or 25 respectable old people selected by the local committee. They have got beyond the age at which they are able to work, and they get some 5s. a week, with the use of a common room, coal, and lighting. In this case the pension committee decided that they were entitled to the value of the house accommodation, and to the coal and lighting, not exceeding, for any of them, more than 3s. per week, and with the 5s. their allowance would enable them to make 8s. per week altogether, and would still entitle them to receive a pension of 5s. per week. The local committee decided they were entitled to receive 5s. per week. The pensions officer, who is the exacting gentleman to whom I have referred, thought that 4s. was the utmost limit. The committee, notwithstanding his objection, decided to give 5s. per week, with the result that he appealed to the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board not merely did not allow the 4s. per week which the pensions officer thought sufficient and proper, but they cut down the 4s. to 2s., putting a very high estimate indeed of the value and privilege of shelter and fire and light which those poor old people had got by the charity of the inhabitant who provided this house in which they lived.

In other cases the Local Government Board have acted similarly, and even where the pensions officer has allowed two or three shillings per week, in cases in which means came in, and where the applicant or pensions committee has appealed against the decision of the pensions officer, the Local Government Board have not supported the decision of the pensions officer, but have reduced what he was willing to allow. The Chief Secretary, in giving the figures of appeals before the Local Government Board, did not give us any indication of the number of those cases. I think he said there were something about 12,000 appeals, which, I presume, were nearly all by the pension officers. I should think there was a certain proportion put forward by the applicants, because I am aware of a certain number put forward by applicants, especially of applicants living with relatives, on the question of the value of the accommodation given to them by their relatives and on which the pensions officers, in many cases, put a high appreciation.

Out of the 12,000 appeals, in something over 10,000 cases the pension was refused by the Local Government Board, so that it must have been in a very small proportion of cases that the Local Government Board sanctioned a pension which the pensions officer throughout thought ought not to be allowed. In many of those cases the Local Government Board went much farther than the pensions officer. Where the pensions officer was willing that the applicant for the pension should get some pension, the Local Government Board in many cases cut it off altogether.


There were increases in some cases and decreases in others.


The cases in which increases were made would be cases in which the committee or the applicant appealed. I am referring to cases in which the committee or the applicant appealed against the decision of the pensions officer in allowing only a limited sum, and in which the Local Government Board not merely concurred with the pensions officer but went further, and said they must cut down what the pensions officer allowed.


They did that in 420 cases.


There is one kind of case I desire to refer to, and which has not been referred to. That is the case where an old person is living with relatives, where an uncle of a small farmer is living with him, or where even a grand uncle or a grand aunt is living with him. There are many of these cases all over the country. Because these relatives are generous enough to support these people in their old age, for that very reason the old people are decided not to be entitled to pensions. If the relatives were so harsh or uncharitable as to turn them out, or to treat them less well, the old people would be entitled to pensions. There are a large number of these cases. Pension officers have had special instructions from the Treasury, or, as I gather to-night, from the right hon. Gentleman, in some cases from the Local Government Board—


That is only on appeal.


As regards estimates of means, pension officers received instructions that where an old person was living with a relative they were to take what they thought to be the market value of the accommodation provided. I discussed this matter with some of the pension officers. One of them told me of the case of an old woman who some years ago, long before old age pensions were thought of as a practical matter, made over to her son a farm of 30 or 35 acres. The deed provided that she should be entitled to reside in the house and be maintained, and that if, in the event of any disagreement with her son, she decided to leave the place, she was to get, in lieu of her right to maintenance, £15 a year. In the case the pension officer called, saw a fairly comfortable farmer's house, and estimated the value of the old woman's right at 12s. a week, a sum far in excess of the amount agreed upon by the parties when the deed was entered into, and the old woman was decided not to be entitled to a pension. I asked the pension officer how he worked it out. He said, "The son has a comfortable house, and if his mother fell ill he would fetch in a doctor." The fact that the son was charitable enough to call in a doctor if his mother fell ill was an element in the officer's consideration of the case. "And he would give her a bottle of stout if she were ill, and she would be well looked after," he continued. "Do you mean to say," said I, "that you must take into account the possibility or probability of her obtaining these little things?" "Yes," he said. I put this to him: "If it was the case of an old man over 70 years of age, who came into the town on fair or market day, and some of his friends, not having seen him for five or six months, thought they ought to offer him some refreshment, would you take that into account in considering whether he was entitled to a pension?" "I would," he said. That shows the spirit in which the work is being carried out. This pension officer is an Irishman, who knows all about the habits of the country people, and he said he would take all these things into consideration. I say it is a great hardship indeed that because the relatives of these old people are charitable and good, and allow these old people to live with them, that for these reasons they should be deprived of their old age pensions. It is admitted that these old persons have no means. It is unfair to impose upon the charity and generosity of the relatives in the way I have shown. These old people, who have no means whatever, and who are over the prescribed age, ought to be given old age pensions. In Ireland tens of thousands have been deprived of their pensions.

Dealing with the Local Government Board in this matter, I believe that in every case of appeal that has come under my notice that the Board—and a great many have apparently been inquired into—have practically decided without considering the merits of the case at all. I do not think they have gone to the trouble to bring the matter before the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. We have taken a certain number of cases for show purposes for the purposes of this Debate. But I say, taking all these 12,000 appeals, that I am convinced, from my knowledge of what has occurred in some cases, that they could not have been given proper consideration by the Local Government Board.

I am certain that there was no proper consideration. These gentlemen, when they got a batch of these appeals before them in the morning, were thinking of the time that they should go to lunch. I rather think, too, that these gentlemen of the Local Government Board took their view of old age pensions from certain organs of the Press in Ireland, which criticised very much the passage of this Act last year. Some of these views were got from England. These gentlemen were told by these organs of the Press that the respectable middle classes and the salaried officials of the Local Government Board would have to pay an increased income tax; and in the appeals these officials were thinking more of the 2d. or 3d. more on the income tax than on the rights of these poor old people under the Old Age Pensions Act. This Debate has shown that instead of the Treasury having a grievance against Ireland, because the people made too many claims, that we in Ireland have a great grievance, because many claims properly made were refused, and did not get proper consideration. From my view and experience of the working of the Act in the district in which I live, I am certain that many people who are justly and properly entitled to pensions have not got them. I hope steps will be taken by these old people to renew their applications, and appeal to the Local Government Board to consider them properly.


I desire to express my regret that, unlike my hon. Friends who have spoken, I cannot bring before the Committee many, or indeed any, individual cases of hardship. I happen to represent, I regret to say, a county or a portion of a county which has a very small population. I should very much prefer to represent people, even though poor, than the bullocks that roam over the wide uncultivated areas of the county Kildare. Why is the county Kildare so sparsely populated? It is because it is a county of clearances. We have heard much in the past by speakers in this House of the 170,000 claims made in Ireland, large in proportion to the claims that have come from Great Britain; but if the people who inhabited the county Kildare and other counties were allowed to live their natural lives in their own country instead of being cleared off the land in order to square and to enlarge farms, or instead of being driven into early graves by Government-made famines, it is not 170,000 claimants you would have had but 300,000 claimants. 170,000 claims were made by the residue of the population of eight or nine millions of people. For some of the Irish people who could rightly have claimed old age pensions you would have to search the back streets and slums of America; you would have to go to the prairies of Australia for those who were driven from their homes, and who, if they had been allowed to live in Ireland, would to-day be justly entitled to present their claims for old age pensions. With regard to this proportion of claimants, I regret indeed that the empty benches of this House this evening have not been filled with hon. Members who have read and who have heard charges made against the Irish people; who have read the lie which, according to the Secretary to the Treasury, has got the start, and which never can be overtaken. I wish they were here to hear the graceful speech of the hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury—a speech which filled hon. Members on this side of the House with gratitude to him and with admiration for the candour that inspired him. I regret also that the hon. Member for Fulham was not in his place during this Debate. That Gentleman owes his seat in this House to the votes of Irishmen, and he started the lie by a question in this House. If he was in his place I would ask him why he did not, instead of making a comparison between poor Ireland and rich England or rich Wales, his own nationality, exercise his ingenuity in instituting a comparison between the claims that came from Battersea or Mile End and the claims that came from Kensington or Westminster. He would have found a subject most interesting for inquiry. But, no; his ingenuity did not inspire him in that direction, his vision did not turn to Mile End and Westminster; he only turned his attention to the extraordinary figures that appeared in the newspapers representing the claims from Ireland as they were compared with the figures that were returned from England. He should have been here in his place this evening to have found his answer, not from these benches, but from the Government Bench, from the officials of the representatives of the Department who have investigated this matter, and who have exculpated the Irish people.

I should like to refer to another matter in connection with old age pensions. I think the Government under-estimated the work that had to be done not only in England, but in Ireland. The Government Department put pressure upon its officials, and these officials were instructed, both in England and in Ireland, to accept any evidence at all in respect of claims for old age pensions made by the persons who might be taken, either by their appearance or for some other reason, as being persons who were entitled to such pensions. For example, I think I am right in saying that a poor man or a poor woman who seemed to be somewhere within or near the age of 80 might be accepted in substantiation of that claim. In both countries the instructions were that inquiry should only take place in a more severe manner where the age appeared to be somewhere about 70 years. I am, however, in a position to say that the spirit of the inquiry in England has been entirely different to the spirit of the inquiry in Ireland, and even the figures given to-day will substantiate that statement. Leniency has been the governing principle of the investigations in this country of England, and we do not hear that there has been any appeals in the same manner in this country as appeals have occurred in Ireland. We do not hear in this country that 20,000 appeals have been made, and that the claims of 10,000 persons have been rejected. There has been no reference to comparative figures as between the investigations in England and in Ireland. We have heard a good deal about those who have been sent to Ireland to make this investigation, and I have it on the best authority that the experts who have been sent to inquire into these claims are not experts at all. I am told that they are men who have had no experience whatever on the subject of old age pensions. They are men who have gone to Ireland full of the statements that have appeared in the newspapers, and full of the spirit that has inspired those statements; that is to say, they went with an attitude of mind determined to find amongst all those appeals and those claims that fraud existed and that the claims were not justifiable.

We were challenged to-night with regard to the manner in which this Act was administered in Ireland as compared with the manner in which it is administered in England. There is one way in which a distinction may be shown, and that is the way in which the magistrates of this country investigate cases brought before them, and the manner in which similar cases are investigated in Ireland. I know that a great number of cases have been brought before the magistrates of this country which could not be justified either on the ground of age or want of means; and in all the cases which I have read the magistrates have invariably inflicted fines. The poor people were not punished in such a manner as disqualified them from making claims again. In England the Act has been administered in a spirit of leniency. That spirit has animated the magistrates, and also the officials of Somerset House. That has not been so in Ireland. I read not long ago of the case of a woman who made a statement with regard to her age. Under terror she admitted that she ought not to have made the claim, but she was ordered to be kept as a prisoner until the rising of the court. She was punished without the option of a fine, and though her age was 69 she was disqualified for the next ten years. That is only one of many cases which will show the distinction in the administration of the Act which we have been challenged to show from the Government Bench this evening. I submit that, though I am not dwelling in Ireland, I have had particular opportunities of observing how the Act is administered in Ireland. It is administered there in a manner in which it is not administered in this country. Leniency is the way in which it is administered in this country, and harshness is the way in which it is administered in Ireland. I trust that one of the results of this Debate will be to clear the air with regard to Ireland, and that the Act will be administered in Ireland as it is in England—in a spirit of leniency.


We may congratulate ourselves on the whole with regard to this Debate. My hon. Friend says he hopes it will clear the air. It has certainly put an end to false and reckless statements. I remember when the question was in an embryotic stage in this House a great many people seemed alarmed, both in this House and out of it, as to the basis on which the Act was to be administered. That has been removed. We have the highest authority for saying that there has been no fraud in Ireland — that there has been nothing wrong in the claims of the aged Irish people. This working of the Old Age Pensions Act is but another illustration of the long-drawn-out story of Irish misgovernment, with its consequences of depopulation and emigration, and the scattering of our people. Under normal circumstances who can doubt that the people of a country like Ireland, which 60 years ago totalled 8,000,000, would, in the natural order of things, have risen by now to 10,000,000? I would suggest it is rather mean—it is, to use an American phrase, playing it rather low down—to turn round upon a country which has been misgoverned for many centuries and to say, "What an extraordinary thing it is there are so many people 70 years of age and upwards," when everybody knows that people have been driven to leave Ireland because of the conditions which prevent them getting an existence at home. May I illustrate this portion of the subject by one or two figures taken from the census of population in 1841? At the last census the population of people over 70 in Great Britain was 2.9, and in Ireland 4.1. In 1841 the percentage in Ireland was only 1.5. In other words, in that period the percentage of people of 70 years of age and upwards to the general population has increased nearly threefold, which leaves Ireland with a population largely disproportionate composed of old people and children. Under these circumstances it is a hardship, it is a calumny on our people to reflect on their character when it is the result of cruel and long misgovernment. I think that under Providence and with the settlement of the land question, and with better social and economical conditions, these things may remedy themselves, and in a reasonable space of time the normal condition of things will be regained, and you will not have the spectacle of this large and alarming percentage of people over 70 years of age as compared with other countries. I think the admissions of the Secretary to the Treasury, and the facts stated by my hon. Friend in moving his Motion, have shown conclusively that so far from this Act having been dishonestly administered in Ireland, as far as the people are concerned, if it has erred at all, it has erred in recent months on the side of stringency. I would refer to the sinister fact that up to 31st December, and when the claims were coming in the Act was administered by the pension committees and officers, I will not say with leniency, but with toleration and fairness, but when the cry was got up here, when false and erroneous statements were made in the Press and in this House, what happened? The Treasury was moved, the Treasury, I have no doubt, saw at once the possibility of a large retrenchment, and as effect follows cause, the screw was put by the Treasury upon the pension officers in Ireland, and instead of having the Act administered as before in the broad spirit in which it passed through Parliament, it was administered in a narrow and niggardly spirit, and also in connection with it you had the corollary that many of the claims which had been admitted were scrutinised with a keen and jealous eye. We can see the effect of these articles in the Press, and these speeches in the House and elsewhere. These sneers at the cunning and the craft of the deserving poor in Ireland—we can see all that reflected after 1st January, and we observe with pain and regret the different spirit in which the Act is now administered. There has been no charge whatever made this evening of unfairness or partiality on the part of the numerous committees that have been established all over Ireland, or on the part of the subcommittees and delegates from the county councils and district councils of the country. Whether you go north or west, south or east, it has been found that on these committees the local clergy, both Protestant and Catholic, are sitting with the local representatives of the districts, and there has been no single proof brought forward that these committees have administered the Act in a spirit of anything but absolute fairness and absolute impartiality, and with any desire to extend the Act beyond what is just and legitimate. The large proportion of pensioners in Ireland has been due to the causes I have enumerated. I trust the healing finger of time will remove them, and then when the Act is extended to 65 and the poor law disqualification removed I think you will find that this great Act will not be forgotten by the people who administer it or the people who benefit by it.


I should like first of all to express my gratification at the passing of the Old Age Pensions Act, which has brought aid to many poor persons in Ireland who were greatly in need of assistance. There was a time when the Government in Ireland sternly refused assistance of any kind. A step forward has been made, but there is still much to be done in connection with Irish administration. I hold in my hand a resolution which was passed by a rural pensions committee. It makes a strong protest against the action of the Local Government Board and the way in which pension claims are dealt with in the case of small holders, and it states that it is highly unfair that the net incomes should be reckoned as equal to three times the rent or four times the purchase annuity. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman say this evening that he doubts whether this rule was in operation in Ireland. I hope he will take the resolution passed by this pension committee as evidence that such a state of things does exist, and that he will order an inquiry into the matter. The resolution goes on to say, "We call upon the Irish Members of Parliament to bring this matter under the immediate notice of Parliament, and to press for the discontinuance of a practice which is withholding from many small farmers the pensions to which we consider they are legally entitled." These practical farmers go on to say that in their district the profits of farms of the best land may be estimated at £2 an acre; of good land, at 30s. an acre; and of indifferent land at 20s. an acre. This might be accepted as coming from practical men on the spot. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to grant an inquiry.

Question again proposed: Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

And, it being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.