HC Deb 22 May 1912 vol 38 cc2034-9

I rise to deal for a few moments—because I am quite aware that hon. Members are anxious now to get away—with a matter which affects a number of poor people in my Constituency in Connemara. I gave notice the other day to raise this question, and I am sorry that the Chief Secretary for Ireland is not here. I understand, however, that he has been urgently called away to attend a meeting of the Congested Districts Board which was held yesterday. I cannot, therefore, complain of his absence. It is in connection with that Board that I wish to speak. I have no intention whatever of making any attack upon the Congested Districts Board. I am well aware that the members composing it are most admirable men, single-minded, able, and most anxious to see that the work they are appointed to do should be efficiently carried out. I am further aware that the permanent officials of the Board, Messrs. Doran and Micks are among the best qualified and hardworking in the kingdom. But my complaint is that this Board with the best intentions in the world, is proceeding so very slowly with the work of purchase in the West of Ireland, and especially in Connemara, that I am afraid, unless the pace is accelerated, the condition of these poor people, bad as it is, will very soon become worse. The old Congested Districts Board, established by the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, did very excellent work on the West Coast of Ireland, especially Connemara. They bought estates, built new houses for the tenants, and I can testify to the fact that these very poor people who were living in a chronic state of poverty are now comparatively comfortable. But that Board had very limited funds, at most only £60,000 or £70,000 a year to work on, but they turned them to admirable account even in Connemara. I recognise they helped the fishing industry and did a good deal to help the people, but it is recognised that the only way to deal with the chronic poverty and destitution of Connemara and places like Connemara is by land purchase on a large scale. While people continue to pay exorbitant rents for miserable holdings so long will there be poverty and discontent. It was hoped when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) introduced his great Land Purchase Bill nine years ago, that a land purchase scheme would be carried out in the West of Ireland by which the trouble would be removed. When the right hon. Gentleman passed that Bill through this House it will be in the recollection of those who were then Members of it how eloquent and touching were the speeches he made with regard to the condition of the poor people in the West of Ireland, especially in Connemara. In eloquent and touching language he described the condition of their houses and the wretchedness of their holdings, and I have no doubt whatever that the speeches he made on that occasion had a great deal to do with the sympathetic reception of that Bill in this House and in another place.

I am here to-day to say that no benefits whatever have accrued for the people of Connemara from the Wyndham Act of 1903, not a single estate has been purchased under that Act there, the reason, of course, being that the landlords in the south and west and the central parts of Ireland sold to their tenants automatically and that in these districts land purchase went through and many millions of money were spent and used up in that purchase. In Connemara and the West of Ireland generally no sale took place for the simple reason that the landlords were exacting exorbitant terms. They demanded for these wretched holdings twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-eight and thirty years' purchase, and, of course, the Estates Commissioners could not listen to these terms. The landlords had no desire to sell for the simple reason that they had been for many years and are to-day extracting exorbitant rents from those poor people. In many cases they get rents as high as £3 an acre, because in some holdings of ten acres, if you gathered up the soil it would not make one acre of land. The Land Act of 1903 failed in Connemara because the landlords were getting their rents fairly well, and they were also getting competition rents for the grass farms which are still in the possession of the graziers, and not a single benefit has come to the people of Connemara from the Land Act of 1903. Then we were looking forward to another Land Act. The present Chief Secretary for Ireland three years ago introduced a Bill specially intended to deal with the West of Ireland, and here I am to-day, three years after the passing of that Act, and I must say of it as I have already said of the Wyndham Act, that not a single estate so far has been purchased under it in Connemara. I have made excuses to my Constituents for the last two years; I have made apologies for the Board, and pointed out the difficulties of their position and the enormous amount of work they have to get through, and all sorts of excuses, and I have asked them to be patient. I have specially brought under the notice of the Board the Berridge estate, which is the largest in the whole of Ireland, although the rental derived from the holdings there is only £4,000 or £5,000 a year.

The Board last year approached the landlord, or the landlord approached the Board. A few months ago I understand that the Board made an offer of fourteen years' purchase to Mr. Berridge, the landlord, and he declined it. I say deliberately that fourteen years' purchase is an excessive price for any estate in Connemara, but I should be very sorry that the Board should haggle about a year or two more than fourteen years, because I am convinced that unless that estate is purchased within a very short time from now I shall not be able any longer to restrain those people from taking some drastic action. I have always condemned cattle-driving; I have condemned it in the public Press, and in addresses to my Constituents, and I have over and over again begged of them to be patient. In Connemara there are dozens of grass farms which have existed for thirty years, and they are still in the possession of the grazier, and the Board has not made any attempt to acquire any of those farms. I do not like cattle driving, and although the Chief Secretary has said that if the people commit any crime such as cattle driving, or adopt any course of that sort, it will rather tend to hinder than hasten land purchase, I must point out that I promised the people of Connemara last year and the various districts around there, that if the land of the Berridge estate, and some other estates, was not purchased within a year or so I would not hesitate to advise the people to commence cattle driving. That would be a very unpleasant duty for me to perform, and I shrink from it, and it is because I shrink from it that I have raised this question here to-day.

7.0 P.M.

There is one thing, I am afraid, stands in the way of land purchase in Conne- mara. When the new Board was formed under this Act the congested area was considerably extended, and several counties were brought in; and in everyone of those counties a representative was appointed, with the exception of the county of Galway. In this respect the people of Connemara thought they had been overlooked and neglected, and the idea is that the members of that Board are all struggling for land purchase in their own particular districts, and as there is no representative of the county of Galway on that Board, Galway has to take a back seat. It is because of that fact that I have ventured to raise this question to-day. I had intended speaking at some length on this subject, but in view of the lateness of the hour I have no desire to continue any longer, and I would appeal to the Chief Secretary and to the Congested Districts Board not to stand upon ceremony with regard to two or three years' purchase more or less of these estates. It will be remembered that for the last twenty-five or thirty years we have been raising the question of famine in the West of Ireland. They have nearly always originated in Galway and Connemara, and the millions of money that have been guaranteed by this country have not touched or benefited these people. There is no part of the country which demands the attention of the Congested Districts Board more than Galway and especially Connemara, and I hope what I have said will have some effect in making the Congested Districts Board accelerate their pace with regard to my Constituency.


I wish to mention one matter with regard to the present dispute among transport workers. I want to ask the Minister responsible if he will keep in mind that nearly all the fodder required for feeding the horses in London is unloaded at the docks, and to urge him to make such arrangements as will prevent any unnecessary suffering of these animals.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOAD of TRADE (Mr. d. M. Robertson)

I need only say the matter will at once be brought to the attention of the Department of the Board of Trade concerned.


I wish to refer to a question which is interesting the people of Scotland at the present moment, and to ask whether we can have some information, about the state and condition of the people of St. Kilda. Last Friday or Saturday, by some casual information at Aberdeen it was ascertained that those people, at least the newspaper report said so, were on the point of starvation, and indeed the Admiralty at once sent a cruiser to the island. It arrived there on the Sunday morning. It is now Wednesday, and we have been unable to get any information as to the condition of the people in the island, or as to what was done by the cruiser to relieve them. I should like to ask the Secretary for Scotland whether it is not time something was done to prevent a recurrence of this sort of thing in that island. I asked the question this afternoon, and the right hon. Gentleman informed me it was a question for the Postmaster-General, with whom he was in in communication. It is certainly time the Postmaster-General attended to the service between St. Kilda and the mainland. At present letters are posted in tin boxes which are thrown into the sea when the weather is rough, and they have to take their chance of getting to the mainland. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what condition the people were in when the cruiser-arrived, and what has been done to alleviate their distress. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will also be able to promise to look into this matter, and try if possible to prevent a recurrence of this sort of thing.


I am deeply interested in the affairs of this small island out in the Atlantic, but I would like to impress on the Secretary for Scotland, seeing that the position of the island geographically is what it is, whether he cannot see his way to bring it in touch with the mainland, and I hope he will give the Members for Scotland a satisfactory answer on this point.


I have been in communication with the representatives of the Admiralty with regard to the conditions of the inhabitants of the island of St. Kilda, and they assure me that the boat which carries the stores will have reached there by now. With regard to the question of postal facilities, I understand that the Postmaster-General three years ago made new arrangements which I understand are working satisfactorily; and as to setting up a system of wireless telegraphy, that is not a matter with which we can now deal. It rests of course with the Postmaster-General.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned at Nine minutes after Seven o'clock, till Tuesday, the 4th June.