HC Deb 27 March 1913 vol 50 cc1860-88

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read the third time."


I wish to draw the attention of the House to what I consider a matter of extreme urgency for a large section of the Irish working population, namely, the working of the Labourers Acts in Ireland and their administration by the Local Government Board. We have been doing our work of housing for rural labourers in Ireland now for close upon thirty years, and so well have we been doing it that it has called forth even the encomiums of a Committee of this country which had visited Ireland in the past few months. They have come back deeply impressed with the work which our district councils, assisted by the State, have been doing. They have undoubtedly been impressed with the fact that a marvellous transformation has been effected in the life of the rural workers by the building of cottages. In the matter of housing our labourers I believe I can safely say that the social sense of Ireland asserted itself long before any agitation was created in this country in the same direction. In no other country in the world will you find the labourers occupying decent cottages and acre allotments of land for an average rent of a shilling a week. The Irish labourer out of his miserable weekly wage could not afford to pay a rent which would mean an outlay for the building of a cottage and for the purchase of an allotment of land. For that matter the State had to come to his assistance, and the local ratepayers also assisted largely in the same direction, but even though the State did come to our assistance, and even though in many instances the local district councils were willing to tax themselves to the limit of a shilling in the pound the Act of 1883, the first Labourers Act, was not working efficiently and well for the reason that the rate of interest and sinking fund was too large to allow of any effective schemes being undertaken broadcast through the country. We pursued a strong agitation, principally in Munster, claiming serious amendments in the Act of 1883, directed principally towards getting cheap money.

I am glad to say that in 1906, under the administration of Mr. Bryce, who showed a very considerable sympathy towards the claims of the working classes in this respect, we succeeded in getting money cheaply, at the same rate of interest at which it was advanced under the Land Act of 1903, the result being that, the district councils all over Ireland having got the advantage of cheap money, immediately improvement schemes were adopted, the old delays were done away with, the erection of cottages was speeded forward with the result that whereas before 1906 only 20,000 cottages were built in twenty-three years, within the past six years we have built close upon 25,000 additional cottages. I believe nothing could justify the reform which we succeeded in obtaining in 1906 better than that statement of fact. Cheap money was really what I might call the magic key which opened the door to thousands of labourers in Ireland. What actually was the way in which this money was advanced? The rate of interest was 2¾ per cent. and the sinking fund was ten shillings per cent. The loans in the old days were £4 16s. per cent. roughly, so that what we used to get for £4 16s., we now get for £3 5s., the result being that no less than 36 per cent. of the annual charge on the loans advanced by the Land Commission between 1906 and 1911 were borne by the Government. That is a striking fact. The amount annually contributed for housing rural labourers in Ireland in 1911–12 was £31,919, and the Exchequer contribution on cottages sanctioned before 1st November, 1906, was £30,811, so that the annual contribution towards building cottages in Ireland for the past year was £62,730. What has been the actual result to the people? It is that 42,000 odd cottages have been either built or sanctioned. We have rooted 42,000 families, roughly, one-quarter of a million of people, in decent homesteads and in security on the soil of their native land. Whilst we are grateful, and must ever be grateful for the benefits conferred by the Act of 1906, we found that the money advanced at that period, £42,250,000, was speedily exhausted. We wanted more money. Most of us felt that we needed a great deal more, but the Treasury, with what I may term its usual skinflint policy, could only be induced to give us in 1911 another additional £1,000,000, and here it is that I would desire to criticise the administration of the Local Government Board with regard to that additional £1,000,000.

4.0 P.M.

For the first time they set up a standard of discretion of their own. Previous to the Act of 1911 we never had to complain that the Local Government Board failed to administer its functions in what I might call the due order of priority. It considered claims as they were sent out from district councils in the order in which they were received. There was no differentiation and no distinction as between one county or one district council and another. But immediately after the additional £1,000,000 was voted under the Act of 1911, the Local Government Board proceeded to exercise what I term an unfair and art unjust discretion. They proceeded to hypothecate the money for places which they considered were backward in housing schemes in the past. How did that work? It may appear a very good principle and a very pleasant thing to do, but it was an unjust discrimination exercised against district councils who had been doing their duty by the labourers all along, and as against the ratepayers who had been taxing themselves when money could not be advanced at a cheap rate of interest. When the money was cheaply advanced districts which never did an atom to root the labourers on the soil before, and never did anything to help forward the agitation for better conditions, stepped in, and with the assistance of the Local Government Board, they were given an unfair advantage over the district councils which did their duty previously. Unfortunately, although we raised this question here as strongly as we could by way of questions across the floor of the House, it was held by the Chief Secretary that they had the power to exercise this unfair discretion. The position at this moment is that they have exercised that discretion, that the £1,000,000 has nearly gone, and that there are district councils in every quarter of Ireland at this moment who have promoted improvement schemes, and who are clamouring to the Local Government Board to have inquiries held but can get no satisfactory reply. That is a very serious situation. I put a question myself to the Chief Secretary on 6th February on this matter. On 6th February I asked him what financial resources were available, and what were the intentions of the Local Government Board in regard to future work, and I drew his attention to the complaints of unfair discrimination which I have just mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman had stated previously that only £209,327 had been actually advanced out of the £1,000,000. I very naturally assumed that roughly £800,000 still remained unallocated, and I asked what was going to be done. But I found that really there was nothing of the kind. He said:—

The hon. Member appears to be under a misapprehension as to the facts. It is not quite correct to say that nearly £800,000 of the additional million granted for the purposes of the Labourers Acts still remains unallocated. While the amount of loans actually sanctioned is only £209,327, inquiries have been held, or ordered to be held, into further schemes proposing 3,567 cottages at an estimated cost of £679,707. Addi- tional schemes have been received from forty-three rural districts, the estimated cost of which is £903,589, and will be dealt with as rapidly as possible, having regard to their comparative urgency and the extent of the financial resources available. The policy of the Local Government Board is to give priority to schemes formulated in those districts where the needs of the labouring classes in the matter of housing accommodation is greatest, and I see no reason to depart from this principle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1913, col. 52, Vol. XLVIII] That means that there are at this moment before the Local Government Board forty-three schemes which will require close upon £1,000,000 to finance them, and all that is available in respect of that amount is roughly £200,000. There is at this moment £700,000 required to finance the schemes which are awaiting the sanction of the Local Government Board. That is a serious situation, and it cannot be got rid of by any statement that I know of. As a matter of fact the district councils have been brought to a standstill in their beneficent work of housing the poor of the country. Every other day I read resolutions which have been passed by various district councils asking the Local Government Board for supplementary loans to carry out schemes which are in progress, or to go on with schemes which they have promoted.

Whilst it has always been acknowledged that it was the duty of the State to assist in this work, we find in many instances at this moment that in regard to supplementary loans the Local Government Board are sending councils to the open market for money. That is an in possible situation. The thing cannot be done. Money cannot be got in that way. The great evil before the passing of the 1906 Act was that the interest asked for loans on land was at too high a rate. If we have to go to the money markets for what is required in respect of labourers' cottages the rate will be 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. at least, and therefore we cannot possibly do the work which is required under the Labourers Acts. The attention of the Chief Secretary was called to this matter again on 12th March. He was asked whether he would use his influence at the Treasury to obtain further money, as the amount already given was exhausted. He was also asked whether further provision would be made this year by a short amending Bill for finding the necessary money for the purposes of the Acts on the same terms as hitherto. The right hon. Gentleman replied:— I should be very glad to see the useful work which is going on under the Labourers Acts carried still further, but I am not now in a position to promise further loans on special terms for the purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1913, col. 242.] What does that reply mean? It means that the work of providing labourers' cottages in Ireland is absolutely at a standstill at this moment. Nothing further can be done while that attitude is maintained by the Chief Secretary, and unless pressure is brought to bear on the Treasury these schemes must be hung up and nothing can be done to provide the housing accommodation which the labourers require. I say this is a matter of the most extreme urgency. With all our good intentions in Ireland to keep the working population in their own country, it cannot be done unless something is done immediately in this Session of Parliament to meet our demand. I asked the Chief Secretary to explain how, in the event of the Government of Ireland Bill passing into law, the Labourers Acts are to be financed in future, and the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was:— There is nothing in the Government of Ireland Bill to prevent these Acts being financed as they are at present. I would draw the attention of the House to the words "being financed as they are at present," my contention being that they are not being financed at present at all. We require £700,000 at this moment for schemes approved by district councils, and I ask, Where is the money to come from? I do not like to use the strong language in the absence of the Chief Secretary which I would use if he were here, but in my judgment a statement of that kind is an unworthy quibble and equivocation, and an evasion of the circumstances. We have no large landowners in Ireland who are willing to provide labourers' houses in the rural areas, and we have no commercial enterprises to meet the demand of the labourers. It can only be met by the State stepping in and helping us to carry out the work we have already carried on so far with a considerable degree of success. This is an Imperial work, and therefore it ought to be Imperially supported and sustained.

I think it would be the greatest misfortune that could happen to our country and the working population in Ireland if the really beneficent influence which the housing of the poor has been exercising on the lives of the people should be hampered at the present time for want of funds. The local district councils are willing to do their duty in the matter. The local ratepayers have never hesitated to tax themselves a shilling in the pound, and even under the 1906 Act, which enabled us to exceed that rate, the ratepayers have been willing to tax themselves on behalf of the labourers of the country. I think, unless we get some assurance that something is going to be done, we shall have to charge it against this Government that they are retarding the best efforts that have ever been made for the regeneration of the people of Ireland. While the Chief Secretary gives us the benefit of his genial sympathy, emigration from our country is still doing its dirty work. This is a point I wish to emphasise. Young labourers, whose strength and energy are beyond price to any land, are leaving our shores and the United States of America is giving them a second home among their fellow countrymen who have already gone there. Canada is calling out and yearning for those who can labour on the soil. Australia is willing to welcome them. All lands are open to receive them, but, in toy judgment, there is no land in the world that so much needs at this moment the energy, labour, and productive power of working people as Ireland. Furthermore, it is now or never to settle our young people on the soil of their native land as firm as a rock. We are rounding the corner in Ireland, and I am glad to say that agriculture is developing there. For the first time in the past few years we have records that tillage is increasing in the country. We want more tillage, but we cannot have it unless we have more labour. Unless we keep young labourers in Ireland, how are we to have more tillage? Under the vicious system of rent-fixing arable land was allowed largely to go out of cultivation. We want to restore the land to its full productiveness, and the only way in which that can be done is through the industry of working people. There are not sufficient labourers in Ireland at present for all the rural needs of the country.

We require the strength, stamina, and energy of the young people, and how are you going to keep them in their native land unless you offer them opportunities? One step is to give them freedom of access to the land, but the first and most essential step is to provide homes and allotments of land. Under the Act of 1906 we were for the first time enabled to give labourers' cottages to young unmarried men. There is no power at present for settling the young labourer in a cottage with an allotment of land. Unfortunately, the Allotment Act of 1906 did debar him from getting a parcel of land. We are now in a critical situation. We urgently need more money. I do not wish, nor do my Friends beside me wish, that this should be made a party question. We wish to see all sections of Irish representatives united in putting pressure on the Government in respect of this very urgent question. I read recently a statement which applies pertinently to this matter: "Anyone can do a great amount of good in this world if only he does not care who gets the credit for it." We do not care who gets the credit for this work if it is done satisfactorily. If this opportunity is allowed to pass, and if the Home Rule Bill becomes law, I say it is good-bye to our getting any substantial advances of money for the purposes of the Labourers Acts in future. We want money more than mere expressions of sympathy and fair words. The labourers want to know where they stand in this matter. You have been willing to advance £200,000,000 to root the farmers on the land, and I say that you could not use money more gloriously than in spending £20,000,000 in rooting the labourers in homes on the land. It would be money splendidly spent. The labourers are the right hand of the farmers in Ireland. They must stand or fall together. At present you are not helping to root the labourers in sufficient numbers on the soil of the country. I say emphatically that no money should be grudged in completing the work so well begun and so splendidly advanced. Why should there not be provision for having this money advanced automatically according as the needs of the labourers require it? Why should we be obliged to come here time after time asking for driblets of a million or more for the purposes of these Acts? So long as the circumstances of Ireland require that there should be more cottages built for the labourers the money should be automatically provided for them. This is a national necessity. The question will not brook delay. Thousands of labourers in Ireland are looking to our action in Parliament in regard to this question, and it is our duty not to disappoint them in their hopes, and if the demand we now make he granted in this Session you will be increasing more than words can tell the happiness of thousands of our population, and adding to the strength and enrichment of this country.


I hope that the Vice-President will convey to the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Ex- chequer the force of the arguments of the hon. Member who has just sat down. Knowing Ireland as I do I can confirm the enormous advantages which have been conferred by the even limited application of the Labourers Act of 1907, and it is greatly to be hoped before the Home Rule Bill comes into effect that additional Grants may be provided by the English Treasury for the purpose. I rise to allude to another matter. The Prime Minister, in his speech on the Second Reading of this Bill, said he hoped that peace may be made in order to secure the possession of Constantinople and the adjacent territories to Turkey, and in Asia Minor the infinite development of good government and material prosperity. But the Prime Minister did not say anything as we on this side of the House, at all events, should have liked with regard to the terms which would be made in reference to those territories on the Eastern side of the Bosphorus. It is said that Turkey will demand as a condition of peace the giving of financial assistance by the Powers. It should be an essential of any peace in the granting of financial aid that some guarantee should be taken from Turkey with regard to the carrying out of reforms in Asia Minor, and in other parts of her Asiatic Dominions. It would be a misfortune, as great as the long delay of the Powers to ensure good government in Macedonia, if Turkey were to get the money to re-establish herself without giving those guarantees which it is really the responsibility of this country more than any other to see carried out, as we in 1878 came under a very particular responsibility with regard to the ensuring of reform in Armenia and elsewhere. I further trust that the Government will not agree to give any guarantee whatever with regard to the maintenance of the power of Turkey in those regions. We all know that there is discontent and trouble and that there has been constant misgovernment not only in Armenia, but in Syria and Arabia, and it would, I think, be the greatest possible error for us to join in any guarantee of the continuance in power of Turkey so long as there is any chance of trouble in those regions. I trust that the Under-Secretary (Mr. Acland) will convey to the Government the desire, which I know very generally exists and which has been expressed, though perhaps not as much as it might have been, in the Press, that these considerations should be looked to in the conclusion of any peace.

Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, Ireland)

I hope that the House will excuse me for bringing it back from Constantinople and foreign Powers to Ireland. I am old enough to remember the first of the Labourers Act being passed in this House; I think it was passed owing principally to the efforts of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), and I am not disposed to take the gloomy view which the hon. Member for Mid-Cork (Mr. Sheehan) took as regards the present condition of affairs. In all things Irish, at the present moment, I keep my face turned to the dawn. It is not a time for looking back or looking to the dark: It is a time of light all round, and I want to say to the House that, even if everything has not been done for the labourers in Ireland that ought to have been done or that might be done, yet we should remember what has been done. If anyone can look back upon what the condition of the labourers in the agricultural districts of Irealnd was twenty or twenty-five years ago, and look at it now, he will see what the change really is. It is not that eight and a quarter millions of money have been spent; it is not that 42,000 cottages have been erected. It is the difference in the whole environment and the whole atmosphere. Things are altogether different. Why, twenty-five or thirty years ago the labourers in Ireland were perhaps the most miserable class in the whole country, poor, wretched, badly housed, and badly fed. The housing was of the worst kind—thousands of mud cabins. The Census returns of these days are, so far as housing is concerned, the most ghastly reading that can be imagined. All that has, to a large extent, changed. I think that the hon. Member for Mid-Cork might have been a little more frank in acknowledging what has been done to assist that movement by this House and by the State.


I stated all the facts as to what has been done, and I gave the actual statistics. I admitted that a most beneficent work has been set on foot, and my one desire is to see that work perfected as soon as possible.


We all desire that, but sometimes by force of circumstances we have to hasten slowly. It is only twelve or eighteen months since this House granted the last million of money that has been granted under these Acts. The hon. Member says that it is all appropriated and that more is required. That is quite true, and it is quite certain that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is as well disposed towards the movement to house the labourers of Ireland comfortably and as anxious to assist Irish Members with the Treasury as any man can well be. But everything cannot be done at once. That is what I want to impress upon hon. Members opposite. They know as well as I know that last Session was crowded. They know that this Session must also be crowded. They know that a million of money was granted last year, and that the Treasury will very naturally ask, "Is it all spent?" and the Chief Secretary will have to say, "It is not all spent yet, though I think it is neary all hypothecated, perhaps with the exception of a couple of hundred thousand."


And there are schemes which will absorb £900,000 more.


The Government are perfectly aware of that. My case here to-day is the friendliest case in the world towards the object of the hon. Member. I am as anxious to see this done as any hon. Member can be. I have endeavoured to help in past times when I had a great deal more freedom than I have now in the matter. There was a part of the country which did not take kindly to these Acts, and the hon. Member for Mid-Cork complained against the Local Government Board that they were inclined to give this money now to districts which had not used the money before, and he thought that it ought to be given to those districts which had used the money and had shown their desire to work the Act. It is a case of to him who hath much shall be given. But there were districts in the country where the local authorities were very remiss in using the Labourers Acts. That cannot be questioned. They are alive now to the advantages of the Acts, and what I understand is that these districts where the Acts have not been put into operation before are now getting this money that they did not get before. I think that that is the complaint which the hon. Member for Mid-Cork made. But, when all that is said and done, eight and a half millions have been spent since 1883. Five and a quarter millions of this vast amount of money has been given upon Land Act terms, which means at a rate of interest very much lower than the ordinary rate. Forty-two thousand cottages have been erected. Some 50,000 or 60,000 people have been provided for; and the last million of money granted by this House is being expended at the present time. Hon. Members know perfectly well that, in the absence of the Chief Secretary, one in my position cannot say very much. I will, however, convey to the Chief Secretary the purport of the Debate which has taken place. I need not tell him the great benefits that will accrue to Ireland from the proper housing of the agricultural labourer, and not only the agricultural labourer, because there is a question of the town labourer as well as the agricultural labourer, and I expect that we shall probably have to face that ourselves, when we shall have perfect freedom and perfect responsibility to deal with it.


What do you mean by that?


I should have thought that the hon. Member would have understood that, and I am perfectly certain that I use a Parliamentary expression in saying that the hon. Member must take it for what it is worth. As regards these agricultural labourers, we shall do our best to bring the work to a satisfactory conclusion, but I repeat that the condition of the town and city labourers is just as bad as, if not worse than, that of the agricultural labourer. That is for the future, and the future will speak for itself, but, as I hope, we shall be able to carry both of these great objects to a satisfactory conclusion.


It is a misfortune that the Chief Secretary is not able to be present, and we all regret what I understand is the cause of his absence, but my hon. and learned Friend who introduced this subject was bound by an imperative duty to the agricultural labourers, whose cause he has gallantly championed for many years through good and evil report, to take the first opportunity of making as strong a protest as he could against the utter unfairness and injustice with which this last loan of a million of money has been administered by the Local Government Board. The Vice-President of the Department truly told us, as my hon. and learned Friend told us before, that half the work has been accomplished with the most magnificent result. But it makes it all the more cruel that the other half of the question should be left utterly unsettled. The Vice-President has been of course quite unable to tell us in a specific way what means there are or will be for completely settling this question, either under the Imperial Parliament or under an Irish Parliament. The Vice-President, in the absence of the Chief Secretary, has made a sympathetic speech, in which he has put it clearly that he himself is quite alive to the importance of the question, which beyond all doubt, next to land purchase, is the most vital requirement to the peace of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman is really not able to give us a crumb of what I might call substantial consolation, nor has he made any defence in reply to what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend, who explained the whole case with so much ability and completeness. I should not feel justified in going back upon his complaint as to the utter injustice of the system, by which this million of money, almost the whole of it, has been distributed among those local authorities who, as he himself admitted, have grossly neglected their duty to the labourers, while the southern local authorities, who led the way, and had the courage to embark upon large enterprises under the Act of 1906, have been penalised for their public spirit, and have been absolutely refused all help whatever, except in the open money market, for the completion of this great reform. There has been a persistent boycott of those southern unions by the present Government, and I must certainly repeat that we, in the southern unions, have been treated in a most scandalously unfair way. The Vice-President did not even attempt a defence, for the very good reason that no valid defence is possible.

Like himself, I am anxious to say a word as to the far more important question of the future, and I am sorry to say that, with the exception of eloquent words of sympathy, the Vice-President, who speaks, and has a right to speak for the Chief Secretary and for the Government, has not been able to give us any very substantial hope beyond his own personal intentions. He has hinted that of course the Treasury stands in the way, and has pointed out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, though he ought to be here. The Chief' Secretary is especially in the habit of speaking, as if we expect him to play the perpetual mendicant at the doors of the Treasury. We do nothing of the kind. We want nothing from him or from the Treasury except common fair play. We claim the complete settlement of the agricultural labourers' question, not as a favour from the Treasury, but as a right and as a debt of honour on the part of the Government. Mr. Bryce, when he was Chief Secretary, and Sir Anthony MacDonnell (now Lord MacDonnell), when Under-Secretary for Ireland, in the most distinct manner pledged themselves to finance and complete the settlement of the labourers' question upon the same terms and the same rate of interest as under the Land Purchase Act of 1903. If they tell us now that the Treasury has found reason to regret that undertaking as they found reason to regret and to recede from their promise under the Land Purchase Act, my reply is, "the more disgraceful it is to the Treasury." It is their business, and not ours. We claim in this matter, as in the matter of land purchase, that it is an unworthy course, that it is not quite an honest course for the Treasury to repudiate its engagements to Ireland in the only matter in which Ireland ever got the best of a bargain with the Imperial Exchequer.

What is this tremendous burden that the Treasury is for ever wringing its hands about? My hon. and learned Friend has told you that your whole contribution towards the working of the Agricutural Labourers Act is just £60,000, while you do not hesitate for a moment about spending £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 a year upon officials in Ireland over half the country. Sixty-thousand pounds, that is your tremendous generosity, while every year you are devoting in other directions money which would provide every agricultural labourer in Ireland with his cottage and allotment, and every urban labourer in Ireland as well. I say again that you can have no peace in Ireland until you find sonic means better than words to complete this great reform, and you must not expect us, in the least, to sympathise with your poverty-stricken Treasury at a moment when your revenue is bounding up at a most extraordinary rate, and when the Government have not the least scruple about adding millions to the Budget for any other purpose in the world except Irish subjects. You cannot leave this matter as it stands; you have gone too far, not to go the whole way; and the whole way, the honest way, is to give the Irish local authorities as good terms for the remainder of their work as they were promised and as they received from Mr. Bryce and from Sir Anthony MacDonnell. Even if the Government of Ireland Bill were passed, it would be no remedy whatever; on the contrary, I believe that this sore, raw and festering, would simply place an additional impediment in the way of the country and the work of the new Parliament, and, goodness knows, the impediments are already sufficiently numerous. We shall watch in the next few weeks to see, when the Chief Secretary comes home, whether he and the Government will in future seriously attempt to grapple with this question of the labourers. If they do not, we shall be most reluctantly driven to try whether the labourers' claim cannot be more effectively forced to the front whenever the Land Purchase Bill comes to be discussed. We shall watch anxiously to see how far even the hopes which the right hon. Gentleman has foreshadowed will fructify in any substantial way.


My purpose in rising is to appeal to the Government to adopt a more active policy on behalf of the indentured labourers in San Thomé and Principé. It is a question with which we in this country have, not only got a right to deal, but we are under a moral obligation to do so. As far back as 1373 we contracted a Treaty with Portugal, which has been renewed very often, and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs has said that we are under an engagement to defend and protect San Thomé. In other words, the old treaty is still active and in force. It is unquestionable that if our guardianship and friendship had been removed, other countries would have intervened, and we, being under treaty with the Portuguese, are under a moral obligation to see the question put on a better footing than it is at present. The first point is the question of repatriation. The Portuguese Government, yielding to the repeated protests of His Majesty's Government, has instituted a system of repatriation. In a White Paper which has been circulated it is stated that repatriation is, in the main, proceeding satisfactorily. All I can say is that if repatriation is proceeding satisfactorily, we must be very easily pleased. There are 40,000 indentured labourers in these islands, but the official statistics show that there are from 30,000 to 60,000. The repatriation is going on only at the rate of 500 a year, which cannot be considered very satisfactory progress. It is said that the indentured, labourers are legally free. There is a good deal of difference between legally free and being actually free, and the great majority of these indentured labourers have been in the islands of San Thomé and Principé six, seven, or eight years, and there can be no doubt about their wish to return to their homes if they could do so. I see in a pamphlet, written by a Portuguese officer appointed to look after the interests of the natives, he says that they come to his office to apply for repatriation, and that they are always accompanied by their employers, and naturally the natives say that they are quite willing to be reindentured. This is an illustration of the lax and casual manner in which the Portuguese regulations are carried out. I will quote from a later despatch of Consul Smallbones, dated 23rd September, 1912:— On the 23rd and 24th ultimo the Governor-General visited a plantation called 'Tentative,' which belongs to the Companhia, Agricola de Dande, and lies in the district of Alto Dande. This plantation employs about 700 labourers, who apparently were contracted under the regulations of 1902. They made a demonstration outside the house his Excellency was staying in, asking to be allowed to leave the plantation, and even accompanied his Excellency to the railway station when he left, some five hours away. Thirteen soldiers were sent from Loanda to intimidate them, and they returned to work. His Excellency informs me that he had them recontracted under the regulations of 1911. I pointed out to his Excellency, who discussed this question with me most willingly, that according to those regulations this was irregular. My contention, therefore was that as these labourers had, so I understood, worked continuously on an average for from five to nine years they could not possibly be forced into a new contract to which they were not yet liable. His Excellency admitted my contention, but remarked that in the present state of the labour supply such scrupulous observance of the regulations would entail the entire stoppage of a large plantation for which he could not be responsible. Not only is repatriation proceeding very slowly, but the regulations are carried out in a careless, reckless, and cruel manner. Many labourers who are expatriated are dumped down on the main land, and they have to make their way the best they can to their homes, which may be a thousand miles away. It is perfectly true that an Order in Council was issued on 12th October creating settlements for these labourers on the main land, but those settlements have never been created, I fear, and I would ask the Under-Secretary, if possible, to find out if they have been created, and, if so, how many natives are in them, and if any money is being devoted to the purpose. I notice that Consul Smallbones makes the suggestion that the repatriation money should be allotted to the creation of those settlements. There is very grave reason to believe that there is a very considerable leakage in this repatriation money, which is money which is being deducted from the wages of the labourers up to 50 per cent. That money has been deducted since 1903, and in 1907 the proprietor of San Thomé said that there was £100,000 available, but nine months later there was only £60,000 in the bank, so that £40,000 had gone astray. There should be an annual accretion of £25,000, or, in other words, there should be at the present time £160,000 standing to the credit of those indentured labourers. On 12th March of last year there was only £100,000, so that there had been a further leakage of £60,000. From an Order in Council of 26th August, published in the Official Bulletin of San Thomé and Principé— it appears that the planters are heavily in arrears with their payments to the repatriation fund, some hundreds of contos (100 contos equal to £20,000) are spoken of. As the rate of interest in San Thomé is very high, the planters have every reason to delay payments into the u nd. I would ask the Under-Secretary to kindly take notice and see what he can do, first of all, about the slow rate of repatriation, and then as to the leakage in the repatriation money, and to inquire whether the settlements are a reality, since, of course, a great deal of the effectiveness of the system of repatriation depends on the reality of the settlements.


I wish to support what the Noble Lord has said, and I feel sure that a very large number of Members on this side are in entire sympathy with the views he has urged. We feel that the representations of His Majesty's Government should not be answered by Portugal by new decrees, because difficulties have been met in that way for so many years. What has been lacking has not been excellence in regulations, but complete failure to carry out the regulations. I think we are entitled to ask the Government to put pressure on Portugal in view of our special treaty obligations towards that country, and their special obligations with regard to anything in the nature of slavery, to see that those regulations are more thoroughly carried out than they have been. I think it especially necessary in view of the information we have in the last White Paper that a census should be taken on the islands. Four years ago the Portuguese Government decreed a census but no census has been taken, and we cannot therefore secure reliable statistics. The Noble Lord has pointed out that there are three different figures given in Portuguese documents them- selves as to the population of the labourers in the Cocoa Islands. All the particulars about mortality that are given in the White Books are vitiated, or may be vitiated, by the fact that we have no census returns. We cannot therefore find out accurately what the conditions are. I think it is also of very great importance that we should have further information about the Colony for the repatriated labourers. Personally, I welcome very much the suggestion of the Portuguese Government for the formation of this Colony for small holders on the main land for people who could not return to their own country for one reason or another. It is very important that that proposal should not remain on Paper, but that it should be actually carried out. I would urge that further information should be obtained on that point.

The Noble Lord also referred to defalcations in the repatriation fund. He did not mention the fact that according to our own Consul's dispatches this money which has been taken from poor labourers already receiving an inadequate wage, in some cases to the extent of 50 per cent. of their earnings, is invested in the local bank at San Thormé on deposit without interest. The planters are allowed to leave their contributions in arrears, and the labourers' money rests at the bank without interest, although the Portuguese Government years ago authorised the investment of the money in Government securities. I think we may rightly ask His Majesty's Government to press that this great injustice to the labourers should be remedied, and that we may have further information about the conditions on the main land, as well as the publication of Consuls' dispatches or such information as has officially reached the Government. It would be of great value to have accurate information as to the condition of indentured labour on the main land, as well as the Portuguese position. I therefore heartily support the request of the Noble Lord.


I desire to express my complete concurrence in the view taken on the affairs of Asiatic Turkey by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Bryce). It seems to me that when peace is concluded the various Balkan Powers concerned, if asked, and probably without being asked, would promise and guarantee fair terms to all the races and all the creeds inhabiting what is known as European Turkey. It would seem, therefore, especially as there is a new reform Government in Constantinople, no difficult matter, on the desire of the Great Powers, to secure that similar treatment shall be given in those parts of Asia that remain in the Turkish Empire. I would add also in respect to those islands which are inhabited by Greeks and Italians on the ÆEgian shores, and, in fact, through all the maritime territory and through all the countries lying beyond the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, especially from what we have heard in recent years about Armenia. In that case Great Britain, with the utmost dignity and in accordance with our greatest traditions, raised her voice for the establishment of civilised government. I think all Christendom is interested in seeing that Christians shall be well treated in the country so well known to all Biblical students as the birthplace of St. Paul and as the region where the Seven Churches of Asia were to be found. Seeing that there would probably be no great difficulty in getting, if not a guarantee or assurance, some kind of honourable understanding to that effect, I would warmly and with all conviction press that view on the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.


I will begin by apologising for the absence of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He has two rather important interviews this afternoon which arise out of the condition of affairs in the Balkans, with which he dealt last Tuesday, and as he would find it difficult to put them off, I am sure the House will excuse his absence when they consider what is the cause of it. In his absence, I cannot be expected to deal at any length with the subjects that have been raised by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Bryce) and the hon. Member for Roxburghshire (Sir J. Jardine). I will convey, very particularly, remarks they have made to my right hon. Friend, and I am sure they will have very careful attention from him. I think the points they made were, partly at any rate, in his mind when he made the observations he did make in the House two days ago about the very great desirability of not embarrassing the Government of Turkey in future by exacting an indemnity or anything of the kind, so that there might be a reasonable chance of their developing the Asiatic provinces which would be left to them, and to really establish a good system of government there. After all, the question of Armenia is not altogether the question of ill-government by the Turkish Government. What is inclined to happen, so far as my knowledge goes, is that in the absence of a strong central authority the Kurds are apt to oppress the Armenians. Therefore, one is bound to believe that with goodwill from the centre, which we have every reason to believe would exist, the establishment of a really strong, good Administration at the centre will result in good government and administration in Armenia. Certainly, I should not endeavour to deny we had a special interest in looking after that part of Asia Minor, and that the interest and the duty that we have will be very carefully borne in mind.

5.0 P.M.

With regard to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) and the hon. Member for Leeds West (Mr. T. E. Harvey), the question of principle involved is what should be our general attitude towards the Government of Portugal in this matter of the conditions of recruiting and repatriation from the islands. In trying to make up one's mind about that, one has got to remember this main outstanding fact, that there has been very considerable improvement in many directions in connection with this question in the last few years. Therefore, that being so, and improvement having taken place and continuing to take place as we hope, our attitude, I think, may reasonably be rather different from what it would be if our efforts and the efforts of the Portuguese Government had not had the comparative success which they have had up to the present. After all, if hon. Members carry their minds back they will remember that the great complaint not so long ago was as to recruiting labour in Angola for San Thomé, and as to the conditions of recruitment there. That recruitment has stopped altogether, and now such recruitment as takes place for the islands takes place either in Mozambique or in Liberia, and so far as we know is carried on under quite reasonable conditions. That question, on which attention was concentrated not so long ago, has therefore been settled, and, so far as we know, settled satisfactorily. Similarly many other matters to which we have given our attention have been satisfactorily settled. We have pointed out to the Portuguese Government, for instance, the very great undesirability of making the contracts on the Island of San Thomé. We have pointed out that the only fair thing to do is that the contract should be made at the place where the labourer is recruited, and not when he has been taken away to a distant island from which he cannot return. Our representations were listened to, and in response to them the system of making the contracts in the islands themselves was abandoned. That is an improvement.

It must also be regarded as an improvement that this scheme of depots, if I may so describe them, to which the repatriated labourers shall be sent on their first coming from the islands, has been ordered to be set up by an Order in Council. The Noble Lord expressed the opinion that probably no progress had yet been made with that scheme. But, after all, the Order in Council was only dated, I think, October last year, and perhaps there has not yet been time to get it fully into working order. These two depots, if I remember rightly, will be one at Loando, where we have a Consul, and the other on the little isolated piece of territory called Congo to the North of Angola, and that can easily be visited by our Consul at Boma. Certainly, I quite agree with the suggestion that it would be our duty to see that real progress is made with that scheme. It must not remain a paper scheme, and we do not think that there is any intention that it should. I do not think that we or Members of this House should regard it as in the least satisfactory if the policy of repatriation was only to bring them back to the settlements and settle them permanently there. These settlements, I think, should be regarded as places of passage where the labourers can get accustomed to the conditions of agriculture on the mainland, and from which whenever possible they should proceed in due time back to the places from which they were brought. These settlements will, we hope, be used in that way and not as permanent dwelling places for the men.

So far as the scheme goes, we recognise that it is a very considerable improvement on the system which undoubtedly prevailed, at any rate to some extent, of dumping the men on the coast with no provision for looking after them when they got there. It is a good thing that barracks and huts should be provided by the Colonial administration, together with implements and seeds, so that there may be something for the men to do as soon as they arrive until arrangements can be made for getting them back to the places from which they came. There has been improvement also in the conditions inland. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. Harvey) said that we needed more information on that point. We do, and we are trying to get it. Such information as we have is very much more favourable than anything we have had for a long time. He would be a bold man who would say that domestic slavery does not exist in the districts near to the headquarters of the Kassai and the Zambesi Rivers; but we are told that slave trading is practically extinct on the North-Western frontier of Rhodesia, which is up in that area, where it undoubtedly used to exist. We know that two definite reforms have taken place. First, the fees for registering the labourers no longer go to the registering official, but to the Provincial Treasury, so that the official has no longer a financial interest in the number of labourers registered. Secondly, there has been a considerable restriction of the old system of allowing convict settlers from Portugal to range wide over the whole country, because it was found that that had the effect of causing them to engage in the slave trade on their own account.

I now come to the particular points raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, as to the number of repatriations and the Repatriation Fund. I think that when he said that repatriations were taking place at the rate of 500 a year he was, no doubt unintentionally, rather unfairly representing the facts. He arrived at that figure by taking the average over five years. It would have been fairer if he had stated what appears in the White Paper, namely, that last year more than 1,400 were repatriated in the first six months of the year. That is a very great improvement, and it puts rather a different complexion on the fact than to state that the repatriations are only at the rate of 500 a year. I am bound to say, however, that, although over 1,400 were repatriated in the first six months of last year, there was a very considerable falling off in the second six months. There has been an improvement since, as we recently heard that in January this year 227 were repatriated. If that rate is kept up it will produce a total of something like 3,000 for the year. There ought not to have been that practical suspension of the repatriations in the second part of last year, and we shall take what steps we can to see that it does not occur again. The great improvement which one finds in the more than 1,400 in the first six months of last year is much more the sort of thing which we could regard as being fairly reasonable, and we hope that that will be steadily kept up from now onwards, whatever the season of the year may be. In connection with the improved condition, so far as our position is concerned, I want to draw attention to the fact that in order that we may watch these things and be able to give advice when we consider it necessary, we have established a Consul at Loanda, and two paid Vice-Consuls, one of whom will spend part of his time at San Thomé and the rest at Fernando Po and the other at Benguela. These two Vice-Consuls, because of the unhealthiness of the climate at Fernando Po, will change about at different times of the year, so that we shall have in the future permanent paid servants at the ports of arrival and departure of these contract labourers. That will help us very much in watching over what is going on and to give reports to the House as to the actual repatriations and the system under which they are carried out.

As to the Repatriation Fund, there is no doubt that that fund has not been carried on in the strict, businesslike way that one might have hoped for and which we should like to see. It has been admitted that the planters were badly in arrears with their payments, and that no interest had been paid by the banks with which a part of the fund was deposited. That, I think, undoubtedly points to mismanagement. As to our general policy in regard to this fund, the best thing I can do is to quote word for word from a letter which was sent on the 11th of this month to the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, in reply to a letter from them on this very subject. That letter will be included in the next White Paper that is laid, or, if it were asked for, we could have it specially laid, because I am going to quote from it. It gives the policy of the Government with regard to this matter:— In reply to your letter … I am directed by Secretary Sir E. Grey to observe that the proper administration of the fund for the repatriation of contract labourers from San Thormé is a domestic concern of the Portuguese authorities with which the British Government are not in a position officially to interfere. When your society, in their letter of the 15th July last, supplemented later by another letter, mentioned serious defalcations alleged to have taken place in connection with the fund in 1907–8, Sir E. Grey went as far as he could by instructing His Majesty's charge d'affaires at Lisbon to inform the Portuguese Government of your criticisms, and to ask whether any explanations could be given to meet them. The Portuguese Government answered by categorically denying that any such defalcations had taken place. They at the same time gave information which showed that there was a substantial balance standing to the credit of the fund on the 31st May of last year, so that it cannot he said that the process of repatriation is hampered by want of money to pay the prescribed bonuses. In these circumstances, Sir E. Grey does not consider that he can pursue the matter further with the Portuguese Government. I am afraid that the policy shown in that letter will not satisfy either of the hon. Members who raised the question. The letter shows, however, exactly what our policy is. We think it is wiser and better to concentrate our attention on seeing that the repatriated labourers to whom bonuses are due receive those bonuses, rather than to criticise the accounts of the fund, which we consider to be a domestic affair of the Portuguese Government. I am sorry I cannot go further than the policy officially shown in the letter which I have quoted. I would only press our friends to consider whether there is not something to be said from our point of view, that, so long as the men receive the bonuses to which they are entitled, that is the great point. It would be rather difficult for us to go behind the statements that were made to us, so long as we could not dispute the fact that the bonuses when due were being properly paid.

The hon. Member for West Leeds suggested what I think is a new point, namely, that it would be a good thing to have a census of the labourers on the Islands. I agree with him, and I will have the question of the desirability of having such a census, and of putting the suggestion before the Portuguese Government carefully considered. In conclusion, I would repeat this: the improvement that has taken place in the last few years has been very great indeed. I think, therefore, it is only reasonable that our attitude should be one of carefully watching what is now being done, giving counsel and advice where we think them desirablex—particularly if there is any falling off in the rate of repatriation—and in always encouraging the improvements which have taken place already, and getting the rate of improvement maintained and even increased rather than in bringing particular grievances to the notice of the Portuguese Government, which has been so very definitely trying of late years to meet the criticisms and the points which we have in made.

Sir J. D. REES

I want to bring before the House a subject that has not been brought before the House, which is of interest, I believe, to many constituencies, and certainly of supreme importance to mine. I refer to the report of Mr. Pope on Married Women Outworkers under the Insurance Act. The House will not forget that these women were originally excluded in the Act, but that the Commissioners were given power to include them. After Sir Ernest Hatch's Committee sat and reported, and after the Report of the Advisory Committee, the insurance committee did that which the House of Commons ought to have done: decided that these women should be included—if they were to be included, the House of Commons ought to have done it—and so overrode, in my opinion, the express provisions of the Act. That, however, is the trend of modern administration and legislation combined, and it is no use endeavouring to enlarge upon it at this moment. Mr. Pope, the Commissioner, spent two days in Nottingham, and visited one married woman's house. I do not impugn Mr. Pope's industry, ability, or impartiality, but I submit to the House that there are others who have been able to spend more than two days in Nottingham and who have interviewed hundreds of these people instead of one. Mr. Pope, in his report, pointed out, and fairly, that the employers' objection to the Insurance. Tax chiefly was that there was no guarantee that the persons they employed would receive the benefits in return for the contributions which they, the employers, made. I think the employers pointed out that in some cases the Insurance Tax was equal as a capital charge to rent and rates. They very fairly and honestly objected on behalf of the employés, and not on behalf of themselves. It was pointed out that under the unit system which they necessarily have to adopt these women—for various reasons which there is no time to enlarge upon, they cannot follow the time system—would be unable to make a sufficient number of contributions in the year to entitle them to benefit under the Act. Their pay is often as low—and I can well confirm this from many personal inquiries—as a penny an hour, and never above threepence. The employers, called upon to pay fivepence a head for the persons they employed, have necessarily had to concentrate, and dismiss a great many persons because they could not afford to pay this objectionable tax on behalf of them.

Mr. Pope, in his Report, and Mr. Anderson, representing the Insurance Commissioners, have endeavoured to point out with what is evidently the special pleading of the official, that employers have made the excuse of the Insurance Tax in order to enforce a concentration which they would otherwise have wished for other reasons to enforce. That is not a worthy charge to bring, seeing that Mr. Pope himself admits elsewhere in his Report that the attitude of the employers have been exceedingly generous towards their employés. Mr. Pope says that the remedy is not to withdraw the Order and to exclude the married women. That is a very pontifical utterance. I submit Mr. Pope's Report hardly gives proper ground for it. When a man like Mr. Pone or any other man is sent out to bless an Act he has a bias towards confirming the official attitude which must be taken to account—though I do not for a moment impugn the impartiality of those concerned. Another, Miss Morton, an inspector, says the only danger some saw was that they might lose their work, and that some said that work was better than insurance. I ask the House whether anybody is likely to think that that was not only the attitude of some, but whether that was not the attitude of all: that work was better than insurance, and that anything that endangered their work was to them, so far from being a benefit, a disaster of the worst description! As there is very little time, and I want to hear the right hon. Gentleman rather than myself, let me come at once to Mr. Pope's recommendations. Mr. Pope recommended that the time limit under scheme B should be relaxed. As it is now it is only the work brought in in two consecutive weeks that can be lumped together to make a unit—or part will do—to qualify. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government are going to accept that recommendation? That acceptance I press on the Government on behalf of these poor people of Nottingham. Mr. Pope also recommended that both methods might be adopted in respect of one employed person, which obviously is advantageous, and only fair to the employer. I can see no possible reason for rejecting that, although it is not really of any very conspicuous benefit to the employed person. Another recommendation was made which will require legislation, and therefore I believe I should not be in order in referring to it on this occasion. It was that employers should be exempt from payment on behalf of the exempted persons. That seems to me to be elementary justice. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman is it quite clear, as Mr. Pope says, on page 14–I am anxious on behalf of my Constituents that it should be made perfectly clear— that the employer will pay exactly the same contribution on the same amount of work done, whether the work is done by one worker or by several, which, says Mr. Pope, would apparently remove all incentive to concentration? I hope that is so. I am not perfectly clear that it is. I should like also to know whether the right hon. Gentleman endorses Mr. Pope's recommendation that these workers—so poor as they are, so oppressed, that these to them are large deductions from their miserable wages—they are poor enough to wring the heart of anybody who goes to see them—for the one that Mr. Pope has seen I have seen hundreds—these wage earners had better become deposit contributors? Mr. Pope says that the feeling against deposit contributors is due to lack of knowledge. I submit to the House that this feeling is entirely due to knowledge. It is because those concerned know so well, with that common sense which distinguishes them, what it is to be a post office depositor, and with the knowledge which they have in their own case, that they object to it. It would be hopeless for me to attempt to say more now because I want to hear the right hon. Gentleman, but I would ask him to look to that portion of the Report in which it is pointed out, in answer to the Commissioners, that the burden of these repeated Acts—these half-dozen affecting the lace trade—is a most serious burden upon the trade: that it is quite impossible for the trade to stand up against it. Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly in the limit of time imposed upon him, answer the questions which I have endeavoured to put as clearly as possible in the shortest time.


I am afraid the details of the questions, the fair questions, which the hon. Gentleman has put to me would require rather more time than I have at present at my disposal to deal with. I hope another opportunity will arise—

Sir J. D. REES

I hone so too.


When we can fully discuss, not only the question of the out-workers affecting the district of Nottingham, in which the hon. Gentleman is specially and rightly concerned, but the whole question of the outworkers in connection with the National Insurance Act. As the hon. Gentleman knows and as the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Worthington-Evans) knows, no subject has caused greater difficulty in our debates, and in foreign countries where insurance exists, and I cannot profess to be able, whatever time might be at my disposal, to say that we have completely solved all the difficulties. But I was rather sorry to hear the hon. Member throwing out scorn and criticising impartiality of an impartial investigator—

Sir J. D. REES

I disclaim that, Sir. I said there was unconscious official bias.


I do not think there is any official bias at all. While Mr. Pope was in Nottingham I was in constant communication with him. The directions he received were not only to investigate facts, but to advise as to any scheme which could be a satisfactory scheme. If a scheme had been satisfactory the Commissioners would not have rejected it. The Commissioners were not committed to any particular scheme dealing with outworkers. If Mr. Pope had reported that any particular class of outworkers should, in their own interests and in the general interest of the community be excluded from the Act alto-together, there would be no difficulty in making an order to that effect. What Mr. Pope did find not only in Nottingham, but practically in all the districts which he visited—and he gave very special attention to it—was that those people who had a special claim to represent the outworkers specially desired that they should not be excluded. It was on that evidence that he made his Report and the various recommendations. The hon. Member specifically asked me whether the recommendations of the Report have been carried out. The central recommendations are being carried out. The most important recommendation, which is that of the relaxation of the time limit of the measurement of the work unit, has already been carried out. The hon. Member for Colchester knows of this, and I believe this relaxation is doing away with a good deal of the hardship which people have been suffering from. If any minor recommendations are not at present in operation, it is either because they are being considered, or because there may be some administrative difficulty. Generally, the House may take it from us that not only are we anxious to receive any suggestions for the settlement of this question from such impartial investigators as these, but I shall be very grateful if the hon. Member, or, indeed, any Member of the House, can put before me any suggestions of his own. Although I am not entitled to deal with legislation I would say, seeing that the hon. Member has mentioned it, that these suggestions need not necessarily be confined to administrative detail, because there may be an opportunity, if it is desired, and if we can clearly see our way, when we can make things more satisfactory. There may be an opportunity of dealing—

Sir J. D. REES

Is there any hope of the outworkers being excluded altogether?


It might be advisable if there was a real genuine demand on the part of the outworkers themselves, but I must honestly say that all investigations that I have been able to make show, when the case has been actually put before them, that demand does not exist.


Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to know the result in at least one factory. This has happened even under the amended Regulations, which, I agree, are very much better than the old ones. Out of 351 cases, 10 per cent. have received sufficient to make contributions to keep them in full benefit, 10 per cent. have earned enough to give them 5s. to 6s. 6d. (for the quarter), and the other 80 per cent. have not earned enough to keep them in full benefit, which will be either very largely reduced, or in some cases altogether suspended. Although these are two quarters, and probably not the best quarters, it would not work out quite as bad as if—


They have paid.


They have paid a little, or they would not be able to get any benefit at all. But in some cases they are largely reduced benefits. So long as that is the case it cannot be considered that the outworkers' problem has been satisfactorily met.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.

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