HC Deb 16 April 1914 vol 61 cc444-64

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question proposed in consideration of Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £64,728, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board, Ireland, including sundry Grants-in-Aid."—[Note.—£45,000 has been voted on account.]

Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £64,628 be granted for the said Service." Debate resumed.


I was referring to the question of housing in Dublin when I was interrupted, and to the remarks of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), with regard to education and the number of schools in Belfast, and with regard to the question of housing in Rosyth. The hon. Member pointed out that in Liverpool housing had been very much improved, and his argument appeared to me to mean that in Dublin it had been improved also. The actual facts are that, in spite of certain action by the Dublin Corporation, housing conditions in Dublin have been made very much worse. In the evidence Miss Harrison used these words:— According to the last census there were 118,000 people odd badly housed in Dublin, as against 104,000 at the time of the previous census. Thus in ten years they have gone worse instead of better in the City of Dublin.


What was the increase in population?


There was a slight decrease during the ten years. Miss Harrison continued and produced a report which showed that 12,000 people live four in one room, and 11,335 live five in one room, and 8,000 live six in one room.


I think you are wrong with regard to population, and that the population increased.


I think you will find that there is a decrease in the last Census. The Report states:— In the evidence given before the Royal Commission in the year 1880 it was stated there were 9,760 tenement houses in Dublin occupied by an estimated population of 117,000 persons, and that of this number 2,300 houses, occupied by an estimated population of about 30,000 people, were declared to be then unfit for human habitation. It follows that the average number of persons occupying each tenement house in that year was about twelve, while the number of tenement houses had been reduced to 5,322"— That is from 9,700. That, of course, the hon. Member for the Scotland Division would argue, was a great asset and a great improvement caused by the Dublin Corporation— While the number of tenement houses has been reduced to 5,320, they are now occupied by a population of 87,305 persons, being the number ascertained by the sanitary staff, giving an average of 16.5 per house"— as compared with 12 per house at the previous estimate. I think, therefore, it is quite clear that the housing conditions in Dublin, in spite of the efforts which have undoubtedly been made by the corporation, are worse to-day than they were ten years ago. All statistics go to prove that. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division argued that the corporation had done great work in other directions. We are told that they have one of the best water supplies that any city enjoys at the present day. It is a great thing that Dublin has a good water supply, but that good water supply is not of much use to the poor people in Dublin if they only get one tap in a yard for two or three tenement houses and no water in the house at all. In addition to providing a good water supply, the corporation might have seen that that water was conveyed where these poor people could drink it and use it for washing and other sanitary purposes. The hon. Member also went back some seventy-four years. I have noticed that when our Friends below the Gangway start to talk on these questions, and bring in a little bit of politics, they are very fond of going back a long time. We on this side like to consider present day or recent history in Ireland. We, with our Friends below the Gangway, are ashamed of the history of Ireland seventy-four years ago. The hon. Member goes back to the year 1840, when he says the present corporation took over the government of Dublin. Since then the corporation has been more or less a Nationalist corporation. Seventy-four years is longer than I or probably any other Member of this House can remember, and if in seventy-four years the corporation of Dublin under Nationalist government have not been able to improve the housing conditions more than they have improved them, I think we are justified in drawing the Chief Secretary's attention to this matter by supporting the Motion for the reduction of this Vote.

10.0 P.M.

The hon. Member also argued that if only there were Home Rule in Ireland, the whole of this housing trouble in Dublin would at once disappear. The Chief Secretary argued that the difficulty before the city corporation in Dublin was that if they started to make drastic alterations and improvements in the housing conditions, and to spend money for that purpose, the members of the corporation would lose their seats at the next election. I submit that even under a Home Rule Government the same condition with regard to election to the corporation would hold good, and would possibly be even more emphasised than at present. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division seems to think, first of all, that Home Rule is necessary to improve the housing conditions, and, secondly, that it is neccessary to bring in the suburbs of Dublin in order that their financial strength may improve the finances of the city of Dublin. There may be something in that argument; but the Parliament of this country has always held that an extension of borough boundaries should not be permitted unless the place sought to be included in the borough was willing to come in. That is one of our arguments against Home Rule. It is an argument against the inclusion of the portions outside Dublin within the government of the city of Dublin. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division was using a rather dangerous argument, because his own city of Liverpool not long ago wished to include that eminent suburb, Bootle, within its boundaries. Bootle would not come in, and Parliament decided that Bootle was right, and refused the Liverpool Bill, in just the same way as it refused the Bill which Dublin brought in with the object of including its suburbs. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was refused by the Committee."] It was refused by Parliament. That is the principle of Parliament. The Parliament of the United Kingdom does not include any area in any government if that area does not wish to come into that government.

The hon. Member for the Scotland Division asked why this inquiry was instituted in the city of Dublin—why was Dublin selected? It is a little difficult to know exactly what reason to give for the selection of Dublin, but I might submit one or two reasons to the Committee. Dublin is the worst town in the United Kingdom, not only for its housing conditions, but for the results of housing conditions, which to my mind are more serious. If we take the death-rate, out of forty international towns of about the same size, Dublin stands the sixth worst. The Committee will be interested to hear the names of the towns that are worse than Dublin. They are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rio de Janeiro, Trieste, and Venice. I think that gives some ground to the Chief Secretary for instituting this inquiry. In regard to the infantile mortality, of thirty-two international towns, Dublin stands the tenth worst. The towns worse than Dublin are: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Cologne, Breslau, Venice, Budapesth, Trieste, Berlin, and Rio de Janeiro. Is not that some reason why the question of housing in Dublin should be inquired into? Then take crime. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division, and, indeed, the Chief Secretary himself, resented very much the comparison between Dublin and Belfast. But, after all, we who sit on these benches cannot help but compare the two towns. We are considering the government of towns in Ireland; Belfast and Dublin are the two biggest towns in Ireland; therefore, in order to get a fair comparison one must compare those two towns. They both live, as far as this Parliament is concerned, under the same laws as any other town in the United Kingdom, with one or two small exceptions, such as in the case of Dublin, the special Act about which we have heard to-day, the Clancy Act. When one compares Dublin and Belfast, Dublin always comes out badly. If the boot was on the other foot, if Belfast always came out badly, should we not hear still stronger arguments from the benches below the Gangway as to Home Rule being absolutely essential in order to put Belfast straight because it was so badly governed? If we take the details of crime for the year 1911 in Dublin, with a population of 304,000, there were 3,429 indictable offences, while in Belfast there were only 1,826, although the population is 86,000 more than that of Dublin. If we take pauperism, the pauperism rate for Belfast is 95 per 10,000, and for Dublin 283. Dublin is not singular. The other Nationalist towns in Ireland are much the same. In Cork, Limerick, Waterford, the average is 327 paupers per 10,000. If we take the lunacy rate—and all these things, I submit, arise from bad housing, as much as from anything else—the lunacy rate of Belfast is 33.9 per 10,000, while Dublin is nearly double, or 65 per 10,000. These are the reasons why Dublin was selected for this inquiry. Speaking entirely for myself I must say that when this question was raised by my hon. and learned Friend (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) a few weeks ago on the Adjournment, I was, if I may say so with all respect, very much disappointed with the reply of the gentleman the Chief Secretary of Ireland. He used practically these words—


When was this?


On the adjournment, some weeks ago. I know it was after eleven, and possibly the right hon. Gentleman had not had time to read the Report, although it had been out for several days. We on this side of the House and I, for one, have taken an interest in this question of housing in Dublin, not since this Report came out, or even since the inquiry was instituted, but for several years. As an Irishman interested in Dublin and interested in my native country, I have taken a keen interest in this question of housing in Dublin. When this Report came out I read as much of it as I could, and as quickly as I could. In his reply that evening the Chief Secretary boasted that he had appointed a Departmental Committee, and he said:— It is a most valuable Report which this Committee has produced.


Hear, hear!


He continued:— It has been prepared in a comparatively short time. I think that it shows the advantage of a Departmental Report over a more pompous and cumbrous method of inquiry. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but what is the object of all this? What is the object of having the inquiry which was going to report so soon? Why, that this House and that the right hon. Gentleman himself might take action at once. The matter was so serious that the right hon. Gentleman appointed a Committee which was to report without any waste of time, and I think that Members on this side of the. House were justified in thinking that after his great skill and foresight in getting the Committee to report so quickly the Government would take some action at any rate to get something done after the Committee had reported. The Chief Secretary continued his speech that night in these words:— The hon. Member is very anxious to know what I am going to do with this Report. We shall wait until this Report is completed and until we have the Appendix"— That has arrived now. which will enable us to compare the condition of things not only in Dublin but in other towns, and also enable us to form some opinion as to the size of the problem, etc. I was very much disappointed with that. I was still more disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day. He does not seem to have made up his mind yet what he is going to do. We have the whole of the Report and the Appendix. We did hope—at least I did—that the right hon. Gentleman would tell us that he had been in personal communication with the Corporation of Dublin, and that he was consulting with them as to what action they were going to take; that he was going to bring all the pressure he could to bear upon them to take some action at once. There was one matter I hoped he might refer to, and that was the recommendation of the Report of the Committee that certain property should for the purpose of improving housing conditions, be exempted from Increment Duty. That was a definite recommendation in the Report. It is not a big matter to the Government. Home Rule is pending, and I should have thought the Government might have risked that small amount, and so have given that encouragement to the corporation. Instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman referred again to the fact of the wicked landlord. That land had to be bought and paid for "at a pretty full price" were the right hon. Gentleman's exact words. I do not know but that I have deep sympathy with the landlords. They only own land instead of owning something else. Anything we own and want to sell we all want to get "a pretty full price for." Whether I am a Nationalist, or the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench, if I have something to sell, I expect to get a fair price for it, and I imagine that is the same as "a pretty full price." The right hon. Gentleman also said that these defects of housing in Dublin could not be tackled—and I would like to know exactly what he meant by this phrase—"by Manchester principles combined with patches of Socialism."

Does he mean that you cannot get the housing problem in Dublin and in Ireland right under Free Trade—is that the Manchester principle that he refers to? The right hon. Gentleman does not answer me. I therefore gather from his remarks that he means that under Free Trade Dublin has been put into such a condition that it cannot pay decent wages to its workmen, and therefore its workmen cannot afford to house themselves decently. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who spoke on the other side side of the House that at the bottom of this is the difficulty of bad wages. What I feel we in this part of the House are justified in saying is, that in Dublin wages are bad. We know it. In Belfast, the other large city of Ireland, wages are good, and housing is good. Why is there this distinction. In Belfast there are large manufacturing concerns carried on. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sweating."] In Dublin, apparently, they cannot be carried on. I think that possibly the right hon. Gentleman has hit upon the correct solution, "that under the Manchester principles of Free Trade Dublin will not thrive." Wages cannot rise. Housing will remain bad. The right hon. Gentleman also said in connection with what I may call the misbehaviour or wrong receiving of rebates by certain members of the city corporation, that he found it "not at all nice to his mind." We on this side of the House, do not expect the Chief Secretary to talk about things "not being nice to his mind" when he stands up in this House. I speak with all respect, but is not the Committee justified in expecting something more from the Chief Secretary—in getting some idea what he intends to do with regard to these men that have received these rebates wrongly?

What are the Government going to do? Are they going to bring any pressure to bear on the corporation? Are we not justified in asking the right hon. Gentleman from the authority which he has, either through the Local Government Board or as Chief Secretary, by some method, which I am sure he can find if only he looks, to bring pressure to bear upon the corporation to see that this money is refunded? I understand that one of the members of the corporation who has received this money, and who was mentioned by the hon. Member for Leicester in another connection, is a Unionist—the more shame to him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Therefore it is not a political matter. I am glad to find that one of them is a Unionist, and that therefore I can attack him more freely without being thought to have a party bias in the matter. Surely if a councillor has been receiving this rebate wrongly the Chief Secretary can do something and bring pressure to bear on the corporation to take some action! I have spoken much longer than I intended to do, having been carried away by enthusiasm. I hope the Committee will forgive me, but I do feel that at the bottom of this whole question is a great principle. The principle is, What are we trying to do? Are we in this House trying to cure the evils which have occurred or are we trying to prevent these evils? They are at the bottom of all the crime and immorality, and high death-rate, and high infantile mortality. Housing is one of the chief roots of the evils, and if we could improve the housing conditions of the working classes we would be doing a great work. I am convinced, as one who has done some slumming in the worst portions of this country, and also in Dublin, for I had the pleasure of going round these houses—I do not think it should be called a pleasure, but rather a terrible experience—that it is far more important to cure the condition of the housing of the working classes in Dublin than to supply them with sanatoria when they are ill. If we get at the root of the evil, and prevent illness and immorality and attacks upon our civilisation, I feel that we should be doing some good, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will do something to help in that direction.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will excuse me if I do not follow him into all the details of his somewhat provocative speech. I have already spoken upon that subject, and I hope he will pardon me if I do not reply to his speech at the present moment. I can assure him his interests in the case of housing in Dublin recommends itself very much to me, and I am glad to think that in my efforts I shall be reinforced by Members sitting for English constituencies. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), in which he spoke of the doings of the Distress Committee. He gave us a great; deal of miscellaneous information which I felt it rather difficult to follow, as I am not acquainted with all the details to enable me to deal with it in a manner that. I should like. At the same time, I want one or two things to be made perfectly plain, first, with reference to the responsibility of the Local Government Board in this matter; and, secondly, with reference to the duties and the responsibilities of the Distress Committee itself. I was, I confess, a little taken back to find that the chairman of the Distress Committee was a gentleman who figures in regard to rebates by the corporation, but, after all, that is not a matter for which the Local Government Board has any responsibility whatever.

The Distress Committee is a body which was constituted under the Act of 1905 passed by my predecessor in office, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand (Mr. Long), and that Act required Distress Committees to be set up both in England and in Ireland, not in any way for the purpose of distributing public funds, but as responsible bodies which might invite local and involuntary subscription, and also which might be given or granted some share of public revenue. There were voluntary bodies appointed in the manner stated by the Act of Parliament, and they had to deal with private funds. The Distress Committee in Dublin, as established by an Order of the Local Government Board, comprised thirty-five members. Sixteen were appointed by the corporation from its own body, six were appointed by the corporation on being selected by the guardians of the North Dublin Union, and six were appointed on being selected by the guardians of the South Dublin Union, and seven were appointed by the corporation from outside their own body, but being persons experienced in the relief of distress. That was not a body over which the Local Government Board had any authority either as to appointment or in any way except to see that any fund they had procured from any source, whether obtained originally by voluntary subscription or as subsequently provided by grants from their Employment Fund, was properly distributed. There has been a good deal of difference of opinion as to whether it has been a good thing or a bad thing, but be it good or bad the powers and responsibilities of the Local Government Board were simply to see that any moneys which they handed over should find their way into the pockets of the unemployed in the place over which the Distress Committee had authority to act. A Distress Committee has these authorities. The hon. Member for Leicester spoke as having been a member of a distress committee. I wish he had been a member of the Dublin Distress Committee, for I am quite sure he would have discharged those important duties with all the abilities with which he has been endowed. But he would have found it difficult in Dublin to secure under the provisions and regulations of the Act that all this money did find its way into the pockets of the unemployed persons. It is the most difficult job in Dublin to find work for this class of person, because the work they do is not necessarily very well done, and they are not the strongest and ablest or best qualified workers. To find a job which would employ not two or three but a band of thirty, forty, or fifty of these people, and to secure that this Unemployment Fund does find its way into their pockets and bellies is a very difficult task.

The way in which it is done is that the Distress Committee may provide work, or it may contribute to work that is being done by some other public body or authority. I will take first the providing of work for these people in Dublin. There were 200 or 300 people all clamouring for work. Of course, you have to have a labour test, and you have to find work for them. It is a somewhat demoralising task to pursue suddenly to have to pop down in a city like Dublin, which presents the difficulties to be found in other cities in a most marked form, and to find some sort of occupation and some labour test these men can perform in order to get their share of the money. The sole business and power of the Local Government Board is to see that any Grant it gives, or the great bulk of it, finds its way into the pockets of these people. Some of it may go in cartage and some of it in material, but we try to get work for these people. The Grand Canal has been mentioned as an instance. That company has a road which is frequented a good deal by the public, and it was thought to be a good scheme to have a number of men turned into it in order to put the road into a better condition. The Canal Company were approached and asked, "How much will you give towards this work?" and the reply was, "We will not give you a farthing; the road is good enough for us, and we are not going to recoup one blessed penny." On the other hand, you have these men clamouring for work, and all the company say is, "If you like to put these men on the job we will not sue them for tresspass." That is the whole history of this transaction. The Distress Committee has no power whatsoever to recover from them anything, or to insist upon their subscribing one farthing in exchange for that advantage. The question simply was: Should these people have this work on the job, or should they not have it? That was the difficulty with reference to the Grand Canal. The road they made, I am told, was undoubtedly an improvement. It was steam-rolled, and, although I cannot honestly say that I have been upon it myself, I am told that it is not in itself a bad specimen of the work done by distress committees. The Grand Canal Company are a poor body, and they would not pay for it. There were these poor people clamouring for work, and the Distress Committee, finding it extraordinarily difficult to get any work for them at all, put them on it. There was a case in which recoupment might fairly have been demanded, but it could not be recovered. The difficulty in Dublin, I will not say in Ireland, is to get people to pay unless they are obliged.

Then other examples were given by the hon. Member. The bulk of the work that the Distress Committee did was in the nature of road making and cleansing the back lanes of Dublin, which are not liable to be swept or kept clean by the corporation, and which are not only inhabited, but also owned by poor people and by persons upon whom any demand that they should pay for cleaning the dirt out of the streets would have been treated, I will not say with ridicule, but with a stoney refusal to do anything. This was the difficulty which presented itself. How were we to find the work. I ask this Committee on behalf of the Distress Committee, notwithstanding the pertinent criticisms of my hon. Friend to bear in mind the plight in which they were situated. There were a number of very poor people seeking work, which it was most important to get for them as soon as possible. The Distress Committee went about seeking work for them. It is not in itself a very pleasant thing for an employer of labour to go about begging to do a job for the owners of these terraces, and the occupiers and owners of the property abutting upon these lanes in which the cleansing took place. They did sometimes extort or obtain from the owners of these premises a very small contribution in respect of the material. They themselves expended other sums in the purchase of material for this road, making or cleansing, or whatever description is given to it, with the result that the work was done.

The hon. Member says, and obviously it must be true, that some pecuniary advantage must have accrued to this property in consequence of this expenditure of money, labour, and wages. He said that in one case the improvement was estimated at £314, or something of that sort. It may be so. It is obvious that some improvement must accrue, but whether this property has been put up for sale and has ever been subjected to that test so that you could say it had increased in price since its former acquisition by virtue of this improvement I do not know; but there has been nothing to show that its assessable value has been increased by the work done by these poor people, and I should very much doubt whether any appreciable increase in its value has taken place. Of course, I agree that if you can get recoupment it is the right economic policy and you draw the right picture. As my hon. Friend has said, you get money from the fund, say £250, and you so use that money that you double the fund at your disposal. I admit that he has experience of this country, and I have no experience of England in this matter. But the Dublin committee were in a different position from the committees in England, who can spend money on profitable jobs and get something back. They could get some return irrespective of the value of the work done, representing the increased value of the property. But we cannot do that. We have tried in Dublin to do it and we have necessarily failed, owing to the conditions of the case. I am not responsible for that. I have endeavoured to defend the Dublin Corporation from attacks which seemed to me to go beyond the proved facts of the case, and it is the same here, although I am sorry that the chairman of the Distress Committee should have apparently employed his position to get work done, and, as the owner of property, should have prevaricated as to the ownership of that property. Still, I very much doubt whether any other person would have agreed to recoup. We cannot get recoupment in most cases in Dublin. If they wanted it done in that way they would do it in the ordinary course of business, and get the work done by the people they usually employed. They would not go to a charitable enterprise of this sort.

I quite agree that the Distress Committee should obtain recoupment where they could do so. That was their duty, but I do not see any evidence that they failed in that duty. They had to deal with people who said, "Do it if you choose." That really deals with the greatr part of this case. My hon. Friend suggests that the Local Government Board has a bias against this kind of work on which there is recoupment. They have not. They have no duty nor authority beyond seeing that the money has been spent in such a way as to put the maximum of the advance into the hands of these poor people. Complaint has been made that they did not take up some work from the Board of Works. This job would have involved an expenditure of £600, but the amount of money that would have been put into the pockets of these poor people would have been so small that, notwithstanding the character of the work, the committee could not undertake it. The gravamen of the case is that we did not obtain recoupment. My answer is that we could not. I am sorry that my hon. Friend should have sneered at Mr. MacCabe. As a matter of fact, he was, not specially connected with the Distress Committee, more than any other inspector who could have been appointed. He was chosen to take up that inquiry because he had knowledge of the subject and was a very competent person. I regret that any imputation should be made against him. He was on perfectly friendly terms with the lady who asked for the inquiry and to suggest that he was in particeps criminis with all sorts of people is absurd. He was no more connected with the matter than other inspectors who must have been chosen. I cannot go through the various cases. My hon. Friend talked about private property. Of course, private property has a disagreeable sound. He said the money is employed for the benefit of private property. That is really not the way to look at it. The Distress Committee do not go about seeking to benefit the owners of private property at all. They have to discharge the most difficult duty of finding jobs for these unfortunate people, in order that this public dole, which has been placed in the hands of the Distress Committee, should be spent with as little harm as possible.

I cannot say whether this Distress Committee has discharged all its duties with great precision or with great accuracy. Certainly a number of its members, I know, are most devoted and quite free from any imputation whatsoever of utilising their position for the benefit of themselves. Miss Harrison was referred to by my hon. Friend. I am not going to say a single word against her. She was herself a member of the Distress Committee, who, perhaps, did not get her own way. It may be that her way was better, and that they might have been wise if they had conceded to her many of the points she made. Upon that I express no opinion. She, at least, obtained a sworn inquiry, and the hon. Member read us portions of' the evidence and the report of it. All I can say is that that inquiry was held in public, that it was fully reported in the newspapers, and that the respectable citizens of Dublin had a full opportunity of forming their own opinion as to the rights and wrongs of the case. As I have said, my obligation in the matter was that of the Local Government Board and nothing more. I cannot do anything more than exercise such wise control as a Local Government Board can do. Local Government Boards, when they interfere with bodies like the corporation, or bodies like the Distress Committee, are not treated with very great consideration, and they have to go very cautiously and be satisfied that they do not hit unless they have authority to do so.

I have carefully considered the authority of the Local Government Board in this matter over the Distress Committee, which is a statutory body created for particular purposes by Act of Parliament, and beyond seeing that any money is expended in the manner in which it is authorised, I have no authority over them at all. If there has been any blundering, if there have been any mistakes, I am sure I am very sorry. If the Distress Committee continue these grants—I express no opinion whether they should have or not—I dare say that in future they will do their very best to obtain recoupment from the citizens and other persons in Dublin. I hope they will have greater success in the future than they have had in the past. They have tried most honestly to obtain this assistance in the form of recoupment, and I assert that if they have failed they have failed because they could not get it. Their obligation and our obligation was not to withhold Grants. My hon. Friend would never say, "Unless you get recoupment, we will not give you Grants at all, because the money is being squandered or is going into the pockets of private owners." That is not the course which would recommend itself to him or to the people of Dublin. The Distress Committee did the best they could. Although I cannot defend every action of theirs, I am perfectly satisfied they have done nothing of which, as a body, they need be ashamed. The conditions of Dublin are such that if my hon. Friend were to go over there and should become the chairman of the Distress Committee, I venture to believe that, before many months passed he would be doing the same thing.


May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the additional £1,000,000?


The way that matter stands is this: The Land Bill, which was read a first time the other day, contains a Clause whereby another £1,000,000 is provided, on land purchase terms, for increased cottages in Ireland. That is part and parcel of the Bill. I am not without hope that the Bill itself may become law before the end of the Session, because I have reason to believe that negotiations have been carried on. Of course, obviously we cannot take a contested Irish Land Bill this Session, but I am not without hope that we may be able to come to some arrangement whereby that Bill may-become law. If so, the extra £1,000,000 is secured. If we can get the Land Bill through by agreement, well and good. If we cannot, I agree that it would be an unfair thing and a hard thing that the labourers' cottages should lose the £1,000,000 which was incidentally introduced into that Bill. Therefore, though in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I cannot give any very definite promise, I can assure the hon. Member that it is my intention to keep my eye upon the Irish Land Bill, and if it is not likely to pass I shall endeavour to introduce a one Clause Bill securing this £1,000,000 in order to complete a good many schemes which are now outstanding for the increase of cottages in different parts of Ireland. I know, economically, there are objections to the proposal, but I am satisfied in my own mind that the advantages outweigh all the disadvantages, and I should only think I was fulfilling my obligation if I secured that that Clause should survive.


I am afraid I cannot quite endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has just said with regard to this Land Bill, because, having had an opportunity of glancing through it, rather cursorily, it seemed to me that he has gone the wrong way about it if he thought it was possible that this Bill of his should pass by agreement, because, as I understand his Bill, from beginning to end it reeks with coercion and compulsion. If that is so, so far as I am authorised to speak on behalf of my Friends behind me, there is very little chance of a Bill of that sort getting through by agreement. But that is a side issue. I was very greatly interested indeed in listening to the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald). The statement that he made as to the operations of this Distress Committee were quite new to me. I thought he made a very grave case indeed against the operation of this Committee, and one that required a much more complete and full answer than has been given by the Chief Secretary. The gravamen of the charge made by the hon. Member was that owners of private property have been utilising the assistance of the Distress Committee by applying money at their disposal for the purpose of improving private property at the expense of this fund. He gave one very striking case—the case of the Grand Canal Company—at whose instance nearly £6,000 had been applied apparently for one purpose, namely, the improvement of their towing path. The right hon. Gentleman says he is not acquainted with the towing path.


It is a road.


The right hon. Gentleman said it was of great advantage to fishermen, I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman that his informants are leading him entirely astray. The fishermen who fish in the canal are as scarce as the flowers that bloom in the spring. [Laughter.] I mean in the winter. Although fishermen are very scarce, I am able to inform him that the fish are scarcer, and I do not think there is a case on record of a man who ever produced a fish from that canal. To say that the money was used to improve the path for fishermen is ridiculous. The charge made by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) required a more serious and substantial answer. The Grand Canal Company is a private company, working for profit and paying dividends to their shareholders. The directors are a very responsible and highly-respectable body of gentlemen. The chairman is a Privy Councillor, nominated to that high office by the right hon. Gentleman himself. He was a Member of this House and sat below the Gangway with hon. Members from Ireland. Another director of that company was also a Member of this House and sat in the vicinity of hon. Members below the Gangway. I think something more was due to them than the explanation of their conduct which was accorded by the right hon. Gentleman. Knowing what I do of these gentlemen, I cannot believe that there is not some better explanation of their action. It is stated that they apparently used the Distress Fund to the extent of £6,000 to improve their property without recouping the city to the extent of a penny.


They did not want the work done.


I can hardly conceive that any public or private company would refuse to have £6,000, which did not come out of their pocket, spent on the improvement of their property. I must conclude, in the absence of better information, that the Grand Canal Company directors have a better answer than that given by the Chief Secretary. With regard to the other question, I have this advantage over the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), that I have been for years, and am to-day, a substantial contributor to the rates of Dublin, and therefore I take an interest in the corporation of that city. I am not here to- day to indulge in any general attack on that corporation. They are a poor thing, but they are our own, and if the ratepayers are not satisfied with them, they have their remedy, and that is to remove them. I must admit that they have inherited the condition of things which prevails to-day to a very large extent. Dublin is in a peculiar position with regard to labour conditions. There are very few industries and very few skilled artisans. The bulk of the labouring classes are men who are compelled to earn their living discharging cargo at the docks, carting coal, and in occupations of that kind. That very arduous and difficult labour is always underpaid. I regret to say that they receive very small wages indeed.

That is not the fault of the employers, because I do not think that the Dublin employers are making greater profits in their trades than the average employer over the rest of the United Kingdom, but it is owing to the unfortunate conditions which prevail in Dublin owing to the absence of these industries which take from the ranks of unskilled labour a large number of men and absorb them into the ranks of skilled labour. There is hardly anything of that kind in Dublin, and the result is that these unfortunate men are condemned to remain throughout their lives in the ranks of unskilled labour. That has largely complicated the position, because their wages do not increase, and they are not in a position to pay an economic rent for self-contained labourers' houses or cottages. Consequently they are herded together in these tenement houses which are the heritage of the past, and, of course, are not the creation of the Dublin Corporation. At the same time it is right to say this: The hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) tells us that all this distress, decay, and poverty in Dublin are due to the Union, and at the same time the hon. and learned Member for County Dublin (Mr. Clancy) tells us that a few years ago Belfast was a village; while we all know that to-day it is one of the greatest ports and hives of industry in the United Kingdom. It is a curious fact that that has happened under the Union, that in the case of Belfast there have been continuous unbroken prosperity and progress, while in the case of Dublin there has been exactly the opposite. I was a little bit surprised to hear the hon. Member for the Scotland Division suggest as a sort of reflection upon Belfast that during the last few weeks there has been an appeal made by a bishop of the Church of Ireland, the Bishop of Down, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, for funds to equip more schools. When you realise that the population of Belfast to-day is something like 380,000, and that the population has gone up from a few thousand in about a half-century, you can well understand that the population has rather outstripped the supply of schools and churches, and so far from that being a reflection on the City of Belfast—


I never said that it was a reflection.


Then I do not understand the object of the remarks of the hon. Member. He was criticising the action of the Belfast Corporation. He was answering an argument based on a contrast of the conduct and administration of the city of Belfast and those of the city of Dublin, and it was in that connection that he took care to remind the House that these appeals were made, and unless this was intended to be some reflection upon the corporation of Belfast, I fail to see how the argument was relevant. We were also told, I think by the same hon. Member, that the reason why the slum question in Dublin has not been dealt with is because Ireland has not had Home Rule. That is a very extraordinary statement, because, as regards the conduct of its municipal affairs, Dublin has had Home Rule for over seventy years, and it has utilised it in this way—for the last twenty - five years no Unionist has ever had a chance of occupying the position of mayor of the chief city of Ireland. But while I am not here to disaparge the administration of affairs in Dublin by the corporation, and while I am not a bigoted admirer of that body, yet one has to admit, as I freely admit, that in the case of some important sanitary improvements they have accomplished reforms that are a credit to the city, yet the fault which I find in regard to this matter of housing accommodation is not that they have failed to remove these tenement houses, which I admit would be impossible for them to do having regard to their rating facilities, but where they are to blame is in not having administered the law and the powers at present in their hands.

One has only got to read this Report to see that they have been at least very slack in their administration of the law. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees vindicate their medical inspector from the suggestion that he was responsible for all this. It is a very mean and very shabby way to try and relieve the corporation at the expense of the medical inspector, who is bound to obey orders. If he refuses the Local Government Board can dismiss him. To say that because they acted upon his report that therefore they are excused from all personal responsibilities is, of course, ludicrous. But the Report I am afraid makes it perfectly plain that it is largely due to the presence in the corporation of a substantial leaven of those slum owners, that they have failed to exercise that vigilance and care that one would expect from a great public body in regard to a matter of this kind. One other matter. I do not think it was a very fair argument, though it was pressed very much by hon. Members below the Gangway, that when they came to this Parliament for the extension of their boundaries they were refused, and to that extent they had been deprived of those extra rating facilities. Hon. Members opposite may take it from me that there are two sides to that question, and on that occasion the other side was represented by the inhabitants of those prosperous townships which have been made self-contained in every respect as regards local government, and which are prosperous and financially strong, and they do not wish to throw in their lot with the city of Dublin, managed in the way in which it has been for some years. It is a curious commentary upon the position of affairs in Ireland that just as to-day we are told that Home Rule cannot be financed without the benefit of the province of Ulster, so it is impossible to finance the affairs of the city of Dublin without getting in these prosperous outlying townships. That is a comparison well worth considering. I only rose for the purpose of saying what I thought I ought to say in justice to the Corporation of the City of Dublin, that while they have been very slack and remiss in enforcing obligations under the Housing Acts, they have, I think, done good and useful work in many other departments of public life.

Mr. O'SHEE rose—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.


The whole of this discussion has been occupied with the case of Dublin, but I wish to refer to the case of the small towns and the urban areas where the same bad housing conditions exist as in—


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.


The position in the small towns is in this respect a very serious one, and there is particularly a town in my Constituency—

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.