§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Macpherson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The Government has recognised, both in England and in Scotland, that it owes a debt of gratitude to the men who have served both on the sea, on land and in the air, and it is my duty as Minister responsible for Ireland to recognise that fact so far as those Irishmen are concerned who volunteered for service during the War. It is well to remember, in dealing with this question, so far as Ireland is concerned, that Conscription was not applied to Ireland, and that those men who endured the dangers and rigours of the campaign for several years were men who took upon themselves this danger voluntarily. It is also to be remembered that, while in England and Scotland the people were almost unanimous in supporting the recruiting campaign, in Ireland the position of affairs in a great part of the country was entirely different.
These men voluntarily enlisted often when a violent campaign against enlistment was raging. They were gallant fellows who faced opposition at home as well as the danger of the field, and in far too many cases they have returned to be received, not with pride, but to endure obloquy which should have been the fate 854 of traitors alone. I regret also to say that in a great many cases employment, and even a place to lay their heads, has been denied them. The Government has attempted in every way possible to alleviate their condition. They have spent a very large sum of money in providing employment for these men and in making them as comfortable as circumstances would allow. Along with his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland I have seen a great many of these ex-Service men, and I was agreeably surprised to find that they were very anxious to be settled upon the land for which they fought. As the House will remember, in 1907 the Evicted Tenants Act was passed for Ireland. I think that the Bill I am now submitting to the House is an improvement on the principle of that Bill because, if I remember rightly, that Bill was described popularly as a Bill which was providing land for the wounded soldiers of the Land Campaign. This Bill is, I trust, a generous attempt to give to those Irishmen who fought for their country facilities to settle on the land.
The one test in this Bill is the test of service. The second important point is that there is a direct transaction by the ex-Service man, not with the local council, district or otherwise, but with the Government, or a Department of the Government. Applicants for land in Ireland may be divided into two classes. There is, first, the applicant who is anxious for the future of his life to devote his whole time to agriculture, and, in the second place, there is the applicant not desirous of devoting his whole time to agriculture but anxious to employ himself in another industry, while at the same time wishing to have an allotment with security of tenure and a house in which to live. During the War, while recruiting was going on, recruiting officers met with a great deal of trouble, because many of the men who wished to join were afraid that if they had left their native country to fight in France or Flanders some Government Department would meanwhile hand over such un-tenanted land as might be at their disposal to somebody else not so patriotic. It is as well to state here that this danger was never really present. Little was done for dividing up untenanted lands in Ireland during the War by either the Congested Districts Board or by the Estates Commissioners. Those two bodies have had unfortunately placed upon them statutory 855 limitations with regard to the distribution of land, and the main principle of the Bill which I now submit to the House is to get rid of those statutory limitations, j and to give to the soldier and sailor who has served priority for any untenanted lands which these two Boards have got at their disposal.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am going to deal with the provisions of the Bill presently. These two Boards will deal with men who intend for the rest of their lives to devote themselves to agriculture, and I am glad to say that 1,700 ex-Service men have already applied for land under these two Boards. I hope that very soon they will get the laud which they desire. With regard to the second class of case, the applicant who is anxious to devote himself to industry arid at the same time to have an allotment with a house in which to live, I would remark that, as the House knows very well, one of the greatest Irish land reforms ever passed was the Irish Labourers Act, which has done an enormous amount to better the condition of the agricultural labourers, and to give them houses at a cheaper rate than can be obtained by any other agricultural labourers in the world. It is a satisfactory fact that in this Bill I propose to extend the Labourers Act to ex-Service men, and I am proposing under this Bill to give those men every facility to procure for themselves not an allotment of one acre but art allotment of two acres with a house in which to live. Under the old Labourers Act the allotment was restricted to one acre, but I think, in view of the special circumstances of these cases, and of the meritorious service which these men have rendered to their country and the Empire, the House will agree that an extension of another acre as the full limit is a quite proper extension, and will be acceptable to all those who are interested in the welfare of these men, while the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board will look after the applicant who is anxious to have a holding for his permanent employment. I have asked the Local Government Board to look after the applicant who desires only an allotment and a house. The Local Government Board have done excellent work in connection with the Labourers' Act, and I am quite convinced it would mean greater expedition to have a central Department 856 such as the Irish Local Government Board dealing with this matter. I hope the House will agree that this plan is much better, much safer, and much more valuable than one under which the ex-Service men would be at the beck and call of or under the influence of local councils.
I should like, if I may, to deal with the provisions of the Bill very shortly. I will only refer to the most important points: the remainder are easily understood. The first point to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is contained in paragraph (b) Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, which enables the Lord Lieutenant to give priority by special Regulations—and this, I believe, is the point my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir K Carson) asked about just now—in providing for the sale of land to the Land Commission by the Congested Districts Board if that body has land suitable for the purposes of the Bill, in order that it may be made speedily available. It also enables the Lord Lieutenant to-transfer untenanted hind from the Board to the Land Commission after consultation with the Congested Districts Board, who are responsible for the working of the Land Purchase Acts in congested districts. Paragraph (b) empowers the Lord Lieutenant, after consultation with the Congested Districts Board, to authorise the sale and transfer of land to the Land Commission on such terms as may be agreed upon or settled by the Lord Lieutenant in default of agreement. As to paragraph (c) under this category comes land which is not vested in the Board and is not in the process of sale under the Acts. This paragraph enables the Lord Lieutenant to authorise the Land Commission to purchase any such land whether situated in congested districts or elsewhere, the provisions of the Land Purchase Acts with respect to congested estates to apply in such cases. The next important point to which I will refer the House is Sub-section (3). As hon. Members from Ireland will know, Section 53 of the Irish Land Act, 1909, prohibits the Land Commission from purchasing land in any congested district without the consent of the Board, and I am proposing in this Sub-section to remove this prohibition and to allow purchases to go on under the authority of the Lord Lieutenant.
The next important point in the Bill is contained in Clause 2, which contains restrictions on the alienation of holdings or stock provided under the Act. The Government desire to be very generous in its 857 assistance to these men, and in view of that fact we must lay down certain restrictions with regard to the alienation of holdings or stock of any sort or kind. The object of a provision of this nature is twofold. First, it will preclude men applying for land with the object of selling it as soon as they get it without working it for themselves, and, secondly, it will ensure that a man will have a fair start and that the laud and equipment provided by the State will go to the man himself and not be diverted from him to satisfy the claims of any antecedent creditors. I will not deal with finance, as I shall have later on to introduce a Financial Resolution upon which I can discuss that aspect of the Bill.
But I now come to Clause 4 of the Bill, the object of which is to enable cottages and plots to be provided for ex-Service men under the machinery of the Labourers (Ireland) Act. It is proposed by this Clause to hand over the control of this particular side of the Bill to the Local Government Board. This, as a matter of fact, has been done both in the English and the Scottish Bills. There are therefore precedents for the proposal, and I think that in view of the way in which the Labourers Act has been administered in the past by the Local Government Board, it is peculiarly appropriate that this part of the Act should continue to be worked by that Board. There is another small point which, in my opinion, ii of some importance. In Sub-section (4) paragraph (d) the power of acquiring land is not to be exercised by the Board after the expiration of two years from the passing of this Act. This is the limitation in the Scottish Bill. I think two years is a very appropriate time, and in view of the fact that these ex-Service men have been apprised of the fact that such a measure is being introduced for their benefit, I believe they will be ready and prepared to come under the scheme Therefore I hope the House will agree that the limit of two years is quite reasonable. With regard to Sub-section (5) this enables the Local Government Board to dispose of any cottage or plot which is no longer required for an ex-Service man. Sub-section (7) allows the expenses which would be incurred in any of its transactions by the Local Government Board to be paid not locally but out of sums voted by Parliament.
Clause 5 gives power to the Department to promote co-operation in connection 858 with holdings or plots or gardens provided under the Act. I look forward myself to seeing large colonies of these soldiers scattered all over Ireland, and I think it will be of very great, value to them to have the Board of Agriculture and Technical Instruction at their disposal. Some of these men may know nothing at all about agriculture, but they may desire to be on the land and our proposal is to give them the tuition and experience which the Technical Instruction side of the Board is able to afford. We also wish to help them with their co-operation and to give them every possible assistance in order that the products of their land should be sent to the best possible markets in the shortest possible time. I also look at the establishment of these colonies from the social point of view. Whatever our feelings may be about Ireland, it is true that these men have had since their return in many parts of the country a very difficult time. Their association together in a colony of this kind will not only be of material value to them, but will afford them a great amount of coherent sympathy and protection. The only other point I need deal with at this stage is contained in Clause G, It is a very simple point. In the Sailors and Soldiers (Gifts for Land Settlement) Act, 1916, there was a Section making it possible for certain boards to accept gifts of land for soldiers. Under this Clause the Land Commission and the Local Government Board are given the same powers of accepting and administering gifts of land for these purposes as the Department under the earlier Act. It is quite obvious that the Land Commission, which, in the main, will look after the interests of ex-Service men under this Bill, will be the most appropriate body to administer such gifts as may be made for the benefit of these ex-Service men. I do not think I have missed any important point of the Bill, but I shall be most happy to answer any criticisms which may arise in the course of the Debate. In conclusion, I may say that, in view of the great services which these gallant men have rendered in the most difficult circumstances, I have great pleasure in submitting this Bill to the House, because I believe it will be a valuable one.
§ Sir E. CARSON
It is not my intention to delay this Bill for a moment by offering any minute criticisms upon it. I am sure that the men from Ireland who have served their country in the circumstances indicated by my right hon. Friend will be extremely 859 grateful to him not only for the Bill itself, but for the manner in which he has introduced it, showing as he does every sympathy for the difficulties which they are under in a country like; Ireland. What he says is perfectly true; in many parts of Ireland these men, after serving their country, when they come home are looked upon not as heroes or as men who have done something to the credit of the country, but as men who have committed some sort of crime against society in Ireland. It is the duty of this House to take care that such men receives specially considerate treatment from this country and from this House.
My only anxiety regarding the Bill is as to its administration. Everything will depend upon its administration. The enactments will be very good, but I hope they will not be dead letters. Take, first, the question of planting these soldiers on untenanted land. A very large discretion is given to the Land Commission. I am not going to say anything against the Estates Commissioners in Ireland, whom I believe to be honourable men, but it is perfectly clear that everything will depend upon them—first, as to how, and, secondly, as to how quickly this work is carried out. The quick working of the Bill is everything. These men are going on from day to day, some of them in great difficulties, and it is no use telling them, "Your turn will come in two, three, four, or five years." They want the quickest possible working of this Bill. I am sure my right hon. Friend will do everything in his power to set up such machinery as will enable the Bill to be carried out quickly.
I desire to say one word as regards Clause 4. I am inclined to think that, at all events in the North of Ireland, Clause 4 will be the Clause most availed of, because in those parts of Ireland there is a great industrial population. Clause 4 is probably the most valuable part of the Bill; at least, I look upon it as such. But I look with some misgiving at the phrasing of the Clause. I am not putting this forward as a carping criticism, because I want to see the Bill made a reality. In the first place, the Local Government Board are not bound to make or carry out any scheme. All that the Clause does is to give them power to make and carry out schemes for the provision of cottages. Everything will depend on the activities of the Local Government Board. I am 860 all the more anxious about the matter when I find the limitation, to which my right hon. Friend has referred, thatThe power of acquiring land shall not be exercised by the Board after the expiration of two years from the passing of this Act.It is absolutely necessary, in my opinion, that there should be some provision in the Bill which would demonstrate to the Local Government Board that it is their duty to meet the whole requirements of these men within the two years which are set down as the limit under the Bill. Again, with the two years' limit. I also find that the schemes are only to be carried out to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Treasury. Of course, there has to be a Treasury limitation put in, but in the present state of public finance, and with the limitation of two years for creating these colonies—of which I entirely approve, and of which my right hon. Friend has spoken—I have grave fears that the Treasury, acting in co-operation with the Local Government Board, may be compelled to defer from time to time applications that are put forward for giving cottages and ground to these men, and that you may not have the schemes fulfilled within the two years. I only put these matters forward as showing that the Bill, if it is to become a reality, will require keen and active administration on the part of the officials to whom we entrust it. I am glad we are getting the Bill. I feel grateful to the Government and to my right hon. Friend, because I know he has been pressing it. I do not know of anything that will do more good as regards these men, or give them more confidence, than the fact that their services are being recognised by such a Bill as this being brought before the House of Commons. My only desire is that the-Bill should pass at the earliest possible moment, and I am sure that my hon. Friends who are associated with me in the Irish representation will not attempt in the slightest degree to do anything that will prevent the Bill becoming law as soon as that is possible.
§ Major O'NEILL
Like my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) I rise merely to offer one or two comments on this Bill which have occurred to mo since I had an opportunity of looking at it. This Bill has been introduced after a considerable lapse of time. It is a Bill which has been looked forward to by ex-Service men in Ireland with very great hopes, because its introduction was founded originally upon 861 a promise which, the House may remember was given by the Lord Lieutenant in a. Proclamation in May, 1918, when he was attempting to raise 50,000 recruits for the Army shortly after the Irish conscription issue became a dead letter. In that Proclamation he said that the men who came forward to fight for their Motherland were entitled to a share in all that the Motherland had got, and that steps were being taken to provide them with land. Ever since that Proclamation was issued the ex-Service men in Ireland have been anxiously looking forward to the introduction of this Bill. I want to ask the Chief Secretary—I hope he will make it quite clear—whether this Bill is intended in any way to give priority to those who came forward as the result of that Proclamation? I do not suppose it is for one moment.
§ Major O'NEILL
It would be most unjust if any section of ex-Service men who came forward in 1918 were given any priority. It seems to me there must be some preference and priority, because I do not suppose there is enough land for every ex-Service man to get some. If that be so, on what basis is that preference to be given? Are the men who enlisted first to get the land first, and under what system is the Local Government Board, who are administering this Bill, to decide to whom land is to be given of the many applicants who come forward, and to whom land is to be refused? Again, I do not know whether the Chief Secretary has estimated the number of men who will apply for land of this description. He has told us that 1,700 have applied. I wonder if he means that 1,700 have applied for land in the sense of the land being economic holdings?
§ Major O'NEILL
In the Debates on the former Bills last Session, the then Chief Secretary, now the Home Secretary, estimated that there would be sufficient land in the hands of the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board to supply economic holdings for 3,000 men. I hope that is still the fact. The main difficulty, 862 of course, with regard to a Bill of this kind is the question of obtaining sufficient land for satisfying the demand which will undoubtedly be made. Clause 4, to which my right hon. Friend referred, introduces a now element as compared with the Bill which was before the House last Session. My right hon. Friend referred to the limitation of the period during which land may be acquired for this purpose to two years. I agree with him that it would be very unsafe to allow that limit to stand. The Bill says:The power of acquiring land shall not be exercised by the Board after the expiration of two years from the passing of this Act.You may get a situation such as this. That there will be large numbers of applicants for this land unsatisfied, because of the difficulty of suddenly obtaining sufficient land to satisfy them. Then, apparently, after two years the Local Government Board may purchase no further land.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
May I assist my hon. and gallant Friend, because this is a very important point? I am assured by my advisers that there is sufficient land.
§ Major O'NEILL
I am extremely glad to hear that, because it was one of the points which occurred to me.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Major O'NEILL
These were the few criticisms I wished to offer, and I am very glad to see that the Chief Secretary has practically been able satisfactorily to explain the difficulties which presented themselves to me as being likely to occur in the administration of the Bill. I welcome its introduction most heartily, and I hope that, as a result of it, these gallant Service men, who came forward in Ireland, often in face of the greatest difficulties and of hostility and danger, will be able to live on the land, whether as agriculturists or as allotment-holders, and will be a credit to themselves and to this country.
Lieut. - Commander C. WILLIAMS
I rise to give a genuine welcome to the Bill which I conceive to be a very liberal and broad attempt to recognise what ape the real calls that these men have on us as a 863 nation. They came forward to help us in the time of our trouble, and I feel that it is certainly up to one Englishman in this House to say something about the appreciation that we have for what they have done for us during the War. It has struck me that there may be some small difficulty in regard to the two years' limit. There may be a considerable number of soldiers who joined up late in the War, especially the younger ones, who at the end of two years might not be demobilised and might not have had a chance of coming in under the Bill. I should like to see some provision brought in in Committee to make it quite certain that these individuals on their return may have the same privileges as are extended to the other individuals under the Bill. I should like to emphasise the absolute necessity in some districts for endeavouring to place these men in close proximity to one another. It is essential for their own safety. That is a point which we hope will become less necessary in the immediate future, and I feel that if we continue to govern Ireland that will be the case. It is also essential from a purely agricultural point of view. The greater facilities you can give these men for co-operation and combination in marketing their stuff the better chance you have of making a scheme of this sort a real success, and for that reason I should like to have it laid down very clearly that it is the duty of those who administer the Bill to see that these settlements are made in considerable numbers and close to each other. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for bringing in the Kill because I believe it is a real attempt to carry out our obligations to these men.
As one of the volunteers who have been referred to, I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of my comrades, for this effort to give them a stake in Ireland. It is a little bit belated, but I think it is a case of better late than not at all. There are one or two points I should like to bring under his notice, so that he may be thinking of them while the Bill is passing through. I should like him to keep the expression "any men" in Clause 1 before him. In official language we refer to officers and men. I do not know whether it is the Chief Secretary's idea to limit it to men only?
I mentioned that for the reason that many men, through their ability as soldiers, have been granted commissions, and it is only right that those men, who were taken from very different positions perhaps in civil life before the War, in going back to those positions should also have this opportunity. I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that it affects everyone. The Chief Secretary referred to the difficulties which some men had in volunteering in various parts of Ireland, and also to their reception when they came home. I hope some opportunity will be given for the men to select where their particular allotments may be. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep before him the fact that these men are not in a position to pay very high rents for their houses. I hope the rents will not be chargeable in accordance with the expenditure incurred, because, as far as I can see from the Bill, and also from the prices of materials, considerable cost will be involved in the erection of these cottages and houses. I hope those who have an opportunity of taking these allotments and houses will be charged a rent which will be economical to them.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a, second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.