HL Deb 09 July 1908 vol 192 cc35-8

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government the number of persons not previously possessed of land (other than evicted tenants or persons representing evicted tenants), to whom land has been given by the Estates Commissioners purporting to act under Section 2 of the Irish Land Act, 1903. The question of Ireland was before your Lordships both yesterday and the day before, and I shall, therefore, confine my remarks within the briefest possible space, although I think this subject is one not undeserving of your Lordships' attention.

I need hardly say that I do not propose to call in question the action of the Estates Commissioners in granting land under subsection (b) of Section 2 of the Land Act of 1903. They are expressly given power to do so, and I believe one argument that was brought forward in favour of the provision was that it might tend to stem the tide of emigration of able bodied young men from Ireland. I quite agree that this is very desirable, but it was not the main object of the Act of 1903. As I understand it, that Act was passed for two special purposes—first, to enable the tenant to purchase the land ho tilled, and I lay emphasis on the phrase "land he tilled;" and, secondly, to enable tenants who had very small holdings but were industrious and possessed of certain means, to have their holdings increased by the addition of a certain amount of grass land in their neighbourhood. This second object is one which has to a great extent caught the public mind. The ears of the public have been taken with the phrases "relief of congestion," and "economic holdings," without, perhaps, their clearly understanding exactly what those terms mean; and the Report which has just been issued by the Royal Commission on Congestion, presided over by Lord Dudley, makes drastic suggestions as to the means by which these matters can be carried out. So far as I can make out, they recommend that the West of Ireland, at least, should be made a second Servia, a peasant State consisting of ton-pound holdings; and that there should be some oases of trees where landlords will be allowed to remain in their parks shut off from the political or economic life of the nation.

Perhaps I may be allowed to read to your Lordships what the Dudley Commission say in their Report as to the sufficiency of land to be given both to the sons of tenants and also to relieve congestion. In paragraph 123 the Commissioners say— Every holding given to the son of a tenant or to any other person not at present a land holder will to that extent perpetuate congestion in the West. And, again, in paragraph 126— We think it is our duty to state very definitely that such a utilisation of the grass lands of the West of Ireland is incompatible with the relief of congestion. Whatever we think about the land question in Ireland, we all agree that it is very desirable it should be settled, and that nothing should be done which would tend in any way to accentuate the difficulties in accomplishing that settlement. If land is given, under Section 2, to the sons of tenants, it will not be very long before that son finds some Bridget to share it with him, with the result that perhaps within thirty years you will have five or six other able-bodied landless men claiming that you should do the same for them as you did for their father. I believe that one job ought to be completed before we begin another. Consequently I am averse to any action which may lessen the amount of land available for the relief of congestion. I should like to again quote from the Report of the Dudley Commission——


I am extremely unwilling to interrupt the noble Lord, but I desire to call attention to what I think is something of an abuse in the form in which Notices are put on the Paper. The noble Lord is really calling attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on Congestion in Ireland. That is an extremely natural and legitimate thing to do, but I wish to draw his attention to the fact that if he desired to do that ho should have put his Motion in that form, and not merely have asked the simple Question standing in his name on the Paper.


I am sorry if I have infringed the rule, and I will endeavour to confine myself more closely to the question. To return, then, to this special subsection. I know that it was framed with the best intentions, but I am sorry to say that in my opinion it was one of the greatest mistakes in the Act of 1903. I believe it has had more to do with the unfortunate state of affairs which has existed during the last eighteen months in Ireland than, perhaps, anything else, with the exception, of course, of the action—or what I shall, perhaps, more correctly describe as inaction—of the Chief Secretary. Small tenants and their sons knew of this provision in the Act, and it was only natural that they should wish to take advantage of it. The result is that strong local opposition has been raised to the migration of tenants from other parts of Ireland to the grass lands in the immediate neighbourhood where those tenants with their sons are living; and, in the fear that such lands might be taken for the relief of congestion elsewhere, these young men have, I am afraid, had recourse to very reprehensible measures. In the hope of ob. twining the land as soon as possible they have resorted to the practice of cattle-driving, which has reached such a state of perfection, I will not say under the auspices, but under the rule of His Majesty's Government. They have done this in the hope of compelling the graziers to give up their farms and the landlords to sell, so that the land might be divided among the landless men in the neighbourhood, and the effect will be to accentuate the difficulties of relieving congestion elsewhere. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, in answer to the Question on the Paper, I have to say that up to 31st March last the Estates Commissioners had provided (under Section 2 of the Irish Land Act, 1903, as amended by Section 19 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906) parcels of untenanted land for 137 persons, who were either sons of tenants or labourers. The answer to the supplementary Question is that the Commissioners had allotted, under Section 2,70,326 acres of untenanted land altogether among 2,647 persons, and of these all but the 137 mentioned had previously been in possession of land. The average size of the "parcel" of land so allotted was, in the case of sons of tenants and labourers, thirty-five acres per man. Having re- gard to the very large number of advances made by the Commissioners for the purchase of "parcels" under Section 2, it cannot be said that the Commissioners have unduly exercised their powers by allotting 137 holdings to persons who had not already been in possession of land.


Sons of tenants are, I admit, in the Act. Can the noble Lord say how many of the 137 were labourers?


I shall be obliged if the noble Earl will give me notice of that Question. I cannot give the exact figure, but the number is very small.

House adjourned at a quarter before seven o'clock, till Tomorrow, Twelve o'clock.