HL Deb 18 March 1909 vol 1 cc495-502

to move for a Return of the number and localities of the cattle-drives in Ireland which had been reported by the police during the years 1906, 1907, and 1908, showing the residence and occupation of the persons who had been convicted or bound over to keep the peace, and the quantity and Poor-law valuation of the land held by any such persons.

The noble Earl said

My Lords, I have put down the Motion which stands in my name, not with the object of raising a discussion or continuing the debate that took place in your Lordships' House a fortnight ago, but merely with the object of obtaining information. There is considerable disagreement as to fact between the noble Lords opposite and those of us who sit on this side of the House and who come from Ireland. Your Lordships will remember that in the course of the debate on the Address, in which the subject of agitation in Ireland was dealt with at length, that point came out very prominently. I do not wish to misrepresent them, but I think the Government maintain that the Act of 1903 is very largely responsible for the present agitation. The noble Lord who represents the Irish Office, Lord Denman, whose absence to-day I regret and also the cause, drew a sharply-delineated picture of the state of affairs in the West of Ireland in which he illustrated his belief that the Act of 1903 was responsible for the agitation. He referred to people "living on poor holdings of mountain land" as the people who were at the back of cattle-driving, and he explained their action by their disappointment that they were not getting the benefits of the Act which their richer neighbours were obtaining. That statement, made, I am sure, in all good faith, is absolutely contrary to all the evidence that we have from Ireland. We believe that this agitation is not being run by the poor man who wants land, but by the rich man who is greedy. If the Government have proof of their point of view, let us have it. We claim that we should have some assistance from the Government in proving our point of view, from which statement after statement has been made and not contradicted. Many of your Lordships have seen the declaration made by Mr. Clarke, one of the victims in the Craughwell case, in which he says that those attacking him are rich men. I quite admit that the return for which I move would not prove the case up to the hilt either way. In order to do that it would be necessary to have particulars as to the occupation and standing of every man taking part in cattle-driving, and that, of course, His Majesty's Government cannot supply, as they have not taken notice of any but a small percent-tage of the cattle-drives. Still, this Return would considerably help us, and I maintain that we have a right to it in view of the difference as to fact which exists between those of us who come from Ireland and have first-hand knowledge and His Majesty's Government. I beg to move.

Moved, That there be laid before the House a Return of the number and localities of the cattle-drives in Ireland which have been reported by the police during the years 1906, 1907, and 1908, showing the residence and occupation of the persons who have been convicted or bound over to keep the peace, and the quantity and Poor-law valuation of the land held by any such persons.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, in the absence, through illness, of my friend who represents the Irish Office in this House, it falls to me to reply. The Motion of the noble Earl divides itself into three parts. He asks, in the first place, for a Return of the number and localities of the cattle-drives in Ireland which had been reported by the police during the years 1906, 1907, and 1908. There were no cattle-drives in the year 1906. They did not begin until April 25, I believe, in 1907. Men, in the second place, the noble Earl asks for the residence and occupation of the persons who had been convicted or bound over to keep the peace, and, in the third place, the quantity and Poor-law valuation of the land held by any such persons. Part of that Return His Majesty's Government are ready to supply to the noble Earl, and if he will accept what we are prepared to give we shall not oppose the Motion. We shall be glad to supply the information for 1907 and 1908 asked for in the first and second parts of the Motion; but to obtain the statistics mentioned in the third part would involve personal inquiries into more than 1,000 cases and reference to the rate-books, which are not in the possession of the police, and it is not thought that the labour and expense involved would be justified by the results. Moreover, the counties in which cattle-drives have taken place are those in which it has been found necessary to provide extra police, and therefore the police are already fully occupied with their ordinary duties. I am sure the noble Earl would not ask that they should be withdrawn from their ordinary duties in order to make these inquiries. Such a complicated Return could only be prepared by the combined efforts of the police and the local authorities, and His Majesty's Government are not prepared to call upon either the police or the local authorities to furnish the information. The latest figures relating to cattle-driving show a considerable diminution. The numbers of cases during the last six months, compared with the corresponding months of the previous year were as follow:—September, 1907, thirty-four; September, 1908, forty-two; October, 1907, fifty-eight; October, 1908, forty-four; November, 1907, 108; November, 1908, seventy-five; December, 1907, eighty-one; December, 1908, forty-seven; January, 1908, thirty-five; January, 1909, twenty-nine; February, 1908, thirty-one; February, 1909, nineteen. The figures for this month only extend to the end of the first week, and during that week there were no cases of cattle-driving reported at all. In these circumstances I think the Government are justified in hoping that the steps which they have taken are sufficient and are deterring law-breakers from engaging in these unfortunate excursions.


My Lords, the form in which the Government are willing to grant the Return would be absolutely useless for the purpose for which it is asked. The idea which noble Lords from Ireland entertain is that these cattle-drives are carried on by landless men with the object of getting land, and that the Bill which was introduced in the House of Commons last year was brought in at their dictation to give land to landless men. Many of us entertain a very strong opinion indeed that that is a vital and injurious policy, and the information is asked for in order to ascertain whether the people who have set on foot and are keeping up this agitation are landless men, or small holders, or rich men. Therefore a Return which does not state whether the persons bound over to keep the peace for having engaged in cattle-driving are holders of land or landless men will be perfectly useless.


My Lords, we are very anxious to supply this information so far as possible to the noble Earl. It obviously must be to our advantage just as much as to the advantage of noble Lords opposite that the exact facts should be known. There is no doubt a dispute as to the character and standing of the persons who engage in these cattle-drives. I do not suppose that noble Lords opposite, and certainly not ourselves, would say that all the drives have been carried out by people of one class. All that can be said is that mainly it is one class which has been involved. There is, no doubt, a conflict, not between noble Lords opposite and ourselves, because obviously we on these Benches can have no first-hand information on the subject, but between the view held by noble Lords opposite and the view held by the Constabulary authorities in Ireland, who are the people who supply us with our information. Their view is that the cattle-drives are, in the main, carried out by the possessors of uneconomic holdings, and no doubt also by the sons of those people, and I am not quite certain to which class noble Lords opposite would allocate the sons of men who have uneconomic holdings.


Landless men, undoubtedly.


Yes; but the argument, as I understand, that has been used as a rule is that these cattle-drives are carried out by the sons of well-to-do farmers, and not by the sons of these small peasants. The conflict of opinion has always been, as I understand, between those who held that this agitation has been mainly caused by persons who either possess or are connected with uneconomic holdings, and those, on the other hand, who held that it was mainly caused by the well-to-do sons of large and well-to-do farmers. I should have thought that the information which the Constabulary say they are able to supply would have enabled noble Lords opposite, with, I admit, a certain degree of closer study and with local information which they are in a position in some way to collect, to determine which, in the main, of those two theories is the right one; and I must say I do not see my way to pressing my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland to give the extremely elaborate Return by Poor-law valuation for which the noble Earl has asked.


My Lords, I am sure my noble friend does not desire to impose upon the police inquiries of a tedious and difficult character. The police have already enough to do. But surely it should not be beyond the power of the Irish Office to supply my noble friend, at any rate in substance, with the kind of information sought. Some such information must be in the possession of the Irish Office, because the noble Earl who leads the House has just told us that His Majesty's Government have formed a very decided impression as to the class to which these convicted cattle-drivers belong. How was that impression formed by His Majesty's Government unless they have some materials of an accessible kind? I take it that, whenever a person is convicted of an offence of this kind there is somewhere or other an entry showing who he is and what his profession is, and it should be possible to distinguish between those who are and those who are not tenant farmers. The noble Earl spoke of the difficulty of obtaining access to the rate-book, but it is the simplest thing in the world. You have merely to look a man up, and you find that he is entered in the rate-book as the occupier of such and such a number of acres at such and such a Poor-law valuation. But even if His Majesty's Government cannot give my noble friend the information he wants exactly in the shape in which he seeks it, I would really appeal to the noble Earl to consider the matter further and to inquire whether at any rate some Return could not be furnished which really would give the substance of that information upon which His Majesty's Government themselves rely, and upon which they have again and again based their arguments. If the noble Earl would kindly consider that, I would suggest to my noble friend that it is not worth dividing the House on the matter.


I shall, of course, have pleasure in consulting my right hon. friend and in seeing what can be done. The noble Marquess will realise that the difficulty of a return of profession or occupation consists in the fact that in Ireland a man is called a farmer or a farmer's son when he certainly would not be so described in any other country. As the noble Marquess knows very well, the holder of any small patch of land, no matter how small, describes himself and is described as a farmer; and therefore I am afraid the mere description of a man's occupation, which, of course, we are prepared to give, does not meet the point as to the means possessed by the people who engage in these cattle-drives. But I shall, as I have said, have pleasure in consulting the Irish Office and seeing what they can do; and I thank the noble Marquess for saying that he does not wish to impose a very elaborate and troublesome inquiry on the police, and in that I am sure noble Lords opposite all concur.


Is it not the case that when the police report people who take part in cattle-driving they declare who those people are? I really cannot see the difficulty.


My point was that a man would be described as a farmer's son and you would not be very much wiser as to his actual position in life.


But the police would state what his occupation was in reporting him.


Although the Irish Office are unable to give the noble Earl the information for which he has asked, they have given the House information that was not asked for. I was unable to follow the noble Earl through all the figures he gave relating to cattle-driving, but I gather that the average number of cattle drives exceeded thirty in each month. Only one cattle-drive per diem! Dear me! And that is the condition in which, under the present Administration, Ireland is described as becoming a reformed and prosperous country. I can only say that to ordinary persons the noble Earl's self-gratulation seems rather misplaced.


In view of what has taken place, I do not desire to press my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.