§ MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
rose in his place and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely—The acute distress now existing in certain districts of the west of Ireland; and the failure of the relief measures of the Government.
§ MR. SPEAKER
asked whether it was the pleasure of the House that leave should be granted, and, understanding that there was no opposition, called upon the hon. Member to proceed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If any "No" had reached my ears I should have called upon the requisite number of Members to rise in their places.
§ MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Both the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean and myself said "No."
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do my best to gather the opinion of the House, but no expression of dissent reached my ear.
§ MR. DILLON
My justification for seeking to bring this Motion before the attention of the House is that it is a matter of urgent public importance. The conviction which I have, and which I trust I shall be able to show, is that, in spite of the measures that have been adopted by the Government and announced in this House by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, there are in these districts in the west of Ireland at the present moment a very large number of people in a state of actual suffering from want of food. Now, if ever there be a matter which justifies a Member of this House availing himself of the custom of launching a Motion for the adjournment of the House I think the existence of a large number of our fellow subjects suffering from the pangs of hunger and from want of food justifies such a course. Now, it may be asked what has occurred since this subject was last discussed in the House to justify me in taking this proceeding in order to bring on a discussion, and I say the statement made by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, in his capacity as Chairman of the Mansion House Committee of that city, if there were no other grounds to justify my action, would be ample justification. The Lord Mayor of Dublin some time ago addressed an appeal to the mayors and municipal officers in this country to come to his assistance in order to deal with the distress existing in Ireland. I regret to say that the Lord Mayor of Dublin, while he did receive a most generous response from the municipalities of England and Scotland, did not receive any response from the Lord Mayor of London. But the Lord Mayor of Dublin is a man entitled to the same consideration in this House as the 816 Lord Mayor of London, and his statements are worthy of just as much consideration. If the Lord Mayor of London had, in his official capacity, made such a statement as that to which I shall now proceed to direct the attention of the Members of this House, I ask whether it would not have received some consideration? I desire to read to the House a few extracts from this statement of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, made in his official capacity of Chairman of the Mansion House Committee of Dublin, which was composed largely of Unionists. It was not a political body at all, but was composed, as a matter of fact, largely of Unionists. This is what he said—You are well aware owing to the wet summer, and as a consequence the failure of the potato crop, the small landowners of all these districts suffered acute distress, which has now become a case of actual famine.This is said under his responsibility as Chairman of the Committee. Those words alone would justify a Motion for calling the attention of this House to the condition of affairs which exists in the west of Ireland. In this connection I wish to say that, in reply to repeated questions, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland denied that anybody in the distressed districts had died of starvation. I say that depends upon the definition which you give of death by starvation. Now, from private information which I have received I can say that there are raging in many of the districts epidemics of influenza, typhus fever, and a malignant form of measles, and the rate of mortality is exceedingly high. The people who are attacked are; people who have lived for months on insufficient and diseased food, and everybody knows that where in many cases a man cannot be proved to have died from insufficient and diseased food a very great mortality arises from the very first outbreak of an epidemic. Many of these families have been living upon one or two meals a day, and there have been a great many deaths caused in that way. Thanks to the exertions and humanity of Professor Long and the Manchester Guardian, the dire condition of these people in the distressed districts has been brought under the notice and forced upon the attention of the people of Great 817 Britain, and the people of Manchester. Liverpool, Warrington, Sheffield, and other places have taken up this matter and have subscribed large sums of money for their relief. They have sent down inspectors to investigate the condition of affairs in these districts who, so far as my information goes, upon their return fully confirmed, and have gone beyond, the accounts which we have given in this House of the condition of the people in the western districts of Ireland. The Lord Provost of Glasgow has also taken up the matter, and within two or three days nearly 300 tons of seed potatoes had been sent to the distressed districts, nearly as much as the British Government could spare. Paisley and other towns in Scotland have also taken up the matter. Scotchmen, although a kindly race, as I know from personal experience, are also a shrewd race. These people have proved the distress. They are not going to organise public subscriptions in aid of distress if it were a bogus distress. All these moneys that had been subscribed are now gone, and the fund of the Mansion House Committee is nearly exhausted, and exhausted at the moment when, as the Chief Secretary well knows, the direst distress is upon the people in many of these districts in the west of Ireland. The period of greatest distress is from this date until the new potatoes are fit for use, because there is no work to be done. Before I pass away from this subject I will just press upon the House the Reports of the Mansion House Committee. Now what I want to know is what the Government proposes to do in order to deal with this situation. We have already heard of the Measures which they have taken, and I have no hesitation in saying that by both the general public opinion which has taken any interest in this subject in this country and the whole of Ireland the Measures proposed by the Government are condemned as being utterly and entirely inadequate. We have heard from the Chief Secretary a good many speeches upon this subject, and one thing I have to complain of—and I think I have a just cause of complaint, and for this observation—is that from the commencement of his speeches to the electors down to this year, not a single word of 818 human sympathy has passed from him. We have heard harsh officialism and defence of rules and regulations and labour tests. We have had insinuations of highly-coloured pictures, and charges of bogus distress, but we have never heard from the Chief Secretary those words of kindness and human sympathy which, whether you are dealing with Irishmen or with Indians, are naturally to be looked for from the man who is responsible for the whole government of the country. I put it to the Chief Secretary whether it would not be desirable on his part to show in his speeches that he, to some extent, feels for these people, and recognises the great patience and endurance which they have shown under the cruel sufferings to which they have been subjected. What are the Measures of relief which the Government have up to the present taken? A grant of £20,000 on what is called the labour test for the relief of the congested districts. Now, a fact which cannot be denied is that in the year 1890, on the eve of a general election, when unquestionably the distress which existed in Ireland was much less acute than it is now, the Government of the day spent half a million upon that distress, and the brother of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chief Secretary appealed to the country on behalf of these unfortunate people, and £40,000 was subscribed. [Mr. G. BALFOUR: That was two years ago.] The General Election was at a time when the distress in Ireland was infinitely less acute than it is now, and £500,000 was spent by the Government of the day for its relief. I believe that is the universal opinion of Ireland; and all the Government spend now is £20,000. Now, I think it will be said that that sum is ridiculously inadequate, and it is somewhat hard upon us, and trying to our patience, to sit here and listen to these dreams of wealth which we had last night, to be told that the Exchequer of the country is literally bursting with the taxes, and to be told at the same time that you cannot spare a few pounds to fill the stomachs of these starving peasants, who, by your own admissions, are the victims of misgovernment and mismanagement in the past. Now that is the first point I take. The second is 819 this: I frankly admit that the task of an Irish Chief Secretary is a difficult task, and I know perfectly well that whatever he does his action will be criticised, and that fault will be found with him, but in the present instance I say that the spirit of officialism has taken complete possession of the Chief Secretary, because, having got £20,000, his proposal is this: He goes to Unions in the west of Ireland whose rates are now 6s. or 7s. in the £, and he says if you are afflicted with famine you can have relief out of this £20,000 if you yourselves pay a proportionate amount. If the Unions will not undertake to pay a proportionate amount, the people may starve, and I believe in the case of one Union the guardians alleged that the rates were so high that they could not do so, and the Chief Secretary said they could accept the labour test in that way, but they would not, and therefore could not participate in the grant. What is to be said of a Chief Secretary for Ireland who, when people are starving, says, "You can starve if you like; your guardians will not accept the labour test, and that clears my hands of responsibility." I say that that is not reasonable government, and that he cannot wash his hands of the sufferings of these people for their not having accepted a system which has never been accepted or approved of by a responsible man in Ireland, but which was the invention of the Government or some one in office—a system which we in the beginning warned the House would not work well. As to the amount of the grant, I impeach the policy of the Government; as to the distribution of it, I impeach it, and I say there are thousands of families in the west of Ireland who are suffering from hunger and disease; the Chief Secretary will not allow that they are dying from starvation, but they are from disease which is introduced into the districts through want of food. It is an extraordinary condition of things that such a state of affairs should be allowed to exist in a country, and that the Government should make no attempt to deal with it. Now, I turn for a moment to the language of a circular issued by the Local Government Board the week before last, and I say that more extraordinary 820 language was never used upon such a subject. This circular begins somewhat as follows. I have not a copy of it, but I remember the phraseology of it perfectly well—It having been recently represented that there is a scarcity of seed potatoes in some of the western districts and distressed Unions of the West of Ireland, we have decided to make a grant—
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (Mr. GERALD W. BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will not misquote the circular, but allow me to quote it. The words of the circular are—Representations having been recently made that many persons employed upon relief works have been unable to avail themselves of the Seeds Supply Act this year.I have been charged in the Irish papers of having stated in a circular that we had only recently received information as to distress in Ireland. What we had recently received information of was that certain of the poorest classes of the people had not been able to avail themselves of the Seeds Supply Act.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It was not the scarcity of seed, it was the inability of the people to avail themselves of the Seeds Supply Act, because, in consequence of their extreme poverty, the guardians were not prepared to advance upon the usual terms of payment.
§ MR. DILLON
The point I want to make is this: that notwithstanding the interpretation put upon the circular, the Government has been told for weeks and months there was a most urgent and dangerous scarcity of seed potatoes in the western districts of Ireland. The Chief Secretary may get off by a slight quibble of words, but the important fact is this: that there has been a cry of well-known wants from the people who are stricken by distress—of their want of potato seed and their incapacity to supply themselves with it, and now, 821 according to the Returns, that the sowing time is over hundreds and thousands of the people are without any crops at all. The Chief Secretary, at the end of March, sends out his circular saying that his attention had been drawn to scarcity of potato seed—at a time when the potatoes ought to be in the ground—and then with a flourish of generosity he sends down some 500 or 600 tons of potatoes to the country. These unfortunate people, among the poorest in the Union, are to be left to starve because the guardians have refused to fall in with the system of Government. That is what I object to. I put it to the Chief Secretary whether it would not be more rational to consult some of the Irish Members, who can speak for these starving people? If he did he might get information as to how the Government can best deal with the situation. The Irish Members have a consultative right. It is a fact that each one of the officials lays down a hard and fast rule which is not to be departed from, even at the cost of human life and human suffering. There is another point I want briefly to refer to. I drew the attention of the Chief Secretary before the Recess to the Report of the Manchester Committee. That Committee, I may say, I am never tired of praising, because it first brought this matter before the attention of the British public. It sent a deputation to the west of Ireland consisting of men of different political opinions to investigate the condition of affairs on the spot, and see it with their own eyes. One of the things that struck them most, was the horrible condition of the children in some of the schools. The Chief Secretary will agree that some of the Reports made by the Committee were very heart-rending. The Committee found that, in some schools, nearly all the children were suffering from dysentery, or a form of diarrhœa, that was really appalling, and not compatible with the conditions of a civilised country. They succeeded in stopping the ravages of the disease by distributing to the children at play-time, a pennyworth of dry bread, which immediately checked the evil of this dysentery. I asked the Chief Secretary whether he consulted the Manchester Report, and whether the Government were prepared to do anything. I should like to hear 822 him say to-day whether he has seen that Report, and whether the Government are prepared to give any assistance, or to co-operate with the Manchester Committee. Though the state of affairs is so grievous, it is very easy to deal with, because, according to these Reports, one pennyworth of dry bread served out to the children at play-time stopped the disease. Now, that is the position in these districts. You have a large population in these western districts actually suffering from hunger at the present moment. Through the stupidity of the Government yon have a considerable number of people unable to have an average crop for next year. I want to know how these people are going to live for the next three months. Remember this important fact: when we raised this question in October last, and pointed out from our own knowledge of these districts, that the distress was a serious and undoubted fact, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was asked by some American correspondent whether in his opinion there was going to be distress, and the opinion of the Lord Lieutenant was given that the accounts were grossly exaggerated. There is no doubt that the opinion of the Lord Lieutenant checked the flow of charity in this country, and but for the Manchester Guardian we would have had no relief. But it undoubtedly did check the flow of American charity—this throwing of cold water upon the appeal on behalf of these poor people. The Government, by this action, have placed upon themselves a fresh burden of obligation, because they have dried up the springs of private charity. When the Chief Secretary gets up and tells us that he is quite prepared to investigate any cases to which his attention has been drawn, I say that is not fair. We have unimpeachable evidence, beyond all suspicion of partisanship, that there are masses of people actually suffering from hunger, that they are compelled to feed their children with unwholesome food. I say it is the duty of the Government, more especially in view of the circumstances to which I have directed their attention, to see that these people have not sunk in disease, and are not worn out in suffering. It is rather a harsh doctrine to say that, with regard to other portions of this country, the Government has always adopted the principle 823 of self-help. The Government of this country interfere as little as possible in these matters. They trust to local exertions. That has never been the principle of Irish Government. We, in Ireland, live under a centralised Government, and under that system we have never been allowed scope for the free development of local life. The people of Ireland have never been allowed a fair chance to accumulate wealth, and thus acquire habits of independence and self-assertion. I say that the Irish Government cannot be judged by the same standards that you are entitled to apply to the Government of this country. They are bound to adopt a much more paternal system there than in this country. If any man has ever had the experience of many humane Englishmen and Englishwomen who visited these poor people, and seen their little children, barely clad, their limbs hardly thicker than your fingers, and their faces pinched with hunger, that sight would never leave his mind. It is to that that I direct the attention of this House. It is that that fills our hearts with bitterness when we think of the sufferings of the poor people at home.
§ MR. W. H. K. REDMOND (Clare, E.)
It is to me always a source of extreme humiliation to be obliged as an Irish representative practically to apply for some slight assistance for our people in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant was not in the House—probably through no fault of his own, because I did not give him notice—on the occasion just before the holidays, when I referred at some length to the necessity of the Government taking some steps in order to relieve the distress prevailing in some portions of the country; but some of the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman who were present took me to task for occupying the time of the House, and insinuated that I, and others on these Benches, were exaggerating, and that there was no cause for the Government to take these steps. The House adjourned for the Easter holidays. I found a few days afterwards that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had been obliged 824 during the Recess to take some further steps, although it was repeatedly said in this House before the holidays that there was no necessity for further action on the part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary probably will not place importance on the opinions of those who differ from him when they give their views on the distress in Ireland, so I will refer him to a statement appearing in a journal which is a very warm supporter of the Unionist policy, and of the present Government, I refer to the London Observer newspaper, of last Sunday week. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will find, if he refers to that day's issue, an important communication from the Irish correspondent of the Observer on the situation in the western districts of Ireland, and the action of the right hon. Gentleman. I have not got the extract with me here, but it is sufficient to say that no Member of these Benches could possibly frame a more severe indictment against the Chief Secretary than was to be found in that statement of the Irish correspondent to a Unionist paper. He charged the Chief Secretary with ignoring representations coming from certain portions of Ireland with reference to the distress, and he directly charged him with neglecting to take necessary steps for the relief of the distress. It really, to me, as an Irish Member of some years' standing in this House, is a surprising thing to find that no Government will take some steps to do away with the evil practice which exists in the Irish Office, of never meeting distress until it has practically gone too far. I do not remember, during the 15 years which I have been in this House, any Government which was willing to admit that distress was likely to occur; on the contrary, they always refused to admit the likelihood of distress, and they never took any steps to meet it until it had actually arrived in Ireland. There is no doubt that there has been a great deal of suffering. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant this afternoon exhibited a great deal of impatience when the hon. Member for East Mayo was stating his case before the House. The Chief Secretary may think he is entitled to be impatient. 825 He is the representative of a prosperous English consituency, although he is our Governor in Ireland. But I think he himself would whine if he were the representative of some of these districts where great distress prevails; he would have more reason for feeling impatient than he has at the present time. It requires on the part of Irish Members an amount of patience which Englishmen have no idea of to be obliged to come here year after year and ask, not for some great benefit, not for some great change in the law, on which opinions may differ—nothing of that kind, in fact—but simply to ask for a few thousand pounds to keep our unfortunate people alive. Hon. Gentlemen in this House sometimes find it hard to understand how it comes to pass that there is considerable feeling in the hearts of many Irishmen against England and English rule, and everything connected with it. The scene in the House to-day goes far to justify and provide reasons for the existence of that feeling. Here you find men representative of the vast majority of the Irish people practically asking for the most ordinary measures of relief, and asking them from the English Members of Parliament. We have here the spectacle of the vast majority of the Irish representatives coming here and asking an English Member of Parliament, the Member for Leeds, for nothing more nor less than to take ordinary steps to prevent suffering. These periodic requests to grant relief for these periodic famines will continue in Ireland until you give the Irish people the control of their own affairs. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will say that the reports are exaggerated, that when famine is spoken of no statistics are given as to deaths by starvation. I say here, without the slightest hesitation, that I am absolutely convinced in my own mind that numbers of people have met their death through want of wholesome food in Ireland during the last few months, and I will go so far as to challenge any Member of this House, or any member of the British public, to go to Ireland and make an impartial investigation into the circumstances. I am perfectly convinced that if they do they will come back and say that there is need for great relief from the 826 Government, because the greatest distress prevails. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary and other officials of the Irish Office seem to me to be personally aggrieved because Irish Members come forward and ask that measures of relief should be taken. The Chief Secretary this afternoon has, by his gestures and by the impatient shakings of his head and his interruptions, really exhibited a feeling which seems to show that, in his opinion, we are not justified in coming here and making any complaint. The right hon. Gentleman and the two Irish officials who sit near him know perfectly well that it would be the very last thing that any Irishman would do, unless the distress were widespread and the measures taken by the Government were insufficient. I think we are justified in view of the fact that it is admitted on all sides that Ireland pays more than her proper share of taxation. We remember the Budget statement of yesterday that £63,000,000 a year are spent in this country for the maintenance of the Army and Navy, and yet here we are coming and asking for a few thousand pounds to relieve people who are suffering from starvation. We cannot be expected to be very loyal to a system which takes millions of Irish money for the maintenance of the Army and Navy of this Empire and yet refuses a few thousand pounds for the relief of the distress. Does the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary think we are telling what is not true in this House? Does he think that Irish Members have no sense of self-respect or of pride left, and that they come here without proper reason for their request? As far as I am concerned, it is a thing I positively loathe to do. I would rather exercise any other duty or function in connection with my position in this House than to come here and speak thus on behalf of my unfortunate fellow-countrymen and women who are suffering and starving in Ireland. If proof is required it is to be found in the fact that large sums of public money have been subscribed by charitable persons to meet the distress in Ireland. The fact that public subscriptions have been opened to relieve distress is in itself a condemnation of the action of the Government. I hold that it is the duty of the 827 Government in cases of urgent necessity, such as have arisen in Ireland, to take measures into their own hands, and not leave the responsibility to Manchester and other English cities. I must say I am much disappointed at the Chief Secretary's attitude on this question. I certainly do not expect him to improve the longer he is in the Irish Office, because the tendency of the permanent officials of the Irish Office is chronically to disbelieve everything that Irish Nationalist Members say, and to refuse to recognise any necessity for any relief whatever. The right hon. Gentleman will have to explain how it is that private funds have been subscribed to meet the distress. Either there is no distress or there is very real distress in Ireland. If there is no distress this money has been subscribed under false pretences. The hon. Member for East Mayo referred to the statement of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, which has received very little recognition from the Government. Why? Because he is an opponent of the present Government, and an opponent of the present system of English government in Ireland. If he had been a Unionist every word of his would have been received with the greatest consideration and attention. But the fact is that he holds the views of the vast majority of Irish people, and I see no reason why his word should not be received with credence by the Government and recognised. So far his statement has not been so received, and the Government have taken no steps whatever. As far as I am concerned, the longer I am in this House the more I despair of anything being done for the good government of the country under the present system. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary may have the very best intentions in the world, he may be anxious to relieve distress in Ireland, and he may say, "Where you show there is distress I will relieve it." Unfortunately, he does not listen to the representatives of the people, but he is influenced by those in Ireland who surround him, and who have not the same means of gauging the actual state of affairs as the representatives of the people. I say that his intentions, however good they may be, are not exercised in such a way as to give permanent relief 828 to the people, and that the steps taken by the Government have been insufficient. I declare that if something is not done there will be more acute distress in Ireland, and if the acute distress should result in loss of life I hold, and the majority of the Irish people will hold, the right hon. Gentleman and the Government responsible for what may occur. It is certainly a hard case that we should be obliged to come here to this House time after time, and make a humble appeal to the Government for a little money to relieve the distress which nobody can deny does exist. In view of the fact that our Imperial contributions are out of proportion to what they ought to be, I say it is monstrous, that it is a disgrace and a shame, that we should be obliged to occupy the position that we do. I know there are some hon. Gentlemen who hold that Home Rule for Ireland is not justified upon the ground that everything can be done for the good government of Irish people, and is done by this House, but I would ask any Member in this House does he for a moment imagine that if the system of government in our country was in the hands of the representatives of the Irish nation that affairs would be allowed to come to the pass which they are in in certain districts in Ireland at the present time? No Irish Government would permit for a moment the existence of the state of affairs which now prevails in certain western towns of Ireland where people are suffering. This distress is prevailing simply as the result of that system of government which denies us in Ireland the right to rule ourselves; and so an Englishman—whether he be the Member for Leeds, or whether he be the Member for any other constituency—is put in the office of Chief Secretary to rule us in Ireland better than Ave are able to rule ourselves!
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member for East Mayo only gave me notice just as I was entering the House that this discussion was to be raised. If I had had longer notice I might have been in a position to make a fuller statement than is now possible. However, that is, perhaps, less necessary, inasmuch as I had 829 already, at the commencement of the Session, given a very full description of the steps taken by the Government to deal with what undoubtedly has been a season of exceptional distress in Ireland. But, Sir, I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo, and I must say I entirely failed to discover any reason why he should take this special form of moving the adjournment of the House, and of raising a Debate on what he described as a question of urgent public importance. Sir, the hon. Member has literally adduced nothing whatever, beyond that which has already been put before the House, except the statement of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. He asked me yesterday if I had read that statement. I told him that I had, and that it was a highly-coloured account of the actual facts of the case, which I think the House will admit when they have heard one or two of the extracts. The Lord Mayor of Dublin mentions eight Unions in which distress exists, and in those eight Unions he says there—are 39,718 houses, which, at six inmates each, gives a population of 238,308. Of course, all these people are not distressed, but if there be added the 'sporadic cases' to those that are, there is a population of about 300,000 people on our western seaboard in distress, and the distress acknowledged by the Local Government Board, I take it to be, means that 300,000 people are without necessary food, seeds, and clothes.Well, Sir, I venture to say that that is one of the most extraordinary inferences which can possibly be drawn, even from the Lord Mayor's own figures. But supposing that distress existed in a district having a population of 300,000 people, are we to infer that every one of those 300,000 is without the necessary food, seeds and clothes? Can any statement be more ridiculous and extravagant than that? I venture to say that the stale of things actually existing in the west of Ireland does not resemble that described by the Lord Mayor in the faintest degree. If you were to divide that number by ten it would be very much more like the actual facts of the case, but even if you were to divide it by ten you would have a larger number than were actually suffering in such a way as to have any claim for relief from the public funds.
MR. D. CHILLY (Mayo, N.)
Has the right hon. Gentleman been down there himself? I have.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It has been frequently cast against my predecessor and against myself that when exceptional distress exists we have not ourselves been to examine into the condition of affairs. Sir, I venture to say that every Chief Secretary has ample means of ascertaining accurately what the condition of affairs is in those distressed Unions, and we should not be one whit better informed if we actually went to the spot than we are by taking the numerous accounts which reach us from all kinds of sources. If the Chief Secretary were to go down to those distressed districts, the almost inevitable effect would be to raise the expectation of the people that they would receive more assistance than in the opinion of the Government it is wise should be given. Hon. Members opposite seem to think that the Chief Secretary derives his information from one, or perhaps two, officials residing in Dublin. That is not in the smallest degree the case. I have before me all the statements which are made in the papers, which support hon. Members opposite. As a matter of fact, these statements are so exaggerated that very little is to be gained from perusing them. But I have, in addition to that, large correspondence from the priests in the districts affected. Those accounts I test with the accounts which come from the Local Government Board and the accounts received from the police. Yes, but I can test one sort of information by another. I have, in addition to that, the whole of the information which is at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board at my disposal, and I say it is idle to imagine that the Chief Secretary is not completely and amply informed as to the condition of things. Now, Sir, to return to the speech of the Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor says—It is a reproach to the Government that the people should be left in this condition. At the present time we hear a lot about the condition of Cuba, and we can see one of the 831 greatest nations of the world about to take the awful step of declaring war in order to end a condition of things not even as bad as that which prevails in Connemara.Well, Sir, I do not know if the Lord Mayor's sources of information about Cuba are as inaccurate as the sources of journalistic information in Ireland, but I understand that 150,000, or 200,000 people have actually perished in Cuba from privation and want.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I venture to say that it would be impossible to point to any single case of death from famine or starvation during the whole of the present year. I defy anybody to point to a single case. Am I not, therefore, justified in being more or less impatient in hearing and reading the continual denunciations of famine and starvation, when I know, as a matter of fact, that not a single death has occurred from famine or starvation during the last three or four months?
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean by death from famine—death from absolute want of food whatever? If that is what he means that is one thing. If he means death by famine, as I hold it to be, death from insufficiency of food, or unwholesome food, I can undertake to bring him dozens and scores of such cases.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
That must be to a large extent a matter of opinion. I do not say that, during periods of distress the death-rate is not likely to be somewhat higher, and the people would not be less likely to resist the weakening effect of illness. Of course, that must be admitted. [Mr. W. REDMOND: That is what we call death from starvation.] How far is the hon. Member prepared to go? No doubt, if we could distribute champagne to such people—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must ask the hon. Member for North Mayo to abstain from these disorderly observations, or I must call the attention of the House to his conduct.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind hon. Members that the word "shame" is not a word that can be used. It is a disorderly expression, and I shall have to call the attention of the House to any Member who uses it.
§ MR. CRILLY
We call attention to the severe distress in Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman then suggests the sending of champagne. Is it in order that the right hon. Gentleman should use the word "champagne" in connection with the west of Ireland?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I desire to disclaim any intention of using terms of insult to the Irish people. My point is that any rise in the death rate, consequent upon a period of distress, or how far any particular effect results from want of food, must be to a large extent a matter of opinion. If you could administer to the sick people champagne, or could send them to the south of France, the probability is that you would be able to save a certain number of lives. But I venture to assert in the most distinct manner that the epidemics of fever and measles which the hon. Member for East Mayo has referred to have not produced the terrible results which he represents. Sir, the fact of the matter is that there may be a little more sickness and a few more deaths in the west of Ireland during the present season than usual, but there is always a certain amount of sickness, and there is always a certain amount of fever arising from, I am afraid, the not very cleanly habits of the people; and this year there has been in some districts a certain prevalence of influenza. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, in his speech, laid stress upon 833 the prevalence of the epidemics and sickness at the present time. I can assure hon. Members that I have had most careful inquiry made, and can discover no evidence to lead me to believe that there have been appreciably more deaths during the present season than during ordinary seasons. During the Easter holidays, at my request, one of the Commissioners of the Local Government Board, and also the Under Secretary, went through the distressed districts, and this is the account which I have received from the Commissioner of the influenza in, I think, the worst district—I saw the medical officer, and he told me that he had seen the cases, and that the relieving officer had provided suitable nourishment for those patients who are not able to procure it for themselves. The medical officer has been directed to obtain the necessary assistance during the prevalence of the epidemic. One patient has died, another is in a critical state, and the others are progressing favourably.This is one of the very worst districts in the west of Ireland, and I think, after what I have read, hon. Members will see that the language used about the effects of the epidemics is grossly exaggerated. Now, Sir, as I have said, the speech of the Lord Mayor is the only excuse given by the hon. Member for raising this question in the manner in which he has chosen to raise it. [Mr. DILLON. I spoke also of the exhaustion of the relief fund.] The hon. Member has taken the opportunity to once more generally criticise the steps taken by the Government for dealing with the distressed areas, and, therefore, I should like to remind the House what those steps are, The hon. Member unfavourably compared what I have done this year with what was done in 1891; much, he said, was spent on that occasion, and a comparatively small sum during the present year. That may be true. Sir, and I sincerely trust it is. I think the distress in 1891 was more severe than the distress has been, or is likely to be, this year. That is my opinion, and I certainly hope and expect that the system of relief which I have adopted will involve a smaller expenditure of money. Sir, what was this system? In 1891 the Government started relief 834 works, and did not influence any local body to check or control the amount; spent in relief, and a similar plan was adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose [Mr. John Morley] in 1895. Sir, I came to the conclusion that in order to deal, on sound principles, with the distress it was necessary to make the local authorities responsible, in the first instance, and, where acute distress existed, the Government informed the guardians that if they chose to start relief works assistance would be given them by the Government. Relief works have been started in all the union areas in which really acute distress prevailed, and the result is that at the present time on those works no fewer than 4,300 heads, or representative families, are engaged. [Mr. CRILLY: In how many counties?] In the counties of Mayo and Galway. The House will, therefore, see that, counting five as the average number of persons to each family, there are more than 20,000 persons receiving relief in this manner. Now, Sir, of the amount spent in this way, the Government have contributed three-fourths, and I venture to say that no one who is a proper recipient of relief, and has applied to be placed on those relief works, has been refused. I have not heard of a single case. Then, in addition to that, in Unions where the distress has been less acute the guardians have been allowed to give outdoor relief free from the restrictions which the law usually imposes, so that people too old or infirm to go on relief works can be relieved without going into the workhouse.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state what is the average of the wages paid on the relief works?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The rate varies in different Unions, the maximum being 6s. a week; but I do not regard these works as means of employment, and the payment made as ordinary wages. On the contrary, the works are intended mainly for the people who seek relief, and are intended mainly as a test of their destitution. It is by that test only that they can be judged. When English 835 Members hear that 6s. a week is the maximum rate, it must be remembered that the wage of an able-bodied labourer employed in those counties at this season of the year is not very much more than 7s. or 8s. a week, and that it is absolutely necessary that there should be some relation between the habitual rate of wages in the district, and the amount given in relief.
§ MR. P. J. POWER
I do not like to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman a second time, but what is the minimum wages?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I cannot say off-hand. The different Unions adopt different methods of dealing with the question of remuneration; the guardians are responsible for fixing the actual amount given. Well, Sir, I have now described to you what steps the Government have taken to cope with this distress. But that is not all. There have been in previous years Acts of Parliament passed described as Seed Supply Acts, and it has invariably been the case that, though these Acts have been passed after Parliament has been sitting some months, the guardians have been allowed by administrative authority to anticipate the provisions of the Act, and that, also, has been done on the present occasion. The effect of this is to enable guardians to borrow for the purpose of purchasing seed potatoes, and, in the present instance, seed oats, and they are empowered to distribute these potatoes and oats to owners of land under £15 valuation, those persons receiving the seed—and they receive it at cost price—being allowed two years in which to pay for it. In providing seed supplies we have done everything that has been done by the previous Governments—
§ MR. P. J. POWER
Is there not a difficulty in consequence of persons being in arrear under the Act of 1895?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I will come to that point. We have done, I say, everything that previous Governments have done; but when we received accounts from the guardians just before Easter as to the amount for which they 836 had made themselves responsible we ascertained that there was the difficulty to which the hon. Member has just referred—i.e., that in a certain number of cases the guardians had reason to believe that even though two years are given for payment they would not get the money back, and in their discretion they refuse advances in certain instances. Well, Sir, I have come to a very rapid decision, for the time for planting potatoes is drawing to a close, and I have decided that it would be possible for the Government to distribute to those persons who have been on the relief works, and to whom, therefore, the test of destitution has been applied, two hundredweight of potatoes each free of charge. But, so far from this arousing the slightest degree of gratitude in hon. Members opposite, all they say is, "Is that all you can do?" "Are you not able to distribute more than the amount already distributed by those who have been getting up subscriptions?" My reply is that this distribution has been made to those persons to whom alone it is possible for the Government to give. The amount of seed is given by way of bonus on the wages paid for the relief works. It may be urged that we are stretching a point, and doing what no other Government has done, and that it would have been, perhaps, more strictly in accordance with the principle which we have laid down in relation to relief works if we had abstained from making this concession; but I argue that the object of the Government is to avert the danger of famine in the coming year, and the step which I have described must be taken as an amplification of the principle of the Seed Supply Acts rather than as a development of our distress policy. Sir, I have now described to the House what we have done in the way of meeting the existing condition of things. I will only add to that, however, that I have obtained an undertaking from the Treasury to advance to the Congested Districts Board an amount of £10,000, which they were allowed to expend during the present year in anticipation of future income. The hon. Member for East Mayo takes me to task because the Government have not done the work which the Manchester Relief Fund and 837 other funds were undertaking to do. Sir, the hon. Member for East Mayo seems to me to have most extraordinary views upon this subject. He lays it down that what is done in other countries by means of charity should be done in Ireland by the Government.
§ MR. DILLON
I said that it actually is done by the Government, and should be done on a more liberal scale.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The hon. Member is wrong there, because I must remind him that distress funds have been started on many other occasions before the present year, but it could not be said that the Government has always undertaken work of charity. But this I venture to assert in the most explicit manner that if it be true that the people in Ireland expected that the Government should do that work which in other countries was carried out by means of charity, the sooner they are disabused of such a notion the better. [Mr. DILLON: You clear out of the country altogether.] I never deny that there is room for the exercise of charitable work in the west of Ireland, as there is, unfortunately, in a great many other parts of the world. At the same time, our experience of the working of these funds in previous years, notwithstanding the great care with which they have been distributed during the present year, had been that, while good had been done, evil had also been done, and I am afraid I must add that the distribution of this money is almost always attended by demoralising results. [Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND: What about English rule?] The hon. Member for East Mayo says that one of the reasons which led him to move the adjournment of the House this evening was the fact that these funds were now coming to an end. I cannot help thinking that perhaps more money might have been subscribed to these funds if the descriptions of the distress given by the hon. Member and his friends and sup porters in Ireland had not been so obviously possessed of a political side. [Mr. SWIFT MACNEILL: If the Lord Lieu tenant's letter had not been written—] One word with regard to the Lord Lieu 838 tenant's telegram. In the month of September his Excellency was informed by the correspondent of an American paper that very alarming reports had been received in America, and that great excitement was caused by them, and he desired to know whether they were true. The Lord Lieutenant, in reply, caused a telegram to be sent to the correspondent, stating that—. Perhaps I had better read the telegram. It runs—In reply to your telegram of the 8th the Lord Lieutenant desires me to say that the reports which you characterise as most alarming of the pictures of famine are in His Excellency's opinion unjustifiable.[Mr. P. O'BRIEN: Was that right?] That was dated September 9th, and I believe the Lord Lieutenant to be absolutely right, for the predictions made at the time were gross exaggerations, which have not been in any sense borne out by the facts. [Mr. MICHAEL DAVITT: Is there no political motive in that statement?] No, none whatever. Let me call the attention of hon. Members to this. I was really most astonished the other day to see in one of the Irish newspapers that the Irish in America, who on previous occasions had been accustomed to subscribe largely to this so-called famine fund, had on this occasion failed to do so, and this was put down as entirely due to the Lord Lieu tenant's telegram. Now, Sir, I am surprised that hon. Members should venture to make such an assertion as that. We are told that the Irish in America, if possible, dislike and distrust the English Government and everything connected with the English Government more than even the people of Ireland do. [Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND: No, they could not do that.] For months the Irish news-papers have been raising this cry of and famine and distress, and yet the Irish America have paid more attention, according to the account of hon. Members themselves, to this one telegram from the Lord Lieutenant than they have paid to all those diatribes and all those descriptions in the Irish papers. Is it really true that when it comes to a question of fact and truth that the Irish in America distrust their own countrymen and believe the Lord Lieutenant? Well, Sir, to tell the truth, if we are to go into 839 that question, I am rather afraid that it may be argued that even the Irish in Ireland seem to believe the account of the Lord Lieutenant rather than the accounts of their own papers. If it be actually the case that these were not highly coloured descriptions of famine and of starvation, how comes it that, although every effort has been made by the Irish papers to stimulate subscriptions in Ireland, the total of these subscriptions amounted only to £14,000 or £15,000. Sir, the hon. Member for East Mayo has used very strong language about the action of the Government, and it appears to him that it is the duty of the Government of this country to keep people in a condition of comfort at the public expense. He and others have charged me with being callous and hard-hearted and wanting in sympathy. I trust that I am not wanting in sympathy, for I have every sympathy with the state of things existing in the west of Ireland. [Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND: Then why do you talk of champagne?] I know it is a most serious state of things, but it is not a case in which there is a danger of starvation and famine. But that seriousness does not arise from any existing suffering—at least that was not the most serious point, which is that we are confronted with a problem, the solution of which has long been one of the greatest difficulties in connection with statesmanship in Ireland. As regards that question, it does press upon me, and it must press upon anybody who has got anything to do with the Government of Ireland, but it is not to be cured by pouring money into the distressed districts, which, so far from being a real remedy has been the very reverse. I knew perfectly well that in adopting the policy which I have adopted. I should be covered with calumny, vituperation, and abuse, but I nevertheless deliberately adopted that policy, because I felt that it was the right course to adopt, and that I should have been faithless to my trust if I had not adopted it. I appeal confidently from the kind of language used about me and about the Irish officials who are doing their duty to the utmost of their ability, and I ask this House, by rejecting this Motion, to strengthen and not weaken the hands of the Irish 840 Government. [Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND: "Champagne Gerald" you ought to be called.]
§ MR. J. G. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
I think the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has given us our credentials to go to the people of England, and show them how we are governed. The right hon. Gentleman somewhat misappreciates his position for he has no trust or mandate from the people of Ireland, and he was there as a foreigner and the representative of a Government supported by the two pillars of violence and fraud. The right hon. Gentleman knows that from the humblest constituency, or even the most fanciful constituency, in Ireland, he would not be returned. He does not voice our opinion any more than a Turk would voice the opinion of Armenia, or a Spaniard would voice the opinion of Cuba. Now I am pleased with the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has made. I am pleased with it, because it shows the true inwardness of this Government. He has a deep sense of the ridiculous, but he has to save his position. He talks about governing Ireland, and about his responsibilities there. Now, what are they? His responsibility is more like a junior Sultan sent over to depopulate an impoverished country. I ought not, in reference to this subject, to speak unkindly, because the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor organised a famine fund in Ireland, and the "Sultan of Ireland" sent £10,000 to these starving people. Now, I will take the right hon. Gentleman's speech step by step. He was very angry and very indignant with my hon. Friend for not giving him more timely notice of this Motion. Now, if there were people starving in the country over which the right hon. Gentleman has been called to govern, or if my hon. Friend had given him notice of this Motion, some of his understudies would have gone, and put down a blocking Motion, and we should have been unable to discuss it to-day. The right hon. Gentleman says that my hon. Friend's contention—which he misunderstood—that the English Government 841 ought to apply in Ireland funds which would assist private charity, as in other constitutions, was an absurd and an irrational proposal. Well, it would be most absurd and most irrational if we governed ourselves, and if we had the destinies of our own people in our own hands, but what are we asking for now? We are asking for this, as only one drop out of the ocean of all the benefits that you have abstracted from us by deliberate plunder and robbery for a century. How dare the right hon. Gentleman talk of charity and gratitude to a people who have been emasculated by his misgovernment? How dare he talk of charity when he knows—his own officials have stated it—that the Irish people are robbed year after year, to the tune of £3,000,000 of money. [Mr. P. J. O'BRIEN: That is where the champagne goes.] Talk of charity—what nonsense! Why, these people are the victims of charity! They exist in the best of years under the most painful conditions that can be, and reduced to the verge of starvation. And why? Because every one of these people are the victims of your misgovernment, and you have produced an artificial system of misery in Ireland for your own purposes. Do you wish to forget things that are written in your own statutes with the blood of martyrs—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is going into a general Debate, and he must confine himself to the definite matter before the House, which is the acute distress now existing in Ireland, and the Measures now being taken by the Government to relieve it.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I admit it is rather general, but I was only following, for once, the evil steps of the Chief Secretary, when he began to talk about champagne.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
It is the most disgraceful thing I ever heard, to talk about champagne when the people are starving.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I say that in these very districts the people are the victims of misgovernment and poverty, and they have been driven by 842 the English Government off the good land on to the waste. The right hon. Gentleman was very angry with me a few days ago when I said the deliberate policy of the Government of England was to keep the country in a chronic state of distress. Now, I wish to repeat every word and syllable of that statement. I was rather surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's idea of what should be an appropriate time and an appropriate subject for instituting a Motion for the adjournment of the House. Now, I cannot imagine anything more urgent or appropriate on which the Motion before the House could be moved than the hunger of our fellow creatures, and in order to expose this state of things to the people of this country we shall adhere to this Motion, and we shall again and again bring it forward. I was also anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should talk under less restriction than he generally assumes. Is there any reason for giving the House information of this kind, only from the Irish police, when they are excluded from popular control? It seems only yesterday—and I have gone through at least twelve of these miserable Debates on this subject—that I heard the First Lord, in reply to questions touching the distress, read the Constabulary authorities Report, which seems to be a common form; and even now the right hon. Gentleman prefers to take the testimony of the Constabulary authorities against the collective voice and the collective opinion, of the people in Ireland. Perhaps I have spoken hardly of the right hon. Gentleman, and I think hardly of him now, and I try to soothe that feeling by the knowledge that he has never visited these districts, and does not—
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
Never in a state of distress. The right hon. Gentleman was over there, and saw considerable poverty, but he was over there in a comparatively prosperous time, but never at a time when a cry of distress has been raised. If he had, and giving him credit for the ordinary feelings of humanity, he would not have been capable of making 843 the speech he has made. I am obliged to the House for the patience with which they have heard me. I am speaking from my heart in reference to these matters, and I am speaking because I have seen the destitution of these people. The scenes I have seen hang before me, and I cannot get rid of them; and I do say that to all Irishmen, wherever they are, all over the globe, when they hear an English statesman justifying this state of things, hatred of the English Government ought to be a religion of the heart with the Irish race. What a contrast yesterday's proceedings and to-day's are, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer got up and said that English prosperity was proceeding by leaps and bounds, in a manner astonishing to themselves, and that they were overflowing with money; but he did not name Ireland. And here the next day there comes this miserable statement of famine justified and distress perpetuated, by the representative of a Government which has no interest in the people in any section of Ireland. It is no monstrous exaggeration when I declare that upon this question there is not a dissentient voice in Ireland. Only last month an extreme Orange paper—the Dublin Evening Mail—had an article in which the Government were censured for their heartless neglect in reference to Irish distress in language as strong as any that has been used this afternoon in this House. What a complete justification of the efforts of Irishmen to get rid of English rule! The Unionist Party talk of the difficulties of government in Ireland, but I state distinctly that the English Government is the great Irish difficulty, and is the great bane and curse of the country.
§ MAJOR J. E. JAMESON (Clare, W.)
I think this Debate has shown that most unmistakably there exists dire distress in the west of Ireland. I had the opportunity of speaking and addressing the House when the subject of distress in Ireland was brought before Parliament on a former occasion, and I then pointed out the importance of immediately grappling with the subject. What I quarrel with in the statement of the Chief Secretary is that he states he has no evidence before him of acute distress calling for imme 844 diate remedies. At all events, I may answer for my own constituency. I brought him every evidence that any reasonable man could wish. Whom did I bring? I did not bring people of political opinions the same as I hold, because they would not probably have been listened to. I brought him five of the Deputy Lieutenants of the county, who were identified with the prosperity of the county of Clare. I brought him also two of the principal priests of the county, and I brought him three people who, like myself, believed in Home Rule. We showed him unmistakably that there was dire distress in the west of Ireland, more particularly in the part which I have the honour to represent. We pointed out to him—although he told us it would be impossible for relief works to be works of permanent utility—that that alone would be conferring a benefit on the county, and that that alone would prevent distress. Sir, are we not to blame the Government, are we to show no concern, when the representatives of the people, in whom the interests of the country are wrapped up, are absolutely ignored? Why, Sir, what could have been easier than for the Chief Secretary to have come to this House with a suitable proposal? And if he had I do not think hon. Members opposite would have opposed him. I believe that the Chief Secretary, when he turned a few moments ago to those benches, was afraid to let them know that on these great relief works given to the people of Ireland the minimum pay, to keep a family, was 3s., the maximum 6s., and the average 4s. a week. Sir, do you think—as the hon. Member who, jointly with me, shares the representation of the county of Clare has said—that we like to come here and beg day by day of you on those opposite benches to relieve this distress? Why, Sir, I can only tell you this, that there is nothing on the face of the Lord's earth that I would rather not do than come here to ask for charity. I have personally, within my own means, been ready to help my own people. I asked the Chief Secretary a year and three months ago if he would let me have £40, to make a little fishing siding at Ross, where the direst distress prevails at the present moment. I asked him to let me have this money to make the coast suitable for the canoes, in order 845 that the people would not starve. Well, he said that he was perfectly willing to do it. But, Sir, within a month I received a reply that some official at the Castle had reported that if they did the work it would only be washed away. I replied to the right hon. Gentleman, stating that I totally disagreed with him, having been there myself, and I offered to do this: that if the Government would put it there, and it was washed away, I would put it back at my own expense. I have been from that day to this unable to get a trifling thing like that done. As regards Ross at present I do not think there is any place in the west where distress is more rife. The right hon. Gentleman has told you that nobody dies of starvation. Well, I will tell you what they have died of: it was influenza, produced by starvation. Will any reasonable man in this House tell me that a man with influenza, and nothing to live on but a small portion of Indian meal, is able to resist the effects of that dire disease? And, Sir, I think the House generally, and more especially hon. Gentlemen opposite, who know of the surplus in the Budget, would freely give any grant that could be recommended by the Government of Ireland in order to stop these unfortunate people from dying, if not actually from starvation, at any rate, because the very small amount of food, and perfectly bad food, which they are able to get is insufficient to enable them to resist any disease with which they may be attacked. I cannot believe or credit that the right hon. Gentleman or hon. Gentlemen opposite would allow such a state of things. They themselves do not prevent and block anything being done for our people, but it is the fact that they allow themselves to be managed year by year by Dublin Castle officials, who do not understand, and will not understand, the wants of the people, because they do not desire to do so, and will not recommend that they should be helped to help themselves. That is the reason why Irish Members on these Benches hate the idea of English rule. I do not believe that one of us would ask anything that this House of Commons could grant if we only had the power to give it to Ireland ourselves. I am bound to say that I think the hon. Member for Mayo has amply made out 846 his case. Are we going to wait for relief for another year, until our place is depopulated by famine? I think every possible justification has been shown by the hon. Members on this side, and I do ask the House to-night to mark its sense of the gross and permanent injustice under which we are suffering, and to say that the Government have absolutely failed to grapple with the question that is now before them, as they have failed, and always will fail, because they will not look to the representatives of Ireland for that advice which they can alone correctly give.
§ MR. D. KILBRIDE (Galway, N.)
I failed to find myself anything in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman to show whether in his opinion there is famine, or a state of destitution bordering on starvation, in Ireland, or no. The right hon. Gentleman accused the Lord Mayor of Dublin of making exaggerated statements in a speech he delivered in connection with the distress, but may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, a short time ago—on April 16th, I think—a circular was distributed containing a resolution proposed by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. This resolution was as follows—That this Council begs to direct the immediate attention of Her Majesty's Government to the acute and wide-spread distress and destitution at present existing in the counties of Kerry, Cork, Mayo, and Galway.I was not satisfied, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary whether or not his view is in accordance with the statements made in this resolution. My own impression was that the right hon. Gentleman is of opinion that the terms of this resolution are exaggerated; but will the House be surprised to hear that the Gentleman who seconded this resolution in the Dublin Corporation is Sir Robert Sexton, the most influential Unionist in the city of Dublin? Does the right hon. Gentleman accuse his own supporter, Sir Robert Sexton, of being given to the use of extravagant language when he seconded this resolution in connection with the 847 famine in the west of Ireland? I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he read the remarkable letter published in the Irish papers a few days ago relating to the destitution, poverty, and famine in South Kerry? Has the right hon. Gentleman read the letter describing the condition of the people in the villages of Port Magee, Prior, and Kells? The writer of the letter says that if something is not done immediately by the Government towards supplying relief, before the harvest is reaped the people will die, not, perhaps, of famine, but of disease produced by insufficient food, and brought on because the people are more susceptible on account of weakness. That is not the letter of an Irish Nationalist; it is not the letter of a Catholic; it is the letter of a man who, in the discharge of his duty, thought it was right that the public should know of his Catholic parishioners; it is the letter of the Protestant vicar of the parish of Port Magee. Perhaps, however, the right hon. Gentleman would prefer the evidence of the local head constable before he takes the opinion of the Protestant rector. In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary challenged the Irish Members to produce a single case of death from starvation. I am not prepared to say, so far as the destitution has gone at present, that there has been any death from absolute starvation in any part of Ireland. But is that due to anything the right hon. Gentleman or the Government have done to prevent such an occurrence? Any man who knows Ireland, and knows the spirits and feelings of the peasantry of Ireland; any man who has been amongst the people in the west and the south of Ireland, knows that a death from starvation is not likely to occur, because, so long as the people have food they will share it with those who are poorer than themselves; and because there is not death from starvation the Chief Secretary wants this House, and the people of this country, to believe that there is no such thing as distress in Ireland. Will the right hon. Gentleman deny that people in Ireland have died of an epidemic disease, which might be described as "famine measles"? It is an epidemic due to the enfeebled and weakened condition of the people, 848 and that condition arises from the insufficiency of ordinary food. The right hon. Gentleman compared the distress in Ireland in 1891 with the distress which at present prevails, and he told the House that, in his opinion, and in the opinion of Dublin Castle, the distress of 1891 was greater than the distress of 1898 in the west and south of Ireland. Anybody who knows Ireland knows that no statement could be more convincing than that of the Chief Secretary's absolute ignorance of this distress. The blight was more severe in 1897 than in any year since 1848; in some of the moorland and mountainous districts the failure of the potato crop has been greater in 1897 than in any year since 1848; and, as a consequence, the distress is more severe now that at any time since that year. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that the Government had done a great deal to facilitate the distribution of seed in these districts. But what advantage is this "Seed Supply Act" to those who are in the direst necessity? As the right hon. Gentleman admitted, in reply to my interruption, anybody who is in arrears under former Seed Supply Acts does not participate in the relief.
§ MR. G. BALFOUR
I did not say that. I said the guardians have refused to give seed potatoes to those who are in arrear for rent under the Act of 1891.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
The guardians have refused; but why? Because they know that, if they give seed to people in arrears under the Seed Supply Acts of former years, who are not able to pay up the arrears due, they have no chance of being paid this year. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said there was nothing to prevent boards of guardians giving seed to these people. But there is nothing to prevent any member or boards of guardians supplying seed to these people out of his own pocket, and it amounts to the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman and the officials of the Local Government Board are aware that people so poor as some of these people are will not be able to repay the boards of guardians the price of the seed. Where does the boon come in? I know boards of guardians who are supplying seed, not 849 at the ordinary market prices of towns in the neighbourhood, but at 50 per cent. beyond those prices. Is that a great boon? The right hon. Gentleman twitted us on the fact that the Irish-Americans—men not proverbial for their love of England—have paid more attention to a letter written in September by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland than to statements made by Irish Members, or to statements in the Irish Nationalist papers relative to the distress.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
I read as many Irish papers as the right hon. Gentleman, and I failed to find such a statement in any of them. I did not see it either in my Irish-American papers.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
I was afraid the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge of Ireland was so limited that he did not know whether the Freeman is an Irish-American paper or not. Speaking for myself as an Irishman I am glad that the Irish-Americans have not subscribed any money towards relieving distress in the west and south of Ireland; and the reason I am glad is that I believe Irish-Americans, of this and of the last generation, have sent a great deal too much money, both for the relief of distress and the relief of the landlords. But what became, and what becomes, of most of the money that comes annually from Irish-Americans? It goes into the rapacious and avaricious maw of the Irish landlords. If the people of Ireland were left more to their own resources by their kinsmen in America it might tend more to the speedy solution of this land question. I hope that any Irish-American who is desirous of benefiting Ireland in the future, who is desirous of raising the condition of the people from what it is 850 to something like what it ought to be, instead of sending his money across the Atlantic for Irish landlords, or Irish shopkeepers, to grab, will put it to a very different purpose. Perhaps, if they did, the time might come—
§ MR. KILBRIDE
I bow to your ruling, Sir; but I wish to say that, while, according to the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary for Ireland exaggerated statements are made in Irish Nationalist papers with regard to the distress, neither he nor any other man in this country would accuse those responsible for the conduct of the Manchester Guardian, one of the most influential papers in the provinces, of having exaggerated the condition of affairs. Professor Long has made statements in the Manchester Guardian with regard to the distress in Ireland. He has gone there himself, and has investigated the condition of affairs. Professor Long is not an Irish Nationalist; he is not even an English Liberal. I understand he is a Unionist in politics, and a political supporter of the Government. If that is so, I hope that any statements emanating from Professor Long will have due weight with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. But one extraordinary thing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, in all his speeches in connection with Irish distress, is that, from beginning to end of them, I fail to find a single note of sympathy with these unfortunate beings in Ireland. I presume the right hon. Gentleman did not intend it as a taunt when he spoke about champagne. I daresay, he did not intend it as a taunt, but, at any rate, it was an unfortunate illustration. I think that when these people in the distressed districts of Ireland, who cannot, perhaps, discriminate as clearly as Members of this House, the meaning in which the right hon. Gentleman used the phrase, read to-morrow the head-lines in the newspapers connecting the right hon. Gentleman's speech about the distress with champagne their love for the English Government, either the present Unionist Government or any 851 English Government, will not be greatly increased. I do not know if it is entirely useless to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to watch the condition of these people. The right hon. Gentleman is always watching them; the police, not having much to do in these times, I am sorry to say are also watching them. [Cries of "Oh!"] Yes, I should, speaking for myself, very much prefer that the Irish police were better engaged than at present in the old practice of shadowing Members of Parliament and prominent politicians through the country, because then we should have more sympathetic speeches from the Chief Secretary than we have had to-night. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will, at any rate, pay attention to the letters he will no doubt be receiving from clergymen of all denominations—and, surely, clergymen of different denominations cannot be prejudiced on this question.
§ DR. ROBERT AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
The Irish representatives have taken the trouble to come down to the House, and move the Adjournment in order to bring before Members what we consider a true picture of the state of affairs in the west of Ireland; but, in my opinion, we might as well be whistling jigs to a milestone as to try to convince the Chief Secretary of the accuracy of our statements about these starving people. When the hon. Member for East Mayo was speaking of the condition of some of these people we heard sounds of laughter coming from under the Gallery, and now we find laughter coming from bloated Gentlemen opposite.
§ DR. AMBROSE
Well, Sir, I withdraw, but we found it coming from Gentlemen opposite who dare not open their mouths in opposition to the Government Whip. With regard to the condition of these people, we find, from correspondence in English papers, that their food for the most part consists of Indian meal. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief 852 Secretary whether such a condition of affairs is not a sufficient reason for moving the Adjournment of the House? My way of dealing with this aspect of the affair would be not to appeal to the House—I am sick of that. I would prefer that the people of the congested districts would use physical force, so that the American Republic might come to our assistance as she has to the assistance of the Cubans. This is, I think, the third time in the course of this Session that Irish Members have asked the Government to come to the relief of these people. Every time we have suggested a remedy, the Chief Secretary, instead of sympathising with us, has said that, as long as he is a member of the Board—and he takes very good care to preserve the chairmanship of it—he will do the utmost in his power to prevent that Board buying up any estates in order to alleviate the condition of the suffering poor in these districts. This is the last time I shall trouble the House about this business; I would rather appeal to other force. It is galling for a body of Irishmen to come on their knees year after year and cry for relief only to be met with laughter and scoffs, not only from. Members on the opposite side of the House, but from the Chief Secretary himself.
§ MR. FREDERICK MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
I desire, as an English workman, to join in the protest of the Irish Members. I listened carefully to the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and, while admitting that the extract read from the speech of the Lord Mayor of Dublin seemed somewhat exaggerated, yet I am prepared to take the case as the Chief Secretary left it. Taking his percentages, and taking his description, I feel I must associate myself in every way with this protest from the Irish representatives. Yesterday I listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer introducing a Budget, the figures of which left on my mind the impression that this is a great and mighty Empire; but when I knew, as I did before the Adjournment of the House was moved, that there was a portion of this Empire, a part of this United Kingdom, where there was, if not 853 famine, at any rate what we in our English villages and towns call famine, when I knew this—although I am proud of the Fatherland—I could not join in the exultations which greeted almost every sentence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I could not help asking myself where, in all this glorying about the Empire, were the poor and the wretched and the outcast? I think I can find them in England; but I know that they exist in the western and the southern districts of Ireland. As an English Member of Parliament, I have been appealed to for my assistance at meetings, and also for subscriptions. It is out of my power to help the people in these distressed districts with subscriptions, and I belong to a school of politicians who do not believe in constant doles from the State to either the working class or any other class. I believe that these State subsidies are dangerous, and that the rich and the powerful in the scramble always get the biggest share of the Government subsidy. It appears to me that the so-called poverty-stricken landlords in England are having a fair share of class relief, and if Parliament is to give any class doles, it should be to those who need it most; and. I venture to say, that no man in this House will venture to say that there is any section of the kingdom that needs relief more than these wretched peasants in the west of Ireland. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion, after listening to this and other Debates, that we are utterly powerless to govern Ireland. We cannot by our rule inculcate that spirit of thrift which the hon. Member for Mayo himself held up as the ideal form of prosperity; our methods, right or
|Abraham, Wm. (Cork, N. E.)||Brigg, John||Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)|
|Allan, Wm. (Gateshead)||Broadhurst, Henry||Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.)|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Daly, James|
|Ambrose, R. (Mayo, W.)||Burns, John||Davitt, Michael|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Caldwell, James||Donelan, Captain A.|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Cameron, Robert (Durham)||Doogan, P. C.|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Cawley, Frederick||Duckworth, James|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Channing, Francis Allston||Ellis, John Edward (Notts)|
|Bayley, Thos. (Derbyshire)||Clark, Dr. G. B. (Caithness)||Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton)|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Clough, Walter Owen||Farquharson, Dr. Robert|
|Billson, Alfred||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.)|
|Birrell, Augustine||Crilly, Daniel||Goddard, Daniel Ford|
§ wrong, are alien to the temperament of the Irish people; and, therefore, I feel, not only that we are denying Ireland her freedom, but that we are refusing her relief when she is in a poverty-stricken and woe-begone condition.