§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words,while this House declares its willingness to make generous provision for all Irish soldiers and sailors who have fought as volunteers in the present war, it declines to proceed with a measure which would be unworkable and impracticable, which would absolutely undermine the land settlements effected by the various Land Purchase Acts, and which would be unjust to many Irish soldiers and sailors, for whom it would be impossible to provide land.The House has been considering the whole of this afternoon a very important measure making provision for soldiers and sailors who have been engaged in this War. The House has just passed that measure unanimously and now comes on for consideration another measure, also to make provision for soldiers and sailors who have been engaged in this War. I would ask the House of Commons to note the contrast which now presents itself, namely, that whereas, except for some criticisms of some of its details, the Bill just passed has got the unanimous assent and approval of Members of all parties of the House, the Bill now before us meets with the resolute and unhesitating opposition of the great majority of the Members of Parliament from Ireland. It may be significant perhaps in passing to note that the reason may well be found in the fact that the first measure which the House passed unanimously applies to the whole of the United Kingdom, to England and Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and that therefore, it is of necessity responsive to the public opinion of this country and must be in accord with it, while the Bill we are now asked to consider deals with Ireland only, and the House of Commons is not called upon to have regard at all to what Irish opinion may be.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
May I move "That the Debate be now adjourned," on the ground that there is nobody here representing the Irish Office to explain this Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It would be a strong order to move the Adjournment of the Debate after two or three minutes. I understand that the Minister has been sent for, and that he will be here shortly.
I agree that the usual practice of the House of Commons when a Bill has just been printed and on Second Reading is for the Minister to come down to the Box and explain it. I venture to say there never was a Bill which needs more explaining than the present Bill, because it may mean nothing or it may mean anything, and the House is entitled to know. The reason for the Bill, the extraordinary Bill which the House has now to consider, is that it applies to Ireland and that Irish opinion at the present time is not supposed to count. Although the explanation is hardly necessary, I desire to explain that there is no idea whatever from these benches of the slightest hostility to any of the soldiers or sailors, but, on the contrary, we stand where we have always stood—on the splendid patriotism and heroism and self-sacrifice of the Irish soldiers who have gone out to fight in this War for the cause of the Allies, and that we are ardently anxious to see them rewarded in every way that is possible for the services they have rendered to liberty and for the sacrifices which they have made. Therefore I wish to emphasise that in opposing this Bill we are not animated in the slightest degree by hostility to any of those to whom the Bill purports to be of benefit.
I would like to point out what has been the genesis of this Bill. We have had no explanation from the Chief Secretary of the provisions of this Bill so far, though the Second Beading has been moved. It is not, as I understand it, a Bill to benefit the great mass of Irish soldiers and sailors who have enlisted and fought in this War. It is not intended to apply at all to the great mass of Irish soldiers and sailors enlisted in the War. The genesis of the Bill is a Proclamation issued by Lord French in the month of May last, when the Government had backed down upon its Conscription proposals, and when he 688 called for 50,000 voluntary recruits from Ireland. In that Proclamation he made what amounted to a promise, and what really looked as if it were intended to be a bribe, that those who would respond to this appeal might hope to be given after the War a patch of land. I think it only due to the men who have volunteered in this War from Ireland to say that they want no bribe from this Government. They entered this War to fight not for a patch of Irish land but to fight for the liberty of their country, and the liberty of their country is the reward at stake, which they had hoped and still hope that they will receive for the sacrifices they have made. This Bill is to be a partial measure to apply only to the men who have responded to Lord French's appeal of May last, and not to the 175,000 or 185,000 Irish soldiers who joined the Army before that. Therefore it would be a measure of the most extraordinary partiality and injustice, because—let us face the facts—the men who have since volunteered in response to Lord French's appeal are very unlikely to have to face all the dangers and difficulties and perils which the men of the earlier period of the War had to face. Indeed, it is quite likely that many of those men whom it is attempted in this Bill to bribe, and to whom is to be given a preference over the hundreds and thousands of men who are not to benefit at all under this measure, will never see a shot fired in anger in this War.
There is no doubt that from whatever point of view you approach this measure it is absolutely unworkable in every particular. Everybody acquainted with the conditions of Ireland and who has any knowledge of the history of the land question for the last thirty years knows that, without bringing in new complications at all, there is not enough land to go round in Ireland at the present time for the settlement of the land problem to the satisfaction of the people. You have spent, this House has spent, the Government has spent, more than thirty years endeavouring to work out a practicable settlement of the Irish land question, and here you come forward at this hour with a proposal which—and in my judgment there is no doubt at all about this—may very well threaten to wreck the whole system and the foundation of the land settlement in Ireland and its future. This Bill, in Sub-section (1) of Clause 1, which is the operative Clause, proposes to put any men who have served in any of His 689 Majesty's naval, military, or air forces in the present War in the same position as if they were tenants or proprietors of holdings not exceeding £10 in rateable value, notwithstanding that they are not in fact tenants or proprietors of any such holding. I draw attention in passing to the words which provide that the Land Commission may give land to any men who have served in any of His Majesty's naval, military, or air forces in the War. It does not say any Irishman; it does not say any Englishman, or even any Scotsman. It might be men from any part of the Empire, so that this Clause is drawn in the widest possible sense, and gives the widest possible powers to the Land Commission to make a new plantation of Ireland should it enter into their minds to do so. That, of course, is a provision which will require amendment. I should like to point out that in ordinary circumstances, either in the congested districts or elsewhere, one of the gravest and most difficult problems in attempting to work out the settlement of the Irish land question is the problem of migratory, tenants or landholders from one district to another, even where those people, I will not say go from the same parish, but go from one part of the same county to another. In such circumstances there is always grave danger of friction in planting them down in new surroundings and amongst new neighbours.
You propose by this Bill to give power to the Estates Commissioners to bring men, perhaps from outside Ireland, and certainly from the various provinces of Ireland, probably from Ulster down to Connaught and from Connaught to Ulster, although I do not think that it is likely, because according to the contention of the Ulster Members there is no land in Ulster which is available for the purposes of this Bill. Therefore in this matter there is an automatic exclusion of Ulster from Ireland, and Ulster is to benefit in so far as there would be any benefit from this Bill by a new invasion of the other provinces of Ireland. The Bill contains most extraordinary provisions and gives the Estates Commissioners and the Land Commission the most sweeping and remarkable powers. I want to know from the Chief Secretary who is responsible and what Department is responsible for the drafting of this Bill and for the powers that have been put into this Bill? Even if it is proposed to carry out the terms of Lord French's Proclamation, and we contend it 690 to be utterly unworkable and impossible no matter what you may desire, what was the necessity for putting these drastic, sweeping, and widespread powers into the Bill and giving them into the hands of the Land Commission in existing circumstances? I want the Chief Secretary, when he comes to speak, to explain the meaning of Sub-section (4) of Clause 1, which reads:The resumption of any holding or part of a holding by the Land Commission on an estate purchased by them may be authorised for the purposes of this Act under Sub-section (6) of Section five of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881, whether the holding is or is not subject to statutory conditions.8.0 P.M.
I want the Chief Secretary to explain that Clause. Why was that put in? What does that Clause do? What was the necessity for it? I say that that Sub-clause as it is drafted gives power to the Land Commission to dispossess every existing tenant in Ireland that they choose to dispossess. It gives power for a new plantation outside the purposes of this Bill altogether. It is all very well for the Chief Secretary to tell us, as I suppose he will tell us, that this Bill is only intended for a special purpose. We know the value to place on assurances from the Treasury Bench, from the Cabinet, and from the Irish Government. We know how we have been tricked and deceived month after month and week after week by the Government in its dealings with Ireland, and I say we are prepared to place no reliance whatever on any assurance from that bench, from the right hon. Gentleman, or from any other member of the Government. If this House is to be called upon to consider this Bill it will have to have the Bill watertight, and cannot tolerate the granting to any Department of such extraordinary powers as are proposed in Subsection (4) of Section 1. It gives power to the Land Commission not merely to take untenanted land but to terminate tenancies, to purchase an estate on which there may be one or two hundred tenants, and to turn round and say to those tenants, "Get out! We want your land for soldiers and sailors." I and we do not hesitate to say that under the system of government that prevails in Ireland at this moment we have grave suspicions as to how that power might be used. Take an obstreperous district which at present you put under your martial law or your coercion—what is there to prevent the Government, through the Land Commission, 691 going down to that district, which may be giving the right hon. Gentleman trouble, and saying to those people, "You behave yourselves or we will buy this property under Sub-section (4) of Clause 1 of this Bill, and turn you out from your holdings." I say that there never was a proposal more calculated to undermine the last shred of confidence in the impartial administration of any Government Department such as the Land Commission than the proposals which are contained in this Bill.
It is impossible to escape drawing a distinction between what is proposed to be done in Ireland and what is proposed to be done here in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is not to-day, it is not this Session only, that the House was asked to consider a Bill for giving facilities to soldiers and sailors to go upon the land after the War here in England and in Scotland. The House passed in 1916 a measure for small allotments, which it amended this year, and that measure provided that not one acre more than 6,000 in Great Britain could be taken for that purpose, and that it must be taken by agreement only, and the Bill, such as it was, was a Bill which contained and began with this provision, that it was only to operate during the continuance of the present War, and for a period of twelve months thereafter; whereas there is no limit to the time operation of the Bill which is produced by the Chief Secretary to-day. It may go on being a thorn in the side of the country, and a difficulty, and a threat, and a danger to the peace of Ireland for years and years to come. The British Bill was not even primarily intended to give land to English or Scotch soldiers and sailors, because it said, as it were in passing, that in the selection of persons to be settled on the land so acquired, the Board of Agriculture shall give preference to persons who have served in the naval and military forces of the Crown in the present War. I would like the House to note how in a measure of this kind English opinion must be consulted by the Government. English opinion counts with the Government. Irish opinion does not count at all. Here is the English provision which you were compelled to insert in the Bill you passed earlier in this Session. It says:Provided also that no portion of the additional land authorised by this Act to be acquired by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries shall be so acquired except after consultation with the 692 chairman of the council of the county in which the land proposed to be acquired is situate, or with a committee of that county.Under the Bill of this Session you increase the area to be taken in this country from 6,000 to 60,000 acres, but you insert that provision that it can only be taken with the consent of the chairman of the county council or a committee of the council. Is there any provision of that kind in the Irish Bill? Is it referred to the chairman of an Irish county council, or to any committee of an Irish county council? No; these autocratic and impossible powers are taken by the Government and given to this reactionary Government Department, over which public opinion has no control whatever, and which is prepared to flout and ignore public opinion, and I say that the House ought to note the contrast between the treatment which is meted out to England and the treatment which is meted out to Ireland in these matters. We shall want to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, as definitely and as fully as it is possible for him to give to the House, a statement of what exactly are the proposals that the Government intend to carry out under this Bill. I say that the Bill ought to have been drawn not in the broad, wide way in which it has been drawn, but to meet the conditions which the Government has in its mind. I have endeavoured to point out that under the existing situation in Ireland a measure of this kind is one which it would be impossible to work without friction, without danger to the peace of the community, not because there is any hostility to the soldiers, but because this whole Irish land question has been and is so complicated and so difficult that throwing a monkey wrench into the machinery, such as this Bill proposes to do, can but end in the gravest threat to the peace and order and security of the districts where it is proposed to operate. I say that Ireland is the last country where a measure of this kind ought to be introduced. If you deliberately tried to exasperate and further to unsettle public opinion in Ireland, you could not devise a surer way than by telling the people of Ireland, as you practically tell them in this Bill, that the whole foundation of the Irish land system, such as we have known it, is to be put into the melting pot by a measure of this kind, that these new and extraordinary powers are to be taken and used by a Government Department, we do not know how; and I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we 693 are bound to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill and to resist it with our whole energy at every stage in the future.
§ Mr. DORIS
I beg to second the Amendment.
I wish to say, coming from an extremely congested district, that this measure, if passed, will cause a great deal of trouble and a great deal of dissatisfaction. In this congested district the people have been expecting for a long time additions to their wretchedly small holdings. Thy Congested Districts Board have been telling them that they have been unable to get the necessary money from the Treasury, and some of us on these Benches have been telling them to have patience and that in due time they will get these lands. Now under this Bill as it stands it will appear to these people tomorrow that you are going to send soldiers, who have done good work for the State and whom the State ought to recompense, on to the land that these poor people and their families have been expecting for years. You pass Acts of Parliament here declaring that these people should have these lands. You have not put those Acts into force as regards the people for whom they are intended, and now I can imagine how these people will hear that you are going to send soldiers from all parts into their districts to take up these lands. There will be endless confusion and disturbances, as if we have not sufficient already, and I warn you that this Bill will breed discontent for years to come. If you sent angels from Heaven instead of soldiers it would be precisely the same thing. The people cannot live on the wretched holdings they have at the present time. They want all the land that is available, and I say you have no right to rob Peter to pay Paul and to recompense your soldiers, who have done such good work, solely at the expense of these poor people while, you have plenty of money at your disposal for the purpose.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Shortt)
I regret that owing to the Debate on the previous matter ending rather more quickly than I expected, I was not here to explain the Bill before it was necessary for the Amendment to be moved. But, I think, perhaps, that no harm has been done, because I shall be able first to clear up some of the misapprehensions upon which the Amendment is based. Indeed, so far as I have been able to judge, the whole arguments 694 in favour of the Amendments have been based on a total misapprehension of the Bill and what the intentions of the promoters of the Bill are.
§ Mr. SHORTT
This Bill, as its title denotes, is to facilitate the provision of land in Ireland for men who have served in the naval, military, or air forces of the Crown in the present War. I agree with the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, who desire to do something for those who have served their country, and there will be no difference of opinion there. I quite appreciate, and hope I shall be believed, that I am satisfied no opposition to the Bill does come from any lack of desire to do anything that can be done for soldiers and sailors, and I hope I shall be able to show hon. Members that their fears with regard to the workableness of this Bill are totally unfounded. The Bill, as has been said, is brought in pursuance of a statement by His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant in June last, and that statement was thatSteps should be taken to ensure as far as possible that land shall be available for men who have fought for their country and the necessary legislative measure is now under consideration.In past Debates it would appear that people are under the impression that the whole question in June this year, when that statement was made, was a new matter, that it was something in the nature of a wild-cat scheme which had been created in the minds of those who had been acting the part of a new broom. Nothing could be further from the truth. When that statement was made by His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, the matter had been carefully considered for months. May I remind the House what really is the origin of this measure which we are discussing to-night. In, I think it was August, or at any rate some time about August, 1916, a measure was passed in this House providing for the settlement of soldiers and sailors in Great Britain. That Bill did not affect Ireland in any way whatever, and there were many people who believed that some measure of a similar nature ought to be extended to Ireland if possible. In consequence of that my predecessor in office, Lord Justice Duke, appointed a Committee to go into the whole question. Now, Sir, that Committee consisted of four gentlemen who represented the Irish Local Government 695 Board, the Irish Board of Agriculture, the Congested Districts Board, and the Irish Land Commission, and I say without fear of contradiction, at any rate without fear of contradiction which can be substantiated, no bodies of men can be found who are more conversant wth the Irish land question than those four Departments. They are in constant touch with it, they are dealing with it in every aspect from day to day, they are familiar with its every ramification and they are just the four Departments who could form an absolutely sound opinion upon, first of all, the practicability, and, secondly, the advisability of any such measure as that which we propose. They sat and considered this question in every aspect, and in the spring of 1917, they reported to my predecessor in office, and I will just read one short sentence from their Report, and it is this:The Small Holdings (Colonies) Act, 1916, was passed with the object of providing small holdings and allotments for discharged soldiers and sailors in Great Britain.And they go on to say:And we are unanimous in recommending that similar opportunities should be given to Irish soldiers and sailors to obtain small holdings and allotments in their own country.
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted from a document. Am I entitled to ask that that document should be laid on the Table of the House of Commons?
§ The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
Unless there is some over-riding public interest concerned, it is usual that a document which is quoted from should be presented to the House and laid on the Table.
§ Mr. SHORTT
There is no over-riding public interest and no possible reason why I should object to put it on the Table, and if hon. Members require it they shall have it on the Table, and see it, if it will be helpful to them. That Report was made by gentlemen who knew every one of the difficulties put forward to-night. They knew exactly the land hunger that exists in Ireland; they knew that people were waiting in many districts for the land they hoped one day would be theirs. They knew just every difficulty which the 696 Mover and Seconder have pointed out, and with all that knowledge and experience they made that recommendation. They went further, and recommended that as there was in existence the machinery for carrying out any scheme, that the carrying out of any proposal should be put into the hands of the Estates Commissioners of the Land Commission and pledged themselves loyally to support the Estates Commissioners in carrying out any proposal. Now, Sir, these proposals that have been made to-night so far from being the wild-cat scheme of new brooms, are the result of consideration by the four Departments who know most of the whole conditions of Irish land. That was the position when His Excellency and I myself took office. I quite agree that it would be idle to suggest that the whole of the land in Ireland was available for soldiers and sailors.
I quite agree that, when you are proposing to settle upon the land those who have served in the War, you cannot take it that the whole of the land which may be vested in the Land Commission or Congested Districts Board, or which they may be under agreement to purchase—you cannot take it that the whole of that land is available. Clearly it is not in many districts, where it would be inadvisable or impossible to introduce an interloper of any sort or description. All that has been considered, and has been before those who are responsible for the provisions of this Bill. We had, of course, before bringing this Bill in, to consider two things: What amount of land was available and what number of persons were likely to make application. May I remind the House—and I think it is advisable, as there may be, though it does not seem very likely, some who are unfamiliar with the provisions of the Irish Land Acts—what the powers of the Estates Commissioners are. The provisions of this Bill are based absolutely upon existing powers with one exception, namely, the exception which gives to the Department of Agriculture powers from the English Act of 1916 with regard to co-operation and so on. With that exception, they are all based upon the powers of the Estates Commissioners.
Put briefly, the Estates Commissioners are empowered to purchase estates for the purpose of resale to tenants, and the main portion of the land which they are able to give the people who are not existing 697 tenants on estates is, of course, the un-tenanted land. They are at the present moment limited in the area from which they can choose their tenants. They are entitled under Section 17 of the Act of 1909 to take as tenants, and to make advances to as tenants, tenants or proprietors of holdings of not more than £10 rateable value. They are entitled to take men who, in a congested area, have given up their tenancy in order to relieve congestion, and they are entitled to take evicted tenants. The words are rather wider than evicted tenants, but it was intended to meet the case of evicted tenants. Generally speaking, their powers are buying estates in order to create small proprietors from those three bodies. This Bill proposes that any soldier or sailor who does not come within one of those three categories should be deemed to do so. That is to say, a man who desires to hold land, and who does not come within one of those three categories, should be deemed to do so in order to qualify him to get land. It has been suggested that any soldier from anywhere—
§ Mr. SHORTT
Really, I think the hon. Member might leave me to make my speech in my own way. I was coming to that presently. It has been suggested that any soldier from anywhere would be entitled to come within that category. If any hon. Member really seriously thinks that anybody but an Irishman is concerned, words can be introduced to make the point perfectly clear. Many a time before doubts have been expressed as to whether it only refers to those who are enlisted in Ireland. There has been a suggestion made to-night that it only refers to those who enlisted after June. There is nothing in the Lord Lieutenant's statement, and nothing in the Bill, to justify any such suggestion. The proposal is that this Bill should apply to Irishmen. There are plenty of Irishmen who have enlisted, and who have fought magnificently, outside of Ireland. I can speak, at any rate, for one body with which I have some connection, namely, the Tyneside Irish, and if an Irishman who had enlisted in the Tyneside Irish desired to settle on land in Ireland and came forward, and was a man who really wanted to settle on the land in Ireland, he would be absolutely entitled to do so. 698 The intention is to meet the needs of Irish soldiers who have fought in this War, and if that is not sufficiently clear, or if Members really do doubt the genuine sincerity of the Estates Commissioners in carrying out this Bill, provision can easily be made to meet it. That is the intention. That is the proposal, namely, that Irishmen who have fought in this War, who have risked their lives and everything that they have for the purpose of their country, should be brought within the category of those who are entitled to be tenants under the powers of the Land Commission.
The numbers of men, of course, are very difficult to estimate. In the first place, some men who have fought would be qualified without this measure. For them this Bill is not necessary, but of the others, judging from the information we can get as to the class of men who have been fighting in the Irish regiments or Irishmen fighting in English regiments, the number of men who require an economic holding—that is, a holding varying from 15 to 20 acres or up to 30 acres—would not be very great; but there would be a very large number of men who would desire to take to a life on the land, and a still larger number of those who, while their occupation was a town occupation, would desire small parcels of land which they could till, and by which they could add to their income. Those are the three classes of men, so far as one can judge from the information one gets as to the class from which the soldiers and sailors would come whose necessities have got to be met. With regard to those who require an economic holding, it is very difficult indeed to estimate how much land there, is available. Indeed, to all those questions, whereas you can be satisfied that there is sufficient to do such substantial justice to soldiers and sailors as amply to justify this Bill, it is very difficult to give anything approaching a definite answer; but the fact that you cannot give a definite answer is no reason for saying that where you can do substantial justice to soldiers and sailors, that justice should not be done. We have made what inquiries we can. To-day there is vested in both the Lands Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board a certain amount of land. Not a great deal of that would be available for this purpose. Some of it is allocated. Most of it is in those districts where strangers could not very well be brought in. There is a further amount of land 699 which is under agreement to purchase. As to that land, very much of it, in the opinion of the Commissioners, would be available for soldiers and sailors. It would not be all available, of course. The same considerations apply to that as apply to that which is already vested in those bodies, but a very substantial amount of that land would be available.
In addition to that there is a very considerable amount of land in Ireland, the owners of some of which have already expressed their willingness to sell on reasonable terms for the purposes of this Bill—untenanted land, which they would sell the moment the scheme was in operation, and have expressed their willingness. There is other land of the same description which would properly be taken, and as to which compulsory powers are inserted in this Bill—land which could very well be taken for the same purpose, and as to land of that description which would deal with that portion, and by far the smaller portion, of the soldiers and sailors who would require an economic holding, they think that something like 3,000 could be accommodated with holdings of from 15 to 20 or 30 acres in extent. There is another source from which further land could be obtained for economic holdings. There is undoubtedly in Ireland great scope for land reclamation. I have read reports from experts of the greatest experience, who have gone into that question, and undoubtedly by arterial drainage, and by building sea-walls on slob lands, there is great scope for increasing the agricultural area. That land would be available for the same purpose, so that there would be, even if inadequate, even if not nearly to the extent which one would desire, sufficient land to provide for economic holdings for a sufficient number of soldiers and sailors amply to justify the bringing in of these provisions.
You come to the next object of this Bill—those who wish to be instructed to become farmers, to be put into groups where they may co-operate. Provision is also made in the Bill for men of that class. There is a provision in Clause 2 applying to Ireland the provisions which already apply to England to enable the Irish Agricultural Department to form groups of any number that are available and that would care to act in co-operation. There is power to 700 instruct these. There is power also now as, of course, hon. Members know, in the Estates Commissioners, to equip the land, to stock the land, to fence and to drain it, in fact, to do everything that is necessary to make it fit for those who are going to take it. There is all that power; and, in addition, there is power to finance those concerned by credit banks, and also power to inspect their work. There would thus be little groups of men co-operatively working who would be able to make a good living. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well that co-operation is no new thing in the Irish agricultural industry. You have only to look at the creameries such as I have seen in Ireland lately with the best and most up-to-date machinery, working in the most admirable way, and with very great profit to the very large number of members from the surrounding districts. There is provision also that that sort of thing can be done under the provisions of this Act. Still further, there is a class, and a class which, I am advised, will probably be the biggest class of all, namely, those soldiers and sailors who, having had a country upbringing in their boyhood and knowledge of the country, as practically all Irishmen have, who will desire, while working at some town occupation, to have something up to, say, a couple, or even three, acres in the neighbourhood of their dwelling. That provision, I am led to believe, will provide for a larger number of men than can possibly be provided for under a system of even economic holdings. These, shortly, are the provisions of the Bill.
Dealing now in more detail with portions of the Bill, it provides, as I have said, first of all—and as the main point—with the soldiers and sailors who have become eligible to have advances made to them by the Estates Commissioners. When I say advances, I mean that they are not only advances for the purchase of the land, but that the land will have proper buildings put upon it, that it will be stocked, drained, fenced, and equipped in every way—while an annuity will be fixed exactly as to-day. Having regard to the economic value of the holding, it will probably be fixed at from sixty to seventy years. Then there is power to deal with land which belongs to the Congested Districts Board, after consultation with them, the reason for the latter, of course, is that by agreement with the four bodies the whole of the working of this scheme is put into the hands of the Estates 701 Commissioners. My hon. Friend opposite asks me the reason for Sub-clause (4) of Clause 1—that dealing with the resumption of any holding or part of a holding by the Land Commission on an estate purchased by them. Really, I think, if my hon. Friend considers he will find that all his worst fears about the clearing of any area of persons whom we were afraid would be a disturbing element are absolutely groundless. The object of that provision is this: It may very well be, and it is anticipated that men who have economic holdings of, say, 20 acres, near to the big towns will be quite willing to substitute such a holding for one further away from the town in order that it may be split into, say, eight, ten or twelve holdings, for men who live in the town. That, however, can only be done under the strictest restrictions, with full compensation, and on reasonable grounds. If my hon. Friend will consider a little and look at what the provision is, he will find that all his fears are absolutely groundless. I think that that probably is the only definite point with which I need deal in respect to the more minute details of the Bill.
The cost will be considerable. That is a matter which we had to face, and have faced, with the Imperial Treasury. Previous to the War the loss upon an economic holding was something like £200. It is very improbable that we shall be able really to make an economic holding without a loss, say, of something like £300. That on 3,000 to 4,000 holdings will come to something like £1,000,000. But I imagine that, however serious the loss may be considered, if in the provision of 3,000 to 4,000 holdings we are doing nothing but what is fair to a number of men who have fought for their country, it will be by no means too large a sum for the purpose, and I am quite sure the House, if they think of it, and if they are satisfied that this measure is really going to have the effect which I claim for it, will come to the conclusion that the money is well spent. I would remind the House that the loss will be spread over a large number of years. If the Bill fails in its object it would mean that the loss would not be incurred, at any rate so far as regards the soldiers and sailors. There is a provision by which purchases which would otherwise have been extended over a longer period may be expedited for the purposes of the Bill. That does not in the long run affect 702 the call upon the Imperial Exchequer; it simply means that they begin to lose the money a little sooner than otherwise would be the case. These, I think, are the main features of the Bill. It is not a difficult Bill. It is a simple Rill. It is simple for this very reason, that there is in existence in Ireland the necessary machinery and the necessary men for carrying out any proposals of this kind. All you have to do, therefore, is to extend the existing machinery and the existing powers so as to cover the people whom you wish to benefit. I know a great deal is being said about this being an impracticable measure and unworkable, that it is fraught with danger, and will be the creator of disturbance in Ireland. It may be impracticable in some respects, but I deny that it is unworkable, and I do say, on the authority of those responsible for the framing of this Bill, and those responsible for originating this measure, people who know all about the intricacies and ramifications of the Irish land question—those are the men responsible for this measure. They say it is neither unworkable nor impracticable, but, on the contrary, they strongly recommend it. With regard to the creating of disturbance, I have admitted that if it is unwisely administered there is a possibility that disturbance might be caused—
§ Mr. SHORTT
I think so; and if my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) gets his way he and his friends will have the working of this Act.
§ Mr. SHORTT
These gentlemen who know the working of it say it is not only practical, but they recommend it. They appreciate the difficulties, and they have faced them, and it is only by absolutely grotesque maladministration that the dangers foreshadowed can ever be realised. I ask the House to say that this is a measure which has been carefully considered by those who are best qualified to decide—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who are they?"]—it has been considered by the chosen representatives of four bodies who are dealing day after day with this very 703 subject. [An HON. MEMBER; "Who chose them?"] The intention and motive of the Act is one which appeals to everyone. Even my hon. Friends opposite, who are opposing this Bill, admit that what the Bill desires to do they would desire to do. Therefore all we have got to do is to make the House appreciate that these proposals are workable and that they will do good, and if they once appreciate that the House will accept this measure without going to a Division.
Those are the provisions. I have tried to deal with the points which I think require elucidation, and I ask the House now to say that this is a measure which, if it is practicable, is the due of those men who have fought for their country. If it is practicable, then it is the least we can do for those men. I ask the House to say that it is practicable, and I ask hon. Members to trust the judgment of the representatives of the great Irish Department consisting of Irishmen, and on the Congested Districts Board consisting of members of the same politics and the same religion as hon. Members opposite. They have approved of this measure and recommend it, and for these reasons I ask the House to accept it.
§ Mr. DILLON
If this were a Bill really designed, conceived, and brought in to reward the Irish soldiers who have volunteered and fought in this War I would approach its consideration in a wholly different spirit than that in which I do approach it. I want to point out, as has been already stated by my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment to the Second Reading, that the Irish soldiers who really fought in this War to the number of upwards of 170,000, I think, asked for no bribe, and accepted no bribe. They were not asked to volunteer for twenty acres of land or for £500, as the right hon. Gentleman correctly puts as the cost of these holdings. In the early days of this War, when Ireland was heart and soul in it, and when at the invitation of my late Leader the Member for Waterford, the Irish rushed to the Colours with more enthusiasm than the people of this country, they were not invited by a bribe. They were asked to fight for liberty, and the Irish have never refused to do that from the day our nation was born. The reason I am opposed to this Bill is that it is an unreal Bill It is window-dressing. It is unworkable, and I 704 can show, before I sit down, that of all the grotesque proposals introduced to deal with the eternal Irish question, this is one of the most grotesque.
The right hon. Gentleman made an appeal to these Benches to exhibit their confidence in the spirit of the administration and trust to the Irish administration. No, Sir, we never trust the Irish administration. We have had a long and bitter experience of Irish administration, and what we have found out is that when we did pass a good Act in this House, the administration of that Act destroyed it in Ireland and turned it into machinery of injustice. Therefore, to tell us at this time of day that if this Bill be defective, as it is defective in innumerable particulars, we can trust to the spirit in which it will be administered in Ireland to remedy these defects is simply adding insult to injury, and is making a mockery of the whole Debate. The right hon. Gentleman says that I and my colleagues will be in charge of the administration of this Act. He did not tell us when, and he has exercised the most extraordinary reticence on that subject not only in the present but in previous Sessions. He has always hinted that some great miracle was going to take place which would place us in charge of the administration of Ireland. I do not see any signs of it and he will pardon me if I am a little curious as to what lies behind that statement.
He went on to say, or rather he commenced by saying, that all the arguments against this measure were based on a total misapprehension, both of the Bill and the intentions of the Government. He said it was not a new matter, that it all took its origin from certain proceedings in the spring of 1917, and I think he went back even to 1916, when a Committee was appointed to inquire into this matter. That Committee never published their Report, and I remember that they sat in secret in Dublin. We heard certain mysterious rumours, and they made a Report which was never published and no action was taken upon it. Observe the implication in that. It is that this Committee reported in favour of a measure of this character, and declared that it would be quite easy to carry it out, and 170,000 gallant Irish soldiers have been fighting in the War, many of whom will never get any benefit under this Bill. It was not considered necessary then by the Government to make any provision as regards 705 Irish land to reward those men who went into the War without any bribery and simply for the love of liberty. They were not worth a Bill like this. The Government's conscience was untouched and their withers were unwrung. I venture to say, but for further recent developments, they never would have thought of passing this Bill. Nothing was done upon the Report of that Committee. No action was taken until last spring, when the Government found themselves in a mess, as they very often do in their dealings with Irish affairs, and did not know what the devil to do. They cast about, after they had plunged into this insane policy of applying Conscription to Ireland, to see what was to be done, and they hit upon this plan of making an appeal for 50,000 men.
I should like to read the wording of the Proclamation which the right hon. Gentleman hesitatingly quoted, because I contend that it clearly indicates what undoubtedly was the intention of the Government. They are now ashamed to defend that intention, because it is utterly indefensible, but unquestionably it was the intention of the Government—it was taken to be their intention by every newspaper in Ireland, and not only by every newspaper, but by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), when he ridiculed this proposal in the House on its first publication—that this reward should be limited to the men who responded to Lord French's appeal. That was the interpretation put upon it in Ireland, and there is no use the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head, because, whatever may have been in the mind of the Government, I am speaking of the facts. That was the interpretation put upon it by all the Press in Ireland, and it was not contradicted then. The wording of the Proclamation lends itself to the interpretation that this reward was to be confined to the men who responded to Lord French's appeal and who, in all human probability—thank God for it—will never be in the trenches and never see a shot fired. They are to be rewarded £500 a man, while the men who fought at Ypres and at Mons and at Gallipoli, and who won from Colonel Repington the famous and unwilling testimony that they were the bravest troops in the British Army, are to go unrewarded because they volunteered from patriotism and from love of liberty. The Government had got in a mess, and they thought that they 706 would get a certain number of recruits by offering a bribe. The other day I met a gallant British general, an Irishman, a distinguished man—I dare not give his name and I will not give it—who is a friend of mine, and he told me that he went to the Government and said, "If you want to get Irishmen and to have any chance of your voluntary recruiting campaign being a success, use neither bribes nor threats." They used both bribes and threats, and that is what has damned the recruiting campaign. You have men going about in Ireland—I heard them myself in the village in which I live in Mayo—telling the pepole, "Come in and join the Army. If you do not, you will be ignominiously dragged in." That is not the way to get Irishmen, and, if it were, the devil much use they would be to you when you had got them into the Army. They are built upon different lines. Neither by bribes nor by threats will you get them to come into the Army. You ought to have taken the advice of this general and have approached them upon totally different terms. You would then have got a few more. Here are the words of Clause 5 of the Proclamation:We recognise that men who come forward and fight for their Motherland are entitled to share in all their Motherland can offer. Steps are being taken to ensure, as far as possible, that land shall be available for men who have fought for their country.9.0 P.M.
That was put into the Proclamation as an inducement to men to respond to Lord French's invitation. "As far as possible." Does it not stand to reason if the men who were already in the fighting line and who had borne the burden of the War were to be accommodated with land, that there would be none left for Lord French's volunteers? How could there be? What did the right hon. Gentleman say himself just now? He looks forward, under this great and mighty measure for rewarding Irish soldiers, to accommodating 3,000, or possibly 4,000. I think he greatly overestimates the possibilities of the case. But suppose we take his own figure. What a superb proposal! He proposes to accommodate 3,000 or 4,000 men. Could there be imagined a more insane proposal? Surely if you are going to accommodate 3,000 or 4,000 discharged soldiers on holdings worth £500 a-piece at a cost of £1,000,000, those holdings must go to the men who survived Ypres and Mons! Surely they have the first claim! What, then, is to become of Lord French's 707 men who have been invited to join under this Proclamation? They will not come within 50,000 or 100,000 of those who get the land. I say that it is humanly impossible to give one single acre of land, even if this Bill is passed, to the men who are asked to come in by Lord French in response to the bribe. Does not that alone knock the bottom out of the whole proposal? The thing is a monstrous farce and a bit of window dressing. It is a farce so grotesque that I am amazed the right hon. Gentleman has the courage to go on with the Bill. Before entering upon the real merits of the proposal, I wanted to draw attention to the financial provisions. The right hon. Gentleman said that they had made a most careful estimate, and that they thought that from three to four thousand might be accommodated with economic holdings. From three to four thousand out of one hundred and fifty thousand! Suppose we put it at 100,000 soldiers who have survived, one hundred thousand of those who volunteered in Ireland. That takes no account of the Irish in Great Britain. From three to four thousand men out of those can be accommodated with land at a cost of £1,000,000. What about the English soldiers? Are you prepared to give £300 apiece to all the English soldiers, and, if not, why not? Are you going to set up in Ireland a privileged class of Irish soldiers who are to get £300 apiece, or £300 worth of land? What about the five million English soldiers and sailors who are to be discharged? Are they to have nothing to say in this matter? And if you propose to reward English soldiers—and how can you deny it?—on the same scale as those 3,000 selected—I do not know who on earth is going to select 3,000 Irish soldiers who are to get £300 or £400 apiece—how much does that amount to? £500 apiece for 5,000,000 discharged soldiers is £1,500,000,000. How can this House go to an English soldier and say to him that, because it suited the Government to get out of an Irish mess—and that is the only reason; they never would have dreamt of it if it had not been for the mess they got into—they are going to give 3,000 Irish soldiers £300 apiece and the English soldiers must do without any? The thing is grotesque, and, therefore, this proposal, if it is carried through, will involve an irresistible demand from the English soldiers for a burden on the country of £1,500,000,000. I do not see how 708 any Government could possibly resist that claim unless it was prepared to say that a few soldiers in Ireland are to be treated as a privileged class, while the great body of English soldiers are not.
Let me come to the question of the Report of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has evidently not looked into his case very well and was not aware whether this report, from which he quoted, had ever been published or not. I do not think it ever was. Rumours are prevalent in Dublin that the Committee was most unwilling to tackle this business. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if they were perfectly independent men who were called in without any indication of what the Government wanted them to do. They were called together to carry out the wishes of the Government, and they knew perfectly well what they were expected to say. At the same time, I do not think the Report, when it is published, will bear out the optimistic interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman put upon it. Was there not a separate Report from the Congested Districts Board? Has he ever heard of that? I am informed there was. When he puts that other Paper on the Table I should like also to have the Report of the Congested Districts Board. I think it will become apparent from the reports of these bodies, as well as from general information which is familiar to all of us, that this scheme, which is calculated to work the most grotesque injustice in view of the amount of results which are expected from it, will completely destroy the whole of the settlement of the land question which resulted from half-a-dozen land Bills and an agitation extending over forty years, and do an incredible amount to upset the whole of Ireland and to create centres of disturbance and ill-will throughout the whole of the country. Not at all because the soldiers are unpopular, not at all because of any desire to deny a fair reward to the soldiers for what they have done, but because you are raking up the dying embers of bitter controversies which have lasted for centuries. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman is too young a Member of the House to remember the historic speech made by Mr. Wyndham in introducing his great land settlement when he described the condition of the West of Ireland as the result of centuries of oppression and misgovernment. That speech described a condition of things which this House has been at work for 709 thirty years in endeavouring to remedy, and now in a light spirit the right hon. Gentleman proposes to throw a blazing torch into this powder magazine and to set the whole country on fire again, and for no good purpose. I ask him, when he is putting the Report of the Joint Committee on the Table, also to publish the separate Report of the Congested Districts Board on the same subject. I feel confident that the Board has reported that there is not an acre of land in the congested districts which can be spared without denying to the people those essential improvements and enlargements of their holdings which have been over and over again promised in Acts passed by this House and have been horribly delayed by faults of administration on the part of the Treasury and in Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman ridiculed the idea that the Bill would be used for any purpose except settling Irish soldiers upon the land in Ireland. As it stands it is open to settle any soldier, and I think you will find you will be up against a very unpleasant situation when you propose to introduce an Amendment excluding English soldiers, because that will raise the whole question of what is the parallel advantage which is provided for the English soldier as compared with the Irish. The right hon. Gentleman said a measure was passed for the English soldier, and the suggestion made in the course of the Debate was that a similar measure should be passed for Ireland. Is this anything like a similar measure? It is different in every particular. One of the main differences is that the English measure says that before any land is acquired for the settlement of these colonies of soldiers in England, two conditions should be fulfilled. First of all, the land should be acquired only by agreement, and secondly, it should be acquired only after consultation with the chairmen of county councils or the committee of the council. Will you put that into the Irish Bill, if you are going to have a similar measure?
There is another question to which the right hon. Gentleman gave a sentence or two in his speech, and that is the question of the Irishmen who enlisted in Great Britain, and who, I regret to say, have been shamefully overlooked and snubbed in the whole of this War. We have been taunted over and over again, and are taunted every day of our lives, and we are told that the Irish regiments now 710 serving at the front are no longer Irish, and that more than half of them are English and Scotch. That may be true. Owing to the operations of the War Office, it is quite possible it is true. But what about the English and Scottish regiments? What about the Northumberlands, what about Durham, the Lancashire and Yorkshire regiments, and the Highlanders, and even the Scottish Borderers? Some of these regiments are very nearly half Irish. Take my own Division. There is hardly a cottage that has not got someone serving in a British regiment. Undoubtedly we have been over and over again taunted that there are few volunteers from Mayo, but in every second or third cottage they have a man serving in a Lancashire, Northumberland, or Durham regiment. Take the Tyneside Irish. How many men joined there? Five thousand five hundred from Tyneside alone. Take the Liverpool Regiment, Manchester and all through the North. Are these men to be ruled out? They add to the 150,000, and swell that number enormously. My hon. Friend (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) tells me that upwards of 200,000 Irishmen have joined in Great-Britain, and I believe it to be true. Are they to come in for their share?
But there is another question and a much more vital question than the right hon. Gentleman imagines. In my Division of East Mayo there is not a single cottage from which there is not one, two, or three men fighting in the American Army. I spoke to a friend of mine the other day in East Mayo and he told me that he had five brothers fighting under the American flag—five from one house. Yet you tell us we are taking no part in this War. Are these men to be denied? They are children born of the soil of Mayo, and as anxious to get a holding on their own native soil as anyone else. Are they to be excluded because they are fighting under the Stars and Stripes and not under the Union Jack? You raise a very ugly question if you exclude them, and yet if you open the doors to the Irish who are fighting under the Stars and Stripes you bring in close upon another million. I should say a full million, because the estimate is that Irishmen compose 30 per cent. of the whole American Army and 40 per cent. of the Navy. Therefore, between the two you would bring in probably 1,500,000. I intend to move an Amendment to this Bill if it ever gets into Committee to open it to the men who are fighting under the 711 Stars and Stripes as freely as to those who are fighting under the Union Jack. Can you attempt to oppose that? What about the Australian Irish? What about the Irishmen from New Zealand and Canada?
§ Mr. DILLON
I know there are only 3,000 altogether, but are you going to shut them out? I intend to put that issue to the House. It is a grotesque proposal Now that that challenge has been made by the hon. and gallant Member, I am very glad to see him back in the House, and this is the first opportunity I have had of welcoming him—I would say what about the Ulster men?
§ Mr. DILLON
I should like to say a word of the Ulster men because the hon. Member has been out of action for some time. There is no land in Ulster. Are you going to bring the Ulstermen down to Connaught?
§ Mr. DILLON
We feel uneasy about it. We would like to welcome the Ulstermen into a united Ireland, but we do not quite like the idea while Ireland is still disunited of having them translated beyond the Shannon. You have no land in Ulster, therefore, under this precious Bill it is proposed either to boycott the Ulster Brigade or to make a new plantation in Ireland. I would say to the Chief Secretary that he had better be careful of the path he is treading. He is treading amongst the ashes of old fires which may burst out into very fierce flame again. Has he read the history of Ireland, and does he know the memories and associations which hang around the word "plantation?" When this Bill goes to Ireland to-morrow the people of Ireland, who are now, I regret to say, in a very morbid frame of mind, will see in it not the benevolent purposes which the right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to place before the House—our people are too quick to be deceived that way—but they will see that the Bill is quite unworkable, unless it is worked as machinery for the replanting of certain regions in Ireland. 712 The interpretation which the people in Ireland will place upon this Bill will be that it is not a Bill honestly intended to reward soldiers, but intended to be used as a political weapon to replant certain districts in the West of Ireland and to wreak vengeance upon men who have been bitterly opposed to the Government.
For these reasons I am wholly against this Bill. I am against it because it proposes to achieve, even on the showing of the Chief Secretary, preposterously small results at a grotesquely immense amount of expense. I am against it, because inevitably if it is put into operation, it would involve an amount of jealousy and quarrelling amongst soldiers which is contemplate, and because it would mean vast sums of money being granted to the soldiers which it would be impossible for the State to meet. My principle in regard to men who have fought so gallantly in this War is—and I cannot conceive how the Government can combat it—that there should be some general principle adopted, and that the State should be as generous as it can afford in rewarding these soldiers. There should be, say, a grant of a certain sum of money made to the soldiers. I think that is the best, and then let the men fend for themselves, the grant to be fenced with certain safeguards when the soldier is discharged from service. Whatever form of recompense or reward is decided upon on their return to civil life, all those who have equal service should have equal reward. If you are to take 3,000 or 4,000 men and put them upon a pinacle and give them £500, say, and tell the other men to go and shift for themselves, that is grotesque and absurd. This is not a sincere Bill. It is a Bill which will do incalculable evil in Ireland, and I think, therefore, that every man who desires the good of Ireland and who desires to give a just reward to the soldiers of the King ought to give it unbending opposition.
§ Captain CRAIG
It is very pleasant, after having spent two years in Germany, on my return to this House to find myself so soon mixed up in the mazes and intricacies of an Irish Land Bill. I have taken part in the discussion of a very considerable number of Land Bills in the fifteen years or so I have been in this House, but I have never taken part in the discussion of such an extraordinary Land Bill as we have before us to-night. The first indication that I had of this Bill was about six 713 months ago when I read in a German newspaper, or rather when someone read it to me, because I cannot read German, that every man in Ireland who joined up as a soldier was going to get a bit of land. As far as I can recollect after this lapse of time, my observation was "Good heavens, what is going to happen next?" It has been denied that this is in any way a bribe, or that it was ever intended in any way to be a bribe to Irishmen to join the Army. I was very glad to hear that, but when I heard of it from the "Frankfurter Zeitung" I looked upon it in that light. We are told to-night it is no such thing and we must accept the assurance of the Government in regard to that.
This is a very extraordinary Hill. When I came into the House to-day I was strongly opposed to the Bill, but I have been converted and the honour of that conversion lies entirely with the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I was opposed to the Bill during the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but when he came to that part in which he said that if the measure were passed into law large areas of unreclaimed land in Ireland would be reclaimed, I at once thought of the Bann and of the Suir, the Suck and the Barrow. As far as I could make out from the Chief Secretary, this Bill is going to provide £1,000,000. Irishmen in these hard times cannot refuse that offer, and therefore with the assurance that we are to get £1,000,000, and that it will require only about 1,000 little bits of land over there to be handed out to the soldiers, I think we are bound to accept the offer; and if the right hon. Gentleman tells us that the greater part of that £1,000,000 is going to be expended in the constituencies of hon. Members through which run the rivers Suck, Suir, Barrow, and Bann, then surely they too cannot refuse the offer!
I am bound to say, however, that in other respects this is one of the most ridiculous Bills I ever saw The hon. Member for Mayo has very properly pointed out that at the very best it is only going to benefit—if it can, indeed, be called a benefit—2,000 or 3,000 people out of the hundreds of thousands of Irish men who, coming not only from Ireland but from England and Canada, have taken part in this War. I cannot conceive what is the object of the Government in making any such proposal. I agree absolutely with the hon. Member for East Mayo that the proposal is bound to create 714 a great deal of discontent among the thousands of men who, much as they may desire it, will not be able to benefit by this Act, and, therefore, any advantage which may accrue to those who are fortunate enough to get a holding under the Bill will be neutralised entirely by the bitter agitation which will immediately arise among the tens of thousands of those who will not be able to get a holding. Still, if the Bill is going to drain the Bann for me, I will accept it.
§ Captain SHEEHAN
For my part I cordially approve the Bill, even although it may only benefit 3,000 or 4,000 of those Irish soldiers who have patriotically fought for their country and for the liberties of the world. It is a fair measure to be proposed in every sense of the word To my mind the man who has fought for the land has a first claim on the land. Under the Irish Land Acts as they stand there are thousands of men well qualified to work the land who have no opportunity of getting on to the un-tenanted land of the country. Therefore, I say any measure which will give these men an opportunity of getting on the land on the same terms as other men in the country is one which must have my cordial and hearty approval. We have heard a good deal to-day about this being a bribe. I confess I regret exceedingly that this question has been connected with the recent recruiting campaign, and that this generous offer should thus have been sullied. I have good reason to know, however, that this proposal was being considered by the Irish Government long before the recent recruiting campaign was thought of, and I myself put questions to the Chief Secretary's predecessor, who gave me an assurance across the floor of the House that Irish soldiers would be placed on a footing of equality as regards resettlement on the land as soldiers in this country.
This is to my mind an elementary principle of justice. If I find any fault whatever with the Bill it is because it does not go to the same extent as the similar Bill applicable to Great Britain. We have heard a great deal about the possibility of bitter controversies arising in the future; but I do not anticipate, if the Bill is worked reasonably and sensibly, that anything of that kind will occur. I cannot understand men telling me that they approve of the sacrifices of our Irish soldiers, and would be willing to reward them in every possible way, and then 715 coming down to this House and opposing a measure which will confer a benefit upon some thousands of the men who went out to fight for high and noble principles. I approve of the manner in which it is proposed to work the Bill by means of colonies, of small economic holdings whereon men who were comrades on the field of battle will have that comradeship and friendship perpetuated in the fields of effort and endeavour at home, and where they will work side by side in Ireland as they fought side by side in France. Let me say this, that anything you can confer on the men who went out to fight in the way of material benefit can in no sense reward the glory of their deeds or the nobility of their efforts. They gave their services voluntarily in the earlier years of the War; they were heroes every one of them, and to my mind it is a poor and paltry thing to try and deprive some at least of them of the chance of going on to the land of their country when they come back from the war. In my judgement every other claim should yield to the claim of the fighting man.
In so far as the soil of Ireland has been redeemed and saved it has been redeemed and saved by the 170,000 Irishmen who went out in the years 1914–15–16 and 17 to fight for their country. They preserved the soil of Ireland for the people, and when we are told they are not to get a rood of their native land because for some motive it does not suit some people to have a measure of this kind introduced into the House, I say I cannot understand such an attitude. I do know this, the soldiers want this measure. I got thousands of them to go out and fight with me and my family, and all sense, all reason and all gratitude must induce us to see that this measure is carried through into law in spite of whatever opposition may come from quarters behind me, inspired by a motive which I do not care to inquire into or to seek to understand. The test I would wish to see applied in giving this land is the test of priority and length of service. I do not want to see the men who came in in the recent recruiting campaign preferred to the men who went out in the earlier years of the war, and gave their services freely and voluntarily. They did not ask reward, but that is no reason why they should not get it. I for one hope that the reward will be given in full and generous measure, even more full and more generous than is proposed 716 under the provisions of this Bill. It is said that the Bill is unworkable. I know something of the Irish Land Acts. I had a great deal more to do with their operation than some who have been criticising this measure, and I know that it is a workable measure. I wish to give the Chief Secretary and the Irish Government every encouragement in a measure which I believe to be the merest justice to the men who have fought. I want this measure to become law and also to become operative. There is no use in saying that there is not sufficient land to go round. The land of Ireland maintained twice its present population at one period of Irish history, and there is no reason why it should not do so again. It can only do so by the creation of small economic holdings and by putting people on them. The men who have fought at the front will be able to work at home. I feel strongly on this matter. I want to see this measure enforced and to see this money available for useful purposes. The townsmen can work the land in Ireland. The English townsman is possibly a man who knows nothing about the land, but every townsman in Ireland works upon the land in harvest time. He understands land as well as the agricultural labourer. Therefore if these people want to settle in town give them an opporunity of having the three or four acres which they want, and of building better lives for themselves and let them realise that the Government do not forget their services.
I remember some of the difficulties which I had when I went voluntarily recruiting in Ireland. I was told in one place that the reason the labourers would not come along was that they were told that when the Germans came in they were going to get seventeen acres of land each, and they were waiting for the Germans to come in. That was the propaganda of falsehood. I want you to oppose to it the propaganda of fact by giving this land to as many soldiers as you can. Many may not want it, but great many more will want it and will be glad of the opportunity of going on the land. There is plenty of unfilled grazing land all through the country. I do not want the Chief Secretary or the Irish Government forcibly to take land from anybody. I think that unless there is a willingness to give over land it would be an injustice to take it, and I would not countenance the application of compulsion upon any person for the purpose of this Act. But there is plenty of land. If— 717 and it must come to this in the future in any case—you take over land from the men who do not till it properly, there are vast opportunities for land reclamation in Ireland. I heard a great deal of laughter when the Chief Secretary referred to the reclamation of waste lands under this Bill, but it can be done. It only requires the money and the authority to do it. I deny that you do injustice to anybody by passing this Bill. A greater injustice, in my view, would be to forget and neglect the men who fought for liberty and justice when the foundations of the world were shaken. Settle these men on the land. Make provision for doing it properly. Stock their holdings; provide them with suitable appurtenances; let them have opportunity for co-operation—as the Chief Secretary remarked, the Irish people understand co-operation—and you will be discharging your obligation of duty and honour to the men who fought for you, but you will not be doing one-tenth part of what these men deserve.
§ Mr. FITZGIBBON
I am in a difficulty in approaching the discussion of a question of this kind in a House, the vast majority of whom know little or nothing of any Irish question. There are so many phases of this question that it is very hard to know where exactly to begin. I am as anxious as the Member for Mid-Cork (Captain Sheehan) that the Irish soldiers who went to fight for liberty should receive an adequate reward, but I am very conversant with the many difficulties that would beset a measure of this kind. To start with, I object entirely to the machinery. The Estates Commissioners are the body to be entrusted with the administration of this measure. I do not know why they were selected, except for the purpose of just doing as they are told. I am a member of the Congested Districts Board, and it is certainly news for me to hear that that Board took part in the recommendation that the Estates Commissioners should be the body to administer this Act. I have some experience of the Estates Commissioners. I was a very short time a member of the Congested Districts Board when the Board had acquired a very large farm in the county of Roscommon, on the Lord Crofton estate. They were approached by the Estates Commissioners with a request to surrender that farm for the purpose of relieving congestion. The Estates Commissioners had been dealing 718 with Lord Crofton's estate, and on that estate there exist a number of uneconomic holdings. When that proposal came before the Board I was present, and on a decision being taken, every man of the Board came to the conclusion that the tenants on Lord Crofton's estate were the men that were going to be relieved by the giving up of that farm. The Estates Commissioners gave to a largo grazier this particular farm, and transferred them to another farm where there was some trouble, thus creating fresh trouble in the county of Roscommon.
Naturally the people said that Lord Crofton's tenants were not relieved, and they are unrelieved up to this date. The Congested Districts Board found it was plainly sold by the Estates Commissioners, who had created trouble in Roscommon, without consulting in any manner the Congested Districts Board as to the disposal of that farm, which was distinctly given for the purpose of relieving congestion. A body capable of doing such mischief is one in which I have no confidence. They will come into the congested areas, and they will cause mischief far greater than that which took place at Ballybeg, near Tulsk, in the county of Roscommon. This is a very big question, much larger than the Chief Secretary for Ireland has tried to make the House believe. I respectfully draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the Report of the Dudley Commission, which stated that in order to relieve congestion in the particular areas that were afterwards scheduled, it would be necessary that these holdings should be broken; that, in point of fact, land where it was purchased through the Estates Commissioners, wherever it was non-residential, was necessary for relieving congestion. This House, of course, has to pass a measure that will be acceptable to the House of Lords, and these provisions were left out, with the consequence that the congested districts are now left with not at all sufficient land to go round, and if any encroachment is made it will simply be cutting the joint smaller, and depriving of land other soldiers whom we must look to from the Irish point of view—that is, the soldiers of the land war, the men who brought about land reform in Ireland, and these men, like all soldiers of the people, are very often the last men rewarded for their victory. These men were left to the administration of the Act of 1903, which was badly administered, because, instead of applying the remedy 719 to the sore part of the body, the remedy—that is, the funds, that should have gone in the first instance to relieve these people—were eaten up by the purchase of such estates as that of the Duke of Leinster, which, if left for thirty years unpurchased, would not have at all affected the condition of Ireland.
I do not know whether the Chief Secretary is really eager in the prosecution of this Bill—whether he intends to go on with it. It certainly is one calculated not to promote order in Ireland. When faced with the condition of congestion in the West, I wonder if Members of this House realise what it means. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, like many other Chief Secretaries, has been paying flying visits to Ireland, and he comes to this House, I am sure, feeling that he knows Ireland better than any of us. I am sure he is a man of good intentions, and I will not here mention the term which O'Connell used respecting Chief Secretaries sent to Ireland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do!"] I will. O'Connell termed them "shave beggars" when they were sent to Ireland. How was congestion created in Ireland? It was simply by driving people from fertile plains into bogs and mountains. The people had to squat, and rather than go into the workhouse they built mud cabins. In one case a man obtained 10 or 12 acres of land from a landlord who was possessed of an amount of bog or heather. These acres were reclaimed, and then the landlord raised the rent according as the tenant improved the land. That particular tenant who had this 10 or 12 acres, rather than see his children emigrate—for at that particular time emigration of the Irish people to America and elsewhere was very uncertain, and it took three or four months to reach the shores of America—divided his bog-holding among his children. That was done in many instances among the people intending to emigrate, but owing to the uncertainties the tenants divided their bog-holdings. In this way, in the West of Ireland to-day, there are thousands upon thousands of this class of tenant that the. Congested Districts Board has not yet been able to reach. The country, no doubt, has been transformed through the operations of the Board, but only the fringe of the question has been touched, and no matter how quickly the operations of the Board went on, supposing it had not been interfered with by this unfortunate war, it would have 720 taken them at least twenty years to have resettled that country in anything like a manner that would lead to the happiness and prosperity of these people. They have been living in hopes that when this War was over this land would be available, and how the Congested Districts Board is brought into this measure or mentioned at all I cannot understand, well knowing the difficulties that the Board have to provide anything like economic holdings to a number of people. I wish to remind the Chief Secretary that there is land in Ireland which you cannot compulsorily acquire, because the Estates Commissioners do not possess those compulsory powers in their province which the Congested Districts Board have in Con-naught or the other congested areas. There is no effort made to take up any of those lands, and you simply deal with the two bodies over whom you have control, namely, the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners. You propose to take from them what should belong to a class of tenants for whom this House passed measures of relief in 1003 and 1909.
You introduce into your measure the problem of reclaiming land. It is the Estates Commissioners who are to carry out that, and what machinery have they for the purpose? I could understand if the Congested Districts Board was asked to carry out measures of reclamation of land in their areas with the staff that they have, and I could understand if you proposed that such reclaimed lands should be placed at the disposal of men who fought in the War. I may say candidly, and I am sure in his heart the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, that this matter of the reclamation of lands is one which will be left for the Irish Parliament to deal with whenever it meets. There will never be as much as a sluice put up to help the drainage of a single one of the rivers mentioned by the hon. Member for West Antrim. That proposal is simply an adornment to the Bill and put there in order to appeal to the men who are anxious to have those rivers drained. But there is nothing to go to show that any serious step will be taken in that direction, because what you propose in this Bill simply indicates that there is not the slightest idea or intention on the part of the Government to carry out that reclamation. You mention the sum of £1,000,000, but how many millions would it take to carry out the drainage of those 721 rivers or the reclamation of those lands? If such a measure were brought in and soldiers were to get employment for the reclamation of their own holdings, it would be quite a different thing, but to interfere with land that has been specifically set apart for a particular purpose, I declare to-night, as a man who knows intimately the conditions of the country, a more mischievous thing you could not do, and you could not introduce or pass a measure more calculated to disturb Ireland than this measure should it become law.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. O'MALLEY
We were all very pleased on these benches, and I am sure the whole House equally so, at the presence amongst us of the hon. and gallant Member for West Antrim (Captain Craig). I would like to congratulate him upon his safe return from Germany and also upon the admirable and interesting speech which he delivered. The Chief Secretary in his speech to-night presented this Bill in the most agreeable possible manner, but I am sorry to say that his speech was not convincing. When the proposals embodied in this Bill were first put forward by the Government it was apparent, I think, to everybody that they were put forward as a bribe to young Irishmen to join the Army. They were proposals to counteract the No-Conscription organisation and agitation in Ireland, an organisation that practically embraced the whole country. It was in that spirit that this scheme was conceived, and I am afraid it is in that spirit that this Bill is now before the House. It certainly was not, in my opinion, conceived with the object of rewarding those Irishmen who voluntarily joined the Army in the early stages of the War. Those men joined from a spirit of patriotism, and because of their loyalty to Ireland and their late Leader. Many of those brave men are now beyond any earthly reward. The only reward those men looked forward to was the freedom of their country, the freedom of Belgium, the freedom of France and Serbia, and the safety and security of the British Empire, an Empire in which they felt that they had an honourable part when the Home Rule Bill found its way to the Statute Book. They went out to free the world from a hideous tyranny. They were men who hated tyranny, whether practised at home or abroad. Many of those patriotic sons of Ireland, as I have said, are dead and beyond relief, 722 those of them who do survive certainly deserve all the consideration and all the relief you can bestow upon them. The heroism, the sacrifices of those voluntary soldiers will be remembered in Ireland and by the Irish race when the criminal follies and antics of Sinn Fein will be forgotten in the charity of silence. We on these benches, the representatives of Ireland, of the Ireland of Parnell, Davitt, and Redmond hold those voluntary Irish soldiers in the highest esteem and admiration, and we should much like to Bee them receive some reward for their bravery and their patriotism. The best reward you could offer to them would be to allow them to live in a self-governed Ireland. They never expected any other reward than that, but that is a form of reward which apparently the Government of this country is not prepared to give them.
Your policy during the last three or four years has been such that these soldiers and their countrymen are compelled to look across the Atlantic to the great liberty-loving people of the United States and to their great President, now gloriously fighting the great battle for human liberty. It is to America and the American President that Ireland has to look for that freedom which you profess to secure by this War for all small nations except the small nation at your own door. We have no choice but to look to President Wilson and his people for a proper reward for our Irish soldiers, and this Bill is really an insult to Ireland and her soldiers. We in this House and in our constituencies have been striving for many long years to secure the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland. To a large extent we have succeeded, but a great deal more remains to be done. What do you do by this extraordinary Bill? By it you propose to do it by robbing Peter to pay Paul, for that is in reality what it amounts to. You rob these poor tenants in the West of Ireland, in the congested areas, of that untenanted land that has been promised to them, and which your Congested Districts Board was set up to accomplish. Now this very Board, through the Estates Commissioners, and by the assistance of the Lord Lieutenant, is called upon to hand over these lands to soldiers and sailors, no matter what part of the country these soldiers and sailors may come from. It is a monstrous proposition, and it is a cruel proposition. It is cruel to the tenants and cruel to the soldiers, who, as 723 I have said, never expected to be rewarded for their patriotism at the expense of their own poor fellow-countrymen. This is a mean Bill. I do not hesitate to call it a shabby Bill, a fraudulent Bill, and I hope to see it defeated. Should it by any chance become law and be put into operation you will have the whole of Ireland, and certainly the whole of the people in these congested districts, up in arms against it. If you want to make the state of Ireland worse than it is now—and that is bad enough—you could have gone no better way about it than by passing this Bill and enforcing at the bayonet's point its provisions. Judging by your recent Irish policy, it certainly looks as if that were your object, rather than any genuine consideration for the Irish soldiers and sailors. I hope there is commonsense and justice enough in this House to reject this apple of discord that the Government wants to force down the throats of the Irish people. I heartily support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Galway, and I hope the Chief Secretary before this Debate closes will come to the conclusion that the wisest policy for him is to withdraw this Bill.
§ Mr. FARRELL
I wish to say a few words on the proposals contained in this Bill, and I wish to do so for two reasons—first, because of the effect it will undoubtedly have on the country as a whole, and secondly, if it is applied in my county it will destroy any chance which the people of that county have of obtaining even a modicum of the small portions of untenanted land in the county. Since Mr. Wyndham introduced his Land Purchase Bill in 1903, which contained the promise of the sub-division of this untenanted land in counties such as Longford amongst the people, I have been agitating in this House for that to be done, and with very little result. Every obstacle which officialism, whether landlord officialism, or estate commission officialism, could put in our way has from time to time been placed in our way to prevent us getting hold of these lands, and in the meantime large numbers of people who have had to eke out a miserable existence on the mountain side or in the bog have been expecting relief owing to the promises of British Chief Secretaries in this House. I say that both from the point of view of the soldiers who are to be benefited by the Act, if it becomes an Act, and of the civil population of Ireland, this Bill 724 is a huge mistake on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. I think the true test to apply in search of the benefits which it proposes to confer is to examine the figures. When the right hon. Gentleman was challenged as to the nationality of the soldiers who would be, so to speak, repatriated under this Bill, he said they would all be Irish and that no other nationality would benefit under the Bill. Let us examine how that will work out.
Of course it has been the custom and the practice of the enemies of the Irish National Party in this House and out of it to assert that there are fewer Irish soldiers in the War than any other nationality within the Empire. We, of course, dispute that. We say that, pro rata, we have a larger representation in the fighting line than any of the other races. If you take the Irishmen at home from Ireland you admit that there are 170,000. If you take the Irish from Great Britain there are at least 200,000; but if you go across the seas, to Canada, Australia, and the United States, and examine the present American army, which has turned the flank of the enemy for you, and which has turned defeat into victory for you, if you scan the lists of casualties in the American army, you will find that the vast majority are of Irish birth and descent, and that many of them emigrated directly from Ireland to America before joining the American army. If the test, therefore, of all Irish benefiting under this Bill is applied, you will have at least a million of Irishmen to provide for under this Act. Where is the right hon. Gentleman going to get land in Ireland to do that? [An HON. MEMBER: "He said three thousand!"] Oh, yes, that is what he said—that is the camouflage by which this Bill is to pass through this House. I notice the right hon. Gentleman did not answer the Member for Galway when he asked for the figures. He spoke of 3,000 men as being the possible limit. These were the men who were to be near the towns, who were to get allotments near the towns. Do I understand that 3,000 is the total number which he estimates to benefit under this Bill; and, if it is, what is the result? What becomes of all the others, to give the limit as 370,000 Irishmen in the British Army as from Ireland and Great Britain? What becomes of the 367,000 to whom you give no holdings, no reward of this kind? From that view 725 alone the Bill is utterly ridiculous and unworkable. Then the question is, How are they to be selected? Is it to be for services rendered? Are you to institute examinations to prove that one man is better entitled to a share than another? Are you selecting them because they are members of the Ulster Division, or members of the Irish Division? Are you selecting them because they responded to Lord French's appeal, and excluding men who fought from Mons down to the present time?
The more the right hon. Gentleman goes into this question the more difficult he will find it, not alone as regards the soldiers, but the country. The right hon. Gentleman has not been Chief Secretary six months, not more than a year anyhow—five months the Member for Galway says. In those five months I do not know how many times he has visited Ireland, but at all events it is clear that for his knowledge of Ireland has must depend on the permanent officials of Dublin Castle. He is not in touch with popular sentiment in Ireland; he is not in touch, but is cutting himself off from knowledge of men who know the country, who have been born and reared and lived all their lives in it, and know it, with all respect, better than he can get his information from the permanent officials. Yet in five months he believes he has got as much information as would enable him to pilot through this House a measure which will tear up all the land settlements of forty years, from the Decies Act of 1870 down to the last Land Purchase Act passed in this House. Is he aware of the tremendous feeling that exists amongst Irish tenant farmers, of the intense love they have—greed you may call it if you like, avarice or land hunger—is he aware of that terrible feeling there is for the untenanted land of the country, and does he seriously think that it is going to make for law or order, or comradeship, or any spirit of friendliness to cast aside the claims of these poor men who have been looking on these untenanted lands for years, who have been taught by Chief Secretaries on that Bench by their speeches that sooner or later they would come into possession of this land, and then will see themselves ousted in favour of men against who personally we have no feeling whatever, but say they should not be rewarded at the expense of their own poor fellow countrymen?
726 We were engaged this afternoon in discussing a Pension Bill of some sort, in which I was rather surprised to hear the Pensions Minister, who, at all events, poor man, is doing his best for everybody, ridiculed and attacked by Conservative Members, and Liberal Members, and I think some Labour Members for his shortcomings in supplying pensions to everybody who has suffered as a result of this War. The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, is doing his best for all classes, but he is limited in his efforts to relieve the soldiers and sailors who have suffered in this War. Why? For want of money. It is a question again of the Treasury, I suppose. Why should a State, for whose protection and safety these soldiers have fought and bled, cast their sufferings and their wants as an apple of discord amongst a poorer class of the population than any you have in Great Britain? The uneconomic Irish tenant farmer is, or was up to recently, the very poorest class in the whole community. I have often heard the hon. Member for Cork, in his speeches on Land Bills in this House, say that he used to hear the late Mr. Joseph Biggar say that farming was the poorest business in the land. These men, who were driven to eke out an existence with small holdings on bad land, I assert are the very poorest of the population in the three Kingdoms, and yet it is against them that you make your soldiers and sailors, so to speak, a competing force, instead of providing generously for those soldiers and sailors out of public funds, and seeing that whatever they are entitled to they should get, not as a compliment but as a matter of right.
If this Bill is proceeded with—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late hour, will listen to a little advice on the subject—and if this Bill is carried out and its application handed over to the Estates Commissioners, you may look out for more trouble in Ireland, and a great deal worse trouble than you have had up to the present. You will disappoint a large area of the population whose feelings have been aroused by promises made in this House—the evicted tenants on the roadside in the mud hovels of the country. All their sufferings and waitings for relief will be cast aside in order, as the hon. Member for Mayo said, that you may get out of the mess which you have created for yourselves by your present recruiting policy in Ireland. I should like the Attorney-General, if he replies, to tell us 727 who composed this precious Commission which reported so confidently to the Chief Secretary. Was Sir Henry Robinson, the Vice-President of the Local Government Board in Ireland, a member of the Commission I Was Sir Frederick Wrench a member? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned four bodies—the Local Government Board, the Estates Commissioners, the Board of Agriculture and the Congested Districts Board. Now who are the other two members? Was the right hon. Member for Tyrone consulted in this matter? As Chief Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman, I believe, is chairman of the Congested Districts Board. Was the vice-chairman, or who was the member of the Congested Districts Board who was the fourth member of this Committee? Does the right hon. Gentleman know that Sir Frederick Wrench has always been looked upon as an enemy of the Irish tenant farmers? And what claim has Sir Henry Robinson, if he was the other member—I do not say he was—but if so, what claim has he to enable him to be a good judge of the settlement of the Irish land question?
I think the whole thing, so far as it has gone—so far as we know at present, at all events—is surrounded with that doubt and suspicion which attach, and have always attached, to the machinery of Dublin Castle. There is one failing which the right hon. Gentleman has shown in one little matter. It is a failing in his character which is rather a bad one. The more he is advised the more obstinate he is. I had a short interview with him on the question of the coal supply. The right hon. Gentleman then seemed to have got hold of the wrong end of the story, but he stuck to it, and has given us no relief since. Neither I nor any of my colleagues desire to stand up here to injure any reward or prospect of reward to any Irish soldier or sailor who has fought at the front. We are quite as anxious to see them properly rewarded as is any hon. Gentleman above the Gangway or on the other side of the House. But you ought not to reward them at the expense of their poorer countrymen; or, as you are doing by this Bill, set them up as competitors or opponents for the clearings of their fellow-countrymen. For my part, I most earnestly again appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to reconsider what will be the effect of 728 this Bill if passed! First of all, you cannot justify it on the ground of doing any practical good to the soldiers. Consider 3,000 out of 270,000, that is much too small a percentage to justify the passing of such a Bill. Secondly, you ought not at the present time to make the sufferings of the soldiers to compete with the sufferings of the poorer classes of the community. For these and for many other reasons, which I will not detain the House to enumerate, I strongly support the reasoned Amendment of my hon. Friend. He has, I think, justified his claim that this Bill should not be proceeded with; that it is ill-considered; that it has not the support of any considerable section, or indeed any section, of Irish opinion even in this House. The hon. Member for South Antrim must have given the Chief Secretary a cold douche when he described the Bill as a ridiculous measure. We also consider it a ridiculous measure, and at the same time a mischevious measure. From that point of view we oppose the Second Reading, and if persisted in by the right hon. and learned Gentleman we will take all the steps we can under the forms of the House so to remodel this measure in Committee as to limit the tremendous injustice which it proposes to inflict on the poorest classes of the community, whilst at the same time wishing, if it has to have any effect at all, it will have some more general application than is intended by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. HARBISON
I do not think I would have joined in this Debate to-night, but for the speech that we have heard from my brother Ulsterman, the hon. and gallant Member (Captain C. Craig) who has just returned from Germany. That speech has given one a gleam of hope that this unfortunate and misconceived measure may proceed no further in this House. I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for South Antrim on his return from Germany. I hope we shall all have as safe a return to Ireland. We are living in a time when self-determination seems to be the rule, or is going to be the rule, for all nationalities. We here to-night in this House have made our claim complete for self-determination on the question of allotting lands in Ireland to the soldiers who have been fighting the battle of Ireland on the Continent, and I 729 hope that the Chief Secretary will allow us to determine in what manner we shall reward our fellow countrymen who have gone out not only to fight the battle of Ireland, but to fight the battle of justice the world over. I do not wish to go into the details of this Bill, and I only wish to object to it on one ground, and that it is a ground against which there can be very little argument. According to the proposals of this Bill, certain lands in Ireland are to be allocated to these soldiers and sailors, and what are those lands? They are vested at present either in the Congested Districts Board or in the Land Commission. Have those responsible for the framing of this Bill forgotten, or have they ever learned the history of the land question in Ireland? There are Members of this House sitting around me who have been in this fight for the repatriation of Ireland for over forty years, and one of the results of that fight has been that certain Acts of Parliament have been passed, beginning with the Land Act of 1870 and followed by other Acts in 1881, 1885, 1903, 1909 and others, and under these Acts certain lands have been vested in Commissions set up by this Parliament, and those Commissions have been appointed as trustees to hold those lands, for whom? Not for the 'soldiers of the War of 1914–18, but for the men who were driven out of the lands that justly belonged to them into the bogs and mountains, and in equity and justice those men who were driven out, or their descendants—I speak to the right hon. Gentleman as a lawyer—those men have a first charge upon these lands. That is the point I wish to make in this Debate, and I trust it will not be considered blasphemy in this House to say that I think this Bill as presented to the House is ultra vires, and that this House has no power in equity, law, or justice to alienate that land from the men to whom this Parliament decreed that that land should be given.
There is just one other view of this case that I would like to take and to impress upon the House. I have not been long in this House, and I hope my stay will not be much longer—I hope another Act of Parliament will send me across the Irish seas—but one of the many revelations made to me since I came is the fact that when one of the most vital matters concerning the county I represent is being discussed it is discussed with almost empty Benches, so far as the English Members are concerned. It may appear a trivial 730 matter to the Members of this House, but I can assure them that in the immediate future it will not be a trivial matter. The doctrine of self-determination is about to have effect, and in order to have self-determination on this question there must be peace in Ireland. This Bill is about to raise another hell in Ireland. As an Irishman and as the representative of a constituency containing thousands and tens of thousands of families who were driven into the bogs and fastnesses of Tyrone, I say that these men have a first claim upon the few acres of land that the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board have in their disposition at the present time. When I say that I do not say that the noble men who have gone out to fight our battles should not be rewarded. I say that they should be rewarded, but not with a few paltry, poor acres of land which they are not qualified to occupy or to put to its best use. I know the land of my county, and I know that ton, fifteen or twenty acres will not support a man and his family. I do not want to see the men who risked their all in our defence sentenced to such a fate as to have to eke out a precarious existence upon a few miserable acres of land. I think I am not going beyond my brief when I say that I have the authority of the people I represent to my nation for saying that we wish to treat these men honourably, justly, sensibly, and, if you like, generously. Let each man of us bear the burden, and let these men be treated as they ought to be treated, both Englishmen and Irishmen. Let them all be put upon one level, and let this miserable, paltry Bill, which does not deal even with the fringe of the question, die. Let it be forgotten as a misconception. It is not worthy of this nation. It is not worthy of this great Empire. I ask this House not to create a further difficulty in Ireland—and by passing this Bill you are doing so—because in creating that difficulty you are making it hard for us and you are making it harder for yourselves. There will be a peace after this War and there must be peace the world over, because the great democracies of the world have said there must be peace and self-determination and you cannot begin reconstruction if you have a rotten brick in the centre of the bridge. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to persist in this fatuous attempt. I give him credit for the best intentions, but he is plunging Ireland into a sea of difficulties and in doing so he is not lessening the difficulties of England.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Arthur Samuels)
I am glad that at any rate there is one subject on which we are all agreed in representing Ireland this evening and that is in the admiration for the gallantry of the Irish soldiers who have fought in this War, from wherever they have come—from every part of Ireland, from every part of England and Scotland, from the Antipodes, and from the great Republic across the Atlantic. I wish we were agreed also in the attempt that we make, as a small portion of greater schemes of reconstruction I hope, to give some reward and some recognition of their splendid valour and sacrifice. Unworthy motives have been attributed to the Government in bringing forward this Bill. It has been called a bribe and it has been called a Bill without reality. Before my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Charles Craig), whom it is a pleasure for all the House to hear once again, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Sheehan) fought together in the battles, in which the valour of the Irish soldiers will ever be immortalised, on the Somme, the lines of this Bill had been thought out and its intentions had begun to take shape. From the Ulster Benches and from the benches on the other side the Government were pressed to bring forward a Bill which would recognise the rights of the gallant men of Ireland to some similar advantages to those which were being extended to English soldiers in the way of the allotment of land. It was promised by the late Chief Secretary. It was promised with concurrence, as we understood it, from all sides on the Irish Benches. There is one thing to be said, at any rate, and that is that from no single Member for England or Scotland was any suggestion made against recognising the services of these men who so gallantly volunteered and fought. The object of the Bill as far as it stands is to provide that those who have fought for the freedom of Ireland will get a freehold in Ireland, and these men will be the forbears of a gallant progeny in time to come.
Who are the men for whom this Bill is designed? We have heard about the poor, desolate peasantry in Ireland who are to be robbed of the benefits that they were to expect under a long series of Land Acts. Who are the men we expect to come in under the benefits of this Bill? The very sons of this peasantry—the very 732 sons of these tenant farmers. The hon. and gallant Member for Mid-Cork (Captain Sheehan), who pressed this upon the Government, has told the House that he has been appealed to, is a soldier who speaks for soldiers in Ireland, and I am sure that in his views he is representing the real feeling of the Irish people in this Debate. The mass of men whom we expect to come in and look for land will be men who are the sons of labourers and the sons of tenant farmers, and who under the existing Land Acts cannot get any benefit. Where is the land to come from? There seems to have been a great amount of misapprehension. There is a certain amount of land—but that will not be touched—at present in the hands of the Land Commission. There is other land in the hands of the Congested Districts Board. There are numbers of people who have claims already on that, and there are other people who have not claims on it. The very families of these men will welcome the idea that a second son or a third son may get a little bit of land in his own native land. There is other land. We have been generously offered by landlords, who have demesnes and other property in their hands, land for this purpose which possibly, under other circumstances, would not have been made available. They are going to put this land at our disposal. There will not be a want of that patriotism which has distinguished the Irish landlords and the Irish squirearchy in this War, and if they can help the soldier peasantry they will gladly do so.
§ Mr. SAMUELS
They are going to put it at the disposal of the Government for this purpose, and the hon. Member knows perfectly well the circumstances under which estates are purchased in Ireland. How is it going to be carried out? It will be carried out by the existing machinery, and in dealing with this matter we in Ireland are in a far better position than England would be in trying to deal with a similar problem. Every Clause of this Bill, from beginning to end, has proved to be workable, and we are going to see that it is worked. Who are the people who are to work it? The Irish Land Commission. It is a very common thing for every official in Ireland—no matter how hard he is worked—to be abused. But, after all, a great deal 733 has been achieved by the efforts of officials and experts in carrying into effect the policy of the Land Acts from the time the first was placed on the Statute Book. We are under a very great debt to the permanent officials in the Land Commission, the Congested Districts Board, and Agricultural Department, for their work in the administration of these Acts. There is one Clause of this Bill which has been spoken of as a novelty—the Clause relating to co-operation. But co-operation is no novelty in Ireland; it is understood by the farmers and the labourers, and we hope to bring it into vigorous operation under this scheme. There has been a good deal of misapprehension regarding the number of soldiers we hope will get the benefit of this proposal. Of course we never anticipated we could thus help the 170,000 soldiers who have come from Ireland. But we are going to try and help some of them. The hon. Member for Mid-Cork urged the claims of priority and length of service. I may remind him that the late Chief Secretary promised that priority of application and length of service would not be forgotten. It has been said that this Bill is intended as a bribe. It is not, but it is intended to enable gallant men from a gallant land who have gone to fight their country's battles to come back and live in their own land and carry on the traditions of their race. We intend to press this Bill. We hope to get the Second Reading to-night, and I wish it were possible for hon. Members opposite to reconsider their position and accept the Bill, and to throw themselves heart and soul into the commencement of this work of reconstruction. This country has large Colonial possessions, and if we cannot satisfy the claims of men for land at home may it not be possible to find holdings for them in other lands where they may enjoy prosperity among those who have helped with them to link more closely together every part of the Empire. As regards the finance of this measure, we have been handsomely met by the Treasury. We hope these men will get not merely the holdings, but that they will be well stocked. It was done in the case of the evicted tenants. Why should it not be done in this case?
§ Mr. SAMUELS
May I say that when this Bill is in Committee this point will be 734 more fully developed. There is no question but that we have been met generously.
§ Mr. SAMUELS
With regard to the suggestion as to the evicted tenants, all the evicted tenants have been dealt with—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"
§ Mr. SAMUELS
All the evicted tenants who were qualified under the Act have been dealt with. The Act expired on 31st December, 1912, and all the evicted tenants have been dealt with, except about 300, whose turn is to come on.
§ Mr. SAMUELS
This will be seen from the OFFICIAL REPORT. However, the House is now in possession of the Bill. It is a Bill which is meant as a measure of reconstruction. It is not as large a measure as it would be if we had a larger Ireland, but we do hope that Members on all sides in Ireland who express such admiration for the gallantry of these Irishmen, and who profess anxiety to assist them, will help us to work this Bill through Committee and to put it into operation.
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
I am loth to inflict my voice on the House at this late hour. If I may mention a personal matter, I am just recovering from a very prevalent disease. It affects my voice and I should be very loth to inflict myself on the House if it were not a solemn occasion. The speeches delivered to-night have been of the most serious character, and if I were able to make a speech it should be of a very serious character, because I represent a county that is composed of very various elements. In the district of Kildare, that I represent, there are vast tracts of land suitable for the settlement of soldiers or any other people who would engage in agriculture. There is also in my Constituency a vast amount of bog land. The great Bog of Allen takes its rise in ray Constituency and flows, if I may use the expression, into three or four counties adjacent, and on the borders of these bog-lands, and in the bogs themselves, are numbers of people who are eager to get more land than they at present possess. I represent the richest districts of Ireland, 735 from where you get your food in abundance in the shape of cattle that grow and flourish on the land and become fit for the butchers' knife upon the soil of the land without the aid of any artificial feeding whatever. I also represent poor land, as I have said. With regard to soldiers, I have a tender chord in my heart, because on the borders of that bog there were men who were recruited to the fighting ranks of the Army, and there were men who—
§ It being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.