HC Deb 25 November 1919 vol 121 cc1751-6

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That for carrying out the provisions of any Act of the present Session to facilitate the provision of land in Ireland for men who have served in the Naval, Military, and Air Forces of the Crown in the present War, it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament—

  1. (a) of the Expenses of the Land Commission in managing, letting, and improving land, and of the deficiences on resales of land by the Land Commission;
  2. (b) of the Expenses of the Local Government Board for Ireland in the provision of cottages, plots, and gardens for ex-Service men; and
  3. (c) of the Expenses of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland for the purpose of promoting co-operation."—[Mr. Denis Henry.]


Might I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he can give the House some explanation of this Resolution?


This is a Resolution providing for the expenses in connection with a Bill for the provision of land for soldiers and sailors in Ireland. The principle of that Bill is to provide two classes of holdings for soldiers and sailors in Ireland. In the one case the holdings are of ten to twelve acres, in certain districts where it is possible to acquire that quantity of land. There are other portions of Ireland where the holdings, which are already occupied by tenants, are small holdings, probably not exceeding fifty acres in extent. In the case of those districts the Bill is to provide small holdings of about two acres, with a cottage, for soldiers and sailors. So far as the first class of holding is concerned, it is proposed to put into force the provisions of the Land Purchase Act, which has already been recognised by a long series of legislation in this House, and to enable the Land Commission to acquire and sell to ex-soldiers and sailors these holdings of from ten to twelve acres. In the case of the smaller holdings it is proposed that the Local Government Board should get the powers of a rural authority for the purpose of acquiring land, and give the land and a cottage to the soldier or sailor under what are substantially the provisions of the Labourers Act. The finance of the first class of cases, namely, those of ten and twelve acre holdings, will be dealt with under the existing land purchase scheme, and the other class will be dealt with under the labourers' scheme, so far as it is applicable to Ireland. I may mention to the House that we do not anticipate that so large a demand will be made upon the Imperial resources as will necessarily be involved in the case of England and Scotland, and for this reason. The men for whom we are seeking to provide in Ireland were all volunteers, and a very small proportion of them were derived from the agricultural classes; they came mostly from the towns, and were not so much in touch with agricultural matters as the farmer's son or the labourer on the agricultural holding. This Bill was introduced in another form in the last Parliament, but, owing to an Adjournment of the Debate near the close of the last Parliament, the Bill fell through.

As a guide to the House in regard to the possible number of applications in respect of these holdings, I may mention that, although the Bill has now been before the country for nearly a year, the total number of applications received, either by the Local Government Board or by the Land Commission, for holdings for soldiers or sailors, have amounted only to 1,700. I do not say that that is exhaustive, but it gives a fair idea of the demand that will be caused by the passage of the Bill. I do not say that there will not be a good many more, but I question very much if the total demand will reach or exceed double that number. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) asked me some questions about the matter recently, and I informed him that the Local Government Board anticipated that the total demand in respect of these holdings next year will amount only to 500; so that the House will see that the demand will not be so great as it will in England or in Scotland.

Those hon. Members who have followed the legislation will realise that, so far as the entire Western seaboard of Ireland is concerned, it is what is known as a congested district. Powers Were conferred by Parliament upon the Congested Districts Board for the purpose of acquiring land all along the Western seaboard, and we propose to take, under this Bill, power to acquire from the Congested Districts Board land for the purpose of settling soldiers and sailors, and the expense will be considerably minimised in consequence. There is a third provision with reference to small colonies, but the cost is estimated to be not more than £1,500 a year; it is an experiment, more or less, and the cost will not be great. Provision should be made for these men, who, as I have mentioned, were without exception volunteers, and the cost will be comparatively trifling as compared with what it will be in the other two countries.


The last thing I want to do is in any way to interfere with the provision of holdings for Irish soldiers and sailors who served in the War. The only object I have in taking any action in this matter is entirely financial, so that the Committee and the House of Commons may be in possession of a businesslike statement of the probable expenditure involved in this scheme. I am not in any way finding fault with the provision of small holdings and cottages under this scheme, but I am bound to criticise the kind of statement which has been submitted to the House of Commons in the White Paper. It gives practically no information except that the holdings are to be acquired under the Land Purchase Acts, and that the cottages are to be acquired by the Local Government Board under the powers in force for the provision of cottages and small holdings. Trying to ascertain what sums of money are involved, I find that the only information given in the White Paper is that the average deficiency on the larger holdings is estimated at £375 per holding, and the average deficiency on the cottages with the small plots of ground is estimated at £33 10s. per annum. I fail to understand why these two matters are treated on a totally different basis. The larger holdings are treated on the basis of capital expenditure, and the cottages with the small plots of two acres on the basis of an, annual contribution from the Imperial Exchequer. I am very much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the additional information that he has been good enough to furnish, but this is an unbusinesslike Paper and really gives no information as to the expenditure likely to be incurred. The House is entitled to something more businesslike, and I rise to ask for further information as to the number of holdings in each class which are likely to be established. The House, even, where comparatively small sums are involved for most beneficent and generally accepted objects, ought to be furnished with a definite and businesslike statement, of the probable expenditure, and I therefore hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to tell us how many holdings of each class are anticipated to be established.


I rise, as representing that part of Ireland which has given the largest number of voluntary recruits to the Army, most heartily to support the Resolution. This is not only a sound and reasonable scheme, but, as a matter of fact, a definite promise has been made to these people, and the House, therefore, would be guilty of a breach of trust if it refused to carry out the scheme. The House is rightly very jealous to see that there should be no unnecessary expenditure, but I do not think that there will be, because the bulk of the people in Ireland who joined the Army came from Ulster and were engaged in industrial pursuits, and do not want to indulge in farming. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Gretton) has referred to the difference between the two classes. In one part of Ireland, which is largely agricultural, the bulk of the people who joined the Army were engaged in agricultural pursuits, but in my part of the country a great many of those who joined do not want to take farms, and, in fact, would not have them if offered free. There are, however, the people who come from the smaller towns, and it is rightly proposed that they should have the option of having a small holding of two acres and a cottage. The scheme is not only a generous scheme, but it is absolutely a fair scheme, and from my slight experience I am sure that Members of all parties are anxious to do what is fair and just, and will, therefore, join with the Attorney-General in carrying through this scheme. These, people joined the Army without compulsion, and without the sligthest hesitation. The city that I have the honour of representing has as high a percentage of recruits as any part of England under Conscription. That is a fact of which I am proud, and, if any of these men want a small holding, there is not a Member of this House who would not gladly give it them. I, therefore, urge the House to pass this Resolution and to allow the Bill to go into Committee.


My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Gretton) has called attention to the fact that in one part of the White Paper we deal with the matter under the head of capital expenditure and in the second part we deal with it as an average annual sum. We deal with the first class of holding under the Land Purchase Acts and the persons who get the allotments will in time become the owners in fee simple of their holdings. We, therefore, translate the loss into a capital sum. An advance is made for the purchase of the holding and the holder becomes a debtor to the State for a certain sum. The balance, therefore, is written off as a capital sum. The second class are dealt with under the Labourers Act, and the soldier or ex-soldier remains the tenant of the State at a weekly rent just the same as the labourers under the Labourers Act. Accordingly, in that case we express the loss in an annual sum.

In the latter case, I may point out, the cottage and land ultimately revert to the State, but in the former case they become the property of the tenant. My hon. and gallant Friend has called attention to the fact that we have not given very detailed information as regards the number of cases with which it may be necessary to deal. May I point out that in the corresponding Paper which was issued on behalf of the Scottish Office precisely the same position existed, and it was there stated that it was impossible at the moment to tell what the various applications might be or what were likely to be the charges upon the various Government Departments? The Scottish Papers said that the amount of capital expenditure likely to be incurred under the Bill would depend on (1) the number of small holdings established, (2) the cost of the land required, and (3) the cost of cottages and buildings erected. All these factors were at present unknown, and it was consequently impossible to give any detailed estimate of the probable cost. I think I may safely suggest that our position is in no way contradictory to that of the Scottish Office.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.