§ Order for Committee read.
I have to move, Sir, that you do now leave the Chair, and in doing so I shall say a very few words upon one or two points only, having al- 1515 ready sufficiently explained the general objects of the Bill, and believing myself that the matter directly referable to it, although it is an important matter, lies within a limited compass. In the first place, I wish to say a word with regard to the financial calculations that have been supplied to the House in order to assist it in forming a judgment on the Bill. These financial calculations have been framed on a basis on which we have endeavoured to meet the necessary uncertainty of the case. It is impossible to contend that estimates, properly so called, are applicable to such a subject, the data not being sufficiently definite or clear. But in all cases where that can be held to apply the proper course is to meet the difficulty with great caution and great moderation as to the statement of results, and by taking care that the provision which is to be made shall be, so far as human judgment can provide, sufficient to meet the circumstances of the case. In the Memorandum I have submitted to the Treasury, with respect to the probable demand for arrears, I have stated that I am justified in expecting that a sum of £2,000,000 will satisfy the obligations to be incurred. But, although I have made that statement, I do not think it would be right that Parliament should wholly exclude from view the possibility of the demand extending beyond that sum; and, consequently, I would say that I should consider it my duty, before proceeding upon the estimate of the yield of the Church Surplus Fund as it has been given to the House—namely, £2,000,000—I should deem it my duty—not because I expect it will be required, but as applying that principle of caution of which I have spoken—to make provision which will enable us to meet a charge of £500,000 further from the Consolidated Fund. I need not trouble the House by going back to former cases to illustrate the principle upon which this proceeding would be founded. It is well known that in many cases where the best judgments have been exercised, they have failed to make an accurate estimate, owing to the uncertainty of the facts. One very notorious case was that of the Succession Duty Bill, where the only persons almost who professed to be able to form an accurate and careful judgment in the Revenue Department declared they could not do it. The members of both branches of the 1516 Legal Profession, and those not light-minded or inconsiderable men, but very able and competent lawyers declared, founding themselves upon their experience, that the yield of that duty would be certainly not less than £4,000,000 a-year, whereas the yield of that duty has never, down to the present time, in a period of 30 years, nearly reached £2,000,000; and the estimate of £2,000,000 which was taken by the Revenue Department, and which was positively jeered at by the members of the Profession, who thought themselves better informed, proved to be greatly in excess of the actual yield for a very large number of years, and is still largely in excess of the actual yield. The next point is the question of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) which appears on the Paper. It is—Whether the interest which a tenant may have in his holding is to be taken into consideration as an available asset by the Land Commission in determining the ability or inability of the tenant to discharge such antecedent arrears of rent, or any portion of them, before an order is made for the payment of any money under the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Bill?That, I think, is eminently a question for consideration and discussion in Committee. It is a question of undoubted importance, and we shall have to consider whether it is possible for the House to insert words which would serve as directions to the Judges. By the Judges, of course, I mean those who would, under the Bill, be intrusted with the office of recognizing and establishing the fact of inability, so far as to qualify the tenant for obtaining the benefits of the Bill. At present, Sir, I can only give my opinion and that of my Colleagues on the subject in a general form. I should say that it is extremely difficult to lay down a general rule upon a question which must be left to the good sense of those who administer the Act. On the one hand, it would be absurd to say that the total value, or estimated value, of a man's tenant right, which may vary from year to year, particularly in the case of very small holdings, shall be considered as a safe asset for this purpose, and be established in this sense, that he should never be considered to have inability until the entire estimated amount of that tenant right was swallowed up by the charge laid upon him. That extreme, I think, would 1517 be entirely in contravention of the spirit of the Act. On the other hand, I think it would be likewise unreasonable to say that no charge should be ever laid upon the tenant right of the tenant. I think it would be a fair thing to expect that if it were a fact that the tenant right could be charged without crippling the means of the man for fairly managing his holding, then it fairly might be held and required as a condition that it should be laid before inability was taken into account; but the extent to which that process should go, I think, would be a matter only to be determined by the skill and the good sense of the presiding officer in the particular case. I do not wish to give a positive opinion on the question whether words should be introduced in the Bill for the purpose of serving as a general direction. Of course, any inference that could be drawn from my words, or the words of the promoters of the Bill, would not be an authority to justify action under the Bill; but the action of the Judges must depend upon the direction which they received from the Act of Parliament itself. The third point is the question of time in reference to this Bill. I venture to say that, urgent as is the question of time with respect to the Prevention of Crime Bill, it is hardly less urgent in regard to this one. It is equally urgent to both parties who are directly interested. If I look to the case of the tenant, not only is the exposure to liability for eviction, in multitudes of instances, prolonged so long as this question of arrears remains unsettled in multitudes of cases where the Bill should afford a means of establishing on a solid footing the relation between the landlord and the tenant, but likewise the rights of the tenant are in course of ebbing away from day to day, many families every day seeing the expiration of the six months which limit their equity of redemption, and losing, therefore, all power and all hope of maintaining their rights and enjoying the benefits of this Bill. That is, I think, a most important and governing consideration. Nor is that part of the question limited to the interest of the smaller tenantry and the feeling we ought to entertain for them, because I cannot doubt that it has likewise a most important connection with the peace of Ireland; and for the peace and security and order of Ireland there 1518 is nothing more necessary than a speedy settlement of the question of arrears. But I am bound to say that I cannot justly exclude from this view of the case—I mean with reference to the question of time—the position of the landlord. In a letter of Lord Clanricarde—which many hon. Gentlemen have, no doubt, read—to the Editor of The Times, he quotes, on the authority of a gentleman whose career was closed by so deplorable an incident and so wicked a crime, a declaration of that gentleman of great weight, because applicable to a very large estate with a very large number of tenants in that portion of Ireland which presents the scene whore the Arrears Bill is intended to operate, and would undoubtedly operate most largely. That declaration is that "the Arrears Bill has completely paralyzed the payment of rents." I have no doubt that a Bill of this kind must have a tendency to check the payment of rents in Ireland. I deplore that exceedingly. By every lawful and honourable means our desire is to accelerate the settlement of every open question between the landlords and tenants of Ireland. There may be those who think we were wrong to introduce this Bill. I can only say we are sensible of what strong arguments on general policy might be introduced in favour of that proposition. I do not question that for a moment, nor do I enter upon those much stronger arguments which led us to do so. It is done and cannot be recalled. This House will never undertake the responsibility, I am perfectly certain, of rejecting a Bill of this character. It may or may not approve the method adopted; it may shirk that amendment if it is not required; but I am satisfied that the vast majority of this House will be as conscious as I am that a Bill of this kind requires to be passed with a view to all the highest and most elementary purposes of government in Ireland, and I venture to express a hope that, viewing those considerations, whatever is done—I do not, of course, suggest or desire that hon. Gentlemen should not clearly and adequately express all the opinions they entertain on this Bill—yet I do hope that in expressing those opinions, where the manner and conditions of expression differ so much, and where the Rules of the House allow of such a choice to individual Members as to the demands they may 1519 make upon its time, they will remember Low enormously important it is for the interest of all parties and for the interest of social order in Ireland that promptitude in dealing with this Bill should, as as I think, be held to be of the first importance. The Government will act upon that principle, and we shall endeavour to make no undue demands in our expositions and explanations upon the time of the House, trusting that only a short period may elapse before this measure is passed into law.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. CHAPLIN,
in rising to move—That this House, while willing in case of emergency to grant money from public funds for purposes which it believes are for the best interests of Ireland, declines to proceed with a measure which imposes taxation for objects which, in its opinion, must tend to demoralize the people of that Country,said, that he was quite unable to share the sanguine hope of the Prime Minister that no Party in that House would take upon itself the responsibility of rejecting the measure before them in its present form. On the contrary, he (Mr. Chaplin) sincerely trusted that, unless the Bill was altered vitally in Committee, the House would on no account allow it to pass. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and especially the extreme uncertainty of his language with respect to the important question raised by the ton. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), had tended to strengthen rather than to diminish his opposition to the Bill. In moving the Amendment which stood in his name, he felt, in common with hon. Members, that he had some claim to the iudulgence of the House. When he remembered the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman prematurely endeavoured to close the mouths not only of hon. Members like himself, but even of the Leaders of the Opposition, who were desirous of taking part in this discussion, he thought then, as he thought now, that that was a course of proceeding which was not calculated to further the progress of this measure, or to curtail and shorten in any way their discussion upon it. But he hoped he would not be thought guilty of undue presumption if he stated the reason why he, for one at all events, was unalterably op- 1520 posed to the progress of the Bill. He opposed the measure upon a variety of grounds. He opposed it, in the first place, because they were asked to grant money from the public funds, which, despite the financial explanations which had been offered by the right hon. Gentleman, appeared to him to be an indefinite amount. The right hon. Gentleman admitted himself that there must be some uncertainty as to the claims; and if the right hon. Gentleman's calculations proved to be incorrect—and he must say he felt very considerable doubt on the subject—whatever the limit might be in the mind of the Government, it was perfectly obvious that the public funds would have to supply whatever deficiency might in the long run occur. In the second place, he objected to this measure as being founded upon the principle of compulsion. Unless they made full compensation to those persons who had the right to claim the arrears which were their due, they should be guilty, and by no means for the first time, he was afraid, in the present Administration, of deliberate confiscation. His third objection was, that even if the Bill were carried unaltered in its present form, it would not be effectual for its purpose, which was to stop evictions and restore tranquillity to Ireland. Fourthly, he objected to the measure because on three different occasions the right hon. Gentleman had already tried his hand at dealing with the question of Irish land, and on each of these occasions the state of Ireland had gone from bad to worse; and he, for one, would be no party to giving the right hon. Gentleman more facilities—he did not wish to speak disrespectfully, but he could find no other word which would express his meaning—to give him facilities to tinker for the fourth time with the fortunes of a country, for the present condition of which thousands of Englishmen and thousands of Irishmen considered he, in conjunction with his Colleagues, was responsible. Fifthly, he opposed the Bill because the Prime Minister and his Colleagues were alone responsible for the present deplorable state of things in Ireland; sixthly, because he regarded the measure as the most dangerous and demoralizing that had ever been introduced in that Assembly; seventhly, he must protest against it, because if public funds were to be advanced for purposes 1521 in Ireland, they ought not to be advanced for purposes which could only be a temporary prop of a system which was rotten to the core; and they ought not, on the other hand, to be devoted to purposes and objects which would not go to the very root of the evils in that country at the present time, which this Bill would not touch in the slightest degree. In the eighth place, if the Act of last year was a failure—a complete and admitted failure—and that was not denied—[Mr. GLADSTONE: I deny it.] Well, it was denied by the author of the measure; beyond the author of the measure he understood it was admitted to be a failure. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, if it be not a failure, what was the meaning of the introduction of this Bill, and what was the meaning of those great changes and alterations which were to take place in the Act of 1881, but which the Prime Minister had, up to the present time, thought it desirable to conceal from the House? If that Act had been a failure, then the question ought not to be dealt with by legislation of a piecemeal character, such as was the Bill before the House; and before they proceeded further they had a right to know what were the proposals in regard to those alterations which were contemplated by the Government. As to the question of confiscation, what was it that the House would be guilty of? Why, they would take away the property of others which they were entitled to at the present time, and without giving them something for it. It was quite impossible to deny that the arrears due were just as much the property of the landlords at that moment as the coat upon the right hon. Gentleman's back was his property. Would anybody assert that the coats, hats, and watches of the hon. and right hon. Members were to be taken away, even for some great public purpose, without full compensation feeing given for the value of those articles? He contended that in forcing this measure upon landlords who were not desirous to avail themselves of it, and in taking away their right to the arrears without giving them compensation in full, Parliament would unquestionably be guilty of confiscation. It was unnecessary to add anything to what he had already said on the first and second heads of objection. Coming to the third ground of objection, that the Bill would be ineffectual even if passed in its pre- 1522 sent form, he would refer the House to Sub-section (c) of Clause 1. That formulated one of the conditions upon which alone this Act was to apply—namely, that the tenant was unable to discharge his antecedent arrears. Either that was to be a sham or a genuine provision. If it was to be a sham provision, and if advances were to be made from the State to tenants for payment of their arrears who had money, and were able to pay but would not, then nothing could exceed the wickedness of the proposition. But if, on the other hand, it was to be a genuine provision, then they ought to have from the Government some explanation more than that of the right hon. Gentleman as to how far the property in the farm which was vested in the tenant—namely, the tenant right, was or was not to be taken into consideration. The tenant would declare himself unable to pay. Now, let the House consider the case of a farm under the Ulster or some similar custom. Everybody knew that in many instances enormous sums—amounting, even for small farms, to several hundreds of pounds—were frequently given for the tenant right. Was it to be said that a tenant possessing such a property was unable to pay his rent until that property had been made available? And yet that was a question which was to be left undecided except by the Commissioners themselves, and from all that the right hon. Gentleman had told them, this thing might occur to a tenant whilst actually possessing a tenant right to the value of hundreds of pounds, who might have his arrears paid by the State out of the pockets of people all over the country, many of whom would be far less able to pay additional taxation than the tenant to pay his rent. But he foresaw a great many other difficulties if this was to be a genuine provision. If the Commissioners were really and truly to ascertain whether a tenant was able to pay his rent or not, all kinds of difficulties would ensue. Who was to decide? What evidence was to be taken? And how long would it take to determine? They all knew that the Land Courts were completely blocked already. They had far more to do at the present time than they could accomplish. He had made a calculation on the subject founded on the statistics furnished by the Government. He found that from October last to March 77,329 cases were 1523 lodged in the Court, and 8,606 cases were disposed of by the Sub-Commissioners. From April 17 to the end of May 1,955 more cases were settled, making a total of 10,561 cases settled in a period of eight months. About two-fifths of the cases so settled were arranged out of Court. The House would, therefore, perceive that if it had taken eight months to decide 10,000 cases, even with all the agreements out of Court, at the present rate of progress it would take four and a-half years to deal with the applications which had already been made to the Court. Then, how could it be contended, in the face of that state of things, that this Arrears Bill would be a reality, if in all cases arising under it the Commissioners would have to ascertain whether a tenant was able to pay his rent or not? He now came to the next ground of objection which he entertained to the measure. On three occasions the Prime Minister had tried his hand at dealing with the Irish Land Question and had failed altogether. What was the history of this land legislation? The House would remember the circumstances under which the Act of 1870 was passed. Very shortly after that "Message of Peace" was sent to Ireland the right hon. Gentleman had to ask for an urgent measure of repression. For many years afterwards Ireland remained under a Coercion Act, which only expired just after the right hon. Gentleman came back again into Office. That Act had hardly expired when the right hon. Gentleman found it urgently necessary to deal with the question of Irish land again. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), then Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, came down to the House on one occasion and informed them that the Government had no intention of dealing with the question, and that it would be difficult and most unwise to meddle with the question of Irish land at all unless it could be dealt with thoroughly and effectually. A Royal Commission was then appointed to investigate the subject. Within a very few weeks after that declaration had been made the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, which set going in Ireland the passions, inflamed and excited the minds of the people, and laid the foundation for the present deplorable state of things. Then there came in the 1524 following Session the "great measure" of last year, as it was called by the Government and its supporters. They all knew what wonderful things that measure was to accomplish. It was admitted by the Government that such principles were contained in the Bill that it could only be justified on the ground that the state of Ireland urgently called for and demanded it, and that it would restore tranquillity and peace to that country. In spite of these promises and protestations the House had been engaged for the greater part of this Session in passing another measure of coercion for Ireland immediately consequent upon the remedial measure of last year. Why was this? It was because the Government, in all their dealings with Ireland, had proceeded in a wrong direction from the outset. In the policy pursued for 10 or 12 years by the right hon. Gentleman all the difficulties which lay at the root of the evils of Ireland had been persistently neglected by him. Last year the Government had been warned of what was certain to happen directly their Land Bill became law. On the second reading of that Bill he predicted that the ink would not be dry which made judicial rent the law throughout the land before a new and determined agitation would arise in favour of paying no rent. He thought the "no rent" manifesto was a sufficient justification for the opinion he expressed at that time. With regard to the present Bill, if it were passed into law, it would be regarded only as a new measure of concession and conciliation to violence and agitation in Ireland. It would be treated as a mark and a symptom of weakness on the part of the Government; and though the Government might deny it, there would be thousands and millions of the people throughout the country who would continue to believe that this measure had been passed in pursuance of a compact with the prisoners in Kilmainham. His next reason for opposing the Bill was that he regarded it as probably the most dangerous and demoralizing measure that was ever introduced into that Assembly. A Gentleman, who was a Member of the present Administration, said, on the 21st of July last year, in a debate on the Arrears Clauses of the Land Act, in reference to what had fallen from his noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill)— 1525The noble Lord has said that this is a de moralizing proposal..… It would, doubtless, be demoralizing, and very demoralizing, if we forced the parties to accept the proposal."—[3 Hansard, cclxiii. 1554.]This was exactly what the Government were going to do. Well, that was the opinion of the late Chief Secretary, and the Prime Minister, sitting by his side, accepted and endorsed that distinct declaration of policy with regard to making anything in the nature of an Arrears Bill a compulsory measure. If that was a demoralizing proposition in 1881, what had since occurred to make it a proper measure to submit to Parliament in 1882? He now came to his seventh ground of opposition to this Bill. It was that if money from public funds was to be advanced at all, it ought not to be advanced for a purpose which could only be a temporary prop to a system which was rotten to the core. Again he fell back on the argument of the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, who said in debate on the 25th of April, 1881—We have been forced to see what is the condition of some parts of Ireland, especially in the West, where, in some districts, there is an over-population to an extent, perhaps, that no Bill for the reform of land tenure can altogether meet. Many of these people are highly rented; but if they paid no rent at all, they could not live in decency."—[Hansard, cclx. 1168.]If that was true, and it was endorsed at the time by the Prime Minister, how was it possible that the measure they had now introduced could effect any real or permanent amelioration in the condition of the people of Ireland? He had stated over and over again that the real source of all the difficulties and troubles in Ireland was the immense competition for the land, and this Bill would do nothing to remedy that state of things, but must tend rather to aggravate it. If, as he contended, the Land Act had been a failure, they a right to know, before they proceeded any further with the present measure, what were the remaining proposals which the Government had to submit to the House with regard to any alterations or Amendments respecting it. What was the Government policy with regard to Ireland? What was to be their future policy? It was patent to all hon. Members that up to the present time the Government had absolutely failed. Before he gave his sanction to a measure of this kind, demoralizing in itself and holding out no 1526 prospect of permanent benefit to Ireland, he wanted to know what the Government proposed to do besides. Not long ago he read a speech made by the President of the Board of Trade, who said of the Tories—"With them coercion is a policy; they have no other. With us it is only a hateful incident." With all respect to the President of the Board of Trade, he ventured to say that a more untrue and inaccurate statement was never made before by a distinguished Member of that Assembly. If he might take this opportunity of vindicating the Tory Party from a charge so monstrous, he could state exactly how the case stood with regard to coercion. Since the year 1832, 50 Coercion Bills had been passed, including that now before the House. The Liberal Party passed 39 of these, and the Tory Party passed only 11. Moreover, of those 11, 10 were in continuance or, as in 1875, in mitigation of previous Liberal Coercion Acts. The charge that the Tories had no policy with regard to Ireland was grossly unjust. When the state of Ireland became depressed and serious from bad seasons and bad harvests, under the Government of Lord Beaconsfield, the noble Lord immediately appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole of the circumstances of that country. The Report of the Commission, the recommendations of which would be accepted by the Tory Party as a whole, stated first of all the causes of depression. They were inclemency of the seasons, failure of the potato crop, foreign competition, undue inflation of credit, and excessive competition for land, owing mainly to the fact that apart from the land there were few, if any, other means of subsistence for the population, which had led to serious abuses. The Commission pointed out the evils which arose from one source alone—the intense competition for land. These were unreasonable payments for tenant right, arbitrary increase of rents, the overcrowding of the population in certain districts, and the minute subdivision of farms; and for these evils they suggest certain remedies, including emigration, migration, and public works in Ireland. Yet it was said in the most audacious manner by the President of the Board of Trade that the Tory Party had no policy except coercion for Ireland. Personally he desired, if it were 1527 possible, to see manufactures re-established in Ireland, and some return to those great industries which were destroyed years ago by the selfishness of England. If we could do something by means of emigration, migration, public works, and the establishment of manufacturing industries, we should do ten thousand times more for the regeneration of that unhappy country than could be done by all the measures of coercion and conciliation passed by all the Liberal Governments in the world. Probably there was no one in the House more competent to express opinions with regard to the real condition of Ireland and the sources of that condition than the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and on the 22nd of May he said—"It was only by emigration that these people (the cottiers of the West) could be improved." Do not let it be supposed that, in making these observations and in offering opposition to the Bill, he was wanting in sympathy with the people of Ireland; he would yield to no one in the sympathy he felt for that unhappy people; but because of that he could not sacrifice his principles or give his consent to a measure which he believed to be wrong in principle, and with regard to which he had not the smallest hope that it could or would effect any permanent amelioration in the condition of the people. In passing this measure, Parliament would do great injustice to some classes of people. In order to benefit Irish farmers, they were about to tax English farmers; and what was the relative position of the two? The Irish farmers had had two of the very best seasons ever known. The English farmers had suffered from a succession—five, six, or seven in number—of seasons such as, thank God, they could hardly recollect in the history of man; and yet, because the English farmers had struggled manfully to bear their difficulties, and had done their best to fulfil their contracts, and because, on the other hand, we saw in Ireland a state of things which was an absolute disgrace to any civilized country, therefore the English farmers and people were to be called upon to pay the debts of the people of Ireland, which, in a great number of cases, he was afraid, they were far better able to pay than the farmers of England. When he considered the results of the policy of the 1528 Prime Minister, when he remembered the principles which were contained in this Bill, and when he reflected on the consequences of teaching the Irish farmers that if they did not pay their rents they had only to commit outrages and murders and agitate to get their debts paid by Parliament, he felt that the House would do well to ponder the weighty words of one of the most respected of the Irish Members, the hon. Member for County Cork (Mr. Shaw), who, on the 22nd of May, said—He acknowledged that the question was one of great difficulty, and when he sat down to consider it, he could not see how it could be touched at all; if they did touch it, he felt that they would be taking a course of the end of which they had no idea, and teaching the Irish people lessons which they had no right to teach them."—[3 Hansard, cclxix. 1298.]He opposed this measure, not from the smallest want of sympathy with the people of Ireland; he protested against it, because he believed it to be the most dangerous and demoralizing measure that ever an English Minister submitted to the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, while willing, in case of emergency, to grant money from public funds for purposes which it believes are for the best interests of Ireland, declines to proceed with a measure which imposes taxation for objects which, in its opinion, must tend to demoralize the people of that Country,"—(Mr. Chaplin,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he asked the indulgence of the House to make some observations in regard to the economic aspect of the question. The hon. Member (Mr. Chaplin) had attempted to prove that there would be necessity under this Bill to draw largely upon the public funds. He (Mr. Arthur Arnold) hardly thought that matter was one, so far as the question of principle was concerned, which it was important to deal with, because whether the funds necessary for the purposes of this Bill were drawn wholly from the Church Funds, or in part from the Consolidated Fund, was not really a great matter of principle, because the surplus of the 1529 Irish Church Fund was entitled to be regarded as part of the Public Fund to the extent to which that Church Surplus Fund might be applied in relief of taxation. That he took to be the principle upon that matter which had been laid down by very important authorities on the subject of taxation. The hon. Member had gone on to say that the state of Ireland had passed from bad to worse under the care of Her Majesty's Government, and especially in connection with the measures proposed by the Prime Minister. He did not at all enter into the consideration of what would have been the condition of Ireland but for those measures, which had had so important an ameliorating effect. He said that the measure now before the House was dangerous and demoralizing in its tendency, and in the latter part of his speech he made an eloquent comparison between the condition of Irish and English tenants, and between the respective claims which they had upon the consideration of the State in regard to their arrears. No man in that House was entitled to speak with greater authority on the condition of English tenants than the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). He had always shown much regard for their condition; but he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) would beg leave to point out to him that there was this essential and fundamental difference between the two cases. Knowing far less on the subject than hon. Members opposite, he was prepared to admit that the case of English tenants was one of painful embarrassment, as was also that of some landlords; but he would point out that there was this important difference between the two cases—that if they were to propose legislation of this sort with reference to English tenants, they could not maintain that which it was absolutely necessary to maintain in order to give this Bill a basis which recommended it to the support of the House—namely, that the circumstances which they proposed to relieve could not recur. That, from an economic point of view, was essential in all cases where it was proposed that the State should in any manner step in upon an occasion of this sort with pecuniary remedies. One of the conditions that must be established to justify that assistance on the part of the State was that the occasion for which the remedy was to be applied 1530 was absolutely unique, and that it could not by any possibility of circumstances recur. The hon. Member had gone on to say that the system to which the law was to be applied was rotten to the core. Well, he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) was not there to defend the system of landlordism in Ireland. [Mr. CHAPLIN: I said the system of small farms.] The hon. Member quoted a Member of the Government in support of his assertion that it was impossible under any circumstances that the tenants of small farms in Ireland could live upon their holdings. But one of the objects, he took it, of this measure was that, if the settlement of the arrears of rent could be arrived at, tenants might part with their holdings. ["No, no!"] He said one of the objects was that men should be placed in a position by which, where their holdings were so small that they could not possibly obtain a livelihood upon them, the owner of that small tenant right should be in a position to part with his holding if he chose, and make other use of the proceeds. The hon. Member (Mr. Chaplin) went on to ask by what law of justice could this Bill be applied to giving possession of property in tenant right to a tenant to the extent of many hundreds of pounds? Surely that was a very exaggerated statement with regard to the tenants of holdings not exceeding £30 of rent. The hon. Member quoted another Member of the Government to show that a proposal of this sort would be demoralizing if it were compulsory in reference to the Arrears Clauses of the Land Act of last year. The hon. Member left out of sight the important consideration that last year there was no proposition whatever that the State should give assistance. The compulsory nature of the proposal in the present Bill could not be severed from the fact that the State in this case gave compulsory aid, gave assistance, and in giving that assistance the State had a right to make terms with those to whom the assistance was given. Therefore, there was no analogy whatever between the present circumstances of the House and those in which the House was placed last year upon the Irish Land Law Bill to which the hon. Member had made reference.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The quotation I made was this—the demoralization con- 1531 sisted, not in the source from which compensation came, but in the fact of forcing it on the two contracting parties by an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) had quoted a Member of the Government in support of his assertion that the clause in the Irish Land Law Bill of last year had a precise analogy with the present circumstances. There was no analogy whatever, because, in the present circumstances, the State was giving money, and as a reason why the State should give that money, the State made for itself certain terms. One of the prime considerations which should affect the gift of money by the State upon occasions of this sort was whether the effect of it would be to operate upon those on whom it was bestowed as a tonic or as a sedative. If it could be shown to act as a sedative instead of stimulating them to further exertion, then it would be pernicious; but if it could be shown that the effect would be to place them in a position before the law and in their holdings which would encourage them to further exertion, then it was justifiable. The House last year passed an important Act of Parliament to which this was a necessary supplement. It was impossible for a great number of poor tenants in Ireland to be placed in a position to enjoy or to possess the advantages of the Land Act of last Session, unless they had the assistance which it was proposed to give them under this Act. Another condition for consideration was that the circumstances should be those under which the requirement for assistance could not recur. He laid stress on this point, because the circumstances under which it was now proposed to relieve the tenants in Ireland could not recur, for we could not have a position analogous to that in which the House found itself in connection with the Land Act of last year. There was a peculiar reason why the Church Surplus should be devoted to this purpose. When the Irish Church Bill was introduced by the Prime Minister, it contained a provision, which subsequently was dropped, that the surplus to be derived from disestablishment and disendowment of that Church should be appropriated mainly "to the relief of unavoidable calamity and distress." [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear! It passed 1532 this House.] He asked the House, therefore, to bear in mind how very strictly those words had application to the Bill now under consideration. The first remarks he had the honour of offering in the House were in connection with a proposal to advance £1,500,000 sterling to the landlords of Ireland from the Church Surplus. That money was advanced wrongfully, as he always held, under conditions really analogous to gift, because the interest to be paid upon it was only at the rate of 1 per cent. He had always considered that that was an improper bestowal of the Irish Church Surplus, and in direct contradiction to the proposition which passed the House of Commons that the Surplus was to be appropriated mainly to the relieving of unavoidable calamity and distress. If that money had not been advanced to the Irish landlords, and if the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had been strong enough and stiff enough in his objection against further advances of that money, there would be no question now before the House as to the possibility of the Church Surplus not being sufficient to meet the claims of unavoidable suffering and calamity in the West of Ireland. Lord Beaconsfield told the House that whatever was given for the maintenance of paupers and lunatics, or for any object of that kind, the greater part of it would go to the proprietors of the soil, whatever hocus-pocus they might be told to the contrary. The greater part of the Surplus had found its way in that direction already. A large part of the sum now proposed to be devoted to the relief of unavoidable calamity and distress would also go in that direction. He did not object to that, for no one sympathized more than he did with the sufferings of the landlord class in Ireland. He denied that this measure was inconsistent with what were called the principles of political economy. Those principles were concentrated in one law—namely, that we should do nothing which was contrary to the production of wealth. This money would tend to the production of wealth in Ireland, because it would bring to many poor and deserving homes the possibility of a happier and a brighter future. It would not give to any man in Ireland a claim to any recurring gift from the national bounty, because it was impossible that 1533 the circumstances under which this Bill was asked for in connection with the Irish Land Act could again be brought under consideration; and he had not the least hesitation or reserve in giving it his earnest and unswerving support.
§ MR. E. W. HARCOURT
said, he could not enter into the general question of the policy of this Bill. That policy was only excusable on the grounds of the direst necessity. Pace the hon. Member for Salford, it violated every law of political economy, and set aside the question of the improvement of land in Ireland. The House, however, was so committed to the Bill that it would be of no use to argue the general principle. There was another point which was apart altogether from the general question, and that part so materially affected the interests of the taxpayers in England, that he thought he should be failing in his duty, as representing a large population of ratepayers in an English county, if he were to abstain from protesting against the provision which was contained in the 9th clause of the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Bill, which saddled the Consolidated Fund with the payment of arrears, which had been mainly owing to the work of a Society which the Government itself had declared to be illegal. When he found that the Prime Minister declared he was unable to give relief to the English ratepayer in a case which he himself had acknowledged to be a matter calling for immediate relief, and when he looked at the paltry relief which was offered, and which was made to be dependent uponr aising an additional tax, which the Prime Minister stated was the only fund available, although that tax was inapposite and objectionable, then he said that English Representatives had a right to stand up, and it was their duty to stand up, and protest against the unequal justice that was done them. He should like very much to know what was to bring the grievance of the English ratepayer within the region of practical politics? He knew the right hon. Gentleman professed a desire to do justice to the particular class of ratepayers whom he represented. Hitherto the relief offered had not been of the nature that was asked; and, therefore, he feared, however well-intentioned, it had not met with the gratitude which, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman ex- 1534 pected, and now they were told that the Irish defaulting tenant was to be relieved at the expense of the English people, and that the ratepayers in England were to be contented to wait for some grand measure which existed in the millennium of some far-distant legislation. It struck him that the English ratepayer was too patient, and that his docility acted greatly to his disadvantage. Because he suffered in silence and with courage, he was to be allowed to suffer still, and his honesty and his courage were the cause of his being neglected. He (Mr. Harcourt) thought the country would not fail to take the lesson to heart. Where justice was wanting Government was discredited. The withholding of justice in the case of the English ratepayer was flagrant, and he thought he should be no false prophet in predicting that the present action of the Government would not fail to bring forth fruit not to their liking.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
said, he would have much preferred that the plan adopted for relieving the Irish tenants had been by the system of loan instead of gift, even though the loans had borne no interest. It would have had the advantage of doing away at once with any question of the ability or inability of the tenant to pay, and the expediency of reckoning the tenant right in dealing with arrears under the system of aid proposed by the Bill. As it was, those subjects would give rise to a great deal of dissatisfaction. It would be very difficult to prove inability to pay, and if inquiries were pushed beyond a certain point great dissatisfaction must ensue. He regretted that the Prime Minister had given any countenance to the idea that the value of the tenant right was to be estimated in connection with this measure. The entire defence of this measure was that it would give to tenants, now hopelessly involved, a fresh start; but though it particularly relieved them of their debt to the landlords, it left them exposed to their other creditors, the shopkeeper and the money-lender. How would they be able to meet them? They would have been able to do so by the security afforded by their tenant right; but if it were estimated as part of their assets, or if it were saddled with any prospective charge, they would not be able to meet their creditors, and would be prevented from obtaining the 1535 advantages which it was the object of the Bill to afford them. All this would have been avoided by the system of loans. At the same time, as the principle of gift had been adopted by Her Majesty's Government after full consideration, it would be perfectly useless—he would say more, it would be perfectly mischievous—to attempt to re-introduce into this Bill at this stage the question of loan. But he ventured to appeal to the Government to reconsider the limitation they had laid down in the Bill, by which tenants with holdings over £30 in value would be excluded from its benefits. Probably few tenants rated over £30 could be able to prove their inability to pay; but still, as in the case of the leaseholders, a residuum of discontent and dissatisfaction would be left. In his opinion, it was a great pity that the Church Surplus should have been taken for the purposes of this measure. It ought to have been left for the general purposes of education, by which all creeds would benefit, and which purposes would now be entirely frustrated. He should like to have some information as to the mode in which "hanging gale" was to be dealt with. According to the Bill, those landlords and tenants whose relations with each other were based upon the principle of "hanging gale" would suffer very great loss. "Hanging gale" was not allowed to be taken into consideration at all. He believed that it was of the greatest importance to extinguish "hanging gale," and provision should be made by the Bill for its extinction. Whatever objections were entertained to the measure, he hoped the considerations put forward by the Prime Minister would have great weight, and that no time would be lost in passing it into law.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he thought that no one who had carefully paid attention to the debate which had taken place the other day on the second reading of the Bill could fail to feel that this was a question which deserved the most serious consideration of every Member of the House. He could also confidently state, without any fear of contradiction, that the Prime Minister was the man who was mainly responsible for its introduction. With what views and intentions he might have introduced the Bill he (Sir Walter 1536 B. Barttelot) would not stop further to inquire than to say that it was one of those endeavours to conciliate those who had been most active in rebellion and sedition in Ireland within the last few years. If he made use of strong expressions, it was because he believed he was stating that which was true. It had been said that, because the Prime Minister, in the responsible position which he occupied, had introduced this measure, that therefore it ought to be passed, and that if it were not passed, matters would prove to be a great deal worse than they were at this moment. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) was one of those who absolutely controverted and denied that statement, because he firmly believed that there were men in Ireland at present who looked with the deepest pain and regret upon a measure which had been introduced to benefit men who, being perfectly competent and able, had failed to pay their rents and just debts. This had been a source of the gravest danger to Ireland, and if this practice was to be pursued, he might fairly ask how and why it was that the Government had introduced this measure at this particular time? He thought, whilst on this point, he might recall the attention of the House to a statement made by the Prime Minister himself a short time ago. At the moment that was made he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) could not understand the object of the Premier in making it, because it was during the discussion of the Rules and Procedure of the House. The right hon. Gentleman then stated that he had in his possession a letter from a friend in the County Mayo, for whose accuracy he could answer, in which he said that he had not called upon one of his tenants to pay up his arrears of rent, because, as he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) understood the right hon. Gentleman, he knew perfectly well that they were not able to do so. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] He asked the right hon. Gentleman if he solemnly denied that three or four days ago he did not make that statement, although it certainly could not be said to be apropos to any Business then going on. At the time he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) could not understand its relevance, beyond showing that there were landlords in Ireland who had not carried out those provisions regarding which, a very short time before, the right hon. Gentleman 1537 had stated they had failed in. Now, let him supplement this by another statement as to County Mayo. He knew of an estate in Mayo of 10,000 acres, which came to its present possessor not from any wish of his own, but simply because there was £10,000 of English money on mortgage, and the owners of the estate said—"Take it, as we cannot pay the interest." On these 10,000 acres there were 211 tenants. Of these, 23 tenants were under a rental of £ 1, 58 under £2, 61 under £3, 34 under £4, 13 under £5, 11 under £6, two under £7, two under £8, two under £9, one under £10, one under £14, one under £19, one under £22, and one under £35. Up to the year 1880 there was no arrears of rent whatever on this estate. The tenants had paid the whole of their rents at the proper time. They possessed many advantages as compared with other estates, one particularly, that of being able to turn their cattle out upon the waste lands, at a rate of 5s. per year for every head of cattle, and 4d. per head for sheep. No complaints were ever made as to the amount of their rents. On the contrary, they expressed themselves as satisfied, and never for one moment declined to pay. When the Land League agitation, however, was started in their midst, from that moment they ceased to pay a single farthing. There was a further point, however, and one to which he particularly invited the attention of the Prime Minister—it was this, that in addition to refusing to pay for their cattle and sheep being allowed to graze on the waste lands, some 8,500 acres in extent, they now claimed a right to them, so that when the goodwill of their farms came to be estimated this would be included. He could give the right hon. Gentleman the name of the estate, and of the person who owned it. He believed he had made a most accurate statement with regard to it.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that he had not exactly gathered the dates when the rents were last paid.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, that they were paid up to 1880.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
asked whether it was in November or May?
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he had not the precise dates; but, supposing he was absolutely correct in his statement, here were men who had been able and willing to pay their rents. How 1538 was the Government going to prove that these men had been or had not been able to pay their rents? He would far rather that the rents of the poor cottier tenants in the West of Ireland should be given to them in full, than have a Bill of this kind brought in, which favoured men who were as able as any man in that House to pay the just demands upon them. But let him travel into the county of the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), who, he thought, would not for a moment attempt to deny the truth of the statement he was about to make. The Golden Vale was well known to every man who had been on the banks of the Suir. The Golden Vale was as fine land as any man could wish. He believed land there was rated for the poor rates at from 50s. to 54s. an acre. A great deal of the land was worth £3 an acre. He would not mention names, but there were two estates on which the rents had been paid. The landlords had been most moderate. They had done everything they could for their tenants, and they had good tenants, who had set an example to the whole of Ireland. There was one man especially, who had a model farm, who had been most charitable in every way, and who had set an example to all round that district. A meeting was held, at which it was agreed that the liberal offer of the landlord should be accepted and the rents paid. What happened? The moment that was known a party of "Moonlighters" fired into his house; but he was highly respected, and they fired, not with the intention of taking his life, but for the purpose of intimidating him. Like an honest man not shrinking from his duty he with others paid his rent. What happened? Six weeks after the first shot had been fired, and immediately after his rent had been paid after warning, the "Moonlighters" again visited him, and burned his house to the ground. He would frankly ask the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), or any other Member of the House, whether this was a right course to pursue, and whether those who instigated such work had not really caused all the demoralization and the rebellion so rife in Ireland? He had information respecting many more cases of the same kind, in which the payment of rent had been immediately stopped on the behest of the Land League; and now what were 1539 they asked to do? They were asked to condone all those offences and crimes, and to assist men who could have paid their landlord if they chose, whilst others who had suffered for what they knew to be right, and sought to perform their duty, were to he passed by without one word of consideration. This was truly a very serious state of things, and he ventured to think that matters in Ireland would not be remedied by this proposal of Her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, matters would be very much aggravated, in his humble judgment. As regarded the actual resources of Ireland, he had referred to a work, the authenticity of which every Irish Member would, he presumed, acknowledge. He referred to Thoms' Almanac, which gave a summary of nearly everything that occurred in Ireland; and looking at the condition of the prosperity of the country, as stated in the book, he found that two-thirds—he put the proportions as low as possible—of Ireland, at this moment, was in a far more flourishing and prosperous condition than the great bulk of agriculturists in England. But he would go a step further and touch upon a point in which he knew Irish Members would not agree with him. He meant the condition of portions of Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Clare, and County Cork. These, so long as he had known Ireland, were in precisely the same position as they were 30, and, he might say, 40, 50, or even 100 years ago. It was a disgrace—he did not say it of one Government more than another—that because they were afraid of facing the opinions of a certain number of Irish Representatives they should have pandered to their views; and in face of the difficulties which must arise on every occasion, starvation must prevail in these Western counties, because the people were absolutely unable to live upon the produce of the land. It was stated the other day by an hon. Member—whether the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) or the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) he could not say—that there were between 80,000 and 100,000 tenants who paid rentals of less than £4 each. He believed that that was under the actual state of things. Let them boldly take the Church Surplus and spend it in some such legitimate way as emigration. Let them help to emigrate, as far as they could, the 1540 families of a barony, with their clergyman, and set them down in some place where they could earn an honest and good living, taking care to provide them with means to start with. Until they had found out some way of doing this, they might pay their arrears, but the very next thing they would find would be that they were in the same hopeless condition. He was convinced from practical experience that until they had got rid of that blot in Ireland they would never have peace in that unhappy country. This Bill was introduced with a very suspicious connection with the release of certain Gentlemen from prison in Ireland, and it was one of the principal facts of the programme of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), which was at once taken up by the Prime Minister, and which he was endeavouring, as far as he was able, to carry out. If the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had been in his place he should have asked him what were the contents of that other letter which they had heard about, and of which an explanation had been withheld in regard to it. He felt justified in concluding that it contained a stronger demand that this Bill should be carried than was made by the first letter. He would remind the Prime Minister that in a memorable speech in 1833, when disturbances something like the present were going on in Ireland, Sir Robert Peel said there had been much declamation about healing measures and large concessions, the nature of which had not been specified; but though they might conciliate powerful parties by concessions, Parliament would gain nothing by giving way to popular clamour, or yielding one single point beyond that which their sense of justice might dictate. That great statesman, from whom the Prime Minister learnt the finance for which he stood alone and supreme, went on to say that if Ministers consented to confiscation by any species of compromise, or established principles leading to future confiscations, they might be cheered by many around them; but not only would they fail to provide additional security for life and peace and property, but so far from satisfying the deluded people of Ireland, they would only whet their appetites for further concessions. He had always felt that when the law was broken the first thing to do 1541 was to take care by using a strong arm that the law was respected. That was the way to make Ireland contented, prosperous, and happy. By encouraging the feeling that all classes were protected by the law, they would find that they had gained far more than by pandering to sedition and rebellion by passing such a measure as the Government were now asking the House to go into Committee upon.
§ MR. DILLON
said, that he did not intend to make any remarks in the course of the discussion were it not for the almost personal charges made against him. by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir Walter B. Barttelot). That hon. and gallant Gentleman said that owing to the influence of the Land League a tenant in a part of the county of Tipperary who had the honesty to pay his rent had his house fired into and afterwards burnt down. He had heard nothing of the circumstance, and deeply regretted to hear of it then. The hon. Baronet should remember that during the time the Land League agitation continued, and whilst himself and his Colleagues were at liberty, no house was destroyed. When the farm was burnt as described, it was whilst he was in Kilmainham. But surely they could not be charged with having had influence in bringing about that, when at the time they were in Kilmainham. It was perfectly true, and he knew it of his own knowledge, that the landlords in that particular district had throughout shown the utmost consideration for their tenants, whose appreciation of this was shown in their earnest desire to pay their rent; but the hon. and gallant Baronet had not put before the House the whole of the facts, for he had omitted to state what was a matter of great importance, one for which he and his hon. Friends were justly entitled to take great credit, that throughout all the agitation of the Land League no attempt was made to influence those tenants not to pay their rents. He knew well the estates which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to. The tenantry were entirely in their hands and under their influence, so much so that he could confidently assert that no one in opposition to himself would get a single vote. Having that influence, then, it was not even alleged that they had attempted to interfere with the tenants whose landlords 1542 had won their respect by their considerate and consistent course of conduct towards them. The difficulty arose only when the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) was arrested. That difficulty was not in consequence of the Land League, but was due to the repeated blunders of the late Irish Administration, and it occurred after the Land League had been suppressed as an unlawful association, and not whilst he and his Friends had any influence upon the course of events. Something had been said as to a man having advanced £10,000 upon an estate in Mayo. The tenantry were under £4, and that did not say much for the common sense of a man who would lend that sum upon such an estate. In fact, such a man was an exceedingly great fool. He could not share the views put forward by an hon. Member as to the advisability of sweeping away the cottier class. He had lived amongst them and could assert that they were a class entertaining great affection, and one which, if properly dealt with, would be an ornament and most useful class in any country. It was from that class that the soldiers and sailors of the country were largely drawn. It was to them that they looked to shed their blood in defence of their country, and they were a hard-working, vigorous people. He could not, therefore, agree with those who wished them to be exterminated in Ireland, as had been done in the Scottish Highlands. They received, as a rule, very scant courtesy from the Treasury and all parts of the House. They had been told that these people could not live on the land if they paid no rent at all. How, then, could they be expected to live when they had to pay rack rents? Was not this a contradiction? They had heard that they did not live in decency. He denied this, for amid their poverty and misery they had won the respect of the hon. and gallant Baronet who had told them that even during the great famine year upon the estate upon which the £10,000 had been lent not one penny was owing in arrears. How, then, could it asserted that they would not be able to live upon the land if they were rent free? They had lived and had paid grossly unfair and most discreditable rack rents, and by their perseverence, industry, and great self-denial, they had had paid those rents. Millions of money had been paid in the 1543 shape of rent out of the poverty of those people, who not only had lived in decency, but who had managed to raise large families in health and strength—men who were now a credit to the large manufacturing towns of this and other countries. The villagers of Mayo brought up their healthy and happy children, although their food was poor, and Ireland had sent out of her poverty immense populations, who were now inhabiting the Western countries on the other side of the Atlantic. Would the Government give them, even now, what they had almost begged of them? Would they give these people the land rent free for two or three years during dire distress, and let them take a fresh start at a fair rent? They were able to live in decency on the land not only if they got it rent free, but even at a fair rent, or saddled with such a charge as would pay off a reasonable compensation to the landlords. He admitted that the land in the West of Ireland was not sufficient to bear a double crop. It was not sufficient to support both the tenants and the landlords; and what they had to do was to get the landlords out of that altogether. The people were prepared to pay by instalments a reasonable compensation to the landlords. If, however, the little means possessed by these poor men were taken away and swallowed up in the discharge of arrears, it would be utterly impossible for them to continue to live, save as paupers. They were quite able to hold their land at a moderate charge; and that fact wholly disproved the statement that they could not live even if their tenancies were given to them rent free. He had never attached as much importance to this Arrears Bill as some of his Colleagues had done; but he acknowledged that it might open a door out of the present hopeless imbroglio by which peace and order might be reached, and would bring relief to a great mass of suffering people, who would otherwise, he feared, be driven to extreme and lawless action. Everything, however, would depend on the way in which the Bill was worked. It appeared that the Prime Minister's mind was open on the question whether the value of the tenant's interest in his holding was to be considered in estimating his ability to pay his arrears of rent. He had no hesitation in saying that if this was to 1544 be made an open question, it would be far better to abandon the Bill altogether; and that was his honest and frank opinion. It was the invariable mistake of the Government that they paid no attention to the advice of those who knew the Irish tenants; but he could assure the Prime Minister that he spoke on behalf of very many tenants in Ireland, and knew that his opinion on this point was absolutely correct; and he could only repeat that the Bill would do harm rather than good if it regarded the value of the tenant right as a means of discharging arrears of rent. No Ulster Member, he was sure, would contradict that statement. Practically speaking, the object of the Bill was to enable the tenants to remain in possession of their holdings, and to give the landlords a bribe to allow them to do so; and if ever the Irish tenants got it into their minds that it was intended to enable them to dispose of their farms, they would reject the measure with contempt. If he knew anything of the Irish people, he should say that their idea was that the Members of the House, and the landlords, and even some Members of the Government, were in a conspiracy to get rid of them, and that feeling necessarily produced a spirit of hostility. The Government presumably wished the Bill to be regarded as a measure of relief, and ought, therefore, to make, without delay, a distinct statement that they would support no Amendment affecting tenant right in the way he had indicated. There were other matters to which he would briefly call attention; and the first of these was the limitation of the Bill to those tenants to whom the Land Law (Ireland) Act applied. He urged the Government to withdraw that limitation. In the southern part of his county there were three or four estates held by landlords whose proceedings the Prime Minister would be the first to condemn; and, of course, in the whole of Ireland there were considerable numbers of such men. However, on the estates to which he referred the tenants all had to sign penal leases, which had not been broken by the Land Court; and this limitation would obviously deny the benefits of the Bill to a great many tenants who were similarly situated. Indeed, regarding the matter for a moment from the landlord's point of view, 1545 what could be the philosophy or the common sense of punishing the comparatively generous landlords and allowing the greater offenders—those who had forced leases on their tenants—to escape? He would suggest that the Bill should apply to all tenants whatsoever of holdings under £30 valuation. Again, would the Government stay all proceedings on the part of the landlord pending the tenant's application to the Court? If not, the Bill would be valueless in thousands of cases, and the landlord would be able, in the meantime, to sell the tenant right of the holding. He hoped the Government would consider the cases he had mentioned, and would make the Bill a real measure of relief.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that no one could listen without emotion to the touching apology that had been made for the small tenants by the hon. Member who had just sat down, and who had evidently spoken straight from his heart. He thought, however, that the hon. Member had to some extent misunderstood the attitude taken towards those tenants by those who had preceded him in the debate, and by others who would be very glad to see the system of extremely small tenancies profoundly modified. Those who asserted that small tenants in the West of Ireland could not live on their holdings, even if they had them rent free, made no accusation against them whatever. Such an inability was their misfortune, and not their fault, and the House was ready to give due credit to those poor persons for their struggles in times of distress. If political economy was not altogether out of date as far as the House was concerned, he should like to ask the hon. Member to explain the meaning of his remark that the small holdings in the West of Ireland were sufficient to support the tenant, but not the landlord also—to afford a profit, but not to afford a rent. By the present law every tenant had a right to sell his holding for what it would fetch, and the incoming tenant who bought the goodwill of a holding paid down a capital sum representing an annual charge, which sometimes even exceeded the rent. This being the case, it was clear even to demonstration that no tenant who had bought, or whose predecessors had bought, the tenant right of his holding, 1546 lived on it without paying an annual charge upon it in one form or another, and that the existing state of things would not be permanently remedied even if all the landlords were turned out of the West of Ireland. Now, the Government had introduced three remedial measures in the course of three Sessions. They began with the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, of unhappy memory; then came the Land Bill of last year; their latest project was the Bill now before the House. These proposals differed in many respects from one another, but they all agreed in two or three very important particulars. They all violated not only every principle of that political economy which was now obsolete, but also every principle that had hitherto been recognized in English legislation. All of them had been introduced as the result of agitation, and all had been recommended to Parliament as a means of avoiding further agitation. Parliament was called upon to accept them, so to speak, with a pistol at its head, because, good or bad, they had excited expectations which could not be disappointed without endangering the country. No doubt the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) was right in saying that this Bill was complementary to the measure of last year. The three measures were connected by direct descent—the Land Bill from the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, and the Arrears Bill from the Land Bill; and a numerous progeny might probably be expected in continuation of this unhallowed pedigree. The Government, of course, would have the House believe that the Land Act was really and truly an improvement of the system of land tenure in Ireland; but its developments showed it to be no more than a scheme of political plunder, for which the only conceivable justification was the fact that the Government were contending with an enemy whom they could not quell and whom they were bound to buy off. As Lord Derby said, the Irish landlords had no right to compensation for their losses by the Bill of last year, because, but for that Bill, they would have lost everything. If this remedial legislation could only be justified as blackmail, he wished to know how far the Government meant to pursue their present policy? Whenever they introduced Bills such as this, they fostered the agitation which had 1547 already forced their hands. The teaching thus imbibed by the Irish people had a most fatal tendency, and no pupils were more apt than the Irish tenants to learn the lessons that the Government seemed anxious to give. For years this country had been anxious that there should be a larger number of freeholders among the Irish peasantry; that absenteeism should diminish; that the tenants should rely more and more upon their own industry; and that the evils resulting from over-population should cease. The legislation of the last few years had rendered the fulfilment of these objects almost impossible. It had made tenants less anxious than formerly to acquire the fee simple of their holdings, and it had increased absenteeism, for landlords who had been robbed of many of their rights were naturally unwilling to remain at home and be murdered for insisting on the rights that still remained to them; and now, by keeping in their holdings people who could not pay rent, the Government would perpetuate the evils arising from the increase in the poorest class of the population. With reference to some observations of the hon. Member for Tipperary, he had to say that in those parts of the Highlands of Scotland in which former landlords had not, with ill-timed mercy, allowed the population to remain stationary, the people were now in a very enviable state. A very different state of things prevailed, however, where the population had been allowed to increase and not subjected to removal. It was contended by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) that the only object of the Bill was to enable tenants to take advantage of the Land Act of last year. What security had they that when next a cycle of bad seasons occurred a large number of tenants would not be unable to pay their rents? If that should be so, and if they were driven from their holdings, would they not again become centres of disaffection? When that conjunction of circumstances should occur, by what argument would the Government be able to resist the demands of the Irish Representatives for a new Arrears Bill? The measure before the House was an anodyne, but not a remedy. There was nothing in it that would permanently ameliorate the position of the Irish tenantry. His chief 1548 objection to the Bill was not that the British taxpayers, many of whom could scarcely meet their own liabilities, were called upon by its framers to pay the debts of the Irish peasantry—though, undoubtedly, the hardship was a great one—but that the Bill was a violation of every principle that had hitherto guided their legislation in that House. It was one of a class of Bills which, before this Government came into Office, they had never seen, but of which they had seen too many specimens already; and he thought it was now fully time the House should put its foot down and say that of exceptional legislation they had had enough and should have no more. In conclusion, he said that the discontent which the Bill must cause would be greatly augmented by the knowledge that many of the people whose debts were about to be paid actually had property with which they could liquidate their liabilities but for the objection on the part of the Government to their realizing that property.
§ DR. LYONS
said, as practical politicians, they must look at the facts as they found them, and he thought he should be in a position to show that the state of things in Ireland was such as to call for exceptional legislation. The hon. and gallant Baronet opposite (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had reminded the House of the principles laid down by Sir Robert Peel; but he had omitted to say that two or three years after the enunciation of those principles Sir Robert Peel was himself a consenting party to the advance of £1,000,000 for the purpose of meeting the difficulties that had arisen in connection with the tithe agitation in Ireland, and also to the advance of £500,000 more to meet the arrears of those entitled to tithe rent-charges. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) appeared to him to be the only Member on the other side of the House who had dealt practically with this question. Having an intimate knowledge of the state of things in Ireland, he had put before the House the actual position of the small farmers in that part of the country to which he referred; and he (Dr. Lyons) could endorse, with regard to that and other portions of the Island, everything the hon. Member had said as to the independence, the integrity, and self-sacrifice of that body of men. The House must bear in mind that in Ire- 1549 land there were 415,000 persons under £10 valuation, and to talk of emigrating that number with their families en masse was simply idle. The real question before them was how to help these people in the crisis which actually existed in Ireland. The Prime Minister estimated the amount of the indebtedness of the Irish tenants at £2,000,000; but he thought that an examination of the statistics now in their possession would show that the amount was vastly greater. In some cases two years' rent was due, and in others two and a-half years', three years', and even upwards. At present, according to the Returns of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, £4,000,000 of taxable income was in arrear in Ireland, which, he added, showed a very serious condition of things. Before the landholders became crippled one of the first charges they were bound to pay, and did pay, was the Income Tax, and it was only last year it became generally known that a relaxation in that charge would take place. It was, of course, next to impossible to estimate the actual amount of arrears in Ireland. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) last year estimated it at £750,000; but that was now conclusively shown to be entirely below the mark by the estimate of the Prime Minister, which placed it at £2,000,000. According to present calculations, it was estimated at something like £2,000,000, for those entitled to aid by the "gift" contemplated by the Bill; but he believed, from his inquiries among agents and others specially conversant with the subject, that it was very much more than that. A full estimate implied that something like 70,000 landholders in Ireland were out of pocket to the extent of probably between £6,000,000 and £9,000,000. Those who talked about getting rid of landlords by a process of expropriation seemed to think that after that they would have a kind of tabula rasa; but they forgot to consider that if they drove the landlords out they would have to face a far less merciful body—namely, the mortgagees, trustees, jointresses, annuitants, and so forth, who to provide themselves with the necessaries of life would be compelled to enforce their obligations to the uttermost. They must also remember, before talking of driving out the landlords, that upon them de- 1550 pended for their support a vast body of the labouring class of Ireland—men who had shown remarkable patience and patriotism, and whose claims must be adequately dealt with by the Legislature in a very short time. Many landlords, and ladies too, solely dependent on land in Ireland had been reduced to a condition of absolute poverty, and were no longer able to give the labourers that employment they were accustomed to give. He believed that a large portion of the tenantry of Ireland might and would pay their rents if they were at liberty to do so. He did not take a pessimist view of the future, and he believed these people would pay yet. He did not think that the ill-feeling sought to be created between classes in Ireland, now unfortunately reaching an acute condition, represented the real sentiments of the Irish people. The heart of Ireland was still sound. The occurrences of the last few weeks showed that in their hearts the people turned to the landlords under whom many of their families had lived from generation to generation, and from whom they expected and hoped for continuous employment; and he knew numerous instances throughout the country of landlords having deprived themselves of every possible luxury, and reduced their expenses to the lowest possible scale, in order that they might not be compelled to dismiss the wage-earners who had been living under them for so many years. With Clause 2 of the Bill he could not agree, as he held that in a large number of instances it would work in a manner differently from what the Government expected. By it landlords in many instances might be forced into accepting one year's rent in lieu of several. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER: Hear, hear!] The right hon. Member for Bradford said "Hear, hear!" Did the right hon. Gentleman fully understand all the words implied? He did trust the Government would see the absolute necessity of amending the clause in Committee. The Prime Minister said that in the case of the late Mr. W. Bourke seven to eight years' rent were due to him. Mr. Bourke had shown a vast deal of forbearance, and he, like many others, had been pressed by family and other claims; and whether that unfortunate gentleman acted wisely or not he did not say, but in a case like that Clause 2 of the Bill would compel the landlord to take one 1551 year's rent in lieu of an indefinite number of years' rent in arrear. The operation of this Bill in another point of view was open to grave objection. He referred to the artificial limitation in regard to the relief to be afforded by "gift." In the name of common sense, he asked, what reason was there in limiting the relief to those at or below £30 valuation, and cutting off those above £30 valuation without any prospect of assistance whatever? Such a limitation was purely artificial; it would operate in the most injurious manner, create a not unfounded jealousy, and paralyze the tendency to pay rent. He hoped the Government would agree to amend the Bill in that respect also in Committee. He had before, and he now again, expressed his sincere and profound regret that the question of arrears had not been dealt with sooner. Had aid by loans been given the Irish people two years ago, and had such a measure been put in operation at the time he had the honour to bring it under the notice of the House in August, 1880, he had every reason to believe that they would have been saved a vast deal of the wretchedness of the past two winters; and he ventured to say the outrages and murders that had disgraced Ireland would not have been perpetrated. He had an Amendment on the Paper in which he shadowed forth the way in which he would desire the House to deal with this whole subject. He believed the proper limit for "gift" would be a £10 valuation. That would meet all the difficulties, and it would include that class of individuals whose case the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) had so graphically described—who were, in fact, absolutely unable to pay. Furthermore, if they relieved the tenant in the manner prescribed by this Bill, they were bound in equity to step in and assist the landlord who suffered under the compulsory arrangement. He much preferred the principle of a loan, and would not impose any limitation as to the class of tenants who might borrow. Such a scheme would immediately separate those who were able to pay from those who could not pay, because the tenant having money in the bank would not go to the Government for a loan at 5 per cent, when, as assumed, he could draw it from his own funds lying at the bank at 1 per cent. He held in his hand letters from a number of tenants in Ireland, who, to 1552 their infinite credit, said they did not want any gift, that they preferred loans, and that if they could obtain loans on reasonable terms they would honourably repay them. Assistance in the form of gift would paralyze all operations throughout the country; but assistance by means of loans would put every tenant in the country in the position of a merchant who borrowed money on reasonable security to meet the wants of his business. If the Government were determined to aid by "gift," the last fund they should lavishly part with was the Church Fund, for which there were other claimants than the distressed tenants. The State would have soon to help the labourers, and it would be a great and a wise measure to lend them £ 1,000,000 of the Church Fund to house themselves. If the Church Fund were now exhausted, what resource was there for the development of the fisheries and other industries of Ireland, and for the much-needed extension of technical education? If the Government insisted upon the principle of "gift," it was for them to find the money. In conclusion, he did not believe it was expedient to put this additional work on the Land Commissioners and Sub-Commissioners, and several of the Sub-Commissioners had told him that they believed it would be impossible for them to do it. Already they were over weighted. This new work to be effective should be done with rapidity, and the best thing to do would be to appoint a mall Commission to execute it. Loan operations would be to a large extent automatic, and would require less official organization to carry them out. For these reasons he would prefer loans to gifts; but as the Government had committed itself to the principle of "gift," he trusted they would yet see their way to superadd that of "loans" before the Bill became law.
§ MR. MULHOLLAND
said, he wished he could persuade himself that this Bill would be as successful in restoring peace and order to Ireland as some hon. Gentlemen assumed. At the same time, he maintained loans would be equally successful with gifts in securing that end. Even supposing the districts suffering most from privation were temporarily relieved, he could not admit that it would be possible in the future for small holders to live on their holdings with anything like decency and comfort, even if they 1553 had the land rent free. The best answer to the affirmation that they could give was to be found in the statistics of areas, values, and population in the West of Ireland, as compared with those relating to similar districts in England and Scotland. In the latter there was one human being to a valuation of £6 a-year; but in Ireland there was one human being to a valuation of £1 a-year. In several parishes of one Union it would be impossible for the people to live in a state of comfort even if they had no rent whatever to pay. In these circumstances he could not help regretting that the £2,000,000 proposed to be dealt with were not to be applied to promoting emigration, which would be a permanent remedy. The alleged disinclination of tenants to emigrate was not borne out by the Report of Mr. Tuke's Committee, which stated that they were eager to avail themselves of any assistance to emigrate. As to evictions, which it was the main object of the Bill to stop, the original cause of them was the advice given by the Land League that the tenants should hold the harvest and refuse to pay rents. Against such a combination what possible remedy had the landlord but eviction? With respect to the accumulation of arrears, it must be remembered that in back years the landlords had been appealed to not to press their legal claims, but to show forbearance to the tenants, and it was this forbearance that originated the arrears now proposed to be dealt with. The Land League thought that evictions could be rendered impossible by "Boycotting;" but when they found evictions taking place they concluded with the Government an arrangement the first condition of which was the payment of the arrears accumulated under their advice not to pay rent. If Parliament ratified that condition it would increase the prestige of the Land League and discourage those who at great risk had done what they could to meet their obligations. These would be the demoralizing effects of advancing money as a gift, and not as a loan. The tenants who at the risk of great privation, and perhaps at the risk of bodily injury or death, had paid their rent would be demoralized by seeing those who had not done so rewarded by having one-half of their burdens cast on the State and the other half on the landlords. Since the Arrears Bill had been 1554 brought forward he was told there had been a complete stoppage of the payment of rents in many districts of Ireland. The tenants preferred to delay the payment of rent until some of the arrears cases had been heard in Court; but they would not be exposed to this temptation if the assistance were to be by way of loan instead of gift. If the cases to be brought forward under the Bill at all approached in number to that mentioned in the Treasury Minute which had been distributed, he did not see how the list could be got through. He did not attach much importance to the condition of inability to pay; for if a man alleged his inability, how on earth was the contrary to be proved by evidence? He agreed as to the impropriety of taking the money from the Church Fund. On the second reading of the Bill he said he thought it would be better to omit all reference to it, and he certainly thought it was a mistake to mention it as the primary source to be drawn upon. The statements he made were criticized by the Secretary for War. He stated at the time that the figures he gave were taken or deduced from the Church Fund accounts for 1880, and the accounts for 1881 had not yet been published. The Act said the accounts were to be published at intervals of not less than 12 months; but the change which had been made involved an interval of 12 months. With regard to the terminable annuities, the Treasury Returns had enabled him to calculate their value when turned into perpetual annuities. The only basis for forming a proper estimate was to take the capitalized value of assets and liabilities. Among the terminable annuities he had included the tithe rent-charge, because those who paid it had the right, at any moment, of converting it into an annuity terminating in 52 years. Taking the present charge of 3½ per cent interest as the basis, he had calculated the amount of a perpetual annuity that would be the equivalent of the terminable annuities, thus eliminating that portion which was merely a return of capital. Upon this calculation the tithe rent - charge, at present amounting to £195,000 a-year, would become a perpetual annuity of £162,500 a-year; tithe rent-charge, already converted into 52 years' annuities, would become £ 140,500 a-year; land instalments would 1555 be represented by £37,800 a-year; rents by £61,000 a-year; mortgages on land by £37,000 a-year; and relief of distress instalments by £33,000 a-year; making a total perpetual annuity of £471,300 a-year. From this must be deducted, for taxes, management, and annuities still payable, a sum of £50,000 a-year, leaving the net permanent income represented by a sum of £421,300 a-year. Against that there had been borrowed, on account of the National Debt Commissioners, £6,674,000; for intermediate education, £1,000,000; for national teachers, £1,300,000; and for University endowment, £600,000: making a total of £9,574,000, which was equivalent to 22¾ years' purchase of the net permanent annuity of £421,300. The question as to what was the present capitalized value of the permanent income on which 22¾ years' purchase had been already borrowed must be, to a certain extent, a matter of opinion. The entire income, whatever its denomination, bad its source in charges on Irish land. Tithe rent-charges, head rents, or charges for repayment of distress levied, did not differ materially in security. Back rents, or instalments for payment of purchase-money of land let at rack rents, were loss well secured, because those rents were admittedly high. There was already considerable agitation in favour of the admission of such holdings to the benefit of the Land Act of 1881, and there could be no reasonable doubt that, if so admitted, the rents and instalments would be considerably reduced. The tithe rent-charge was, by the Church Act of 1869, offered to those liable for its payment at 22½ years' purchase; but, although more valuable to them than to others, they did not avail themselves of the option, the price being considered too high. In the Tithe Bill of 1855, 20 years' purchase had been proposed as the price at which it might be redeemed. In the debate on the Irish Church Bill, 1869, 18 years' purchase was proposed by Mr. Herbert to be substituted for 22½ and he at the same time stated that even that price was higher than had been obtained in the Landed Estates Court. Since that time the value of income arising from Irish land could not be said to have improved. There might even be a doubt whether the tithe rent-charge might not be affected by the compulsory reduction of 1556 rent and confiscation of arrears. Considering the course of recent legislation, he thought few would say that the value of property had of late years increased. In his opinion, the present debt, being 22¾ years' purchase of the income, was more than the present value of the assets. If those assets were valued even at 22 years' purchase they would amount to, say, £9,268,000, as against a debt of £9,574,000, leaving a deficiency of £306,000. That would be a very unsafe financial basis upon which to negotiate a loan, and no banker would be likely to entertain such a proposal. It would be much better if that portion of the Bill relating to the Irish Church were omitted altogether. He hoped the Government would not imagine that if this Bill were passed they would purchase any long peace by it. Hon. Members sitting below the Gangway had, in fact, said it would only result in a short truce. Even in the Land Act of 1881 there was not a single clause that had not been the subject of attack. The principle upon which it seemed legislation was to be based was continued concession to disorder and lawlessness, which would see no finality.
§ COLONEL O'BEIRNE
said, that after looking carefully into the Bill, be had come to the conclusion that it did not comply with the essential condition upon which such legislation should be based—namely, justice as between landlord and tenant. Very many landlords had mortgages and other charges upon their properties. What were to become of these? Were they also to be swept away? The Government, although they were prepared to wipe out the arrears, left the landlords under the obligation to pay the tithe charges. Again, the Bill in its application was limited to holdings of less than £30, and in this particular it was unjust, and would lead to great dissatisfaction, as it would also amongst the tenants who had honestly paid their rents, notwithstanding inducements to refrain from doing so. The Land Courts as yet had only taken 16,000 cases, and how long it would take to dispose of the 80,000 arising under this Bill he left hon. Members to calculate. Taking it altogether, he could not quite approve of the Bill; and although he had voted for its second reading, he did not know that he could finally vote for it if it emerged from the Committee 1557 in the same shape as it was at present. He did not approve of making the money advanced exclusively a gift, nor did he think that would be generally approved by the people of Ireland, amongst whom, indeed, there seemed so much apathy in regard to the Bill that he had not heard them express an opinion one way or other.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he wished to give some reasons why he regarded the provisions of the Bill with dismay, and why he considered that though the Compensation for Disturbance Bill and the Irish Land Bill of last year contained many most objectionable principles, they were much excelled in that respect by the measure now before the House. He believed it to be unjust and hostile both to honest tenants and kind landlords; and so far from being at all likely to put an end to agitation, it would only become the stepping-stone to a new and more serious agitation. When the Prime Minister told them there was no Party in the House prepared to take the responsibility of rejecting the Bill, he knew he was quite safe. They on the Opposition side of the House could not reject the Bill, but they were prepared to give it an uncompromising opposition. Who was it that supported the Bill? They had just heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Leitrim (Colonel O'Beirne) that he had never heard anyone in Ireland say a word either for or against it. The Prime Minister said he wished to legislate for Ireland in accordance with Irish opinion. And though Irish Members on both sides of the House had not approved the principle of the Bill, they all knew quite well who had supported it. The real supporters of it were the Land League; and he was not surprised at this, for it was expected that something would be got out of this Bill, and that then, by means of wheedling or by stronger arguments, more would be obtained. He had always entertained the greatest respect for the abilities and qualities of the Prime Minister; but there was one quality which, in his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman lacked more than any other statesman of this or any other country or any other time—he was utterly unable to say "No" without qualification. The right hon. Gentleman told them to-day that the great object he should have in view now was to accelerate the settlement of every 1558 open question between landlord and tenant in Ireland. He should like to know who it was that had made this an open question; and he should further like the right hon. Gentleman to tell them what questions were closed in Ireland? When an hon. Member opposite spoke of this Bill as a sedative, he really meant it was an administration of a dose of opium, the effect of which was that when a man had recovered from it he wanted a great deal more. The moment they passed this Bill, and certain gentlemen in Ireland expressed themselves dissatisfied with the arrangement arrived at, the Prime Minister would say—"We have plenty on hand now, but later in the Session I shall be ready to consider your demands." There was one class in Ireland which they must consider—namely, those unfortunate persons who had paid their rents. They must, in consequence of this Bill, bitterly regret having done anything of the sort, and would make up their minds not to be deluded into such a mistake again. This Bill had been very carefully considered in this country; and so far as he had been able to judge of the feelings of the people upon the subject, especially of those in agricultural districts, the great majority, whether Liberals or Conservatives, were utterly opposed to it. They had been told to take comfort from the fact that, after all, probably they should not have anything to pay. The Prime Minister had told them that the Irish Church Surplus Fund would be sufficient; but had since a good deal qualified that statement, and to-day he said that he must make provision for a probable further payment, and that he might require £500,000 more than the Church Fund could supply. But the estimate presented to them by the Prime Minister depended on two or three great uncertainties. He said that only £2,000,000, or thereabouts, were likely to be wanted; but the opinion at which he (Mr. Stanhope) had arrived, after looking carefully into the matter, was that the number of tenants ascertained under this Bill to be unable to pay their rents would be exactly the same number as those who had not paid their rents. In a letter to The Times, which, no doubt, many hon. Members would recollect, the writer had stated that the tenants on the half of his estate which he had not sold had regularly paid their rents 1559 until the present Government came into Office, when, almost immediately afterwards, the tenants stopped payment. He was glad to hear that provision was to be made for inquiry as to whether or not a tenant was likely to be able to pay his rent; but he should like to know what the Court of Inquiry into this matter would be able to set against the statement of the tenant. Would not they have to assume that what the tenant said was true in every case where he asserted that he was not able to pay his rent? Had they adopted the mode of assisting tenants by loan, this elaborate system of inquiry would have been totally unnecessary. The second element of uncertainty in the calculations of the Prime Minister was the sufficiency of the Church Fund. Anyone who had heard the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) would admit there was a good deal to be said upon that subject. Even granting that the Church Fund would supply as much as was expected, still he thought the sum actually required would be very much larger than the estimate. He should be prepared to set aside even principles which he had always earnestly defended, if only it could be shown that the legislation which was now proposed was likely to be effectual, and to have permanent effect. But he knew perfectly well that the Bill would not satisfy those for whom it was primarily meant. Had even the proposal of it made men in Ireland more loyal than they were before? He might go further, and ask what legislation of the present Government had made a single man in Ireland more loyal than hitherto? But the proposal had two great and undoubted defects. First of all, those who had paid their rents were thoroughly dissatisfied and discontented; and, in the second place, those who had not paid their rents had absolutely abstained from doing so. And he must say he was surprised when he heard the Prime Minister put forward that as an argument for passing this Bill. It was putting his argument on a very low ground, to say the least of it. But he was still more surprised that the Prime Minister relied on the letter addressed to The Times by Lord Clanricarde. He would read a little more of that letter than the Prime Minister thought fit to read. Lord Clanricarde said— 1560My rents are so low that my earliest and, as such, probably my worst batch of Land Court cases (to accept the Government theory) average less than 10 per cent above Griffith's valuation, and are considerably lower in rent than the Land Courts' own valuator. I objected to the arrears being allowed further to increase, and called for a half year's rent now, when overdue. After much had been paid, further payment suddenly ceased, and my agent in a letter written a few days before his death thus reports the reason:—'The Arrears Bill has completely paralyzed the payment of rents, and its introduction at a time when some slight symptom of a disposition to honesty was beginning to manifest itself among the tenantry was most unfortunate. Tenants of all classes now evince a determination not to pay until they see the upshot of this measure before Parliament.'The argument of the Prime Minister was one of the strangest that could be used. It really amounted to this—that, in the first place, the introduction of this Bill was nothing more than the proclamation of a second "no rent" manifesto; and, in the second place, that if, after that proclamation, any landlord ventured to assert their just rights, murder would follow; and because those two lamentable consequences had followed the introduction of the Arrears Bill, the Prime Minister asked them, for pity sake and for mercy to the Government who had committed such a blunder, at as early a moment as possible to pass the Arrears Bill. Not only had this Bill tended to the non-payment of rent, but it had opened up questions in Ireland which would in after years be attended with very great disadvantages. But he had said he, for one, would be very much inclined to accept this Bill if it could be shown that it was likely to benefit Ireland permanently. In the first place, however, it would form a precedent which would, be quoted against them, or the Government in power when bad times came again, in such a manner that it would be impossible to resist it. They were going to say to these tenants, without any careful inquiry, that a portion of their rents would be remitted. He could understand it if they made inquiry into the conduct of these tenants as to how their inability to pay arose, whether from want of prudence or any other cause; but the Government proposed to interfere between a landlord and his tenant, simply because the tenant had chosen to spend the money which he could have paid to the landlord; and they proposed to deal with bad and good alike. 1561 The result of that course must, in his opinion, inevitably be that other tenants in Ireland would say—and he should not be surprised if tenants in England and Scotland said the same thing—"What is the use of prudence?" They might be perfectly certain that when bad times came in Ireland—and times of bad harvest would most certainly come some day or other—these tenants would appeal to the Government then in power, to do what the Government were now doing; and he was afraid it would be impossible to resist that appeal. There were many tenants in Ireland who were able to pay no rent at all. That was clear from the Report of Professor Baldwin; and it was stated also very clearly in the Report of The O'Conor Don, and in a recent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster). The question he wanted to ask was, if they were going to pass this Bill, what permanent good would it do to the country? The hon. Member for Tipperary told the House that this Bill would put tenants in such a condition that they would be able to sell their holdings. Well, that was not the object of this proposal at all. The object of this proposal was to enable tenants to go into Court and claim the benefit of the Land Act, and thereby to stereotype and continue the existing state of things. This proposal might be called statesmanship according to the modern view, but it certainly was not common sense. Could Members of the House be absolutely certain that in the course of a year or two, at the furthest, these poor men would not be again in difficulties, and ask the House to relieve them from the duty of paying their rent? For his part, he thought the proper way of dealing with these tenants in Ireland would be to endeavour to establish them upon their farms in such a manner that they might be able to live and thrive upon a fair rent. If they could not do that, it was perfectly useless to try to bolster up a system which was doomed to failure beforehand. This Bill must inevitably—and he challenged anybody to deny it—lead in a year or two to a fresh demand upon our purses and our principles. Therefore, he supported heartily the Amendment of his hon. Friend and Colleague. He opposed this Bill—first of all, because he believed it to be wholly ineffectual for its object, and 1562 next, because it was unjust to England and dangerous to Ireland.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he should best show his respect for the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down by saying he regretted that he was prepared to give the Bill his uncompromising opposition. He had said that the Prime Minister was unable to say "No" without a qualification, and he must say in that respect the hon. Gentleman (Mr. E. Stanhope) did not resemble the Prime Minister on this occasion. As far as he knew, no argument had been brought forward by the hon. Gentleman which was not urged by his hon. Colleague (Mr. Chaplin), though those arguments were urged again with great force, and, he thought, on some occasions with eloquence. The hon. Member below the Gangway stated, in the first place, that he objected to a paying away of public funds to an indefinite amount, notwithstanding the general statement which had been made by the Prime Minister. They had had a very detailed and important attack, from the Government point of view, from the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland). Now, he did not pretend to be a financier who could examine in detail the calculation of the hon. Member without having approached it previously. But no one could read the Minute of Mr. Finlayson and that which preceded it, without feeling that they were, at least in his opinion, unanswerable. The hon. Member who had just spoken commented on the statement of the Prime Minister as to the number of tenants unable to pay, and he made the uncompromising assertion that the number who would be found unable to pay would be the same as the number who had not paid. But the Treasury Minute of the 1st of July, 1882, did not in any way raise the question in that manner; it did not enter into the question whether the tenants could or could not pay, but it calculated the amount of arrears; and, therefore, if the hon. Member turned out to be right in his calculation, that would not invalidate the conclusion to which they had come. That Minute he had carefully examined, and he firmly believed that the moiety of arrears at present due, and which would come under consideration in this Bill, would not exceed £2,000,000. Another great objection of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. 1563 Chaplin) was that this was a confiscating Bill, because, he said, they were about to take away the property of the landlords without compensation; and he added that all the arrears due to the landlords were as much their property as the coat on the back of the right hon. Gentleman was his. But there was one unfortunate difference which the hon. Gentleman left out of consideration, and that was that the right hon. Gentleman's coat was actually on his back, while a much larger part of the arrears than the landlords would willingly forego would, as he firmly believed, never come into the landlords' pockets. The third objection of the hon. Gentleman was that there would be a block in the machinery of the Land Courts. He was glad to be able to say the block, such as it was, there was some prospect of bringing to an early termination. The applications for the fixing of fair rents amounted hitherto to 78,700. The fair-rent cases decided were 12,142; but, meanwhile, the agreements for fixing fair rents immediately under the supervision and orders of the Commissioners were 9,369, or, in all, 21,511. That left 57,000 cases to be still decided. But of these it was probable that much larger progress in settlements out of Court would be made, for the proportion of such settlements was growing greater and greater. The settlements in Court and out of Court now, with the machinery working more rapidly, exceeded 4,000 a-month, and even at that rate 15 months would clear off the arrears at present on hand. But the rate would probably become much more rapid, as the settlements out of Court were going on faster; and the Commissioners told him when he was last in Dublin that they hoped to clear off all the arrears by August of next year. The settlements out of Court, it should be remembered, did not represent all the work done by the Commission, because some of the largest and richest landlords of Ireland were carrying on with increasing rapidity a system of settlements with their tenants which was cheaper and more satisfactory to both parties, and which would give the tenant the same security as if the settlement was made by the Land Court itself. Another objection was that the Bill would discourage honesty in two ways. It was said that the tenants who had done their best to pay, and had paid, would be left 1564 in the lurch; and the Colleague of the hon. Gentleman who said that described them as "those unfortunate tenants who had paid their rents." He could not allow that epithet "unfortunate" to pass without remark. From the nature of the case, these tenants were able to pay; but this Bill was drawn up to meet the case of those who suffered from their inability to pay. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had spoke of the danger of demoralization from the 3rd clause in the Land Act. But that clause came into operation on the joint application of landlord and tenant, without reference to ability to pay; and therefore, so far as it was represented in this Bill, the demoralizing element was absent. The next mode of discouraging honesty was in this way. It was said that as a certain number of tenants had incurred a loan under the Land Act, and had thus paid off their arrears, they would now find themselves side by side with others who would get their arrears as a free gift. The Government had recognized the force of that objection, and in the Amendments inserted in the Bill they had done much to meet it. The first change was in Clause 13, in which the Bill now proposed to cancel the rent-charges for loans made under the Arrears Section of the Land Act, and therefore to enable the tenants who had paid their arrears by means of loans to take the benefit of the Bill. The second change was that it excluded from the benefit of the Bill tenants who possessed one or more holdings whose aggregate valuation exceeded£30—that was to say, the solvency and the social position of the tenant was looked to, and he was not to have a chance of standing on favourable terms because he had two or more farms, each of them under £30. Then, as to the amount which was to be paid under the Bill, that would be very much diminished by the 3rd sub-section of Clause 1, the effect of which would be to recognize the custom of the hanging gale and to count the limit up to which the arrears would run according to the custom of the estate, and not by the time when they were legally due. Lastly, one very important change was made to meet a just and most serious objection, urged from every quarter of the House, and that was with regard to the rapidity with which the Bill would work. The Government fully recognized 1565 that the Bill, as originally drawn, would throw upon the Commissioners a burden which no body of public servants ought to bear; and now by the 5th clause power was given them to delegate those functions which might be administrative rather than judicial to persons sufficiently qualified, while they reserved the most important orders to themselves and the Civil Bill Courts. If that clause was worked as they desired, though it might entail an additional charge upon the Treasury, the Government and Commissioners had no apprehension but that the Bill would be as rapid in its operation as it would be effective. Hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill left out of sight the real reason on which the Government rested their vindication. That reason was that this was an exceptional Bill—[Ironical cheers.]—to meet absolutely exceptional cases. Since 1846 and 1847 there had never been any period of agricultural distress in Ireland similar to that which had produced the results this Bill was intended to meet. The harvest of 1877 was bad, the subsequent year was wet and inclement, and in 1879 the potatoe crop was not more than half an average crop, the general harvest was very inferior, and the supply of turf, on which the Irish peasant so much depended for his comfort, was completely insufficient owing to the bad weather. No prosperity for two or three years after could possibly do away with the effects of these lean years. The House might see evidence of their effects in the Poor Law Returns. In 1876 some 48,000 persons obtained indoor relief in Ireland; in 1880–1, the number rose to 60,000. In 1876 the number receiving outdoor relief was 33,000; in 1880–1, it rose to 90,000. When hon. Members opposite cheered ironically at his description of this as an exceptional measure, they should remember the exceptional measures introduced by the late Government in order to meet exceptional distress. The late Government had first of all enlarged the system of outdoor relief; then they had authorized great baronial works in order to provide employment for the people; and next they passed the Seeds Act, under which nearer £600,000 than £500,000 was advanced on loan for the purpose of seed potatoes and seed oats. These were exceptional measures that could only be justified by exceptional times. In addition to these 1566 provisions special grants were made for the construction of piers and harbours on the West Coast of Ireland, the very part of the country to which this measure was mainly directed, and there were, in addition, enormous private funds distributed there. He referred to these matters to remind the House that the distress in Ireland from which these arrears arose was not imaginary, but real, and called for exceptional methods to prevent a great catastrophe. The hon. Member forgot this who said that the arrears had accumulated because of the bad advice given by the Land League, and that, therefore, the Bill was a great encouragement to the party of disorder. He reminded other hon. Members who accused Government of using public money to prop up a system which was rotten to the core, that that system—namely, of very small farms—existed, for good or evil, over the greater part of Ireland, and that this Government and every Government must recognize it. The late Government had recognized it by the measures he had described. The years of distress so utterly impoverished many people that it was impossible for them to pay their rent at all. It was for the benefit of these people that the Government introduced the Land Act for the purpose of fixing a fair rent, and inserted in that Act a clause enabling them to pay their arrears by means of loans. That clause was well meant, but it was not successful. The amount applied for was only £30,752; the amount sanctioned was a few pounds less; and the amount paid was only £5,182. But though the Arrears Clause failed, there was one thing which did not fail, and that was the certain operation of the distress upon the evictions. The evictions in 1873 were only 519; in 1877 they had fallen to 406. In the five years ending with 1877 they amounted altogether to only 2,515. In 1880 they had risen to nearly 1,900; in 1881 to 3,200—that was, 700 more than in the five years ending with 1877—and in the five months of the present year, 1882, they were 2,476. One of the most unfortunate results of these evictions was that in a very large number of cases they deprived the tenant of the benefit which the Land Act was intended by both Houses of Parliament to give him. Before the Select Committee of the House of Lords, Mr. 1567 Vernon, in answer to a question of Lord Dunraven, said that there was no doubt that these arrears prevented the tenants from coming into the Land Court, and that this condition of things kept them in a state of tension and warfare. The Government were bound to remove that obstacle to the working of that Act. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had said that this was a class of measure which, before this Government came into Office, had never been seen, and he objected to it—first, because it pauperized, and next, because it remitted debts which the persons who owed them ought to have paid in full. He reminded the House that in exceptional periods of distress there had been exceptional legislation, not only in Ireland, but in India. In Ireland, in 1846, the only period that could be compared with the present, the Treasury remitted a large amount of the advances they had made. In the recent Famine in India the Ryots had their land tax remitted by a process as near as possible to the provisions of this Bill. But the best sample of this sort of legislation was to be found in 1880, under the auspices of the late Government. The Board of Works were authorized to make loans to landed proprietors, which loans were to be paid off at a rate of interest which would enable the Treasury to be recouped. They borrowed £113,000; but the Treasury found that this was not sufficient, and on January 12th, 1880, an amended notice was published by the Board of Works, in which the terms offered were that the interest charged on these loans should only be 1 per cent. The Treasury, thinking that these earlier landlords who had borrowed the £113,000 were in an unfavourable position as compared with others, placed them in the same position, and by so doing clearly remitted to them the debt which they ought to have paid. In so doing they proved, in this respect at any rate, that this was not one of a class of measures which had never been heard before the present Government came into Office. The hon. Gentleman had said that before he could give his sanction to this demoralizing measure he must know how it was proposed to govern Ireland. The hon. Member then vindicated the Tory policy of the past. He then mentioned certain measures which he called Tory measures—measures of emigration 1568 and migration, of public works, and of encouragement of manufacture. He (Mr. Trevelyan) did not wish to criticize the Tory policy either in the past or in the future. He had no intention while he remained in this most critical place to add anything to the difficulties of defending the action which from time to time the Government were obliged to take by attacking hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who in their day did their best to do their duty. He would like to know from the hon. Member the details of the encouragement he proposed to give to manufacture. He sympathized much more with the scheme for emigration, because he understood it better. These were measures which were all general measures for improving Ireland, whereas the measure proposed by the Government was to meet special and exceptional distresses, and special and exceptional disorders which had in large part arisen out of those distresses. The hon. Member had asked what was the future policy of the Government, and he would try to tell the House, in the briefest manner, what that policy was. Their policy was to have an efficient Criminal Law, and to get that law respected. Such a law they had in the measure then before the House—a measure which he trusted would, during the course of the next week, have passed from that House. No pains had been spared by the Government to secure the high efficiency of the personnel of the Resident Magistrates to whom the working of that Act was intrusted; he could not now enter into details, but he could assure the House, also, that neither money nor care had been spared to secure that these magistrates should be as efficient and well fitted for their work as money and care could make them.
§ And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.